Review: Harman Kardon Go + Play: Form hampers function - Macenstein

Review: Harman Kardon Go + Play: Form hampers function

Posted by Dr. Macenstein

Harman Kardon Go + Play

Harman Kardon has made a name for itself producing some of the best sounding (and most expensive) audio devices available. Their Go + Play iPod speakers maintain both of those proud traditions, but regrettably, some poor design choices hamper an otherwise very nice sound system.

The Design

First, let me preface this section by saying I think the Go + Play looks very cool. The smooth, black, oblong shape and stainless steel handle provide a very sleek and stylized look to the device. The front is dominated by 2 huge speaker grills (2 identical ones grace the back as well). Some people here mentioned it reminded them of a fly, but in a good way (if that’s possible).

As you may have guessed from the handle, the Go + Play is meant to be portable, and it can run off of 8 D batteries, if you should choose to do so. At 4 lbs, the unit is not overly heavy, although once battery laden you’re not exactly going to want to go hiking with it either.

The Sound

Harman Kardon Go + Play
The Harman Kardon Go + Play sounds great. I’d rank it above Apple’s similarly priced iPod Hi-Fi for its ability to accurately handle a wider range of music formats, and folks considering buying an Apple Hi-Fi should first take a serious look at the Go + Play. The Go + Play boasts two 30-watt tweeters, and two 30-watt woofers which explains why a unit this small can deliver such powerful audio. Additionally, it has an excellent Signal-to-Noise Ratio of >85dB, which means you can really turn this thing up outside without fear of distortion (although you should still fear your neighbors).

The Features

The Go + Play is designed to accommodate any iPod with a dock connector, and comes with an assortment of adapters to help ensure a tight fit. All iPods dock lying horizontally on the top of the speaker, which minimizes the risks of your iPod accidentally falling out while being carried. Like any good iPod speaker system with a dock, the Go + Play not only plays audio via the dock connection, but will also charge your iPod, even when the Go + Play is off (assuming it is plugged in). In addition to the Dock connector, the Go + Play sports a line in jack so you can hook up pretty much any other audio source you have handy, such as a DVD player or iPod Shuffle.

Right next to the audio in port is an S-Video out port. This means you can hook your Go + Play up to a television set, and play the iPod’s videos and photos, should you like. Given all full-sized iPods sold in the last couple years can play video the support for video is a nice touch, although I feel the engineers could have gone farther (see below). There is a USB port as well, but this cannot be used to charge other devices. It is meant to be hooked to your computer, effectively turing the Go + Play into a $350 charging dock.

Harman Kardon Go + PlayAbove: On the back of the Go + Play there is a cool little door that pops out revealing a place to store the remote.

The Go + Play also ships with an RF remote, with a 10 meter range. The remote is good for basic playback controls, such as play/pause, skip, volume adjust, and power on/off. Unfortunately you cannot use the remote to navigate the iPod’s menus.

The Problems

Ok, so this sounds like a pretty cool speaker system; clean audio, very loud without distortion, portable, plays video, cool design… so what’s the problem? Well, the main problem is with the “cool design”. And more specifically, the handle.

The fact there is an S-Video out port on the Go + Play leads you to believe the designers were thinking about the latest video iPods when designing the device. However, the handle gets in the way of using the iPod to play video (and use any iPod in it, really).

The dock connector has a limited range of tilt, maybe 30 degrees or so, before the handle stops an iPod from going any further. The “always horizontal” layout for the iPod makes traveling with a docked iPod easier, but you cannot watch video on the screen. This seems to me to be a glaring design flaw. Perhaps Harman Kardon thinks the iPod’s screen is too small to watch video on, but they’re wrong. In particular, suppose you used that troublesome handle to bring your Go + Play to a place where there IS no TV to hook up to? Like camping? Trying to raise the iPod into an upright position is impossible as the handle blocks it from doing so around 30 degrees.

Harman Kardon Go + PlayAbove: This is about as far as the iPod can tilt before hitting the handle. Not exactly how you want to watch a movie.

