Last year, Creative’s Sound Blaster Roar 2 took the “Do Everything” title in my 2015 Bluetooth speaker roundup. For 2016, Creative is back with something even better, the iRoar. This one drops the Sound Blaster label, gets a bit larger, takes audio to a whole new level and gains a ton of functionality–including accessories, a software development kit for customized apps, and an open platform expansion port.
Bigger, Minimalist Approach
The iRoar uses the same general form factor as the Roar 2, but gets bigger and shinier, with LED-backlit capacitive touch controls replacing physical buttons. Copper trim accents the ends. It looks sleek, modern, and minimalist. Unlike earlier Roar speakers, this one sits flat and can’t be positioned upright. It’s not really meant for outdoor use, but it is portable and still lets you use its battery to charge your mobile devices.
Dual amps pump a total of 40 Watts of power through five speaker drivers. One is dedicated to the upward-facing 2.75-inch subwoofer, the other drives a pair of front-facing 1.5-inch drivers that handle the higher frequencies. A pair of side-firing passive radiators helps fill out the low end.
The audio performance is simply stunning from something this small, especially in a smaller room where the bass has a powerful presence. Sound is well balanced and remains composed even at high volumes. In my office (roughly 14 feet square), I can’t get much past 50 percent volume before it’s too loud. In larger spaces, the low end is less pronounced, but one of the first accessories that connects to the expansion port on the bottom of the subwoofer is a powered subwoofer, the iRoar Rock. Problem solved.
If Bluetooth isn’t your thing, there’s the usual AUX input jack, but the iRoar will also accept microSD cards loaded with MP3/AAC or WAV files, and you can also connect it to a PC using USB. The iRoar includes an Optical audio input, if you want to use it as a soundbar for your TV and you can connect two with a cable for full stereo sound.
Audio can be fine-tuned countless ways using iRoar’s app (for iOS and Android), going far beyond a simple EQ.
One of the accessories Creative sent was the iRoar Mic, a Bluetooth microphone. My kids had an absolute riot with this one. It pairs with the speaker–Creative is positioning it as a portable public address system–but the fun part is the the mobile app that includes Voice Morph for real-time voice alteration. There are 18 different voices, including Robot, Orc, Demon, and Chipmunk. Hiding the iRoar in one room, sitting in another with the microphone set to Demon and yelling at someone to get out is great fun… Eventually, my wife suggested the microphone be retired for a while. You can also use the microphone/speaker combo for Karaoke.
There’s a hardware docking port, but Creative also supports apps running on the iRoar itself that can add new functionality and the company offers a software developers kit. Applications could range from tweaking the sound to apps (called Add-Ons) that make use of the LED display. Add-Ons included in the iRoar app give you some idea about what could be done. There’s a motion detector that alerts you if the speaker is moved, a Juke Box–shake the speaker for a random song–and an alarm clock, to name a few.
At $369.99 the iRoar isn’t exactly cheap so far as portable Bluetooth speakers go, but this is a case of you get what you pay for. There aren’t many sub $400 Bluetooth speaker that sound this good, are this versatile, or have this kind of power. Throw in the expandability and the iRoar goes beyond being simply a Bluetooth speaker and becomes something bigger. Exactly how big will largely depend on third party hardware manufacturers and developers, but I like the way this is going.
Disclosure: Creative Technology provided a speaker for review purposes.