Review: Monster Clarity HD Micro
Since the launch of the Jawbone Jambox, competing Bluetooth speakers have been appearing every month or so, as developers have sought to match or beat the small but expensive portable unit. The latest rival to arrive for testing is Monster's Clarity HD Micro ($230). Nothing about the design is particularly surprising, although the company claims that it offers depth and clarity of sound unrivaled by similarly-sized competitors, quite possibly because it's roughly an inch taller and an inch wider than the Jambox. Included in the package are a USB power cord, several different countries' wall adapters, a wrist strap, and a carrying bag.
The speaker’s core is plastic, and it’s weighted more heavily at the bottom than the top. Instead of sitting flat on a desk, Clarity HD Micro slightly reclines to direct sound not just forward, but up a little bit. While we understand why Monster would design it that way, we found the unit’s slant a little off-putting every time we set it down. The magnetically-attached front and rear metal grilles can be removed and swapped with optional colors that are sold separately, offering some opportunity for customization. As a whole, the speaker feels reasonably solid, although the grilles have a little bit of give that likely wouldn’t be there if they were permanently attached.
Instead of a dedicating a button to Bluetooth pairing, Monster combined this function with a play/pause control on the top of the speaker. Holding it down activates the pairing mode which is as quick and painless as we’d expect, accompanied by sound effects similar to Jambox’s. On the same strip as that button are volume up and down controls, while the rest of the ports and controls—Micro-USB charging port, line-in port, on/off switch, and reset button—are all along the back.
One unique feature of Monster’s speaker is its voice command system. Turned off by default, this system performs roughly two dozen voice prompts, mainly for controlling phone functionality. Say “Hello Monster Micro” at any point and it’ll implore you to say a command. It’s not terribly useful, and many iPhone 4S/5 users will just rely upon Siri instead, but the feature doesn’t hurt either.
Compared to the Jambox, Clarity HD Micro produces significantly cleaner sound when playing music, and also reaches higher volume levels. The bass isn’t quite as pronounced—we wouldn’t call either unit bass-heavy—but the mids and treble do sound better; as the name suggests, clarity is the key benefit. We did hear some scratchiness and popping between audio, primarily when the spoken commands cut out or non-music audio was being ported through the iPhone, but that’s not entirely unexpected in systems of this sort. The biggest surprise in Clarity HD Micro was the speakerphone performance: while the differences between this and Jambox weren’t huge, Jawbone sounded better, particularly for the person on the other side of your calls. Monster’s microphone produces very compressed, robotic sounding renditions of voices that were occasionally not particularly intelligible.
While Clarity HD Micro does sound better than Jambox as a small speaker system, it’s still not great, and carries an even high price—we would expect better than “pretty good” results for $150, let alone $200 or $230. On the other hand, Monster’s design feels solid and looks nice. Although we can’t imagine ever using the wrist strap, the portability is appreciated, and some users will appreciate the included carrying bag and international wall adapters. All things considered, Clarity HD Micro is a par option with the Jambox, and merits the same limited recommendation. If you want superior audio quality and volume for music, at a higher price, it’s worth considering, so long as speakerphone performance isn’t critically important to your needs.