The handle’s placement is also problematic for basic operation of the iPod as well. Since the remote is limited in functionality (you can adjust volume, play pause and skip) you must navigate playlists manually on the iPod. Unfortunately, when the iPod is docked, and laying flat on it’s back, the handle cuts the view of the screen right down the middle, making it awkward to see the menus, and even harder to get your hand in there and scroll using the click wheel. I really think the designers missed an opportunity to make the Go + Play a must-have speaker system by not designing the handle in such as way as it could be hinged, or perhaps split in the middle to allow for a more user friendly experience.

Another gripe about portability; adding a handle to a speaker system does not mean it is a truly portable device. Similar to the Apple Hi-Fi, the Go + Play is not the sort of rugged portable system you would throw in the back of your car or trunk and tailgate with. It is the kind you would gently wrap in a blanket, and hope you don’t hit any potholes on the way. This is not to say the unit feels cheap, but it feels expensive, and not “tough”. Sort of like you wouldn’t want to carry around your flat panel LCD TV. I think the design of the Go + Play lends itself to being a stationary bookshelf system more so than a true “road warrior”.

(One quick note for “road warriors” considering running the Go + Play off batteries: you need to use a screwdriver to access the battery compartment. This can be annoying to some people (especially those without screwdrivers handy), so since it is not something you would know until you saw a Go + Play in person and flipped it over, I figured I would mention it.)

Harman Kardon Go + PlayAbove: The “cheaper” looking, highly reflective plastic used for the Go + Play’s remote does not look as nice as the more matte black material used on the speakers.

One final minor complaint is with the remote. The material it is made from is a shiny and cheap feeling black plastic that does not match the material used on the speakers themselves. I would have liked to see that same look carried through tot he remote for appearances sake, if nothing else.


Harman Kardon designed a great sounding, great-looking portable speaker system with the Go + Play, but unfortunately the form hampers function. For a speaker designed specifically for the iPod (and the video iPod at that) it is a shame that accessing the controls and watching video is so difficult. Audiophiles will find little to complain about, but if you do not need the portability the Go + Play offers, there are much cheaper bookshelf systems that sound as good or better (see our review of the $99 JBL Spot).

Harman Kardon Go + Play Speakers

Price: $350

Pros: Sounds great, doesn’t distort at loud volumes, can be battery powered, portable

Cons: Handle placement makes navigating iPod difficult, cannot watch iPod video directly from the unit, cannot navigate iPod with remote

36 Responses to “Review: Harman Kardon Go + Play: Form hampers function”
  1. steve says:

    Can’t you pop up the connector, THEN put the ipod in? This would allow the ipod to work vertically, even though you couldn’t lie it back down without disconnecting and reconnecting it It seems to me it can work either horizontally or vertically, it just can’t switch from one to the other without disconnection. If this is true, I would find it to be only a minor hindrance.


  2. Steve,
    Sorry, no, you can’t, the dock connector doesn’t swivel enough.

    -The Doc

  3. steve says:

    Sorry to hear that. Actually, it then seems that the real flaw in design is NOT the handle,but simply that the dock connector won’t swivel all the way up. Too bad, but I might get one anyway. I wonder if there is an adapter or extender that you could plug into the unit to have the ipod be moveable…

    thanks for the excellent review


  4. Steve, the sound from the Go + Play is indeed amazing (we had another outside gathering this weekend, and many people inquired about the unit (although all of them were a bit surprised at the high price)).

    It would be a great system for folks who have no plans to use the video playback via the iPod and who can see past navigating through the iPod menus with the handle sort of in the way.

    Most people could get past these issues, and once it is playing it is great. But for $350 we thought it should have been near perfect, and the design should have thought more about the use of the iPod when docked.

    -The Doc

  5. imajoebob says:

    I stopped reading after the first sentence. You demonstrate your limited knowledge and/or research in a single (parenthetical) phrase. Harman Kardon makes some of the best and BEST PRICED audio. Anyone who knows whose knowledge of audio exceeds Technics, Pioneer, and Sherwood knows that Harman Kardon are likely the best value of any brand of audio. Any. They consistently sound better Denon but cost less than Sony.

    My c. 1978 45-watt HK570i receiver blows the doors off my friend’s brand new JVC 110-watt receiver (into Ohm Walsh 2 speaker). HK rates their receivers at power needed to drive good speakers, not how much power it takes to clip the amp (“peak power”), so the specs seem low. Peak power is usually 3 times the rating.

