Harmon Kardon Onyx Studio 5 Review
The Harmon Kardon Onyx Studio 5 is the latest in Harman Kardon’s line of studio speakers having landed at the end of August last year. While previous models have all represented an iterative approach to design, this latest installment features a number of more notable changes that are worthy of your attention.
A lot of these changes are in response to customer feedback. While the previous models were all great in their own ways, there is always room for improvement – and this is something that the company appears to understand.
In short, the result is the most exciting and impressive Onyx Studio for a while, and that can only be good news for audiophiles! Read on and let’s find out more about what sets the Onyx Studio 5 apart, and whether it deserves a place in your hardware setup.
As mentioned, previous Onyx Studio speakers have had a somewhat similar design. Almost the entire body of the device is made up of one massive speaker, which would lean back on two small feet. The result was like having a huge black disk sitting on your table (though it also came in blue and white).
This is the first thing that’s different about the 5th generation: the feet are gone! This is a good decision in our book, as it means that you need slightly less space to stand it, and it doesn’t matter if the floor is a little uneven. What’s more, is that it prevents rattling when you turn the volume right up.
In place of the feet is a larger flat surface area down the bottom, and a carry handle along the top. This makes the overall visual effect similar to a kettlebell. It’s still smart and minimal though, and we like the overall effect.
Another change is that the buttons – which were previously hidden from the front of the unit – are now placed just along the top, just above a small LED power indicator. They’re very subtle so as not to ruin the clean look, but this makes them that much easier to locate and use. The logo has been moved further down the front in order to accommodate this change.
Overall, the Harmon Kardon Onyx Studio 5 is a very premium looking Bluetooth speaker that is still compact and easy to transport (even moreso now thanks to the handle) and that benefits from a very minimal look.
The Onyx Studio 5 certainly looks the part then, and the refresh will be welcome for anyone that is tired of basically the same speaker sitting in their front room every year.
That said though, the design only extends so far and there are still some elements missing that we would really have liked to have seen. For instance, these speakers are not waterproof or shockproof. This was missing from the previous models too, but we would really have liked to have seen it implemented here. Some of the best portable speakers are ones you can bring with you to the beach or to a pool party. That’s not the case here, but if you aren’t going to be using it in that way, then this is unlikely to be an issue for you.
The other shame is that you can’t pair this with previous Onyx Studio speakers. You can pair it with other Onyx Studio 5 speakers, which is a fantastic way to create some really amazing surround sound with entirely portable speakers. You can only pair two at a time, but with taht you can absolutely fill a room (thanks too to that amazing bass) and you can create a wall of sound that will seem to be coming from all around. This is what Harman Kardon refers to as “Dual Sound.” Does what it says on the tin!
BUT it would also have been really nice to have seen some backwards compatibility. Device loyalists who have used Onyx Studio 4 and 3 speakers in the past won’t be able to add this one to their collection and have it provide the low end while the others fill out the higher range. Oh well.
The battery life on the other hand is great and is something we had no complaints about. The capacity is 3,280mAh, which for reference is roughly the same battery you’ll find inside a typical mobile phone. The difference here being of course that a mobile phone is called upon for photos, finding signal, making calls, and powering a massive screen and power-hungry SoC (system on a chip). With just one job – music play back – this battery is very generous for the Studio Onyx 5. Hence the thing can last for about 8 hours of solid playback at 50% volume (which is plenty loud). This is a whole working day in other words, and that makes the longevity perfectly enough for nearly any use-case.
That said, this is the same battery found in previous models – so it’s very good but not outstanding or unexpected.
The only downside perhaps is the lack of any quick-charger – another feature that is common in smartphones today. As it stands, the Onyx Studio 5 takes 5 hours to charge (perhaps that’s where the name comes from?). This can mean a bit of waiting around, and it also means that you can’t rely on the device in a pinch if you haven’t remembered to charge it. But with that said, it’s not a problem for most situations as you can simply charge over night or while you’re doing other things.
Bluetooth here is excellent and has a lot to write home about. The Onyx 5 features Bluetooth 4.2, which has the standard 33ft range. While that’s not the latest Bluetooth, it’s still plenty good enough for what we’re trying to accomplish here and you can safely walk away from the source without losing signal. What’s more is that you can actually go a fair bit further than that. We tested the connectivity from over 50ft away and still had no problem at all.
Connecting to Bluetooth is also very quick and easy, and the connection is stable and reliable. The ability to pair two speakers (as mentioned) is also a great addition.
