Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 Bluetooth Speaker Review

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Harman Kardon speakers are the kind of product that attracts lifetime followers. Many have owned several versions of the same speakers, upgrading as newer models have come out.

This is especially true of the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5, first available in 2018. With four previous Onyx portable speakers, it has become a classic with thousands of rave reviews on Amazon and elsewhere.

Already convinced? Buy it here on Amazon.

So, in this Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 review, I’ll try to answer just what makes this speaker so special, and if it is the perfect portable Bluetooth speaker you’ve been looking for?

What do I like about the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5?

  • The sound – it’s amazing. And that bass!
  • The ability to connect two together to really rock the party.
  • The integrated aluminum carry handle – such an obvious, but smart feature.

What don’t I like about the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5?

  • I have to pay more if I want it in a different color. Really? 
  • Although I love the bass, it would be nice to be able to turn it down for some types of less bass-driven music.
  • The sound is mono, not stereo, even when connecting two together. This seems a little ‘retro’.

What do you get alongside the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 in the box?

  • A Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 Bluetooth Speaker, obviously.
  • A power adaptor, cord, and plug for most regions – US/UK/EU and AU. 
  • A quick start guide, which is probably all you’ll ever need.
  • A safety sheet.
  • A 2-year warranty card.

How well is the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 built and designed?

Design

One of the things that makes people fans of the Onyx Studio Bluetooth speakers is the standout design. While retaining the same disc shape as its predecessor, the Studio 5 has lost the Studio 4’s legs. This gives it a sleeker, more minimalist look I love. To make up for its legless design, a slightly flattened and rubberized bottom makes sure it is still stable. 

An addition, rather than a subtraction, is its all-new swish aluminum carry handle. This may seem an obvious design feature in a portable Bluetooth speaker, but few others have one. The handle makes it a breeze to simply pick up your Onyx Studio 5 and take your music with you with the minimum fuss, something that’s much harder to do with, say, the JBL Xtreme which relies on hooks for portability.

The other design feature I love is the elegant black fabric that covers the whole speaker, excluding the handle and rubberized bottom. The only things that break it up on the front are the 5 controls, the one LED and the Harman Kardon logo in the middle. At the back, only the inputs at the bottom are visible.

The slight downside with fabric-covered speakers is they can get grubby. Harman recommends cleaning your speaker with ‘audio or electronic wipes’ which most of us know as screen wipes.

Apart from the aesthetics of the Onyx Studio 5, the other factor that makes people fans is the quality of the components used, inside and out. However, the Onyx Studio 5 isn’t particularly shock-resistant. You don’t need to treat it with kid gloves, but you don’t want to be dropping it too often either.

Truth is, unless you want to take the Onyx Studio 5 on a trekking holiday, it probably won’t bother you. And the same is probably true about the choice of colors, or lack of.

The aluminum handle only comes in, well, aluminum, while the fabric covering does come in three colors: Black, blue or gray. But here’s where I’m confused. If you want the blue option, it costs an extra $50! And if you want the gray option, that’s going to set you back an extra $57.21!

So I figured there has to be a difference between them, not just the color of the fabric. I mean, it’s not a large Bluetooth speaker, after all, it’s listed as a portable speaker. And indeed the Onyx 5 is 11.2 x 11.5 x 5 inches. My point is, the amount of fabric needed to cover the Studio 5 hardly justifies the extra price.

The other oddity is, why is the gray even more expensive than the blue? One reason may be that according to Amazon, the Onyx Studio 5 in black or blue weighs a trim 6.6 pounds, but that balloons up to 9 pounds for the gray version. That’s some heavy fabric! Or it’s an error, probably the latter.

Controls

The Onyx Studio 5 continues its minimalist styling by placing 5 subtle control icons on the front below the handle. They consist of a:

  • Bluetooth (pairing) button.
  • volume down button.
  • power button. This also doubles as a track button. Just press twice to play the next track.
  • Volume up button.
  • play/pause/skip button.

