Harman/Kardon Onyx Studio Review
I embarked on a quest to find the best multipurpose bluetooth speaker available. The criteria was it had to be somewhat portable, have decent battery life, and killer sound. As this speaker would be used for my home computer and all of the mobile devices in the house, it had to be top notch. After trying at least a dozen different bluetooth speakers, I settled on what I believe is the absolute best available: The Harman/Kardon Onyx Studio.
Build & Aesthetics
The Onyx Studio is composed of durable quality parts and has looks to kill. The front grille of the speaker is composed of hard plastic with what seems to be a million little holes to make a mesh. The plastic grille is covered with a premium fabric as you’d find in a high quality home speaker. A round frame encircles the enclosure which is covered in durable non-slip rubber. This coating feels very durable, and doubles as insurance the speaker won’t be shaking all over whatever surface you place it on. Weighing in at 280mm x 161mm x 260mm, this isn’t the smallest unit available, however the size is important to speaker sizes and configuration of this enclosure.
Around back is where one of the 3″ woofers lives (see video) in the center of the unit. There is a carry handle up on top and two feet project from the bottom. Each of the feet is shiny chrome plastic and is coated in a rubber on the bottom that feels exactly the same as the rubber on the outer ring. Connections for power and microUSB are also on the rear of the Onyx Studio.
All of this creates a visual and tactile feel that screams premium. There were no other big round speakers among the competition which gives the Onyx Studio a unique look. It looks great, feels great, and lives up to the Harman/Kardon brand in every possible way.
There are four buttons along the top rim of the Onyx Studio. Power obviously turns on and shuts off the unit. Two volume buttons (+ and -) change the volume directly on the speaker. There is also a bluetooth button which is mainly used to “unpair” from a connected device. The power and bluetooth buttons double as indicator lights for errors and operational notifications (bluetooth connection, low battery, etc.)
The Onyx Studio is designed to be used as a bluetooth speaker. As such, it lacks a 3.5mm jack for connectivity. This would seem to be a bad point, however I, and many other people simply have no need for it. Every device I would wish to use with my speaker all support Bluetooth. Charging is accomplished by a 19V 2A connector located on the back of the unit. A micro-USB is next to the charging port for service use.
One of the two 3″ woofers is visible on the back of the unit. The other woofer is located inside the enclosure facing forward. Also inside are two 3/4″ tweeters producing the highs. The biggest feature of the Onyx Studio are the two passive radiators. They are responsible for producing deep lows.
All of the speakers are collectively rated as 4x15W totaling 60W with a 4ohm impedance. The frequency response is the standard 60Hz – 20kHz with a frequency range of 2402MHz – 2480MHz. A rating for maximum SPL (the highest output before damage will occur) is provided as 95dB @ 1m.
This is the real meat and potatoes of this review. One can have a speaker that looks and feels great while suffering in quality of what it was made to do. This is simply not the case with the Onyx Studio. I listened to this speaker side by side with the Bose Soundlink II and there wasn’t even a real competition. The Harman/Kardon blew it away in almost every way.
This is easily the absolute loudest bluetooth speaker available. Ideally I was looking for something that filled a room with sound. Having that expectation the Bose offering managed to do that and perhaps a little more at top setting. The Onyx Studio filled my whole house with sound. Every room. I took it outside with me on a few occasions and the Harman/Kardon filled the outside with sound as well. If you don’t believe that, you can ask my local law enforcement.
Aside from sheer volume the overall quality of the audio produced is equally impressive. Lows are low, highs are highs. Mids are more than acceptable. I listened to all sorts of music such as Blues, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Dubstep and several other types of electronic music, classical, classic rock, metal and more. There was nothing to be disappointed in no matter what genre came on. I will say the Soundlink II was a bit better in the mids, but having deeper lows and crisper highs without distortion at any volume allows the Onyx Studio to outshine it’s biggest competitor.
This is the reason you should buy any speaker, and as such this category is weighted more heavily than any others in the review. Assuming having something more compact is not an absolute necessity, nothing beats the Onyx Studio. There is simply no better sounding bluetooth speaker on the market at all volumes.
The user’s manual and box both state the Harman/Kardon Onyx Studio is capable of 5 hours of battery life. From my examination, this is very accurate at most volumes. I did crank it to maximum volume for a longevity test and only got 4 to 4.5 hours out of the battery. At those volumes that shouldn’t be surprising. Overall I found the battery life to be sufficient for my needs, though some may see this as a shortcoming if the use-case dictates very long battery life.
The MSRP on the Onyx Studio is $400 US. Coming in at $100 more than the Bose Soundlink II, it’s easily the most expensive speaker around. It really is a $400 speaker based on audio quality and volume and I would not feel poorly to pick it up at full price. It should be noted this enclosure is often 50% off on Amazon (on sale for $155.99 at the time of this writing) and Best Buy ($199.99 at current).
There is simply no better bluetooth speaker enclosure available on the market. Many folks will balk at the larger size and lower battery life available. When push comes to shove, if you want a good sound you need a bigger size. Further the louder it gets the faster the battery drains. Taking that into account and hearing what is produced these are fair factors.
If you need a compact speaker with 7+ hours of battery life, look elsewhere. The Onyx Studio is designed to provide amazing sound at very high volumes and that’s exactly what you get. If size and top-class battery life aren’t necessary it’s a no brainer. Go find this speaker on sale and buy it. I promise you will not be disappointed.
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