    HK’s sound great and cost a fraction of comparable equipment (a really small fraction of the high-end stuff that doesn’t sound one iota better). You’ve likely confused them with Bang & Olufsen, who make the most beautiful furniture in the stereo business.

  6. Powder says:

    I compared that system with many, many, other systems. If you want quality sound at high volume this is the best unit you can get. It BLOWS away my Bose Companion 3 system. I wouldn’t think twice about buying HK over Bose. Plus its portable.

    When it comes to video, I agree with the review. Don’t buy it! NOT for video.

    If all you care about is sound. Don’t waste your time testing anything else.

  7. Joe Cloud says:

    I went to the Apple store today to pick up a portable hi fi system for my Ipod. I went thinking I was getting either the apple or Bose system. After spending an hour in the store playing all kinds of music on every system there I easily decided on the Harman/Kardon go & play system. This system blew the rest of them away. I don’t mind paying $350. when there is this big a difference in sound quality. when I got it home and turned it up there was no distortion at all. As far as portablity, while I probably wouldn’t want to take it on a camping trip to the outback or the beach, it is easliy picked up and taken to a park, on a trip, or just hanging on your deck. Simply put if want to have a system that you can take almost anywhere and hear clear, crisp sounds this is the one to get.

  8. afro says:

    What exactly the function of USB? I still didn’t get it. Can u explain?

  9. Anton says:

    Hey Doc,

    Did you actually figure out the remote. It does control playlist and other functions…you just have to know them by memory. As for this system…I own the Bose and the HK; the HK easily blows it way out of the water. There is just no comparison. This system produces true thumpin’ bass. It does have its video drawbacks, but can handle sound exceptionally well.

  10. The_Stig says:

    Having the Go+Play now for several months I must say that I still love that thing and don’t regret having bought it. From the daily use I can only three more points that you may keep in mind if considering buying one:

    1. iPod only gets charged when running on wall power. No charging beeing on batteries. That leads for my 5G-30GB that iPod is empty before batteries run off.
    2. For my system it drains my rechargeable batteries sometimes so much, that it leaves only about 0,01V in the batteries. That seriously damages them and is so very bad.
    3. The coverage of the rear connector plug don’t really fit. They constantly come undone.

    It would be great if any other owner of the Go+Play could comment if he faces the same problems.


    BTW: Sorry, no native englishman 🙂

  11. surge says:

    i have originally decided on a apple hifi. was about to pay for it when the salesperson asked if i have listen to this HK before. for the fun of it i tried…and was sold!!! beats apple hifi away!!
    i brought it to my office and use it when more ppl have left the office. i played it once w some jazz musix at low vol as i didnt wanna disturb my colleagues. the next day, my colleagues were asking when am i going to turn on my speakers..they loved the sound and said that its very clear and nice nice to listen to…of cos…the price of e unit when enquired did scare afew….considering they are ppl who thinks that a pair of power PC speakers are great!..that the unit…one glitch though…the AC power unit gives a hiss when the Hk is not on ‘on’. initially i thought was the set but traced it to the AC power adaptor…when to enquire at shop and the other power adaptors were the same…very happy owner!

  12. Mary says:

    I just returned the first Go+Play because one of the speakers on the back was not working. Seems to be the same with the new one. I’ve tried 3 different ipods with the same results. ????

    Agreed that the sound is great. Used it all summer in the yard and love it.

  13. leon williams says:

    just to add to the last comment, the two rear grills do not have speakers in them they are just for the look but the two bass drivers are ported throught the right grill. great system absolutly love it. i love it so much i have relpaced my wharfedale zaldek z1000’s with it. worth every penny

  14. Sean says:


    The GO+Play only utilizes one of the two ‘speakers on the back’ (subwoofers)the other one is passive and it is a design feature to increase sound quality and performance.

  15. DJ says:

    REmote doesn’t work with 80GB iPod….too bad. This thing sounds amazing….best out there.

  16. Gaz says:

    1. These speakers sound absolutely fantastic. Isn’t that the most important thing when considering a speaker system? They are better than the Bose SoundDock that’s for sure. Yes, cheaper ones might sound as good “at times”, but these sound solid right across the range and at high volumes with no distortion at all.
    2. They look really smart, depending on your taste. I certainly like them, and so does the wife.

