By Jonny Rosch
I once met a master carpenter who, at the end of our meeting, handed me his business card. Below his name it said Master Carpentry and below that it said, Good, Cheap, Fast (Pick two) That aphorism stuck with me over the years and I have found that axiom to be relevant for so many applications. I now find myself sitting in my studio facing this pair of IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor speakers pondering an adaptation of the aforementioned adage; Small, Great Sound, Inexpensive (the latter being a bit more subjective and so I will add the caveat of relativity)… Pick three.
Cost: When I review a product, I find that I have a desire and a tendency to get the money part out of the way right up front. They list for $299 a pair (or 280.462 Euros for you Euro-centric people – or 235.262 Pounds Sterling for you Brexit-centric blokes). All things considered, if you are serious about your music production and are in need of small studio monitors … they are worth the money. There. Done with the $/€/£.
Sound: Obviously, this is the most essential element. After all, they are claiming to be “high quality reference studio monitors.” Ok, say it … Because they are. Why are they, you may ask?
Well, away we go. What we have here is a 2-way bi-amped active monitor. Any time a speaker is married to an amplifier in the same enclosure, there are a few basic fundamentals that I need to feel satisfied by. First of all – I LIKE HEADROOM! These speakers deliver a super warm, clean, and
natural sound and that remained consistent when tested with a substantial gambit of source material. I tried them out referencing Pro Tools projects, Logic sessions, iTunes mp3’s and AIFF files, as well as an assortment of Native Instruments soft synths that I use regularly and am very familiar with. Oh, and also IK Multimedia’s Sampletank and Amplitube 4, which I have been diving into as of late. The overall sound was delicious. It was dependable and accurate throughout the entire range of this aggregate of source materials. If anything, it seemed to tame some of the nastier aspects of the harsher mid range frequencies that tend to bug me personally.
This leads to another feature that comes with these monitors. On the rear panel (where ALL adjustable control knobs and switches reside) you will find these EQ switches; Desk / Hi Frequency (-3db) / Low Frequency (-3db). When all three switches are set to the neutral or ‘FLAT’ position, these speakers sound great and I imagined that I would never need to use the EQ section. As a matter of fact, I went into this experience thinking that these were most likely a gimmicky addition meant to satisfy an inexperienced user. Wrong. In the end they are quite useful for certain applications or with specific source material so, oops …. my bad. You are never too old to learn.
What else will greatly affect the sound emanating from these speakers? (other than the crappy, or amazing, or mediocre music you may be forced to, lucky enough to, or are being paid enough to, work on?) Well, that would be the “dual position isolation base,” which is a fancy name for the kickstand, which is really just a less fancy name for a piece of plastic that you can fold down from the bottom of each speaker. When engaged, it allows you to tilt the front of the speakers up so that they project directly to your ear space or the sweet spot. Again, this is more important than many would assume. It is a fact that when speakers are sitting flush on a surface, that the bass frequencies in particular are significantly enhanced, often by several db. I could write an entire book on this subject but A) it wouldn’t be as good as the books or articles on this subject that already exist out there – B) for our purposes these foot stands are more significant than one would think with regard to the sound of the speakers so PLEASE remember that, especially because if you decide to mount them on a mic stand* they will sound very different – C) between the EQ section, and the implementation (or not) of this “dual position isolation base” feature, you will have the ability to achieve the sound you are longing for regardless of where or how the speakers reside.
Portability: That’s the world we live in today. The fact that you can take these bad boys**, and throw them in your backpack to be used at a writing or recording session at a friend’s house/studio, or pack them in your suitcase to be used in your hotel room while you are on tour, or to blast music for your EP or CD release after-party (the one that just went platinum/viral), is as important as the space they will save if they simply reside on your desktop.
** I’m sure it’s obvious to you that if you just need to take only one small speaker on the road with you for referencing, you can take just one. I can imagine that this scenario might happen more often than the times you actually need to bring ‘stereo’ with you. Having said that, just make sure you bring the speaker that has the power and controls and knobs on it or you will be really, really upset … with yourself.
