Bluetooth speakers are incredibly convenient. Often battery operated and portable, they allow you to listen to your music without headphones on the go. Some of the best speakers, like the extremely popular Jawbone Jambox, offer big sound in small packages. But the iLoud, by IK Multimedia, isn’t exactly like most bluetooth speakers. Because when a company that specializes in hardware for musicians and audiophiles makes a bluetooth speaker, it’s guaranteed to be a little different.
First off, the hardware is no joke. Featuring two 3″ woofers and two 3/4″ tweeters with four Class D amplifiers delivering a total of 40 watts, the iLoud is true to it’s name: loud. A pleasing metal grill protects the speakers while a large knob accented with a glowing red ring just begs to be turned. Up. Pairing with my iPhone was simple, and I queued up a random selection of music from my library.
My initial impression was incredible. The iLoud is the clearest bluetooth speaker I’ve ever heard. Music sounded incredibly similar to the reference monitors I use in my studio. The overall tone wasn’t nearly as bass heavy as some bluetooth speakers, but it wasn’t because the iLoud isn’t capable. IK Multimedia bills it’s offering as a portable studio-quality monitor. That means they strive for accuracy and transparency in reproducing sound. And clarity isn’t the only trick the iLoud has.
The engineers at IK thoughtfully included an iRig circuit in the iLoud. So not only can you fill a room with music from your iPhone, you can also plug in a guitar and loop the signal through Amplitube on iOS and use the iLoud as an extremely portable guitar amp. And man, does it sound good. As I do whenever reviewing IK’s music gear, I fired up Amplitube, plugged in my Fender Stratocaster and dial in a classic Twin Reverb patch. Closing my eyes and noodling around, I could have sworn I had a miniature Twin sitting right in front of me. I know this is a lot of hyperbole, but in this case, it’s warranted. The soundstage was extremely lifelike and detailed. Pushing the gain a bit and using different effects can bring out a lot of volume and it’s a lot more convenient than lugging 60 pounds of equipment around for practicing.
The iLoud offers a lot of interesting use cases as well. In addition to filling fairly large rooms with great sound, musicians can use the iLoud for living room jam sessions, and mobile engineers can use it as an extremely capable reference monitor in the field. It doesn’t hurt that the battery seems to last forever. IK claims that you’ll get 10 hours on a charge at moderate volume level. I’ve tested it nonstop across multiple days and playing music at background volume, I’ve gone longer than that. The iRig capabilities also opened up new methods for practicing music. You can listen to any audio source over bluetooth while playing along through Amplitube, which was great for music that you can’t import into Amplitube directly, such as streams from YouTube or Spotify.
The speaker isn’t without it’s faults. Weighing in at just under 2 pounds, and 9.84 x 4.53 x 2.36 inches dimensionally, it’s not going to fit well in your laptop bag. Use of the kickstand, which smartly pivots out from underneath the unit, may be required to keep the speaker from falling backwards when playing loudly. The guitar capability requires connecting your phone to the iRig port by way of a separate cable; the speaker cannot amplify a guitar connection by itself, even for a clean sound. And in an era of bass-heavy headphones like the Beats by Dre, some listeners may find the comparative lack of bass underwhelming, which can be mitigated by using different EQ settings from within your playback device.
But even with these drawbacks, it’s hard to ignore that the iLoud is just a really great bluetooth speaker. The focus on musicians and audiophiles with it’s studio-quality sound and guitar input capabilities should be viewed as a bonus. If you fall in to either of those categories, and you’re in the market for a really great bluetooth speaker, the iLoud should be a no-brainer. For everyone else, this is one of the best bluetooth speakers on the market which just happens to have a guitar input. It’s inclusion shouldn’t steer you away from considering the iLoud.
iLoud ($289 Amazon.com)