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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monster Cable Clarity HD Model One

Monster Cable Clarity HD Model One

Yes, you’re going to need a bigger desk.

If, that is, you consider the new Clarity HD Multimedia Speakers from MonsterCable (yes, the ex$pensive-wire people) to be “desktop audio.” I do – they’re flanking my 20-inch monitor as I write this, and while it’s true that they rather crowd the work-top, they sound sweet enough in doing so that I’m willing to overlook their bulk.

The Clarity HD Model One is Monster’s first foray into the serious loudspeaker biz, and it’s a notable one. The design is substantial, and technical: two-way, digital-crossover, powered monitors with multiple audio inputs, an iPod/Phone dock set into the right speaker’s top (with supplied mini-remote to command both the speakers and the iDevice), and considerable refinement of design.

For example, the Model Ones’ tops have nifty inset handles that make grab-and-going a joy – though you won’t be going far, since you'll have to plug the right-channel speaker into the wall for power. A thick, multiconductor (DIN) cable links the pair, while around the back of the right-hand unit, in addition to the AC-cord inlet, you'll find mini-phone, RCA jack, and quarter-inch (phone-plug) stereo inputs, all of which are active simultaneously. There’s also a slot for a future wireless module, and a +2/0/-2 dB High Filter switch. (A bit surprisingly, there are no digital inputs, USB or otherwise.)

The iPod/Phone dock is elegantly inset just behind the handhold; the system power button and volume wheel are also on the right-hand unit. The Monsters are nicely finished – my pair arrived in glossy racing yellow — and well put together (in China, of course) , with nice touches like grippy, rubberized surfaces for the button and wheel mentioned above, and a red pilot light that glows discreetly from behind the removable, perf-metal screen.

Very nice, but how do they sound?

That said, even the “0 dB” setting of the Clarity HDs’ back-panel tweeter control sounded a bit bright in my setup; the -2 dB setting, while still definitely “forward” on the top few octaves, was just about right. The +2 dB setting was brighter still, of course, but still not painful, “spitty,” or harsh, suggesting a generally smooth tweeter response, but a somewhat enthusiastic level-set.

But with the switch at -2 dB, and the Model Ones toed in a bit past on-axis, balance was nearly ideal. The Monsters delivered highly detailed sound, including impressively musical massed strings and full-orchestral playback, and produced a very well-arrayed stereo soundstage.

At the other end, the Model One's bass reached well below an  honest 50 Hz, and delivered at least some musically useful output rather lower than that – this is impressive for so relatively compact a 6.5-inch two-way. The secret: one of the many advantages of powered loudspeakers is that designers can ideally match woofer-amp and driver, and build in EQ to extend response beyond what would otherwise occur.

The tradeoff is level, and indeed in my large-ish room (about 2,900 c.f.) the Clarity HDs audibly speed-bumped a notch shy of earplugs-required settings, with an obvious decrease in bass power, slightly “smooshed” transients, and faintly glazed vocals and instruments.) But don’t get me wrong: the Model Ones yielded plenty of clean, dynamic level for truly rocking, conversation-made-difficult playback. (Monster does not specify the onboard amplifier's power output.)

In short, Monster’s Clarity HD Model Ones are very capable indeed, if a bit expensive; you could spend the same money on passive components (say, an NAD C-316BEE integrated amp and a PSB Image B5 bookshelf pair) and come out about the same, both price- and performance-wise.

But that makes no mention of the Monsters’ portable convenience factor, compactness, or its iPod/Phone dock. Nor their versatility: The Clarity HD makes a super monitor for an iPhone guitar rig (I just spent a happy hour playing my Strat through them via my favorite, the AmpKit app), and an even better keyboard monitor -- they sounded remarkable powering my old Kurzweill PC-1x, with plenty of power and just enough extension for satisfyingly full piano reproduction. And all the inputs automatically mix if signal is present, so you could jam with friends on the spot.

So Monster’s Clarity HDs wear multiple hats, and wear them very well indeed. So do several of the aforementioned prosumer powered-monitor models from companies like M-Audio and Mackie Designs – minus the dock. But for now, in the “consumer space,” the Clarity HD is a unique solution — and as an iPod dock is is at, or very near, the top of the heap.

Monster Cable Clarity HD Model One

+ Active 2-way; “high-powered digital amplifier”
+ 6.5-inch sealed enclosure
+ 6.5-inch cone woofer
+ 1-inch soft-dome tweeter
+ digital crossover
+ integrated iPod dock
+ automatic source mixing
+ line-level stereo inputs on RCA, ¼-inch phone, and 1/8th-inch stereo (headphone) jacks

16 in. high, 9 in. deep, 7-5/8 in. wide; 20 lb.