Bluetooth Capability: Yes, this is good. This product is Bluetooth capable. Everything else is being made to be Bluetooth compatible these days so this is now very relevant and significant. What is Bluetooth and how or why does it help this product? Please, don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know or are afraid of Bluetooth. It won’t hurt you, I promise. Trust me, and step out of your cave and I’ll show you some wonderful things you may not know about but could prove useful to you like … fire, or the wheel, or Bluetooth. Don’t be nervous. Rather than explain Bluetooth in this review, I’ll let my future ex-wife Kristyn Burtt, explain in this short video:
Note: I am legally obligated to inform you that I have never met Kristyn Burtt and she knows nothing about me. I do however plan on Facebook stalking her as soon as I am finished writing this review and before any legal restraining order has been issued unto me.
The Physical World
The Build: These speakers are made out plastic, but they look and almost feel like metal. It’s rather sturdy and I doubt you’d break it if you dropped it from a reasonable distance or if you stepped on it but… why even try? The 3” woofer and ¾” tweeter are covered by a protective metal mesh. There is also a bass reflex port so that means that there is a hole in your speaker but don’t worry, it’s a good kind of hole. Really nice bass comes out of that hole so don’t plug it up. Each speaker is about 7”H X 3.5”W X 5.5″D. (If you are going to carry a pair of these speakers with you, please double those dimensions since there are two speakers … unless you just bring one speaker with you.) Each monitor weighs 60.7 oz, or about the same as a Smith & Wesson Model S&W500™ revolver (I’m really not a gun person at all so that’s probably not a good example) or the 40 pack of Lance Toast Chee Peanut Butter and Cheese Crackers that you bought in bulk from Costco. Get the idea? Hand guns or crackers … I think we can all agree that they weigh very little.
Other Lovely Features?
The designers were thoughtful enough to integrate a mic stand thread (UNC 3/8”-16) on the bottom of the speakers so you can easily place them on any regular pair of mic stands. Little things mean a lot.
I rather like the LED on the front of the speaker, which is a particularly pleasing shade of white when a signal is present, and then turns to red when the signal is overloaded. It seems to turn red even before you start hearing distortion and I like that aspect as well.
People are going to bitch about some things. Why? Because, that’s what people do. As far as these speakers go, here are my complaints: Actually, I have none. I try to be a reasonable person so, I have to be honest and say that this product met all of the standards I expected it to and pleasantly exceeded some others. If I had to stretch and find a complaint it would be that I could stand them to get a tad louder. Having said that, I am aware that I have been touring for the last 40 years and my ears like copious if not stupid amounts of SPL but … that’s my personal problem and probably not the average persons’ plight. Here’s the truth of the matter; if these speakers were 75 watts instead of the plenty enough 50 watts, I’d still wish that they were 100 watts. Why? Because that’s what people do. They bitch about things and I’m a people … I think.
Allow me to take a a stab at what I can only imagine someone else may want.
A volume knob on the front so one doesn’t have to reach behind to make an adjustment? I suppose that would have been nice but I’m also guessing that design element change would have added quite a bit of a cost to the product.
Longer cable that pairs the speakers together? The product specs state that the 4-pin speaker connection cable is 59.1″. However, being the neurotic reviewer that I am I felt compelled to measure it and found my cable to be 79.1 (or 2m for you for you Euro-centric folks) That’s 6’7” or the same length as NBA All Star turned celebrity-freak-show, Dennis Rodman. It’s plenty long enough, but just know that you can’t get an adaptor to join two cables and make it longer.
These speakers come in a matte black finish. A different option on the color of the speakers, like white or paisley or plaid? Never you mind as I am I the process of opening a factory in Mumbai that manufactures thin cloth booties of various colors and patterns that will slip over these speakers, replete with holes for the woofer and tweeter yet still allowing for changing the iLoud Monitors appearance to fit your room décor or your current mood. To purchase this unofficial 3rd party option, please visit us at www.stupididioticreviewer.com.
I don’t know where you are going to find another pair of 50 watt, great sounding speakers with such flexibility in this price range. True, you can find some other portable Bluetooth speakers out there but they are not typically designed and built by a company like IK Multimedia who has their entire business wrapped up in the highest echelon of quality music production.
Buy these speakers. They sound great!
Find them online at IK Multimedia’s website HERE.