IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitors
With a name like “iLoud,” there’s little doubt where the focus of this monitor package sits. Considering how Beats headphones made a reputation based on largely on over-hyped bass and loud levels, it’s a sound marketing strategy with today’s consumers. The potential for misunderstanding the intent of the iLouds is rather large, however. These are marketed as monitors, not consumer speakers, and IK Multimedia is known for its home recording products, not personal audio.
So, what’s behind the IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitors? Volume or quality? As it turns out, both.
Hear the Music reviewed IK Multimedia’s iRig Keys Pro, a MIDI keyboard controller that provided both excellent performance with build at an affordable price. That sets a standard by which, like it or not, the iLoud monitors might be judged.
The idea of a 3-inch speaker as a “reference monitor” is almost enough to provoke a giggle, yet that’s just the claim IK Multimedia makes for the iLoud Micro. Frankly, I think they’ve gone a little overboard calling these reference monitors, which I would define as the best of the best, the monitors by which others are measured. Likely, IK is simply trying to say that these are damn fine sounding 3-inch speakers that can be used in home recording setups. I won’t argue with that. Yamaha NS-10s these are not, but as a respectable, portable and affordable monitor system, the iLoud Micros do a very good job as studio monitors, a surprising accomplishment, but one that seems on par with IK Multimedia’s track record.
A trend in mid-level monitors with studio aspirations is the addition of wireless streaming capability. At this price point, the divide between pro and consumer products blurs. Let’s face it, with studio-level equipment residing in the extra bedroom, it’s a guarantee some of the gear will find its way to the living room. Similarly, test mixes slip onto phones and tablets.
Providing Bluetooth capability is the next big thing in monitors, it seems, for those very reasons. Like it or not, streamed audio is a thing, and music recordists have to consider MP3s and other compressed audio in the same way their ancestors once considered tinny car radio speakers. The iLoud Micro monitors include BT capability, a feature that also compromises the idea of a true reference monitor. However, just as much excitement came from mixes intended for car radios, so too must creators in the present day work toward the systems consumers choose.
Bluetooth has not always been capable of streaming reasonable quality, but the days of Very Compressed BT sound are gone. There are new versions and protocols used with BT to improve data throughput, and sure enough, the iLoud Micro uses the A2DP protocol, which assures decent stream quality.
As well as wireless input possibilities, the iLoud Micro provides RCA and ⅛-inch phone jacks for cabled input. I have issue with the lack of ¼-inch or XLR connections in a system billing itself as a reference monitor. While the iLoud Micro may be targeted to laptop and tablet recording systems, it will still need to pair with pro equipment if it’s to live up to billing. Real estate is tight, but in my opinion there’s room for a pair of balanced ¼-inch TRS inputs. Still, the sound of the iLoud Micros makes the fuss of adapters worth the effort.
Now, here’s something interesting. As with many small systems, the left speaker has all the business on its back plate. Nothing unusual there. The right speaker has only an input. Still no surprise. However, the cable between the two has four pins. I’m guessing this means that both speakers have amps within, evening out the weight distribution, which can have an effect on the sound of each cabinet. If there’s a large disparity, the right and left speakers could be substantially different in frequency response. While I’m not sure what the 4 wires are indeed for, I like the feeling it gives me.
There are also three EQ switches on the back of the left speaker to adjust for various speaker placements. Each switch has a flat and rolled-off setting or, in the case of the top switch, a non-specific setting used when the iLoud Micros are placed on a desk. This a big boy monitor feature that’s great to have on a speaker that will fit nearly anywhere. Bluetooth switch and volume knob round out the controls. I recommend leaving the volume control in the center position. You probably won’t need extra volume with these things.
To get big sound from speakers, you generally need to move a lot of air. Moving a lot of air generally needs a big speaker. Sometimes a smaller speaker with a lot of cone travel can move substantial amounts of air. When it comes down to physics, though, a 3-inch speaker shouldn’t really accomplish big things in the low frequency range.
Yet we know that headphones can accomplish full-range sound with very small speakers. Much of that has to do with how close the speaker is to your eardrum, but it is evidence that small speakers create low frequencies. They simply don’t create them in large quantities.
Ported speaker designs make life a little easier for small speakers. The energy from behind the speaker sneaks out of the port, which can be tuned to accentuate certain frequencies. This is where the iLoud Micro excels in both volume and deep bass. It’s not a perfect reproduction, since the laws of physics do have some limits, but it’s a convincing approximation and it’s impressive from a 3-inch woofer, no matter how it’s achieved.
The front-firing port helps. It keeps response crisp and time-aligned much better than rear ports, which offer a bit of mushiness to low frequencies. IK Multimedia publishes bass reproduction down to 55 Hz., which is a good value. Too much content below that and bass also turns to mush. However, some electronic music may sound fundamentals below this point, so if that’s a genre that pops up frequently, adding a subwoofer may be necessary.
That doesn’t take away from the listenability of the iLoud Micro. The full range and volume on tap completely belies the small size.
Two things I like: the built-in tip-up feature and the mic stand adapter in the base. Speakers on the desktop happens. That shoots audio into your chest, when you really want it in your ears. The iLoud Micros have a front foot that flips down to point the speaker the right way. Better still, the mic stand adapter takes the iLoud Micros off the desk. Level them at ear height and you have no acoustic coupling with your desktop. Clarity and coherence receive an instant boost. IK Micromedia may be overstating the “isolation base” thing a bit — the iLouds do benefit from a monitor isolation pad — but it’s also better than nothing, and that tilt counts for a lot. The rounded edges and center bulge design looks sleek and contemporary. No on-desk embarrassment factor here.
There are only about 10 user reviews in my usual haunts online, but of these, the lowest is 4 out of 5 stars. That should tell you all you need to know. Either the equipment trolls haven’t found this speaker yet, or they haven’t found anything nasty to say, which isn’t like them at all. This is an impressively small package with an equally impressive big sound, and its users agree.
There are so many challenges in making a loud, full-range monitor it would take another thousand words to list them. IK Multimedia seems to have a business plan that shoots through conventional wisdom and makes quick work of challenges like this.
The IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitors win the challenge. It’s that simple. Highly recommended for anyone seeking quality and portability.