After focusing on headphones for the last few years, Monster, which recently dropped the word "Cables" from its company name, has moved into the speaker realm. The Clarity HD Model One is a pair of speakers that defies simple categorization?taller than a typical desktop or PC speaker pair, but not really a bookshelf speaker pair, either. One thing is for sure: They're expensive. At $749.95 (direct) for the pair, the Model One is a serious investment. The overall design of the self-powered system isn't quite up to snuff with the competition in this price range. But audio performance is undeniably powerful, with no distortion at top volumes and a delivery that, at more reasonable listening levels, brings out the best in music of all genres.
These speakers are big. Wedge-shaped, and quite tall, they measure 15.5 by 9 by 6 inches (HWD). The front panel of each is protected by a transparent metallic speaker grille. Behind the grille, each speaker houses a 1-inch tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer. Handle grips are built-in to the top panels of both speakers, where the right speaker also has an iPod/iPhone docking area, a Power button, and rubberized Volume knob.
Visually, the Clarity HD Model One?isn't going to impress everyone?the glossy look, the metallic grilles (that bend very easily when pressed), combined with their substantial height will make them stand out. And that's before we get to the color options, which are silver, bronze, red, or yellow. Slap on some logos and slogans, and they end with more of a recording studio feel than a living room look.
On the right speaker's rear panel, there's a high frequency level selector up near the top?it can be set to Flat (0), -2dB, or +2dB. This knob is a bit unique?you often find bass level adjustment knobs on speaker systems, or both high and low frequency adjusters, but rarely the high frequency adjuster on its own. I recommend leaving the knob in the flat position, but the slight tweak can be useful if you use the speakers in a particularly reflective space with lots of glass or marble, or one with lots of sound-absorbing surfaces, like carpets, sofas, and curtains. Both of these types of environments can have an effect on the perceived levels of high frequencies.
There's an 8-pin DIN connection port to the Left Speaker (and an extremely long cable is provided, so getting a wide stereo image shouldn't be a problem); a 3.5mm input for computers, MP3 players, and mobile devices; an RCA input for televisions or stereo component outputs; and left and right 1/4-inch inputs for mixers or pro-audio gear. The connector for the power cable is situated on the bottom of the rear panel. The left speaker's rear panel, meanwhile, has only the connection to the right speaker, and a vertical slogan that reads "because the music matters."
When an iPhone or iPod is docked, it defeats the inputs from other cabled devices. But a system like this, that aims to more or less replace the need for a stereo receiver by powering speakers internally, should have a source selection button so you can easily choose between RCA, iPhone, or 3.5mm inputs, instead of relying on the internal circuitry to make the decisions for you.
Unfortunately, there are no cables?other than the speaker connection cable?included for the system?a curious exclusion from a company that only recently removed the word "Cable" from its name. So, you'll need to supply your own 1/4-inch, RCA, and 3.5mm to make use of any of the inputs aside from the iPhone/iPod dock input.
There is also no video output, which makes it impossible to watch video from your iPhone on a big screen while listening to the audio through the speakers, unless you involve external devices. There are four adapter trays for the various supported?iPod and iPhone models, and a tiny, flimsy-feeling remote control with limited functionality?only Volume, Mute, Play/Pause, and Track Forward/Backward/Scan. There's no iPod menu navigation.
Regardless of the design, there's no denying the Clarity HD Model One system is very powerful. At maximum volume, which is extremely loud?louder than you'll likely ever need in a typical home use scenario, even when you are partying late into the night?the speakers never distort, even on deep bass tracks like the Knife's "Silent Shout," which has made a distorted mess of many speakers at even 75 percent volume.?
So at top volumes, you'll have a clean signal, but how do the speakers sound? While audiophiles may want to spend their cash on a more typical, non-powered, flat-response bookshelf speaker set, like the Paradigm Mini Monitors, those who enjoy deep bass but still crave a nice level of balance should definitely give the Model Ones a listen. There's some serious low-end presence here, but it's not over the top, and never muddles things. The primary area of focus seems to be more on the mids and highs, and not on making this system a thumping, low-frequency juggernaut.
Hip-hop and heavier rock tracks sound particularly powerful on the Clarity HD Model One, with bass lines playing a slightly secondary role to higher-pitched percussion and guitar licks. Radiohead's "Staircase," with its punchy bass groove, sounds fantastic, but it's the guitar line mimicking the bass, as well as the cymbal and percussion work, and of course, the vocals, that take center stage. The louder you turn things up, the more the bass becomes a larger part of the mix, but that's probably more psycho-acoustics than reality, and at moderate levels, the bass is still well-represented.
On instrumental tracks like the John Adams' modern classical piece, "The Chairman Dances," the system's substantial low end gives an excellent presence to the lower-register strings that can often get lost in the mix, but the stars of the show are the high frequency occupants, like the wooden percussion, flutes, and higher-register strings. The brass section in particular benefits from the nice balance between lows, mids, and highs, allowing both the growl and the resonance of the trombones to push through the mix.
We haven't tested too many speaker systems in this high price range. Of those we have reviewed, most have fallen into the category of AirPlay speaker docks, like the Libratone Live ($699.95, 3.5 stars) or the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air ($599.95, 4 stars. Both of these systems are design pieces that make the Clarity HD Model One look a bit bland. Sonically, all offer solid audio quality, as well, but none of the speaker docks we've tested can come close in power to the Clarity HD Model One.?
If all of these systems are too pricey for your budget, but you'd still like a strong pair of stereo speakers for your computer and mobile devices, check out the excellent, simple Audioengine 5+ ($399, 4.5 stars). And if that price is still too high, the affordable Harman Kardon SoundSticks III ($169.95, 4.5 stars) are old standbys?not nearly on the sonic level of the aforementioned systems, but a great bargain for the price. The Clarity HD Model One cannot be described as a bargain?it's a bit overpriced given its design shortcomings, like the lack of a Source button and the limited remote control. There's no arguing that it's one of the loudest, cleanest systems we've tested, however, and at safe volumes, it represents every genre quite well.
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