Monster Cables and Beats by Dre have gone their separate ways, but Monster Cable continues to make a name for itself as a standalone audio brand. Its latest offering, the $199 Monster ClarityHD Micro Bluetooth Speaker, delivers big sound in a relatively small package. In addition to voice conferencing, the Micro offers voice command features, making this accessory a great choice for mobile professionals and music fans alike.
Click to EnlargeThe ClarityHD Micro is small enough to fit on even the most crowded shelf or desk. The 7 x 3.25 x 1.5-inch, 0.83 pound Micro cuts a rather slim, lightweight profile. While the 0.75-pound, 5.9 x 2.2 x 1.6-inch Jawbone Jambox is smaller and lighter, the Micro is extremely portable and can fit into just about any purse or small compartment in a backpack.
Our favorite part about the ClarityHD Micro's design is the pair of unassuming black metal grilles that wrap around the speaker's front and rear. The front plate has a small chrome Monster logo while the black plate is bare. The matte black covers are magnetic, making them easy to swap out for one of the other colored plates pairs (light blue, light green and pink, available for $19.95).
Click to EnlargeRemoving the front plate shows of the dual speakers separated by a Monster insignia etched into the plastic base. A micro-USB port and a line-in jack line a lower left panel along the back of the speaker. The right panel holds an On/Off switch and a reset button.
The top of the Micro is subtly recessed; at its center is a long button for volume and Bluetooth pairing, below a red-and-white ClarityHD Micro logo. The Micro's bottom has a soft-touch rubberized panel to keep it from slipping.
In terms of accessories, the Micro features a small wrist strap, an AC adapter with four alternate plugs, a micro-USB cable and a handsome velvet carrying pouch.
Set up and Ease of Use
Click to EnlargePairing the ClarityHD Micro to Bluetooth-enabled devices is as easy as a flicking a switch and pressing a button. We took turns pairing the speaker with the Samsung Galaxy S III and the iPhone 4S.
After placing each phone in pair mode, we switched the Micro on and pressed a button on top of the speaker. Micro made a slight purring noise and the status light flashed red and blue to signal it was in pair mode. From there a pleasant male voice delivered instructions, including the speaker's pin code. Once we were paired, the speaker made a happy chirping noise. The whole process took about three to four seconds on each phone and we were ready to play music.
Syncing the device with a laptop was just as speedy. After making our Fujitsu LifeBook U772 Ultrabook discoverable, we pressed the pair button on the Monster and listened for the distinctive purr. Pairing took a little longer at five to six seconds.
We ran into a bit of trouble with the speaker's volume buttons. Instead of adding skip/rewind buttons, users must short press the +/- buttons to skip forward or back and long-press to adjust the volume. There were more than a few occasions where we accidently skipped a track while attempting to adjust the volume.
Click to EnlargeAfter pressing the + and - buttons for five seconds, that friendly male voice informed us that "voice command is on." To activate voice commands, we simply said "Hello Monster Micro," and the speaker prompted us to say a command. The Micro responds to 24 individual commands, including "pair mode," "check battery," "redial" and accessing "settings menu." If we ever needed a refresher course on the command prompts, we used the "What can I say?" command.
We liked that we could use our normal speaking voice and appreciated the Micro's speed of execution. However, we wished we could use voice commands while playing music instead of having to pause the track and wait a few seconds before issuing commands.
Click to EnlargeThe Monster ClarityHD bathed our testing room in rich, loud audio. Thanks to the pair of full-range drivers in the front and the large passive bass radiator in the back, the speaker delivered relatively balanced sound. However at higher volumes, we noticed some distortion.
Chrisette Michele's soulful soprano exuded sweetness and power over the organ and keyboards in "If I Have My Way." However, we noticed a bit of flatness in the trumpets, bass and vocals on Jay-Z and Young Jeezy's "As Real As It Gets." Still, we could clearly hear the delicate sprinkling of piano throughout the track.
The Micro fared better on Eric Clapton's "If I Could Change The World," with crisp percussion, clear guitar and Clapton's signature bluesy vocal. Babyface's backup vocals blended nicely with Clapton's for a nice harmony.
When we played the same tracks on the competing Jambox, highs were consistently richer, but we did hear quite a bit of distortion on the Chrisette Michele tracks, especially toward the bridge when the singer belts out a beautiful solo. The Micro blew the Jambox away in terms of volume and bass.
On a side note, the Micro has a rather annoying habit of chirping every couple of seconds when we paused the music for longer than 30 seconds.
Click to EnlargeIn addition to playing music, the ClarityHD Micro functions as a speakerphone, good for conducting conference calls. If we received a call while listening to music, the track would pause as the Micro announced the call by reading out the number. We could either say "answer" or "ignore" if voice command was enabled, or simply press the + or - buttons.
Our test calls to landlines, cellphones and Skype were loud and crisp. There were a few instances on Skype where we experienced some echo. Our callers reported clear, loud audio on their end across the board.
Battery Life and Bluetooth Range
Similar to other Bluetooth products, the Monster ClarityHD Micro has a range of about 30 feet. During our testing, we were able to use both the Samsung Galaxy SIII and the Fujitsu LifeBook U772 up to 26 feet before the sound dropped off. However, the signal faded a lot quicker when we put a few walls between the speaker and the connected device.
Monster conservatively rated the Micro for five hours of battery life. During testing the device lasted nearly six hours before the red low battery life status light began to flash.
Click to EnlargeThe $199 Monster ClarityHD Micro Bluetooth Speaker delivers a compact, travel-friendly speaker with loud, balanced audio and solid speakerphone ability. The pot gets even sweeter when you throw in the voice commands and switchable speaker plates. Consumers looking for a slightly smaller speaker with clearer highs should check out the identically priced Jawbone Jambox, but you won't get voice commands. Overall, the Micro is an excellent portable speaker that's a smart choice for mobile professionals or anyone looking for a lot of sound from a small package.