iLoud Micro Monitor - Part 1

wwenze

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I needed small speakers that can produce a lot of bass. In the sense that 2.0 speakers don't produce enough bass anyway and being small just makes it worse.

I settled for Kanto YU2 (because Audioengine is too mainstream), but then I came across these speakers which are a godsend to my requirements:

oF3l7jk.jpg


Lol just kidding. Or actually no I'm not kidding. Bose speakers have always filled the role of "managing to have bass despite being small". Take a look at Audioengine A2+'s measurement by the same reviewer:
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and notice how it actually has less bass than Companion 20.

Take a look at Creative T40's measurement too:
Creative-56a900a33df78cf772a2b48a.jpg


Heck, take a look at this comparison, it's interesting:
https://www.lifewire.com/desktop-computer-speaker-systems-3134570

Anyway, I settled for Kanto YU2, but these speakers came up as suggested alternatives on Amazon:

iloudmm_main_image_20160627.jpg

iloudmm_frequency_response.jpg


Okay... so it is smaller than an Audioengine A2+ / Kanto YU2, and hits lower, and has grilles. What is there to not like?

Of course, that frequency response is quoted by the manufacturer. In the below video, it is fairly clear that Yamaha HS80 has a lower bass.



I have my reservations - First of all, IK Multimedia is not a company known for making high-end studio monitors. The iLoud Micro Monitor is their first product that is called a monitor. They're not known for high-end interfaces or mics or other hardware either. Most of their products look like they are targeted at iPhone users and feel like toys, no offense. They seem to have a lot of strength in software, and that might be the key. They don't seem to overprice their products too much, and they are most likely selling in stores which have other studio monitors on demo so they can't overprice too much either, although they ask $39.99 for a replacement power adapter while Audioengine only charges $19. Then again *some* *body* charges $149 SGD for a 144W power adapter upgrade kit so I guess it is hard to judge.

Secondly, this is a market (small speakers with decent performance) that has been left empty for a very long time. There are products that come close to this market but don't quite reach it - Audioengine A2+ and Mackie CR3 being examples. There are products that are in this market but are priced so high that performance-vs-price no longer matters. In fact, Bose being mentioned as a player says something about this section of the market. Now, the question is, why isn't any good speaker manufacturer trying to enter this market? Is it because it is simply not possible to generate a sound worthy of the money? Is this why there are only bullsh*t brands in this market trying to cheat your hard-earned cash?

But then, most speakers that can produce a decent sound at this size depend on DSP or EQ. Which most studio monitors don't have. Which Bose has. Which B&W MM-1 has. Which iLoud Micro Monitor has. But will this DSP also result in the strange bass that Bose has? Guess I'm biting the bullet.

And lastly, the price is not cheap - $299 is the same price as entry-level studio monitors. So any performance inadequecy is going to be the price paid for having small size. Furthermore, Bose Companion 20 costs $249, and Audioengine A2+ and Kanto YU2 cost $199. At $299, the iLoud better be significantly better than the A2+. If it isn't, god help my soul.

And while I'm talking about DSP, because the incoming audio signal is going to be digitized anyway, it makes sense to have digital inputs like SPDIF. The more expensive studio monitors using DSP tend to have it. And somehow digital inputs seem to cost a lot of moolah, so I'm fine if cheaper speakers don't have it. And I'm not fine if expensive speakers don't have it. Meanwhile the iLoud is $299 which is in the middle between expensive and cheap so I'm confused. With so much stuff at the back of the speaker, I would have preferred some of it to go towards having digital inputs. But then there are three inputs (including BT) and they all can be used at the same time apparently, the cost of digital inputs and a switch (or a mixer?) adds up quickly. And since this speaker is unlikely to perform at the same level as 5-inch studio monitors... I think I'll let it slide this time. But man, USB input, please consider it. Especially since it's targeted at computer users.
 

wwenze

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Functionality

g40GuBO.png


Bundled are the bare basics needed for it to work, yet sufficient for it to work. I love that they bundled a 3.5mm to RCA cable - since the speaker has both 3.5mm and RCA inputs, if you need to connect a 3.5mm source, you use the RCA connectors on the speakers, if you need to connect an RCA source, you use the 3.5mm connectors on the speakers. Two types of source connectors with one cable. Pretty clever.