    I really don’t get what the reviewer is on about when talking about the handle obscuring the screen and them not being very good for watching video. WTF?! These are SPEAKERS, for the iPod, which is arguably for MUSIC. So the iPod can play video…whoopeee, so can my mobile phone, but I don’t bother. I’ve got a much better dedicated portable media player for that. As for moaning about the visibility of the screen…blimey, that’s like getting into a car and moaning that you can’t reach the pedals or see out of the rear view mirror. So MOVE things around then…yourself if necessary.

    The bottom line is, these speakers sound great, the handle serves its purpose by allowing them to be easily transported around, and if you think that gettting your hand in to operate the iPod is made difficult by the placement of the handle, you must have some seriosuly large hands. Either that, or you are just plain clumsy and impatiant. I like the fact that my iPod is not stood up – less chance of it getting knocked off.

    I often get the impression that reviewers will do anything to find fault, especially with big-name brands with a big price tag. If you want some speakers that sound absolutely superb, look great, and keep your iPod docked in a safe position, these speakers are for you. If all you are bothered about is fidgeting with your iPod while it is docked instead of listening to music, maybe you should look elsewhere.

  17. Greg says:

    Quite simply, The most incredible portable Hifi boombox I have ever heard. And I have owned many of the most sought after “High end” boomboxes/radios over the last 25 years. People who complain about the price don’t know squat about High-end audio. I remember once paying over $600.00 for a JVC M-70 back in the early 80’s. This machine is worth every dime IMO. Granted you can’t watch movies very easy, but come on, thats what a TV is for. How much joy can one get watching anything on a screen as small as the ipods? Besides, The HK system has outputs that will allow one to hook up to there TV.

    If you want the BEST sounding portable audio system for ipod, look no further….You’r just waisting you’r time, (but not you’r money)…Peace

  18. Sean says:

    Hey, does anybody who owns this dock know if the GO+Play limits the volume during battery operation? I think it does, but I’m waiting on my power source in the mail, I’ve been running it off of batteries and the sound is awesome, but I just don’t feel that it is giving 120 Watts at peak output. I’m yet to plug it into the wall. I just figured that in order to get 18 hours of playback out of the batteries it couldn’t put out full volume. Am I just full of funny ideas or can anybody confirm that?

  19. natalie says:

    anyone getting a buzzing sound when plugging audio ad usb cables into the HK Go + Play?

    For $300 i want this thing to double as my computer speakers AND ipod dock



  20. hunter says:

    I was wondering if anyone has tried a nano 3g on this machine. Everytime I put mine in it locks up and nothing happens. So I cant even use the s-video cord or listen to music via my new ipod and new harman kardan go + play system.

  21. Hunter, I haven’t tried it, but I think when Apple decided to change the way the new iPod ‘s video/audio out works, they pretty much made a bunch of “older” accessories useless.


    -The Doc

  22. JohnnyO says:

    I was almost ready to take my new HKGOPLAY back to the store because of the lack of sound response from the rear right speaker. Fortunately, I discovered the posting here regarding the “passive” feature in the rear speaker. Why isn’t this made clear in reviews and promotional materials I’ve read, with many touting the sound system as front-and-back and multi-directional?

    Having said that, this is an awesome sounding machine.

  23. Grandi says:

    I’m very satisfied with the Go + Play Harman Kardon unit. Great sound and looks very cool.

    I do have a problem though when trying to connect my Classic Ipod 160G to send video signal out to my TV.

    According to Harman Kardon, you first need to connect the S-Video cables to the unit and the TV and then turn on “TV out” on the Ipod. But I get no video image on TV and the Ipod remains in the “Please connect video accessory” mode.

    Is it possible that the Classic 160G is not compatible with the Go +Play?

    I’ve tried 2 different working S-Video cables.

    Let me know.


  24. Lertad says:

    Hi, excellent review, I just wanted to confirm what a great device this is in terms of sound quality and design.

    More importantly though, could you please make an important correction to your review? The remote ***DOES*** navigate the iPod menus. It’s easily switched between play/pause playback and iPod navigation with the ease of a single button. The drawback is that there is no “quick scroll” function, and you can’t really see where you’re navigating due to the stated issue about the Ipod not being able to be “sat up” vertically.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  25. nicolas says:

    I’d like to know if it’s possible to connect a Macbook laptop to the HK go+play if so how to connect and what cord to use?
    also would like to know if I can connect a Ipod nano 4 Go?
    thank u 4 your help!

