Harman Kardon Citation II

Harman Kardon Citation II Tube Amplifier

Original Specifications:

  • Manufactured between 1959-1962
  • Power Output: 60 watts/channel
  • Frequency Response @ 60W: 18Hz to 40,000 Hz +0, /-1.0 dB
  • Frequency Response @ 20W: 18Hz to 60,000 Hz +0, /-1.0 dB
  • Frequency Response @ 1W: 2Hz to 80,000 Hz+0, /-1.0 dB
  • Frequency Response (Power Amplifier): 10Hz to 80,000Hz +/-1.0 Db
  • Harmonic Distortion: Less than 0.5% @60W;
  • less than 0.2% @ 20W Damping Factor:>18
  • Output Impedence: 4, 8 & 16 ohms
  • Hum & Noise: >90dB below rated output
  • Power Source: 117 VAC 60Hz
  • Tube Complement: (4) KT88 + (6) 12BY7A
  • Dimensions: 16-3/8”W x 9”H x 11.5” D Weight: approx. 70 lbs unboxed
  • Original price in kit form $159.95 or factory-wired for $229.95

Back in the late 50s-early 60s, Harman Kardon manufactured a 60-watt push-pull tube powerhouse called the Citation II. It was designed by Stewart Hegeman and weighed 70 pounds. The Citation was advertised as being the world’s first high bandwidth power amplifier, going beyond the range of human hearing. This was a concept way ahead of its time and not widely accepted in 1959. The Citation II is also known for its three massive transformers (built by the Freed company out of New York), located in a straight line in the rear of the amp. (Be very careful when lifting this, as the weight is almost all back loaded, making it awkward to carry. Take care when setting it down so as to not get your fingers caught under the rear of the amp where most of its 70lbs rests).

The Citation is highly sought after in the used market today and getting one is like panning for gold in a Californian mountain stream. It takes some time and effort, but the end result is a find of pure 24K gold. My friend, Steve Willman, loaned me his restored amp for this review. Cosmetically, the front faceplate was painted brown to match the amp, and the biasing meter on the rear was replaced with one that is slightly larger. Other than that, the only other change is the modification in the rear to accommodate larger spades for speaker wire connections. All tubes tested good to excellent on my Heathkit tube tester. In return, I have agreed to temporarily part with a pair of my Dignity Audio DA08SE monoblock SET amps. Steve loves tube amps and has been eyeing these powerful 8-watt SET babies for a while now, so I guess this is the perfect time to loan them out.

I decided to play the Citation II using my Klipsch Klipschorn speakers from 1989. I love large speakers, and my wife likes the fact that these must be placed in the corners of the room, far out of her way. The CD player of the day was a Samsung HD-841 universal player. Let me share with you a story about this overachieving CD player. I was visiting with CC Poon one day at Monarchy Audio and he told me that this little CD player listing for $179.95 is a gem. I found one for sale for $150 tax included and I am now a proud owner. About six months later, Costco had bought some of these, and I paid $99 plus tax (About $107.17) for another one for my second system. Cost averaging them puts me at a whooping $128.59 each, tax included. This for a CD player that plays both SACD and DVD Audio as well as subbing as a DVD player if I need it to. If you want Affordable Audio gear, you have got to keep your eye out wherever you go. I am always on the hunt for good equipment at affordable prices and I will be glad to share my finds with you. I am not saying that you cannot find better, but you will spend a lot more to do so. I am, however, on the hunt for something different and you might just see a new (much more expensive) CD player in my system before the year is out.

My listening room is 18’ 8” long by 13’ wide. The room has a cathedral ceiling that starts at 8’ high and slopes upward to 13’ at its peak in the middle. I have a comfortable fireplace on the long wall, with an opening opposite it that leads to a hallway. On the short wall opposite my equipment is another opening going to the dining room. I, like most audiophiles, listen to music in the comfort of my home and therefore it is not set up to look like a sound chamber. I prefer a good glass of California Cabernet, my fireplace, and a comfortable chair with which to enjoy the musical experience.

The Klipschorn speakers are designed to be used fitting snugly into the corners of the room on the long wall. I, however, must use the short wall and therefore, in order to angle them directly at me (they sound best that way), I must pull them away just a little bit. I took the back off the Salamander racks and use them behind the Klipschorns and made a sort of false wall to offset my arrangement. I find my placement works just fine.

The interesting thing about a tube amp is that when you change its tubes, to some degree you change its character. No, a complete transformation will usually not take place. This is not a Jekyll and Hyde type scenario. Check the Internet for tube reviews and you will see what I mean. Many reviewers are out there describing how certain amplifiers, preamps, CD players and DACS can change for the better by replacing their tubes. You will also discover that premium tubes are hard to find as NOS (New Old Stock) and that they can command a great deal of money. I usually buy used older tubes that test well. If you shop around you can find great bargains.

