There's a lot of gear out there for your Apple devices, but how do you know which are worth your time and what's not worth your money? In our Gear We Love column, Macworld's editors tell you about the products we're personally using — and loving.
Bluetooth speakers are everywhere, and I love their wireless connectivity — with so much else in my tech life going wireless, having to dock or otherwise physically connect my iPhone or iPad to speakers seems increasingly anachronistic. But with a few exceptions, I haven't been especially impressed by the sound quality or features of Bluetooth speakers. IK Multimedia's $300 iLoud, on the other hand, is a portable Bluetooth speaker done right.
At 9.9 by 6.5 by 2.4 inches in size and just under 3 pounds, the iLoud isn't tiny, but it still fits in a backpack or suitcase — or in the company's optional travel bag. The iLoud also feels rock-solid, and a sturdy metal kickstand swings out of the back for stability.
Of course, many Bluetooth speakers could fit that description, so what makes the iLoud special? First, it packs 40 total Watts of power across four class-D amplifiers, giving it a lot more oomph than most comparably sized (and even comparably priced) portable speakers. Put simply, the iLoud can get loud, and it can do so without distorting. (Playback time using the built-in rechargeable battery is roughly ten hours at normal volumes, though just three hours at maximum volume — it takes a lot of power to play loudly.) And speaking of volume, the red-LED-ringed, metal volume knob looks and feels great.
But the iLoud isn't just loud. It also sounds good. It's designed to be used as a portable monitor, so it offers the kind of accuracy you don't usually find in a portable Bluetooth speaker. Highs are clear and precise thanks to dedicated 3/4-inch tweeters, midrange is strong without dominating, and bass is present and tight, not overbearing — it even extends to lower frequencies than I expected. (Bassheads beware, however: This isn't a booming system.) The iLoud won't replace a good set of desktop or wall-mounted studio monitors, but for a speaker you can toss in your bag and take with you, it's impressive.
Finally, in addition to the usual Bluetooth connectivity and analog line-in jack, the iLoud includes a built-in iRig circuit and a 1/4-inch guitar/mic input with adjustable gain. Alas, you can't just plug in and use the iLoud directly as a guitar amp or PA system. Instead, you connect your guitar or mic to the iLoud; connect the included TRRS cable between the iLoud and your iOS device; and then use IK Multimedia's Amplitube or VocaLive apps to handle — and process, if desired — the guitar or vocal input. The app sends the resulting audio to the iLoud.
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