  26. paul says:

    in responce to GRANDI (23), im afraid I too am having the same problem after trying exactly the same hook up.
    looks like the only way is the expensive Apple way to watch the “new” ipod classic through TV ( unless someone knows of a cheaper non apple lead available).

  27. Hooran says:


    It is possible to connect a Macbook laptop to the HK Go + Play. There is an auxiliary in line built into the unit. All you need to do is plug one end into the headphone jack of your laptop, and other end into the auxiliary input. The cord is included with the system (in the US at least), if not included you’re looking at purchasing a male to male 3.5mm stereo cable. I don’t own a Nano, so unless the headphone jacks are anything other than common headphone jacks, then I don’t see why the auxiliary-in shouldn’t work with the HK Go + Play. You’ll only be missing out on negligible features such as changing tracks via remote control.
    I just bought a HK Go+Play a couple days ago, and I use it a lot with my HP laptop and Creative Zen mp3 player, sound quality is amazing.

  28. jerzilla says:

    the sound quality makes me sh** my pants.

    really who’s going to use this to watch videos on a 2 inch screen, get a portable divx player for 60 bucks.

    this is a BOOMBOX, a futuristic one, remember those things people used to carry around?

    it’s for SOUND, and the sound is incredible, the range is so dynamic and the sound is clean and crispy.

    As for the ipod dock being in a bad position, if i’m not mistaken isn’t there an audio minijack in or some equivalent? USE THAT, problem solved, position the ipod however you want.

  29. David says:

    I have been hooked on the Bose sound dock for quite some time I thought the sound was awesome, until I heard the Go + Play, Bose has nothing on this product the sound is truly awesome as for the faults everything has faults, just work around them.

  30. Rob says:

    I just picked one of these up at Costco here in Canada for $199.00. I’m thinking I just got away with a huge steal! I first passed on one of these, albeit the sound was freaking amazing….I’m sure those in the back corner of the costco warehouse could here my iphone 3g music loud and clear. I ended up passing on it as the iphone will not charge off this unit. So off I went to future shop to try all their units out, and the only unit that came close was the bose portable unit @ $350. Sound reproduction was good but would start clipping (distort) as you started turning the unit up. So I had one of those moments where I asked myself, what do I want from a docking system for my iphone, and the simple answere was portable with great sound reproduction at impressively loud levels…. so the answere was simple, also considering the $150 I was able to save buying the HK. Anyone considering this but maybe on the fence should definetly sample a few different offerings out there, but I’d be very surprised if you don’t come back to this unit. Also to note, an RF remote is waaaaaay better than IR. No need for line of sight to skip songs, turn up the volume or pause your music. Love it, love it, love it!

  31. Aurora says:

    I love the Go + Play but have no idea which adapter to use fo my 3G Nano. The manual lacks in content. Help !!

  32. Lisa says:

    I just bought this for a steal on ebay for $124, refurbished, sold by Harman Kardon, with 30-day any-reason return policy with no restocking fee, and the same warranty that comes with a new unit. I opened it up today and It’s ABSOLUTELY SUPERB. A note for Aurora–the little plastic adapters have names on them if you look closely. One will have tiny clear letters that read “NANO”. Try them all and see which works if you can’t read the letters.

    Now for my review. I researched many, many models before settling on this one. I have a JBL on-stage II which I like a lot for its tiny size, but my husband dropped it a few months ago and now it distorts even at medium volumes. I decided to upgrade when buying a new unit. My parents have a Bose wave radio, and over Christmas at their house I liked the sound of CDs played in it, and wrongly assumed that a Bose sound dock would have the same sound quality. So, I bought and returned the latest Bose. In the Apple store it was the best they had (they were out of the HK Go Play) and I couldn’t even locate a JBL Radial to test out, which might have been another option, although the HK Go Play has much better reviews. I tested the B&W (a huge, football-shaped unit that sells for $600) in a local store. It is much better than several small shelf systems I tested as well for $600-$800, that even came with an Ipod adapter. None of them come close to the HK Go Play. I cranked it up today and (pardon my gushiness) the music made me cry. I was listening to choral music and it sounded like I was sitting in church. I could “feel” the organ and all the angels flying around. There was NO distortion at ANY volume (and I turned it up all the way), like everyone else in the hundreds of positive reviews I’ve read has concurred. The sound separation is superb. I can hear the difference between the altos, sopranos, tenors and baritones. This separation and clarity was not there at all in other speakers. My husband can even hear the lyrics, which he could not in the Bose or the JBL. There is a huge difference between the quiet parts and the loud parts of songs. I chose to buy this unit because the only complaint in the hundreds of reviews I read was that you might get finicky about your music because you’ll hear the difference. I concur.