Harman Kardon Citation II Tube Amplifier back

When reviewing a tube amplifier, you must take into context the tubes it uses. Two identical amplifiers with different brands of the same tube type can still sound fundamentally the same, yet different. Yes, tube changes can affect the tone of your amplifier, and that is the fun part. I heard amplifiers I thought were just good open up after tube changes. Conversely, you can make an amplifier sound ordinary by subbing in different year and brand tubes, or worse yet, incorrect tube types. I always have a large box of tubes with which to play as new equipment becomes available in my system. Unfortunately, I do not have any extra 12BY7A tubes. They went away when I sold my Citation II amp and Citation I preamp. This review reminds me why I should have kept both. This Citation has some very good JR KT88’s already in it. As for the 12BY7As, it has an assortment of different tubes (GE and RCA) that all test well and sound good. I do have some KT88’s I can play with, but let’s save that for sometime near the end of the review.

Before I sat down to listen to my newly borrowed amp, Steve and I adjusted the bias on the KT88s and set the AC balance adjustments. It was quite simple, really, and even people who are new to tubes should be able to do this if they read the instructions carefully. Once this was set and rechecked, I was ready to go.

Listening Harman Kardon Citation II

The first night I spent about three hours in the dark, with the tubes glowing, just casually listening to music and enjoying a glass of “7 Deadly Zins” Zinfandel wine. I did not try to understand what I was hearing, I just let the music flow over me as I enjoyed the songs on my Oracle turntable. I must admit I was very impressed with the sound and could not wait for my next day off from work so I could get into a serious listening session.

First up for the day was the vinyl recording of Paul Simon in concert, Live Rhymin’, featuring the Peruvian folk group Urubama and the gospel vocal group the Jessy Dixon Singers. Forgetting for the moment that this is one of my favorite Paul Simon albums, I sat back for some critical evaluation of the Citation II.

Listening to “Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard,” I could hear a very wide soundstage with clear images of the performers and instruments laid out in front of me. I felt like I was 7th row center for the concert. That, coupled with the realistic presentation of the audience, applauding, talking, coughing, etc., gives you the impression that you are there live. The Citation is very good at throwing out in front of you all that the recording engineers have given us.

The next song up was the classic, “The Sounds of Silence”. The background vocals of the Jessy Dixon Singers were clear and precise, as the Citation allows the listener to hear small inflections in vocal passages.

My favorite song on this album, and perhaps one for the ages, is “The Boxer” written by Paul Simon in 1968. Initially released only on 45s, Paul first included this song on an album Bridge over Troubled Water in 1970. The Citation added a harmonic rightness to the performance. You could feel Paul’s pain within the layers of texture in his voice. The Citation does an excellent job of allowing us to hear deep into each singer’s vocal talents. While analytical almost to a fault, it still retains that tube magic and holographic sound.

Harman Kardon Citation II amplifier

Next, I switched over to the Samsung HD-841 CD player and listened to a SACD/Hybrid release from The Rolling Stones, Beggars Banquet. First song up was “Sympathy For The Devil.” The Citation can throw a large sound-stage, and with this recording it did not disappoint. Rocky Dijon on the congas sounded just right and Mick Jagger’s voice had a good tone to it. “No Expectations” from the same CD was a different story. Brian Jones playing steel guitar, doing those slides, was a little annoying. Normally I would like it, but the Citation is so utterly revealing that I could constantly hear the slides to the detriment of the song.

I had this urge to put on a different Stones album, Let It Bleed, also on SACD/Hybrid. I am glad I did, because there I listened to the classic, ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. The Citation did a great job on this song. The opening lyrics by the London Bach Choir (a group of sixty people) is so detailed you can hear some individual voices, as the Citation lays out the entire choir in front of you on a large soundstage. Then the song breaks into a beautiful guitar and French horn solo before Mick Jagger finally starts singing. This is one great song, and the Citation brings out the best of it. 12

I like Nat King Cole. His Best of CD has one of my favorites, “Unforgettable,” on it. The Citation shows us just what a mellow voice Cole has. His voice came across as smooth and full. However, the string section had just this edge to it that was slightly distracting. I listened to the entire CD, and it stayed just a little shrill the whole time. Now I wasn’t sure if it was the recording, which maybe in part it was, or could I do better with different KT88’s? Well, I do have two other sets I keep around just for such an occasion.

I could not resist, I get the two quads of KT88’s and start tube rolling. Ok, first I adjust the bias for a quad of Electro Harmonix KT88EH tubes and then reset the AC balance adjustment. I fired up the new quads with Paul Simon’s Live Rhymin’, and sit back for a listen. I immediately notice a subtle yet definite change in the sound. The lower and midbass are both a tad fuller and faster, and the vocals take on a slightly richer sound. As I go through the album, I notice there seems to be a more dynamic presence to the songs and, although subtle, I like the difference. I put back on Nat King Cole’s CD and listen to the string section on ”Unforgettable”. Sorry, not much difference there as it still has an edge to it. But, since you can pick up the EH KT88’s for around $120 a quad I think they are a great deal.