LED

Under the control buttons, there’s an LED that alters depending on what’s going on: 

  • White/blinking: Bluetooth pairing mode is operating.
  • White/slow blinking: Bluetooth is not connected.
  • White/Fast Blinking: wireless dual sound pairing mode is on.
  • White/Constant: Bluetooth/wireless dual sound is connected.
  • Red/Blinking: low battery power. (The only downside is there is no indicator of how low the battery is or how much longer it will last).
  • Red/Constant: battery charging.

Inputs

At the back at the bottom, there are three inputs:

  • An AUX input. This is a feature that is fast disappearing from many Bluetooth speakers, so it’s nice to see it still included on the Studio 5.
  • A Charging port.
  • A service port for firmware updates.

How do I update the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5?

Rather like a Tesla, you can update the firmware on your Studio 5. You can do this via Bluetooth or you can buy a separate cable (I’ve seen them on eBay cheaply). I believe this only works if you have bought your speaker in the US as of this review, but here’s how you do it (it may vary slightly from device to device):

  1. Start button >Settings.
  2. Update and Security > Check for updates.

What does the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 sound like?

In a word – amazing! I mean, really. For a speaker of this size and price, the sound quality has to be the best I’ve heard. In fact, I’d say the sheer quality of the sound is far greater than many Bluetooth speakers costing a great deal more.

The Onyx Studio 5 has a massive 120mm woofer and a 25mm tweeter (and I’m pretty sure 2 passive radiators, though they don’t mention it in the specs), 50 Watts of total system power, and a frequency response of 50Hz – 20kHz. 

Getting down to specifics the first thing that strikes you is that bass! In technical terms, the frequency response is flat with a bass boost, but that doesn’t really give justice to it. The bass is like a punch to the solar plexus, you can really feel it, particularly around 50-60Hz.

In fact, there is a slight problem you might encounter. If you need to play your music at a civilized level for the neighbors, the bass can dominate at low volumes, muddying the mid and high ranges. So you either end up missing some mid/top of the track or end up playing it too loud and your neighbors end up thumping on your door or floor.

A couple more notes on that bass as it’s such a feature of the Studio 5’s sound. You can’t really control the bass from the unit itself, only from the paired device. However, there are two base modes, high and low. The default setting from the factory is high. To change to low base mode, hold the Bluetooth button and the minus button at the same time for 10 seconds without playing any music. To return to the default high bass setting, repeat the process.

And finally, a warning! Harman doesn’t recommend using the low-frequency mode as the Onyx Studio 5 is not designed to use low bass in normal operation. It is used to test the speaker before passing it as ready for sale. Playing on low-frequency mode may cause damage to the speaker and will void your warranty.

However, Harman hasn’t simply produced an updated bass-heavy boombox. The mid and high ranges are still crystal clear, especially at higher volumes when the bass boost drops a little. 

And even better news, you can enjoy your music at any volume as there is no appreciable distortion even at full volume.

The only downside in terms of the sound is the lack of stereo separation. Even if you connect two Onyx 5 speakers, you still only get mono sound. However, there’s really only certain types of music or specific songs where this is going to be noticeable. For most users, the sheer quality of the sound more than compensates.

I mentioned that even at full volume the Studio 5 shows no distortion. So how loud is the Onyx 5? Well, unless you live in Beverly Hills or The Hamptons, it’s going to be all you need to hold a party in any room in the house. In fact, you’ll probably be able to hear it well enough in every room in the house on full volume.

Tip: If you want to hear the Studio 5 in all its glory, you’ll have to have it on mains, not battery power. In order to extend the battery life, Harman limited the volume when in Bluetooth mode. It’s still excellent for a speaker of its size and price, but the difference is noticeable.

How long does the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 battery last?

Like most Bluetooth speakers, the Onyx Studio 5 uses a rechargeable Lithium Polymer battery. This one is rated at 3283 mAh which gives up to 8 hours of streaming.

