It seems that with every change the recording industry goes through, there comes new freedom for music makers of all types.
The constraints of the old school recording studio, and thereby the music industry in general, are gone, and people are making records in more ways and places than ever before.
But regardless of where we’re recording, it remains our goal to provide deliver mixes that give maximum impact and translate well. Any and all tools that allow us to work effectively where and when inspiration strikes are worth looking into. To that end, IK Multimedia has endeavored to make a new ultra-compact speaker option that aims to provide portable and accurate monitoring. Let’s see how they fare.
The iLoud Micro Monitor is an ultra-portable, stereo set of speakers designed for traveling creators, and as an alternate or mini-monitor set for purpose-built studios.
The speakers are a bi-amped design delivering a combined 50 watts RMS power. Each houses a ¾” silk tweeter and a 3” composite woofer. At just 7” tall, 3.2” wide, 5.3” deep, and weighing only 3.75 pounds, the iLoud Micro Monitor is indeed exceptionally compact and easy to travel with.
Whether on-the-go or staying at home, these speakers should be easy to fit into any setup. An LED on the left speaker indicates white for on, red for clipping, and blue for Bluetooth connections. (The latter flashes when pairing, and goes solid when connected).
The speaker enclosure itself is made of a low-resonance resin, and feels very sturdy and strong. The cables that are included also feel high-quality and durable. I believe these speakers should withstand the rigors of the road and will last a very long time. A separate road bag is available for those that plan to travel with the iLouds.
Specs on this monitor are astonishingly good for the size. The frequency response chart is very flat, and only down 3dB at 55Hz. (-10dB at 45 Hz!) IK Multimedia claims this is due to the front-firing bass-reflex port and internal DSP, which controls the frequency, phase and dynamic range. Maximum output is listed at 107dB SPL at about 20 inches.
In terms of shifting setups and locales, the iLoud Micro Monitor is very flexible. Inputs include stereo RCA, 1/8” mini-TRS, and even the option for Bluetooth connectivity. Many placement options are available, including threading to attach to a mic stand, and a rubber isolation base that can be angled up at the listener. A side benefit of monitors this small is that you can work very close to them, which helps minimize standing wave and reflection issues—especially useful for those working in shifting environments.
Additionally, there are multiple equalizer settings to adapt the monitors to your space, including a high shelf (0dB or -3dB from 4kHz up), low shelf (0dB or -3dB from 250Hz down), and a desktop setting (+3.5dB between 1kHz and 10kHz and -1dB below 400Hz).
Setting up the speakers is fairly fast and easy work. The manual succinctly describes how to connect to the monitors, and when to use the various settings offered on the back. Connecting the two speakers is a heavy-duty proprietary 4-pin cable. Additionally, a very nice RCA-1/8” cable is included.
Over the course of a few weeks, I brought the Micro Monitors to multiple locations and listened to lots of music on them. In use, I found them to be an excellent tool for any mix engineer.
The sound quality is frankly fantastic for speakers of this size and price range. Stereo images are rendered accurately, transient response is great, and the vital lower midrange doesn’t turn to mush like it does on so many smaller speakers. The wonderful flexibility in tuning and setting up these speakers made it easy to adjust to whatever environment I was in.
Mixes that I worked on while Kerouac-ing around translated very well. Often small speakers are “peak-y,” and I experienced none of the fatigue that normally comes from listening on smaller, less-expensive devices. I used these in world-class studios and living rooms alike, and consistently found them to be a joy to work on. At one studio, we performed a direct A/B comparison to a similar-sized set of computer speakers. The iLoud Micro Monitor absolutely blew the cheaper set out of the water.
It’s impractical to expect the very bottom of the frequency spectrum to exist on speakers this size. In fact, many larger monitors don’t extend as far down and accurately as the iLouds. Even when they do, most rooms that aren’t professionally designed and treated will play havoc with those frequencies anyway. When paired with high-quality headphones, one can get a surprising amount of work done in nearly any environment.
Traveling with the iLoud is easy. The casing is very solid, and I have no reservations about putting them into a suitcase or backpack… something I would never do with a nice set of headphones. They take up more space than headphones, but not headphones in a travel case, and I would never travel with my nicer cans without putting them in some kind of safe container. Further, I hate wearing headphones for long periods of time, and to be able to work reliably almost anywhere is huge win.
To Be Critical
All that said, there are a few minor issues here. First off, the labeling of the two speakers is bizarre. The left speaker is where all settings and connections are made, and has a connection point labeled “R Speaker”, while the right speaker itself only says “Input”.
This is supremely confusing at first if you haven’t run into this kind of odd design before. In practice this shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but it’s strange to offer a designated stereo set for professionals in which left and right isn’t abundantly clear. You shouldn’t have to dig into the manual to find basic info like this.
Also, while well-made and of more-than-adequate in length, the cable that connects the two speakers is heavy, especially compared to these very lightweight speakers. In one setup on a meter bridge, the weight of the cable kept shifting the angle of the speaker away from the mix position, even though the Micro Monitors have rubber feet! It’s very nice that the cable is top-quality, but I need to know that the speakers will stay where I place them.
Summing it Up
The iLoud Micro Monitor represents a real step-up in portable and practical mixing. In the past, engineers and producers who want to mix on the road have been limited to headphones, which can lead to tons of translation problems. I feel confident in stating that these monitors will help immensely in those situations, but to say they are only good for that is to sell them short.
As an additional pair of small speakers in a permanent setup, the iLouds will hold their own. Also, as just a Bluetooth pair of party speakers, these work fantastic and sound better than any other set I have tried. At $299 for the pair, these monitors are a killer deal.