Amazing Performance for a Tiny Package
Not every home studio is made of money and square footage. This is something IK Multimedia understands, and they use that understanding to create products worthy of the limited dollars users have to spend.
Already in this space the iRig Keys Pro has won raves for an excellent balance of features, build quality and overall feel. It was with some excitement that the iLoud monitors were welcomed.
It takes some big brass cojones to call a tiny monitor with a 3-inch woofer “reference,” yet IK Multimedia dared. While I will debate their definition of reference, I will not argue that these are impressive, useful speakers.
We live in an age where the cost/performance factors of so much audio equipment puts serious music-making tools into the hands of almost anyone who wants them.
True, this makes for an insufferable number of loop manipulators calling themselves producers, but I’d rather live in a world with so much affordable recording gear than the state of the not-so-distant past where serious recording was the province of the rich or connected.
While the iLoud Micro might be hyped by their makers a little, it can also be forgiven, because it’s a very convincing facsimile of the real thing, and at a price that will ease these into even a modest entry level studio.
Wiring It Up
Or not, as the case may be, since the iLoud has Bluetooth capability. That right there is a slight strike against the case for true reference status.
While Bluetooth 5.0 promises some serious improvements and version 4.0 is already Pretty Darn Good, wireless streaming is still not in a tight enough place for reference listening. The iLoud Micro does use A2DP protocol, which means better than average Bluetooth audio streaming.
However, who mixes 24/7? Bluetooth capability alone makes these monitors cool, and not everyone cares about pinpoint precision. Also, you’re not limited to Bluetooth connectivity. 1/8-inch TRS cable – the usual three-section headphone style plug – and stereo RCA connectors also serve as audio inputs.
Lack of ¼-inch phone plugs and XLR connectors are forgivable just because there’s no real estate left on these things. The iLoud Micros are made to move around with the user anyway, far more oriented to computer, laptop and tablet recording than large mixing desk recording.
There are adapters, people. Know them and use them all while being wary of them. The iLoud Micros are worth shelling out for a ¼-inch to 1/8-inch Y-adapter needed to mesh with more serious audio interface units or mixers.
The cable that connects left and right speakers is thick, and looking at the connector gives a hint why. Many small active monitors put all the business in one speaker. Larger monitors tend to be independent.
While power and audio go into the left side iLoud Micro, the fact that the speaker connect has four pins suggests that two are power and two are audio. If this is the case, that audio needs shielding separate from the power feed.
The power feed is good news. When the amps are all in one side of an active monitor pair, it’s often audible. The weight of each speaker is different, and therefore resonances can be different. It’s like trying to stand up straight with a boot on one foot and a sandal on the other.
Almost unheard of in small active monitors are positioning EQ settings, but the iLoud Micro has them. When speakers are forced into walls or corners, audio reflecting off these surfaces becomes part of the monitor’s output, and often that’s not good news. The iLoud offers three deviations from flat: on-desk, bass roll-off and treble roll-off. These can be used, along with the rear-left mounted volume control, to customize the monitor pair for many locations.
The iLoud Micro is micro only in size. There’s a brick-like weight to them, a couple of pounds each. They’re not going anywhere. As with a lot of IK Multimedia’s offerings, there’s a feeling of quality exuding from these speakers even before you turn them on.
The two-position front speaker rest gives you flat or tilted desktop positioning. IK mentions its isolation base. That’s perhaps stretching it, but it’s certainly better than no isolation at all. Far more interesting is the mic stand adapter on the base.
These guys can screw onto mic stands. This completely decouples them mechanically from the desktop. That’s a good thing too, since, just like the walls, sitting on the desk puts the desk into play acoustically, even with isolation.
The Glorious Sound
Sound is about moving air. High frequencies are short, easily dissipated energy. Bass is long, powerful energy. Physics says that a 3-inch speaker can only reproduce fundamentals of a low frequency in certain very small quantities.
Imagine headphones for a moment. You know you can hear deep bass through those. Heck, get a pair of Beats and sometimes you can’t hear anything but.
Consider how close those are to your ears. Without getting into the inverse square law, because it will put me to sleep, let’s just say that the difference between a speaker beside your ear and one on your desk is many orders of magnitude. This is a challenge that the iLoud takes and slams down successfully.
Not perfectly, but given the restrictions of the monitor size and speaker elements, it’s doubtful there could be much improvement. The secret to the bass is the port. It releases the energy from behind the woofer in a coherent way and extends the effective bass reproduction down to 55 Hz.
Compare it to thousand-dollar monitors and it’s artificial. Some fundamentals from filtered bass synths won’t sound at all.
However, listen to ordinary music at average levels and the sound is astonishing. And that’s really what a good speaker comes down to: is it listenable? The answer for the iLoud Micro is a definite ‘yes’.
We make compromises at all points along the decision cycle of home recording or even serious home listening. While the iLoud Micro does represent a few compromises, you can compromise with one tucked under each arm, connected via Bluetooth to your smart phone. There’s no question that the studio of the Twenty-first Century looks a little different.
IK Multimedia iLoud Micro Monitor – Recommended!