Often times here, deep in the bunker that is Bullfinch HQ, we’re working simultaneously on multiple reviews, articles, and posts. Our workflow is like the controlled air space around a busy airport (if you can remember what they look like). New gadgets, items, bits of kit, etc are constantly coming into the pattern, put to use, researched, tested, and then the review process moves on to the sketching, drafting, writing, photography phases until, cleared for landing, the post gets published. Although we love it, it can sometimes feel like a grind and a full kanban board (look it up) just a millstone around the neck.
Nowadays most, if not all, of the products we look at for review and commentary are quite good for their given price point. Maybe there is some selection bias there, but generally with few exceptions, the differences in quality, specification and performance are really at the margins. There are very few, really, very few, things that come across our doorstep for review that make us sit up and say “Whoa! W.T.F. do we have here?” So when that happens, besides getting all excited and giggly, I get this feeling that we should be letting people know about it. NOW. I just don’t believe that when you’ve discovered one, there is any merit in keeping the huckleberry a secret.
So it was when we received a pair of iLoud Micro Monitors from Italy’s IK Multimedia. I knew almost immediately we had something very special on our hands and I felt compelled to push it up the review order. Workflow process be damned! Ordinarily, I definitely don’t like to get all gushy about tech or hi-fi. I like to keep an appropriately circumspect and aloof measure of objectivity. Unless there is very good reason not to. And there is when it comes to the iLoud Micro Monitors. In fact, I don’t even think the usual in-depth pulling apart all of the ins and outs is even necessary (although we will…). The TL;DR is: The iLoud Micro Monitores are simply spectacular. If you are looking for desktop, near field speakers for your workspace or small(ish) room and don’t want to pay over the odds for something like the KEF LSX – just get these. Don’t even hesitate. Just get them. I am as confident as I have ever been about a piece of audio equipment that you won’t find better for the money. Oh, and you’re welcome, bee tee dubs.
Of course, you’re also welcome to do some more research. Indeed, I encourage it. The better informed you are, the better your decision will be and the more comfortable you’ll be with it. But I defy you to find any review that isn’t overwhelmingly positive. I mean, that’s what got me interested in the iLouds in the first place. I was facing a lengthy period away from my usual workroom audio rig (including a period of quarantine in my hometown of Sydney) and started the search for something to fill the void. Initially, I thought why not just go for a decent Bluetooth speaker. Something like a UE Boom or JBL Xtreme. But after auditioning both (and more) I wasn’t overly impressed with their chops. I mean they sound OK and certainly provide bang for the buck as far as portability and convenience are concerned. But I really find it hard to accept the limitations of a single sound source. I need that stereo! Without the imaging and separation only stereo speakers can provide, I’m just not that jazzed.
So I moved the search to just stereo near field or desktop setups. Preferably powered as I did not want to have mess around with the additional complication/hassle of putting an amp into the mix. There are a bunch of options from the usual High Street audio brands. All of which I’m sure do a satisfactory job. But I don’t want satisfactory. I want huckleberry. Delving deeper into the topic I started to notice a brand by the name of IK Multimedia pop up in my search results. Likewise, my YouTube feed became littered with videos from audio engineers and music industry pros singing the praises of a set of tiny studio monitors from IK Multimedia called the iLoud Micro Monitors.
Now, in the usual course of business, a name like “iLoud” would make me turn tail and run for the hills (hullo Chinese knock off…). But as it turns out, IK Multimedia is quite a respected name in the professional music industry and has been around for over 20 years. They make all manner of pro audio hardware and software, including the popular iRig range of interfaces and controllers.
And of course, they also make these magic little units called the iLoud Micro Monitor. I was certainly intrigued by them. Intrigued enough to want to give them an audition. Wellllll, good luck with that. Because they are sold well outside of the retail hi-fi world, it was almost impossible to find them in a shop; let alone in one that was offering to let customers audition them. So, it was take the plunge or forever live in ignorance of whether they actually measure up to the praise that other reviewers have heaped on them. Thankfully, the price to answer the question is entirely reasonable (IMHO) and I thought worth a roll of the dice. The iLoud Micro Monitors retail for US$299 and in my opinion (now with the benefit of hindsight), for what you get, that is eminently reasonable. So I thought, what’s the worst that can happen – I hate them and have to sell them for a slight loss. Welcome to the world of an audio equipment reviewer…
I can tell you that the worst did not happen. Far from it. After receiving them and going through the very simple setup process I connected them to my laptop via a Topping D10s DAC and flicked the power switch on the rear to “on”.