    This will make an audiophile out you if you are not already. It will open up a whole new world in music.

    Now for the downside.

    As stated in the positive things, it will open up a whole new world in music.

    1. Instead of just blithely enjoying your music, you might find yourself critical of the arrangement of the song, you might wonder why that soprano took a breath right there instead of at the end of the line, you might hear weird little noises that came up in the place of the recording, you might go endlessly in search of the perfect music, and you might never find it. You may find yourself reading online news and blogs waiting to see when the itunes store will offer LOSSLESS audio format right in the itunes store, or looking for other ways to get CD (or better) quality sound into your HK.
    2. You may find yourself comparing the quality of sound to LIVE music, instead of other stereo equipment you’ve used. I found myself complaining because I could FEEL the organ but I couldn’t SEE the singers. I also became suddenly critical of a few slightly off-pitch notes here and there in the choir.
    3. You will DEFINITELY have to re-import your CDs in Lossless format into itunes (you can select Apple Lossless encoding as the default way to import your CDs into itunes) because you can hear the difference from several rooms away. If you only bought the 128-bit songs from itunes you might go looking for a used CD to burn and import in lossless format into itunes. If you listen to a lot of music, you might decide a Nano isn’t enough, you might end up with a big clunky Ipod Classic with enough storage for a large library in lossless format. 🙂
    4. I didn’t think the volume was super loud like some other people commented, but I live in a house, not an apartment. That said, we sat on the opposite side of the room to listen, to appreciate the fullness of the sound. I noticed, however, when I went into other rooms, the SOUND QUALITY TRAVELED WITH ME and I could still hear the distinct separation in the vocal tracks. I think it’s a magic speaker system! The sound travels with me and despite never being TOO loud, it doesn’t lose much volume 3 rooms away. Maybe it’s just the crystal clarity that makes it feel that way.
    5. Now I will have to upgrade my other sound stuff so we have a CD player with sound quality as good. Maybe I’ll just get a little external one to plug into the audio in jack.

    In any case, I’m VERY happy with this purchase. I was a little concerned from HK’s own description of thunderous bass, that the bass would be overdone and the treble and midtones wouldn’t be full enough. That is far from reality. Everything is clear and balanced. I figured out that the reason they say it’s “thunderous bass” is because the whole spectrum is present. Often what is packaged as “plenty of bass” is just overamped mushy crap. This is not the case with the HK Go Play. The loud bass organ notes did, however, rattle the windows.

    Get the HK Go Play if you want to feel your music.

  33. Anna says:

    I have a Go + Play as I run toddler music classes and I needed a unit that could go louder than 15 toddlers and drums yet still sound fab. And it does!
    I love pretty much everything about it but the 1st Ipod I bought started skipping in the first few weeks of classes. A year later I’m currently using a brand new nano in it and low and behold that skipped in a song last week!
    I cannot fathom why both these Ipods should start to skip but both are used all day everyday at full volume in the Go + Play. Is it possible that somehow the use of it so regularly at a high volume could cause a fault in the Ipods? Or the technology of it somehow over time warps the Ipods?
    I know very little about these things so would welcome some ideas?

  34. pube says:

    i have some go + play speakers.
    they are the best speakers i have ever had, the sounds quality is amazing, but i would like to point out that you can use the remote to go through the menu’s on your ipod. if you just press the button with the square on it(bottom left button) then it switches the function of the remote to work the menu’s of the ipod.

  35. kamedas says:

    Was looking at this HK earlier tonight, it was priced at $350 CDN. There was no help from store employees (FutureShop) so I left wondering if the Go+Play’s dock accommodates an iPhone ??

  36. Gert says:

    Does anyone know how to replace the speaker of the GO + PLAY.
    I see the screws but to sit there to get the Silveren part of this unit, does anyone know how without damaging it?.

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