Pros: Accurate, dynamic sound. Capable of very high SPL playback, relative to size and weight. Self-powered, plenty of inputs, balanced wiring.
Cons: Cable connecting the speaker pair could be longer. Monster brand name is frowned upon by some. Requires line level input—not speaker cables.
I am an avid open-box and clearance shopper, and I found myself in clearance heaven. I had been shopping for a Roland audio interface for which I expected to pay $270. In the "last chance" room, I found two units for $130 each. I bought both—they sound wonderful when used as a DAC. I looked at every item in the room, and in a back corner, I spotted a box labeled "Clarity HD One." The Clarity HD Model One is a self-powered speaker from Monster that originally retailed for $750 per pair and currently sells for $499—but the pair I found were clearance priced at $278. I absolutely love experiencing a new pair of speakers, so whenever I see a good deal, I grab it—even though in the back of my head I was thinking, "Didn't Monster design Beats headphones?" and "Caveat Emptor."
I used my phone to read a few reviews on the spot and eventually gained enough confidence to give the Monster speakers a shot. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve loudspeakers—the magic of listening to the classic "Peter and the Wolf" and the shock of hearing Pink Floyd's "The Wall" when it was released. I was eight at the time. Listening to great speakers is one of my favorite activities. Actually, listening to music is one of my favorite activities, but speakers affect that experience in numerous ways.
The first thing to know about the Clarity HD One is that it does not come in a traditional black finish. Instead, the trapezoidal speakers come in red, yellow, silver, and bronze finish. My pair happened to be yellow. And there was much more that I would have to get used to regarding these newfangled speakers, beyond the color. For example, the grill is not removable. Also, even though they are self-powered, the amplification is contained within one speaker, and the pair is connected with an auxiliary cable in a manner not dissimilar to how many desktop computer speakers are wired.
The Clarity HD Model One is versatile, serving as both a desktop monitor and "main" speaker system.
Yet another oddity with the Clarity HD One is the lack of any specs regarding wattage. It's an interesting omission, since the marketing materials note that the drivers are bi-amplified and utilize an electronic crossover. I do not fault Monster for the omission; the number is probably relatively small and not very useful to the marketing department. Efficiency is an underappreciated trait in loudspeakers.
Whatever the power rating happens to be, it's also irrelevant—the speaker's actual performance quite literally speaks for itself. The Clarity HD One punches way above its weight class and is capable of producing full range, linear, sophisticated, and dynamic sound at any volume level from a whisper to a shout. It's really remarkable how these speakers maintain composure when pushed to volume levels that are undoubtedly dangerous but in no way unpleasant thanks the absence of any audible distortion.
I took some quick measurements and found that the Monsters were perfectly capable of playing flat down to 50 Hz. That made choosing a crossover point for my stereo rather easy—50 Hz it is. Integration with my subwoofers was smooth, simple, and seamless. I'm thrilled not to have to use any EQ to achieve a very flat response at the listening position. I am also happy to relieve my Pioneer SC–55 of having to amplify my mains. Currently, the only speakers powered by my AVR are the "front wide" pair. I have separate amplification for the rear and main L/R speakers in the system, not to mention four 12-inch ported subwoofers—each tuned to 16 Hz—that receive 500W each from a Crown XTi-2002 amp. That all adds up to a great deal of power in a rather small space, which is why I was really surprised that the Monsters were able to keep up, despite their modest size and power draw—200W according to the back panel. Whatever volume level I chose to listen at, the Clarity HD One lived up to its name.
This speaker has good connectivity, featuring stereo balanced 1/4-inch inputs as well as unbalanced RCA and 3.5 mm inputs. There is an iPhone dock, although that requires an adapter to use the latest model. Of greater interest is a port that accepts an optional $90 Bluetooth wireless receiver. Monster claims the wireless module—called StreamCast—receives music at a higher resolution than standard Bluetooth. I don't have the module, so I can't speak to its quality, but I do plan on getting one in the near future.
I connected the new speakers using an pair of RCA-to-1/4-inch cables that I purchased from Guitar Center. Connecting the speakers is incredibly easy, and the sound is unbelievably clear. After setting speaker levels, I was ready to get down to some critical listening. I auditioned the speakers with and without a subwoofer and as a stereo pair as well as part of a 7.4 surround system.
I can't find anything to criticize about the performance of these speakers. I'm actually getting a headache over that conclusion, because as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I had never expected this sort of refined sound quality from Monster. I certainly did not expect a pair of speakers that could play flat, loud without distortion, and with perfect clarity. I did not expect the extraordinary and almost hallucinatory imaging, which brought singers right into my room, creating the illusion of an actual orchestra in a concert hall behind my speakers. The Beatles classic "I Am the Walrus" twisted time and space in a most unusual way. I've had them for about a week now, and I've made it through a number of my favorite songs several times. I'm left with no choice but to rate the Clarity HD One as a significant upgrade to my system's overall sound quality.
The soundstage rivals that of the best tower speakers I've heard lately. The only giveaway that they are not expensive tower speakers was that without a subwoofer, the bottommost octave—where deep bass dwells—was relatively subdued in the genres that use it. The same is true for movie soundtracks that utilize deep bass as an effect. However, when paired with a competent subwoofer and crossed over at 50 Hz, the Clarity HD One can act as the core of a full range speaker system that has few peers at its price point.