Holy high fidelity Batman! I was nothing short of gobsmacked. What kinds of black sorcery are at play to produce this kinda sound from speakers not much bigger than a can of Coke I cannot say. I don’t even think I want to know. But I like it. Love it even. Imaging, sound stage, separation, space, resolution, dynamics – all the audiophile buzz words are there and there in spades. It’s hard to describe the effect but as near as I can put it, when you are listening to the Micro Monitors at your desk it’s like there is a teeny tiny actual, but invisible, live concert going on right there on the desk. It is amazing.
Then there is the bass. I am not a bass head; not at all. So even if the iLouds were not capable of producing oodles of bass extension, it probably would not be a deal-breaker for me. But I have to say the bass is something I think bears emphasis as being incredible from something of this size and price. It’s not just plentiful, but it’s tight and well textured. Put in proper perspective, it’s not the last word in bass, but in terms of what it does with what little it’s got – it’s super-duper impressive.
Proper perspective is something that needs to be kept in mind here too. Don’t worry, I’m not hedging.. But the iLoud Micro Monitors are absolutely intended for near field, desktop, small studio or small room use. Do not buy them for your giant living room or open plan kitchen dining and then complain that they aren’t loud enough or incapable of providing room-filling sound. They are in no way designed to do that.
You can connect to the iLouds via RCA inputs, a 3.5mm headphone jack or, quite conveniently, by Bluetooth. The monitors need to connect to each other via a thick umbilical cord that is about 2m long. Power is provided by the supplied 24 volt power adaptor. Connect them to a source and away you go!
Each speaker comprises a 3″ custom composite material woofer, a 3/4″ silk dome tweeter and are bi-amped; meaning that each tweeter and woofer is powered by a separate amplifier. In this case, class D power amps providing a total of 50W RMS. Bass is handled by large-flaring front-firing (say that 5 times real fast :-D) bass reflex ports. Inside the Micro Monitors the black magic sorcery mentioned earlier is really just science (you probably knew that…). In this case, a 56-bit DSP looks after frequency and phase response; and controlling the dynamic range and crossover duties for the drivers. If you want to delve deeper into the specs, you can do so on the IK Multimedia website here.
In order to help with reducing bass boom and lack of definition in presentation often experienced with desktop, against the wall placement the internal DSP offers a number of EQ presets to compensate for issues arising from placement. One EQ preset allows the user to switch between desktop and free field placement; while the other two allow for tailoring of high frequency and low frequency response. These EQ presets are selected by using the switches found on the rear of the left channel monitor.
Also in an effort to optimise sound for desktop environments, the iLoud Micro Monitors come with little feet which swing out from the underside of each speaker and incline them slightly towards the ear level of the listener. If you prefer the speakers level with the desk or shelf or whatever, they are easily tucked away. I certainly notice an improvement with the feet extended and the monitors inclined towards my ears, just so you know. The iLouds also offer further placement flexibility via the inclusion of a 3/8″ thread on their underside – allowing them to be mounted on mic stands. Nice!
The iLoud Micro Monitors represent one of those very few and far between moments of pure elation I get as an audio/hi-fi enthusiast and commentator. Knowing that someone or a crew of someones out there has produced something this good and not stuck a sticker price of a thousand bucks on it honestly warms my heart. I know I haven’t gone chapter and verse on sound quality in this review. Please take it from me, there is just no need to. Used as intended, they are superb and I am constantly amazed by them and just how awesome they sound – across any parameter or dimension you care to measure that by.
Team them up with a decent DAC (no need to go nuts – the Topping D10s I have them hooked up to works nicely) and just enjoy! I have no doubt you will.