The cable to the slave speaker is thick. 2 metres long, if you need to place your speakers more than a metre apart you probably should be using bigger speakers and probably have the space to too.

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They could do better with the line interconnect. Power adapter is 24V 2.5A, 100-240V just like most power bricks nowadays. Figure-8 connector. Meaning you can AmazonGlobal this thing and just change the power cable to your country's.

Status LED
Somewhere between "omg my eyes they hurt" and not-distracting-at-all. If these speakers are placed far away amongst a mess of equipment the brightness makes sense. As a desktop speaker? Not so.

Oh and the LED goes red if it is clipping. Not that I will ever see it.

qip0fxv.png
 

wwenze

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Listening impressions

Seems to require burn in. Sounds like a $100 speaker out of the box. After some run time the treble harshness goes away. That or my ears have accustomed to the sound.

Position 1
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Note the lack of a back wall. Bass is going to be reduced. Not to mention this is the living room-kitchen.

These are neutral-sounding speakers. Not too much treble that is characteristic of small and/or cheap speakers, not too little treble that is characteristic of audiophile-y speakers. Which means I will be having the HF switch set to -3dB most of the time.

Won't be judging too much, since speakers' bass are weaker without a back wall. And few people use speakers without a back wall. So I don't have any memory of speakers being used without back wall to compare against. I know, back wall reflection, notch in frequency response and stuff. Yes, while having the speakers in the middle of an anechoic chamber on stands is great for frequency response and all, nobody in real life uses speakers in anechoic chambers and/or away from the back wall. And this includes the people mixing the soundtrack. Sure they have room correction filters, but remember they have grot boxes too - studio monitors that are used because they suck and are similar to typical consumer systems, and it is the job to make sure the mix sounds tolerable on the TV speakers. And guess where most consumers place their speakers? Not in an anechoic chamber on stands. End of the day, regardless of your own system's frequency response, if that bass guitar from somebody's mix sounds like a bass guitar on your speakers, that's mission accomplished. Rant over.

Back to the speakers, there is not much bass compared to 5-inchers and certain 3-inchers (but remembering the weakness of this listening position). However the bass extension is superb, one can hear the things happening in the lower frequencies even if they are just ever so barely present. And, the volume is very even across the frequency range. Guess that frequency response chart is true. Still, I would have wanted more volume instead of just extension. Piano bass sounds awesome, but I don't trust the observation because piano has always had the wicked ability to always sound good in shyt systems even though side-by-side you can clearly hear the differences between systems; that's why piano is always used in audiophile "test" discs, along with water drops.

Yupz, so, bass-wise, this thing certainly doesn't lose against 5-inch speakers. And it doesn't have the bloated midbass of smaller speakers either. So I talked about the wins up to this point, what about the losses?

Continuing with the bass, sure they hit low, but they don't have the power of high volume. Also, in Techmaster P.E.B - Bassgasm, in the quiet part where there is supposed to be a constant bass rumbling, that rumbling is completely absent here. I blame the sharp roll-off after 50Hz.

Rock music don't feel rusty enough either. Ah right, the treble, while each sound is clearly defined, the sound is like... not very friendly; imaging is good, but soundstage is narrow and you won't be fooled into turning your head like some speakers can. And there is a lack of warm in the midrange. Not due to a V-shape equalizer because it doesn't have one, but the warmth is just missing for some reason. I blame the 0.75-inch tweeter for all of this.

Compared to the Companion 2, it doesn't give me ear cancer. Compared to other 3-inchers, it hits lower and doesn't try to hide inadequate bass with a hump. Overall presentation, is actually very acceptable. And it even reproduces details that are masked out on 5-inchers. The sound is at least better than the average 4-inch and can challenge 5-inchers.

But, after all this is only a listening impression. Notice the lack of other speakers in the photo. I don't have anything to do a direct comparison with right now, so the review will come... at least 6 months later. Then we shall find out whether what I typed above is true or not - Does it really have comparable bass, does it really have weak warmth and treble etc.

