Monoprice is a well-known brand for selling its own version of popular consumer electronics and accessories. This includes everything from computer cables to desks. The appeal of Monoprice products is in the name – the price tends to be considerably lower than the name brands it competes with, for better value. I recently tested the company’s Harmony Capsule 200. It’s a rugged, portable Bluetooth speaker that looks more than a little like market leaders like the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 (reviewed here). But at less than half the price.
The question is, can Monoprice deliver a solid portable speaker experience for the Harmony Capsule 200’s $69.99 price tag? Keep reading to find out!
Unboxing and first impressions
As expected with Monoprice products, the Harmony Capsule 200 featured a plain white box. No problem with that. Since these speakers are sold direct, there’s no need for fancy packaging to grab attention on a store shelf. This makes the packaging easier to recycle. And I’d rather see a company spend a few dollars more on speaker components than color images and magnetic closures on the box.
The speaker itself is a version of the familiar cylindrical form factor. It is covered in black mesh and stands nearly 9 inches tall. It even has the oversized “+” and “-” volume buttons that are a bit of a hallmark of Ultimate Ears. However, there are a few unique features here. The ends have rubberized raised feet. Why bother? Because the tips are passive radiators. The fact that the end is slightly raised gives the bottom radiator room to move air. There are also molded feet on one of the side surfaces.
Unlike most cylindrical speakers, this one can be used in both vertical and horizontal positions.
The sealed compartment is also unique and contains not only the expected charging input (USB-C) and a 3.5mm audio jack, but also a Micro SD card slot. This means you can stream music wirelessly via Bluetooth, plug in your phone or audio source, or load a Micro SD card with MP3 files.
The general impression? It’s a little bigger and heavier than expected and the black-on-black design is a bit bland, but it definitely looks and feels sturdy. I should note that these volume buttons (in addition to the power and music control buttons underneath) are very stiff with minimal tactile feedback. You really have to put pressure on them.
For a $70 portable speaker, the Harmony Capsule 200 has some impressive specs. At least on paper. There’s a 66mm speaker with 18W of power, a pair of 52mm speakers with 6W each, and the dual bass radiators (one on each end cap). Monoprice uses the custom DSP EQ setting. If you’re counting, that’s 30W of power, three drivers and two bass radiators – it’s unclear whether the speakers are woofers, tweeters or full range.
Unfortunately, specs on paper don’t quite translate to actual performance. In my experience, the bass had punch, but didn’t extend to much of a deep bass response. The high end was there, but the very high notes were cut off. The worst was the midrange, which was disappointing. The overall effect was a sound that came out confused. The impact of this setting can vary greatly depending on the music being played. For example, a song like Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” sounded pretty good. A song with a lot of guitar noise like “Forever Now” by the Psychedelic Furs suffered.
That 30W power also turned out not to be quite what you might expect. Yes, the speaker can get very loud. Unfortunately, once the volume started to hit higher levels, the distortion kicked in. At near maximum volume, it was virtually unlistenable.
The box claims that the Harmony Capsule 200 offers 360 degree sound. This is true in the sense that there are pilots pointing in multiple directions. However, I found that to be a bit misleading. There is a noticeable difference in audio quality depending on which drivers are facing the listener. Whether in a vertical or horizontal position, I had the best experience if I oriented the speaker so that the two smaller speakers were pointing towards me. This helped to minimize “confusion”.
That being said, for a $70 speaker, the audio performance of the Harmony Capsule 200 was acceptable.
Main features of the Harmony 200 capsule:
- Two 52mm and one 66mm drivers with custom DSP EQ tuning, two bass radiators
- Power 30W
- Bluetooth 5.0 with support for Qualcomm TrueWireless Stereo (TWS)
- Built-in mic for voice calls and phone voice control
- USB-C charging
- 2200 mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides 8-10 hours of battery life
- 3.5mm AUX input, Micro SD card slot (FAT16 or FAT32 format with capacity up to 32GB)
- LED battery indicators
- 8.8 inches tall, weighs 34.4 oz
- 1 year warranty
- MSRP $69.99
TWS stereo option
Portable Bluetooth speakers deliver mono sound no matter how many drivers they have. Some, like the Harmony Capsule 200, offer the ability to wirelessly pair a second speaker to deliver true 2-channel stereo sound. Stereo sound is such an improvement over mono that it can solve many other problems. This is the case of the Harmony Capsule 200.
Monoprice sent me a pair so I could test the functionality. To activate it, nothing could be simpler. With both speakers powered on, press and hold the “play” button for a few seconds until it beeps. It’s done, they are paired. With some distance between the two speakers to achieve the true stereo effect, the difference is day and night. Yes, the muddy midrange is still there and turning up the volume still gets messy. But with stereo sound, the flaws fade into the background a bit.
With other portable speakers, the option of buying a second speaker for stereo sound is expensive and I doubt there are many takers on this feature. With the Harmony Capsule 200, that increases your total investment to $140, which is still relatively modest. Well worth it, if you’re willing to carry around a second speaker.
Monoprice says the speaker’s 2200mAh battery should last up to 8-10 hours of continuous playback. As always, this will vary depending on music volume and usage in extreme temperatures. In my testing, eight hours was typical, but I kept the volume reasonable. It’s not great compared to other portable speakers, but it’s good enough for a day at the pool or playing music at a party.
There’s no pretense about the Harmony Capsule 200’s sturdiness, but it certainly looks the part and nothing about it feels flimsy. I would expect there would be no problem if it fell off a table onto the deck. It has an IPX7 water resistance rating. This means the weather is not an issue. In fact, I’ve had it outside with me in the snow and rain with no ill effects. It’s also designed to survive soaking in up to three feet of water.
Unless you’re on a tight budget, I wouldn’t recommend the Harmony Capsule 200 as your primary music system. If $70 is your cap, then sure. It’s not perfect, but it sounds better than many speakers in this price range, and it’s built to survive the outdoors. However, if you can go all the way up to $100 or $150, there are a number of portable speakers that offer premium sound.
That being said, as a portable speaker to take with you to parties, the pool, the beach, camping, or anywhere else you might not want to risk an expensive speaker getting damaged or lost, the ‘Harmony Capsule 200 at $69.99 would be a great option. The sound might not be great, but it’s passable, the speaker is water resistant, and it’s inexpensive to replace. Buy one to take on the road and save your good speaker for home use.
The other scenario you might want to consider this is if you are looking for a compact, stereo Bluetooth audio system. $140 for a pair of Monoprice Harmony Capsule 200 is hard to beat and some of the speaker’s audio shortcomings are less obvious in TWS stereo mode.
Disclosure: Monoprice provided speakers for evaluation purposes, but did not contribute to this review.