Now I am starting to feel the Citation really come alive, so I roll out the big guns. I have an old quad of Genalex KT88s. I put them in and go through the drill again of bias and AC balance adjustment. I fire up the Citation and wait 45 minutes for it to give off that wonderful tube glow. I love watching tubes glow as I listen to music. I start with Nat King Cole, and yes, the string section edge has diminished. His voice now takes on an even smoother presentation than with the EH KT88s. The bass does not seem as fast but that is ok, I actually like that better. The Citation has a fast attack anyway and the Genalex slows this up a bit in a good way. The Genalex and Harman Kardon Citation II make for a nice complement to each other.

No question about it, when I get another Harman Kardon Citation II amp, and I will, I am using my Genalex KT88’s. If you do not want to spend the money for the Genalex the relatively inexpensive JR and Electro Harmonix KT88s will do just fine. Please remember, we are talking about subtle differences, so the law of diminishing returns can take presence here. Genalex KT88’s are very expensive. I luckily bought these used a while back for only $200 for a quad; now they go for considerably more.

Swapping Speakers

Up is one more challenge for the Citation. Let us see how well it handles the Legacy Focus 20/20 speakers. Each -way, 7-driver speaker weighs in at 185 lbs. Each speaker consists of (2) 12″ subwoofers and (1) 12″ “transition driver,” (2) 7-inch Kevlar midwoofers, (1) 1.25 inch Dome, and one ribbon tweeter. They have two ports in the rear and a rated sensitivity of 95db @ 2.83V with an impedance of 4 ohms. The Focus is sensitive at 95db, but not as sensitive as the Klipschorns at 104db. Since I have the Genalex KT88’s dialed into the Citation, I will continue listening to the music, leaving them in.

I am not going into a long dissertation on how the Citation with the Genalex KT88’s paired with the Legacy Focus 20/20 speakers. To do so would require me to do another entire complete review. So let’s just have some fun and I’ll report to you the results in a short summary. Putting on Nate King Cole and listening once again to “Unforgettable” and “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” was a revelation. The Citation paired with the Legacys threw out a soundstage going well beyond what I have heard so far. Not only was it wide and deep but high as well. It actually sounded as if I was in a small nightclub listening to Cole ten feet from me. Again, no edge in the string section and his voice took on a deeper tone that I really liked. The Legacy Focus always had midrange and upper bass magic. Now coupled with the Citation II, whose strengths are also in that range, we have a synergy that is hard to beat.

Next, I tried Neil Young’s Prairie Wind CD and listened to “He Was The King” and “When God Made Me”. There was plenty of bass, and overall the Citation did a great job. I must say, however, that when it comes to taming these Legacys you really need more than 60 watts. My 200-watt class A Threshold 800A amp really grabs hold of the three 12in speakers in the Focus and holds on tight. Still, as I said, the midrange magic of this combination Legacy and Citation is spot on. I just wish I did not have to return the amp.

Maybe someone from Harman Kardon will read this review. Wouldn’t it be nice if they allow a new generation of music lovers a chance to experience what Stewart Hegeman has brought to those lucky ones who own this amp. McIntosh came out with the MC275 remake and that was quite a success, hopefully Harman Kardon will do the same. Sadly, I have heard of no such plans, but one can always hope.

Final Thoughts about Citation II

The Citation II is a straightforward amplifier. It is similar to a solid-state amp by virtue of the fact that what you feed it is what you get. There’s no tube amp romanticizing; rather, it is analytical and ruthlessly revealing. Vocals are nicely defined with the instruments sharp and clear. Soundstage is both wide and deep. The Citation allows you to hear the fluctuations in the vocals to such a degree that it feels you are at a live concert in the comfort of your own home. “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” These are probably a few of the most famous lines the English Romantic poet John Keats ever wrote and I find it a fitting description of the Citation II as it presents us with wave after wave of musical passages.

Review equipment:

  • Placette Passive 3 input preamp, Samsung HD-841 universal CD player
  • Oracle Delphi Mk I turntable with custom interconnects going to phone stage
  • Grace 707 tonearm with Denon 301 II MC cartridge. Whest PhonoStage.20 + MsU.20 power supply
  • Klipsch Klipschorn speakers (built in 1989), Legacy Focus 20/20 speakers
  • Monster HTS-2000 power conditioner, PS Audio UPC-200 Power Center
  • Blue Circle BC86 MKIII power line pillows (2), “The Musician” power cord by Mr Cable
  • PS Audio Transcendent (solid silver series) from the xStream Audio Series
  • Tek Line TL 500-S (silver interconnects)

from affordableaudio, By Anthony Nicosia