Is it better than the slew of 99-bucks speakers? Definitely. Is it better than Audioengine A2+? Well A2+ price was $199 when I was buying the iLoud, but now it has gone back to $249, which makes the iLoud the better buy. But A2+ often drops to $199, which makes a small-speaker candidate for performance/price. There are lots of good 4-inch speakers at that price tho, especially PreSonus Eris 4.5 @ $199 - smaller speakers at the same price range better clutch their sphincters. If you have lots of space, but remember we have a primary objective to fulfill here. In fact, I was in a bit of money-don't-care mode when buying the iLoud, knowing well there are lots of studio monitors at that price range, as well as lots of cheaper but performing speakers that could work well as use-and-throw, including this $99 M-Audio AV32.1. But I really want studio-monitor level of quality, and in that case I want to be able to bring these speakers home. There isn't much choice apart from iLoud Micro Monitor - it's slightly smaller than the A2+ despite bigger woofer. And it has grilles. And performance-wise, so far it hasn't been disappointing. iLoud really carved out their own market, and at this size and performance, it doesn't even matter it costs $299 anymore, because there is nobody else that I know of at this quality/size.

B&W MM-1 is even smaller, but let's no go there. :s22:

It is going to be a while till I get a table to set up position 2.
 
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wwenze

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Review from noaudiophile is finally up:
http://noaudiophile.com/IK_Multimedia_iLoudMM/

To add, the optimal SPL for these speakers can be guesstimated to be around 80 SPL @ 1m based on documentation from IK Multimedia. Well they didn't directly say that, but we can calculate it from the chart below - 50Hz max SPL is 89dB @ 10% THD @ 0.5m, divide by 2 to get SPL with less than 10% THD, divide by 4 to get SPL @ 1m, and we get 80dB. And hence noaudiophile saw "Bass starts to audibly compress at 80dB." Which isn't too bad since it's still higher than my usual listening volume. But for perspective, most speakers have a sensitivity of at least 84dB@1W, granted it isn't flat till 50Hz but still.

iloudmm_max_spl.jpg


I initially thought that graph meant that the bass will be driven past 10% THD at higher volumes. Didn't expect it to be the frequency response chart at max volume instead.
 

wwenze

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jiYG9sL.png


Lol, $50 + $21 (GST for exceeding SGD$400 on credit card) to use for 2 months

Edit: Looks like offer was due to Labor Day sales
 
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wwenze

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Nice review
Does it have an auto-on function?

Nah it doesn't have auto-on/off (or rather, it isn't plagued by one)

The power supply is good. Doesn't get warm at all. Efficiency level VI. The speaker chassis skin is just slightly above room temperature. The power supply does buzz a little tho, but that will be fixed by putting it further away.

Don't have power meter with me. Time to get a new one to replace the old flaky stuff perhaps.
 

wwenze

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Review part 1.5 - Append

Since I'm enjoying the early morning lazing at home looking at Black Friday deals, might as well jot down my experiences before I forget about them later

I read in a review somewhere that the sound is worse if you're above the tweeter axis. So I tried with the kickstand up, and...

The most obvious difference would be that the bass quality improved. (Less desk reflections?) Cleaner, less peaks and dips, seems to go deeper.

Imaging and soundstage also improved. But then this could be me getting used to the speaker now that I've used it for months. Either way now it can fool me into thinking that the sound is coming from somewhere else inside the room. Not as good as the S-520, but different room so hard to say. Part 2 of review is really gonna be the test for real.
 

wwenze

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Review part 2

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I set the iLoud to everything flat after side-by-side with the Usher S-520. The amount treble at 0dB setting roughly matches the amount of treble the Usher has, and is needed or the iLoud loses too much detail.

I'm going to keep this short.

Because, I honestly don't know how to review this thing. (And I still need to tidy up my room. And I'm too lazy to do a three-way comparison with the Wharfedale.)

It sounds very close to the bass-boosted Usher S-520, in the sense that I can swap the speakers and wouldn't complain much. 5-inch speakers at this price range sound roughly the same, except for a few extreme cases of comparisons, and the iLoud continues that trend. Except it achieves this in a 3-inch form factor. And it isn't one of the more extreme cases like Rokit or HS5, from memory the iLoud actually sounds more "normal" than them.

So, performance like a typical 5-inch studio monitor at this price range? Check.