In all honesty, the battery isn’t the Onyx 5’s strongest point. You only get up to 8 hours streaming at half volume. If you crank it up to three quarters and beyond, you’re looking at 3-4 hours max. This may be the same for many battery-powered Bluetooth speakers, but I expected more from the Studio 5, especially as it takes a whopping 5 hours to fully recharge the battery when flat. 

Tip: If you’re not going to be using your Studio 5 for 3 months or more, fully charge the battery before removing it.

Is the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 waterproof?

Apart from the battery, my only real gripe with the Onyx Studio 5 is that it isn’t waterproof. Or even splash-proof. The JBL Extreme, for instance, is waterproof. Okay, it’s more expensive, but even some cheaper Bluetooth speakers like the Boom 3 are waterproof to IPX7 or even IP67. I mean, how much extra effort would it have taken to make the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 water-resistant? 

If it is crucial to you that your Bluetooth speaker is waterproof, you should check out the Onyx Studio 6, which is waterproof to IPX7.

How do I connect my Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5?

The Onyx 5 doesn’t have wireless, only Bluetooth (which, before I get a bunch of comments, I know is a proprietary wireless system in itself). However, as every device worth buying has Bluetooth as standard these days, it’s no big deal.

What is great to see is that you can also connect a 3.5mm lead via an auxiliary input to save that precious battery. This is getting rarer on Bluetooth speakers, so it’s nice to see Harman have retained it on the Studio 5. 

Tip: The Bluetooth connection will always take priority. So if you have a device wirelessly connected and another connected via an auxiliary cable, you’ll need to pause the Bluetooth connection first.

A tiny niggle with the Bluetooth setup on the Studio 5 is that there is no NFC pairing like on the SoundLink II. This makes pairing just that much quicker and simpler. Another small oddity is the Studio 5 doesn’t support any Harman Kardon apps. 

It does, however, have multi-host, that lets you connect two devices to it at the same time and, as already mentioned, daisy-chain, that lets you pair two speakers together.

Tip: Make sure the second speaker you are daisy chaining is another Studio 5. It won’t work with any previous version, or even the latest Studio 6.

How to pair 2 Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5s

If you don’t know how to pair your device with any Bluetooth speaker, you’ve probably been living in a cave with no signal for the last 5 years or more. The procedure to pair two speakers (dual sound mode) is equally simple:

  1. Pair one speaker with your phone as normal.
  2. Hold the Bluetooth button on both speakers for 5 seconds. The LED light will blink white quickly.
  3. When the white LED stops blinking, you’re in dual sound mode.

Tip: The Onyx Studio 5 will turn itself off after 30 minutes if it doesn’t detect a Bluetooth device to pair with. If it is already paired with a device and the device has an auto shut off, then it will disconnect from that device 30 minutes after it shuts off, so you’ll need to pair your device again.

Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 vs 4

As you might expect, the Studio 5 is the fifth variant on the Onyx theme. Visually the first four had little to distinguish them, but it seems Harman has been listening to their customers’ feedback and the fifth differs from the previous Onyx in a number of important ways.

So what is the difference between the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 and the Studio Onyx 4? 

Well, as mentioned before, the Studio 5 still has the same disc-like design, but unlike the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4, it doesn’t have what, for me, were rather crude legs for stability. Instead, it has a slightly flattened and rubberized base to keep it steady. And it works fine.

It’s also a little wider than the 4, but the greatest improvement is that neat aluminum handle. As I’ve said elsewhere in this review, it’s such an obvious, but clever, addition for a portable Bluetooth speaker. 

In terms of looks, the only other real change has been moving the controls from the top to the front. All these changes are obviously purely cosmetic and alone wouldn’t justify a new model. However, it’s inside where the Studio 5 really differs from the Studio 4. 

It has the same battery but increased from 3,000mAh to 3,280mAh and it no longer has a built-in microphone. The big difference, however, is that the Studio 4 had 2 woofers and tweeters, making 4 drivers in total, whereas the Studio 5 has done away with that and now features that single, mega woofer and a tweeter, with both models having two passive radiators (although as said they’re not mentioned in the Studio 5 specs).

