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Monster DNA Max review: 360 degrees of fun

Monster DNA Max hand-held.
Monster DNA Max
MSRP $180.00
“The Monster DNA Max speaker offers party-ready sound in a pool-proof package.”
Pros
  • Robust, 360-degree sound
  • Perfect for pools
  • Good battery life
  • Includes a wireless charger
  • Speakerphone capability
Cons
  • No EQ customization
  • No auxiliary input
  • Annoying voice feedback

There’s no shortage of decent Bluetooth speakers out there, but sometimes it can be tough to find the exact combination of features you’re looking for. It’s easy to find waterproof speakers, but less easy to find waterproof speakers that are also speakerphones. Want to be able to charge your devices too? The list gets shorter. What about 360-degree sound? Now we’re down to just a few models.

Oh, and you’d like to be able to charge it wirelessly and have it come with its own Qi-compatible charger? You may not realize it, but you just asked for the $180 Monster DNA Max.

Monster DNA Max close-up of lanyard mounting bar.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sturdy design

As portable Bluetooth speakers go, the DNA Max won’t win any awards for design. It doesn’t have a fancy metal-boombox construction like the Anker Soundcore Motion X600, it doesn’t remind you of a classic guitar amp like the Marshall Middleton, and it’s not quite as versatile or as portable as the JBL Flip 6, which can be placed in either a horizontal or vertical orientation. That can be a bit of a problem: despite the grip offered by its rubber bottom, the DNA Max will easily topple over if accidentally bumped, as can happen when you’re having a good time.

You could, in theory, leave it resting on one side for more stability, but that would block half of the speaker’s drivers (more on the sound quality in a moment).

It weighs in at about 2.4 pounds. That’s not heavy, exactly, but when I had it dangling from the included wrist strap, it wasn’t very comfortable and I was a little concerned that the thin cord that wraps around the built-in bar might not survive extended use.

Monster DNA Max top view with LED ring light lit.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Still, it comes in your choice of black or white, and it has big, easy-to-access control buttons for volume and playback on the top surface that are encircled by a bright racetrack LED light. The light stays on while the speaker is powered up and can give you a visual indicator of your volume level. It turns blue when in Bluetooth pairing mode, and briefly flashes red when the unit turns off — which it will do automatically after no music has played for 15 minutes. And when the speaker is charging, it gently pulses.

Like the Flip 6, it’s a ruggedly built speaker. There’s thick rubber on all of the corners, and though I didn’t intentionally drop-test it, I suspect it will handle a fair amount of abuse. Also, like the Flip 6, it’s fully waterproof and dustproof (IP67), and if you toss it in the pool (or hot tub or ocean), it will float around until you retrieve it. But not all floating speakers are created equal. The Flip 6 bobs, with most of its body (and thus its speakers) submerged. The DNA Max, by contrast, lies flat like a paddle board. This keeps one side constantly exposed to the air. Since there are drivers on both sides of the speaker, you’ll always be able to hear your music clearly.

Monster DNA Max side view with USB-C port.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Immersive sound

That dual-sided driver arrangement makes the DNA Max perfectly suited for outdoor listening — like backyard parties or park picnics — when you’re more likely to be moving around. You can place the speaker anywhere (though a central location works best) and the sound will simply radiate outward in all directions.

This “omnidirectional sound” as Monster refers to it, is mono, not stereo, but I was impressed by how immersive it sounds. Place the DNA Max at one end of a room, with its spine facing you, and you could convince yourself that there are two speakers instead of one. The sound is also very clear through the midranges and highs, and there’s a very generous amount of bass. It’s not a thunderous low-end by any means — for that, you’ll need to look at the UE Megaboom or Hyperboom — but for a speaker of its size, I think you’ll find it quite satisfying even for bass-heavy genres like hip-hop and rap. You could easily make the DNA Max your primary speaker in a kitchen or a kids’ bedroom.

Monster DNA Max and accessories including a wireless charging pad.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

More important for a portable outdoor speaker is that the DNA Max can get loud. It’s rated for up to 90 decibels, which is the same as the UE Megaboom and slightly higher than the Flip 6 (86-87dB), but not quite as powerful as the JBL Charge 5 (94dB). Distortion does eventually creep in, but not until you hit the very top of its range, giving you plenty of room to pump things up. Need even more power? I didn’t test it, but you can connect up to 99 other Monster DNA speakers to the Max via the dedicated DNA Sharing button. Sadly, stereo pairing isn’t an option and there’s no auxiliary port to line in an analog audio source.

There’s no companion app for the DNA Max. That means no equalizer, no firmware updates, and no way to change features like the auto-off timer. I’d like to be able to tweak the EQ, but I’d really love a way to modify the speaker’s verbal feedback. When you power it on, enter Bluetooth pairing mode, or check the battery status (press the plus and minus buttons simultaneously), a voice announces things like “Bluetooth connected,” or “Bluetooth pairing.” It’s obnoxiously loud and there’s no way to alter it at all. You can’t disable it and it doesn’t follow the speaker’s volume setting.

The Bluetooth range is very good. Monster claims 35 feet, but this is a very conservative, indoors-based number. Outside, I was able to get at least 100 feet from my phone before things started to break up.

Monster DNA Max sitting on wireless charger.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The DNA Max isn’t the first wirelessly charging Bluetooth speaker, although that’s what Monster would like you to believe. Its product page for the DNA Max proudly declares that it’s “the first-ever Bluetooth speaker to offer wireless charging compatible with all standard Qi wireless chargers.” Technically, that honor goes to the Sonos Roam, but let’s not be petty — it’s still a rare feature.

Where the DNA Max does get to crow is the fact that it also includes a wireless charger, a six-foot braided USB-C cable, and a 10-watt power supply. That’s at least a $25 to $30 set of accessories if you had to buy them separately.

Monster claims a 20-hour battery life, and you might get that if you keep the volume set to 50%, but let’s be real — if you’re using this thing for an outdoor party, you’ll probably go to at least 70%, and that will drain the charge faster. You may get 15 hours. Still, that’s not bad as far as portable speakers go.

Monster DNA Max next to a JBL Flip 6.
Monster DNA Max (left) and JBL Flip 6 Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

You can also use the speaker to charge external devices, but I had trouble with this feature. Using the included USB-C cable and my own USB-C-to-lightning adapter, my iPhone 14 charged just fine. However, both my Google Pixel 5 and Xiaomi 12 Pro balked at the connection. Both insisted that the DNA Max was a USB audio device of some kind, and not only did they not pull power from the speaker, but they actually appeared to be supplying power to it. Not exactly a desired behavior when you’re already low on juice.

Finally, the DNA Max can act as a speakerphone thanks to the built-in mic on the top surface. The mic does not have a lot of gain on it, so while your voice will be clearly heard if you’re sitting beside the speaker, you can’t exactly walk around the room. It’s also pretty bad when outdoors — there’s not much in the way of noise-canceling going on.

I can’t say I’m very impressed by the DNA Max’s power bank feature, and the lack of an app or any kind of auxiliary audio input feels limiting. But overall, the DNA Max is a great portable Bluetooth speaker with very good sound quality. Wireless charging is a nice convenience, its dual-sided drivers and plentiful volume give it more than enough oomph to entertain medium-sized gatherings both indoors and outside, and it can be expanded with additional Monster DNA speakers. Plus, you couldn’t ask for a more pool-worthy music maker.

You might not need everything the DNA Max offers, but if you do, it’s a hard speaker to beat at any price.

Editors' Recommendations

Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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