23 March, 2014 in Gear
The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord road tests a portable Bluetooth-enabled speaker for musicians… and tries it out at home, too
here’s no shortage of Bluetooth-enabled speakers around, but IK Multimedia’s angle with the iLoud is to target it at musicians, which is why I guess Songwriting approached me to give a real world review. Like many of you, I write and record songs in my studio at home and I also gig with my band, so I invited the satin black box into my world for a few weeks. Here’s how we got on…
Firstly, at over £200, it’s decidedly not one of the plethora of cheap wireless speakers you find on the supermarket shelves, which was reassuring. As soon as I extracted the speaker from the box it was clear the designers weren’t too bothered about meeting a budget price point: it’s extremely well finished with classy, solid rounded edges. Of course it’s made of plastic, but it feels expensive; it’s also light enough to be easily portable, but weighty enough to hint at being able to deliver some decent bass response.
I first powered up the iLoud at home and connected it via the supplied mini-jack lead to my laptop. The unit has a single knob on the front which has a glowing red ring when powered on. It’s one of those continuous rotary types, so you can’t tell how quiet or loud it is from looking at it, but it does make controlling volume very smooth. I gave it a quick run though of Beck’s new album Morning Phase, and was instantly impressed with the sound. The bottom end is very tight and extended for a unit of its size, the mids full-bodied and the highs clear and warm at all volumes. The stereo imaging is also very impressive for such a tiddler. I honestly wasn’t expecting it to sound as good as it did.
Later that evening a few mates turned up. Seeing the iLoud, they immediately got their array of mobile devices out (not all of them Apple!) and attempted to pair them via Bluetooth. Instant success – it just works. More importantly, it impressed my friends. We did have a debate about a perceived drop in quality over Bluetooth; it wasn’t noticeable to me, but then I wasn’t exactly in a critical listening environment.
“Touring can be boring, but the iLoud offered us some relief”
Anyone who gigs will appreciate the amount of time one has to spend doing absolutely ‘jack’. Touring can be boring, but the iLoud offered us some relief. It’s nothing revolutionary, but the fact that it has no wires and can work for up to 10 hours on its rechargeable batteries is a big deal, especially when you find yourself in those soul-destroying dressing rooms with just a few chairs and a strip light for company. No more hunting around for wires or plug sockets, no more punch-ups over the last European wall socket adapter – just plonk the iLoud down, connect and hey presto, Eye Of The Tiger is roaring out of the 3-inch drivers and the band is pumped for stage.
As for the manufacturer’s claims about ‘studio quality sound’… I wouldn’t say these speakers offer the exceptional level of quality you’d expect from a professional studio, but they’re certainly capable of reproducing sound that can be mixed without any sonic surprises. I wouldn’t want to do a detailed studio mix with the iLoud, but we used it on the road to tweak backing tracks and check keyboard sounds and levels. It handles bottom end especially well and proved genuinely useful. To its credit, this would not be something we would be confident doing using headphones.
The iLoud is also designed to pair with IK Multimedia’s iRig technology. Plug your guitar into the iRig input on the back and it gets routed to the connected iOS device, through the real-time processors of the app and back through the speaker. One thing stuck me as slightly odd is that IK states that the ¼ inch jack input is suitable for microphones. I guess an XLR was too much to fit in, but it’s not exactly a standard way to plug in a microphone for us musician types.
Don’t let the ‘i’ in iLoud put you off. I’m sure the iRig/iOS integration will be brilliant for some of you, but for everyone else, this is simply a superior quality portable speaker with decent connectivity and battery life, and sound that is detailed and accurate. It’s never going to replace your nearfield monitors in the studio but that’s not what it was made for.
I can honestly say I would buy one… and I’m notoriously tight-fisted!
Verdict: Great sound quality, decent battery life and wireless connectivity make this a genuinely useful device.
Bruce Soord (front man and chief songwriter for The Pineapple Thief)