And that is the most radical change. The Studio 5 is more bass-driven. I’m not going to go on about it again, because I’ve already raved about it, but if there’s any justification for upgrading from your old Studio 4 to a Studio 5, then this is it. 

There is one other change, however, that offsets all that bass goodness. The Studio 5 doesn’t support any Harman apps, including the Connect +. The Studio 4 does, which means you can pair not just another Studio 4, but dozens of other speakers with your Studio 4. And speakers from other manufacturers like JBL. 

Also, if you connected two Onyx Studio 4’s together, you could choose party or stereo mode, something again, you can’t do when pairing two Studio 5s.

So, should you buy or upgrade to the Onyx Studio 5?

If you’re not really into bass-driven music, you want to make voice calls and want stereo when you pair two speakers, then I’d stick with the Studio 4.

If you are going to carry your speaker around and are into any kind of music that would benefit from some seriously heavy bass, then I’d go for the Studio 5.

ModelOnyx Studio 5Onyx Studio 4
Dimensions284mm x 291mm x 128 mm260mm x 278mm x 159.5mm
Weight1940g2061g
Drivers1 X Woofer/1 X Tweeter2 X Woofer/2 X Tweeter
Water-ResistantNoNo
Battery Size3,283 mAh3,000 mAh
Charging Time5 hours5 hours
Supports Connect+NoYes
Built-in MicrophoneNoYes
Frequency50Hz – 20kHz (-6dB)50Hz – 20kHz (-6dB)
Bluetooth Version4.24.2

Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 vs 6

So what is the difference between the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 and the Studio Onyx 6? Well, a lot less than between the Studio 5 and the Studio 4. 

Cosmetically, the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 6 differs from the Studio 5 in that the standard black model of the Studio 5 only came with an aluminum handle in gray. The standard version of the Studio 6 comes with a bronze handle, which looks stunning. However, some Studio 6s still seem to have the gray handle, so check before buying.

The Studio 6 is a little heavier than the Studio 5, but that is probably down to the one big change Harman has made. Finally, we have a waterproof Onyx! The Studio 6 is rated IPX7, which means you can theoretically submerge it in water a metre deep for 30 minutes.

Tip: Don’t! When CDs first came out they were supposed to be indestructible. I scratched mine with a spoon (yeah, I know!) and when I took it back to the shop, the sales assistant just laughed. So, if you buy a Studio 6 enjoy the fact that you can use it by the pool, but don’t be tempted to drop it in it.

ModelOnyx Studio 5Onyx Studio 6
Dimensions284mm x 291mm x 128 mm284mm x 291mm x 128 mm
Weight1940g1980g
Drivers1 X Woofer/1 X Tweeter1 X Woofer/1 X Tweeter
Water-ResistantNoYes – IPX7
Battery Size3,283 mAh3,283 mAh
Charging Time5 hours5 hours
Frequency50Hz – 20kHz (-6dB)50Hz – 20kHz (-6dB)
Bluetooth Version4.24.2

Is the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 good value?

Absolutely. The Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 price is in the mid-range for portable Bluetooth speakers. Given its amazing sound and cool but practical design, you get a lot for your money. 

What are the closest rivals to the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5?

The nearest rivals to the Onyx Studio 5 in my opinion are its predecessor, the Studio 4, and its successor, the Studio 6, both dealt with in this article.

In terms of other brands, JBL Bluetooth speakers are the nearest equivalent for cost and performance. Models like the Extreme and Boombox tend to have better battery life and IPX7 waterproofing but are more expensive.

Models like the Charge 4 are nearer the Studio 5’s price, but usually have fewer watts (30 less in the case of the Charge 4) and to my mind, don’t have the cool design on the Studio 5, but that’s obviously subjective.

So, is Harman Kardon the best Bluetooth Speaker brand dollar for dollar? Well, Bose and Sony also produce some great Bluetooth speakers in this price bracket, but all in all, you won’t get me to part with the Studio 5 for any of them!

