Utilizing full-size, full-range monitors in a large control room is a nice luxury for the fortunate, but legions of audio engineers are working in tour busses, hotel rooms, bedrooms, garages and even more challenging listening environments as they churn out mixes. Headphones may be the ultimate portable monitoring solution, but there’s still ample need for truly professional, very small, very portable monitors. IK Multimedia calls its new iLoud Micro Monitors “the smallest active studio reference monitoring system in the world” and let me tell you, they sound great.
The bass-reflex, bi-amplified iLouds utilize 50 W total RMS Class D power (via four amplifiers) to drive their ¾-inch silk dome tweeters and three-inch high-rigidity composite material woofers. The left speaker houses the controls and DC input from the in-line power transformer, and then connects to the right speaker with a sturdy, single, six-foot cable. Each speaker houses an oval front-firing port, mic stand mounting threads and a retractable leg for tilting up into the desktop position.
The iLouds achieve “best in class” bass response down to an impressive 55 Hz (at a modest -3 dB) due in no small part to powerful 56-bit DSP. Phase response, frequency, dynamic range and crossover functions are all carefully handled in this domain, squeezing professional specs out of what look like computer desktop monitors on steroids, weighing in at only 60 ounces each.
Input is via an eighth-inch stereo mini-plug, dual RCA phono plugs or Bluetooth (A2DP). A single volume control employs only one detent (unity gain I presume) at 12 o’clock. There’s a -3 dB roll-off for both low (250 Hz) and high frequencies (4 kHz), but no EQ boost. A Desktop EQ setting provides a little compensatory top-boost/bottom-trim.
I connected the left speaker Master unit with all the parameter controls to the right speaker with the supplied cable, placed the iLouds on my desktop, set all tonal controls for flat and started listening. Immediately, I realized that these monitors have a nice, unhyped tweeter—one that sounds professional (rather than consumer) and has that essential balance of detail versus smoothness required for accurate work. Much to my surprise, the amount of bottom end seemed overpowering compared to the top end. Once angled upward and with the desktop setting engaged, the bottom end tightened up and balanced nicely with the top end.
After using these iLouds as a fourth point of reference (3-way mains, Avantones and headphones) for a month, I found that they are indeed full-range monitors with more bottom and top end than the full-range single-driver-equipped Avantones, but with a slightly mid-scooped balance not unlike typical desktop systems, except with a pro top-end response and extended bottom. I also found that poor mixes were quickly revealed by the iLouds and that they didn’t convey a balance unless the mix was truly balanced. Admittedly, these are quite hard to mix on, and that’s a good thing!
I do wish for a more complete set of tonal controls, but the flexibilities offered here are adequate. I found myself using the iLouds on my desktop, backed up against racks/monitors, with the Desktop EQ setting, lows and highs both flat. This yielded a slightly thick and dark balance that cleared up when I tried them on mic stands.
The Bluetooth feature proved to be the icing on the cake for me. For example, a client wants you to hear a song from YouTube or their phone, so simply hold down the Bluetooth button until the iLouds connect and enjoy quick convenient monitoring without any cable fuss.
All these features make the iLouds ideal for music production on the go. I estimate that, at this diminutive size, one could fit a laptop, interface and iLouds in a carry-on bag. They’re loud enough to adequately fill a small bedroom or hotel room, provide an option to the physical ear fatigue of phones or buds and are just flat enough to allow for some reasonably accurate mixing. For both broadcaster and educational facilities that may need dozens of small monitoring systems for very small control/edit/compositional rooms, these iLouds look to be a high-quality solution.
At $299 per pair, IK Multimedia’s iLouds are reasonably priced as either a third point of reference in full-fledged studios, as main speakers in bedroom studios, as monitors on-the-go for backpack studios or members of multi-monitor fleets in large multiroom facilities. If one pays attention to the front-panel LED and avoids driving them into clipping too often, I would expect years of service from these sturdily built, well-designed monitors. From micro monitors to plug-ins to gadget accessories to novel instrument miking solutions, IK Multimedia is clearly a postmodern company that “gets it.”