This is the only form of connectivity though, with no option to connect via WiFi or by NFC. This is something you’ll often find with other speakers in this price range, so it’s a shame not to see it. And truly, it’s always a great feeling being able to pair a device just by tapping it onto your phone. But it’s not a deal breaker, and especially if you’re an iOS user.
As with most Bluetooth speakers, the Studio 5 will work with practically any operating system. Whether you’re connecting with a PC, Mac, Android, iOS device or anything else, the Onyx is good to go! That said, it’s shame that none of the HK apps will work with this model.
It is also possible to play via the AUX cable. This is good news for those that don’t want to use Bluetooth, or who want to ensure the very best audio quality and stability. With physical ports falling out of favor more and more, it’s always refreshing to see a device that still opts to include the option – especially for true audiophiles.
As mentioned, the buttons have been moved slightly up the body of the unit, which places them in a spot that’s very convenient to get to. You have your usual culprits here, nothing that out of the ordinary. Other than that, it’s just a small LED indicator to show when the device is turned on. This will also blink when battery is low, which is a good way to know that you’re going to need to plug in soon. It’s a shame that there’s no fully-fledged battery indicator to let you know precise percentages, but this is mitigated by the fact that most devices will tell you how much juice is left in a set of connected speakers these days.
What is a shame is the loss of a microphone, which was included in the Onyx 4. The Onyx 4 also supported Siri and Google Now because of this, making it a potential smart speaker. We shouldn’t understate the amount of added value that this feature brings, and it’s a big shame to see it missing here: in fact, it is one of the biggest drawbacks that holds the device back from being perfect. Why this was omitted from the newer model, we do not know.
On the whole, the Studio 5 is simple and pleasant to interact with, and the selection of controls gets the job done.
What really matters most though is the performance and the sound. Thankfully, Harman Kardon has not skimped here either. Again, we see significant improvements over predecessors, with the last device boasting four drivers. Those were two woofers and two tweeters, along with two passive radiators.
The Studio 5 ups the ante however by including one large 5-inch woofer (the 4 had 3-inch woofers), one tweeter, and most likely two passive radiators. All this means that the Onyx 5 should offer a much bigger bass, and that’s certainly what you notice here right away.
That said, it’s also true that the bass is not too overbearing to the point that it drowns out the vocals or melody – it’s all very well balanced but with that added kick that can make a lot of difference. The bass can also be adjusted via the bass boost – turn it up and you’ll get more bass without losing those midrange and vocal notes. Too much? Then just turn it back off!
This is something to be applauded. People love portable Bluetooth speakers because they are so easy to set up and use, and because you can bring them everywhere. What most users don’t love is the tinny sound that often comes with that portability. If you’re tired of portable speakers that sound almost entirely treble, then you should really enjoy the Onyx Studio 5. Those big beats can really be felt in your gut, and it’s a really loud and strong sound. This again helps explain the loss of those feet.
The speaker is clearly designed for bass lovers, but it will make any music sound much more as though it was coming out of something considerably larger and more powerful.
One negative is that the stereo separation is relatively underwhelming. This can be improved somewhat using the Dual Sound feature, but seeing as that requires the purchase of a second speaker, that’s not really enough. This is further enhanced by the fact that when you do pair the speakers together, there is no stereo mode. You will be able to achieve a stereo effect, but it’s not true stereo. This is a real shame given the opportunity.
Frequency response here is fairly flat, and on the whole, the performance is really rather excellent. In fact, it’s true that this model performs a fair bit better than some significantly larger and more expensive speakers. That’s especially true of big name brands like JBL Boombox.
- Great, minimal design
- Lack of feet and included handle makes the device more portable than ever
- Excellent bass
- Detailed sound
- Easy pairing with a long range
- Dual Sound mode is useful if you have two speakers
- No microphone + no support for Google Assistant/Alexa/Siri is a big blow
- New features not backwards compatible
- No IP resistance rating
- No stereo separation
Overall, the Harmon Kardon Onyx Studio 5 is an improvement on the previous models, and a very well made speaker. It looks clean and high quality, it is simple to use, and it has superb sound quality and range – which is most important of all.
It’s just a shame that this isn’t 100% an upgrade from the 4, and that it is still missing a couple of features. If you miss the microphone, or were hoping for water resistance, then you should probably keep looking. Everyone else should be more than pleased with the Studio 5.