Is the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 right for you?

The Studio 5 is a good choice if you are looking for a Bluetooth speaker that is: 

  • Premium quality.
  • Truly portable. 
  • Stylish.
  • Great value for money.

and that has:

  • Amazingly rich sound.
  • Superb bass.
  • Enough volume to fill a large room with serious party sounds.

Buy the HARMAN KARDON ONYX STUDIO 5 on Amazon

Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 Specifications

General Specifications

Maximum music playing time: 8 hours

Output power: Watts RMS Bi-amp (AC mode)

Transducer Size: Woofer 1 x 120mm, Tweeter 1 x 25mm

Frequency Range: (-10 dB) 50Hz – 20kHz (-6dB)

Signal to noise ratio: 80dB A-weighted

Control and Connection Specifications

Bluetooth profiles: A2DP 1.3, AVRCP 1.6

Bluetooth frequency: 2402MHz – 2480MHz

Bluetooth transmitted modulation: GFSK, π/4 DQPSK, 8DPSK

Bluetooth transmitter power: 0 – 9dBm

Bluetooth version: 4.2

Bluetooth range: 33 feet

Dimensions

Dimensions (cm): 28.4 x 29.1 x 12.8

Dimensions (in): 11.2 x 11.4 x 5

Weight (kgs): 2.98

Weight (lbs): 6.6

Power

Power supply: 19V/2A

Battery

Battery type: Lithium-ion

Battery capacity: 3283mAh

Charging time: 5 hours

Features

Aux in: 3.5 mm audio cable 

Bluetooth: Yes

Wireless: Yes

Other

Wi-Fi: No

NFC: No

Multi-Host: Yes

Daisy chain: Yes

FAQs

Are Harman Kardon speakers any good?

Yes, for sure. They have thousands of rave reviews on Amazon and the fact that Harman has been making the Onyx Studios for years shows their popularity.

Is Harman Kardon the best Bluetooth Speaker Brand?

Whether one brand is better than another is often subjective. Certainly, Harman Kardon products are made with quality components and built to last. Just go on eBay or any other online marketplace and you’ll find previous Onyxes for sale, still working and still in demand.

Are Harman Kardon speakers better than Bose?

Again, this is subjective. Bose, like Harman Kardon, has been making speakers for some time and has a huge following. Both brands produce a great range of Bluetooth speakers.

Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 vs JBL Xtreme 2: Which is better?

The JBL Xtreme 2 has a longer battery life than the Studio 5, is splash-proof, and has NFC. However, it is more expensive than the Studio 5 (up to 50% more), so they’re not really in the same league.

What is the difference between the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 and Studio Onyx 4?

Basically, the Studio 4 has legs, a built-in microphone and you can pair two speakers in stereo. The Studio 5 has neither legs nor a built-in mike and no stereo capability. It also has only two drivers, not four. The woofer, however, is much larger, giving it greater bass.

What is the difference between the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 and Studio Onyx 6?

The Studio 6 is waterproof to IPX7, whereas the Studio 5 isn’t. The Studio 6 is also more expensive.

Which Harman Kardon speaker is the best?

It depends on what you are looking for. If you want a balanced sound and to make voice calls, the Studio 4 is a good choice. If you want superb bass-driven sound and a convenient carry handle, then the Studio 5 is best. And if it’s important to you that the speaker is waterproof, then go for the Studio 6.

Is the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5 waterproof?

No. If you want a waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker, you need to buy the Studio 6, which is waterproof to IPX7.

How do I know if my Harman Kardon Onyx is fully charged?

The LED will blink red when the battery is low. Once you start charging it, the light will turn to a constant red. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell when the battery is fully charged. 

How many watts is the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 5?

50 Watts total system power.

How loud is the Harman Kardon Onyx 5?

Although it can be measured scientifically, loudness tends to be subjective. The Studio 5 is certainly loud enough to fill a large room.

Buy the HARMAN KARDON ONYX STUDIO 5 on Amazon.

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