Bass
If my Usher is running without bass boost, then the iLoud has more bass and hits deeper.
If the Usher runs with max bass boost from the Marantz PM6005, then the Usher hits deeper and with lots of punch every hit. The iLoud doesn't hit as low, but it has more bass notes. Basically it's the difference between having more bass drum (Usher + Marantz bass boost) vs having more bass guitar (iLoud). That said, it's not that much more bass guitar that it is fake and bloated, but still within the acceptable amount.

Well we already know that the Usher without bass boost is one of the lightest bass out there, but also one of the deepest-hitting, and with bass boost it becomes one of the best bass out there. So winning it without bass boost and losing to it with bass boost both don't say much. But one thing is for certain: This 3-inch speaker has the same level of bass as a typical 5-incher. Maybe even better than the average, considering how well it compares against the bass-boosted S-520.

And, in terms of frequency response, it sounds cleaner than the Usher too. However when things get complicated it gets all garbled up.

Not-bass
The treble is just......"correct". It doesn't give ear cancer like lots of the cheaper/smaller speakers and even some of the not-so-cheaper/not-so-smaller speakers out there.

A bit warmer and more forward than the Usher S-520, a bit less wide than Usher S-520. But both areas still well within the range I expect from speakers of this price range and 5-inch size. (Usher has always had more of a fantasyland sound compared to others.)

The Usher actually sounds slightly more V-shaped in comparison. Maybe I should revisit the verdict I gave Sonos One.

And finally, here is the first and perhaps only real weakness of the iLoud that is keeping me from ranking it at the same level as the Usher - While in most of the songs they can be swapped for each other without issues and would be considered equivalent while noting the typical difference between speakers, there are a few songs where the Usher just sounds superior. Should I call it a lack of naturalness? Or unable to handle complexity? Or just the slightly-boosted mid-treble rearing its head? It's hard to analyze, much less put into words. And even for a weakness it isn't that bad, because I have seen speakers at this price that are worse.

Verdict
It sounds... "normal", I don't know how else I can describe it. Not unless I do a three-way.

So there we have it. These speakers are studio monitors. And I'm not considering the size when I say that - These are legit choices for speaker monitors, period.

Now let's mention the downsides:

- It has a bit of hiss, perhaps on the same level as LSR305. Can't really quantify it since it is hard to hear over my lack-of-maintenance computer and I need to stick my ears up to hear it. But if your room is the really quiet type - air cons with fan speed set to whisper, then it would be audible with your ear at certain angles.
- Directionality effect is real on this thing. If you don't tilt it up while on the table, if your ears are above the speaker axis, if your ears are below the speaker axis, the sound changes for the worse a lot. A possibly-related upside is that the performance doesn't seem to be affected much by room acoustics - it has lots of bass with or without backwall for example. These are definitely nearfield speakers.
- As previously mentioned but I need to mention again since it is a downside - The performance is only for up to 80dB before the DSP starts reducing the bass. While I don't recommend anybody to hit that high for normal listening, if you have the speakers far away and covering a large area and you like it loud you may hit the 80dB threshold. In that case you should really be getting bigger speakers, and you should really have the space for it anyway.

For USD$299 and whatever the price it will be in Singapore if it comes to Singapore, it is within the price range of typical studio monitors of this price bracket. Small size means it can be easily shipped from USA however, so that can reduce the price significantly. This is a legit choice even if you don't need the small size. Less EQ options compared to studio monitors, but Bluetooth and easier set-up (3.5mm, single power supply). And grilles, I like grilles, a lot.

This is a good secondary speaker to have. Need a quick setup suddenly? Throw this in. Bluetooth or 3.5mm. Or just leave it as a Bluetooth speaker somewhere in the house. Need to bring it somewhere? Easy. You can even buy a carrying bag for it, but I think I'll stick to good-ol' box and styrofoam.

No space for a bookshelf? Have more money than for a T40 / Companion 2? No other choice. This makes Audioengine A2+ look like a horrible investment.

Can mod change the thread title to remove the "part 1"?
 
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YouHeypiCanLiao

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@wwenze wah I see your review gian liao
I was actually considering LSX and then I saw Klipsch Fives the this and also the MTM version.
 
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