If you prefer to wheel your Bluetooth speakers around like tiny luggage, reader, do I ever have the device for you.
I’ve been reviewing the iLive Bluetooth Tailgate Speaker, a frankly ridiculous Bluetooth speaker with an on-unit LED light show and an adjustable handle that allows it to be wheeled around like a suitcase. It also has a mic input so that its user can sing along with whatever’s playing or “make announcements to the crowd,” the “crowd” presumably being a small group of friends and family, as this speaker is not especially loud.
But for $70, it does have a couple of neat features that typically aren’t included on similarly priced Bluetooth speakers. Truthfully, if these features do not appeal to you, I’d point you instead to some better, similarly-priced options for audio.
In the box, you’ll find the speaker and its micro USB cable for charging, though you’ll need your own wall adapter for plugging it in. The speaker supports FM radio (it has a built-in wire antenna), Bluetooth, and some external media formats that we’ll get into a little bit further down. And listen, I know that LED lights are exciting, but I was pleased to find out that they can be turned off by holding the “Mode” button down for a couple of seconds. The lighting is a little much for normal use as a Bluetooth speaker, in my opinion.
I will say that I was pretty surprised by how light the speaker was while pulling it out of the box. It weighs just over 5 pounds, making the wheel function—which is normally appreciated on big boy speakers like the JBL PartyBox 310—kind of a head-scratcher. At top volumes, iLive says the speaker will get about two and a half hours of battery life, while it’ll get closer to six hours of battery when used with the volume at 50%. It will take four hours to fully juice up when charging. The wireless range is about 60 feet, which is pretty standard. This speaker isn’t IPX-rated, though, meaning you’ll need to try to shield it from the weather.
As for its sound, some artists I listened to during testing did not, I’m very sad to say, sound great on this speaker. Joanna Gruesome sounded pretty hollow, and the same goes for Phoebe Bridgers and Rhye. A lot of the softer parts of these artists’ songs weren’t clearly heard even at top volumes. Likewise, anything that needs any significant amount of bass didn’t quite sound like total garbage but definitely didn’t give me the level of sound I was hoping for on a speaker this size (it’s roughly the size of a backpack). Cardi B’s “Up” sounded, well, fine. Ariana Grande’s “Positions” and Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later” sounded pretty good at top volumes, but again, the bass did not translate well and isn’t adjustable.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that you’re probably getting plenty for what you’re paying with this speaker—it just doesn’t handle sound as well as other, smaller Bluetooth speakers in its category. For example, I’d probably recommend the similarly priced Soundcore Flare 2 ($70) to somebody who wants a budget speaker that can handle a lot of different music styles at high volumes and with significant bass. Or, if you can stand to spend a little more, the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 and Marshall Emberton—both of which were on sale for $130 at the time of this writing—are fantastic options as well, and the ones I myself generally reach for when I’m listening to music around the house or even outdoors.
What the iLive does do, however, smaller Bluetooth speakers generally do not, and usually not for this price. The unit comes equipped with a microSD card port as well as a port for USB media. It also has a microphone-in function, which together with the ability to adjust the mic’s echo effect makes this a great option for someone who wants a Bluetooth speaker that can double as a karaoke machine, but on a budget. That’s probably the best application for the LED light show too, if I’m being honest. You will have to buy the mic separately, but you can find them fairly cheap.
If your budget for a Bluetooth speaker that doubles as a karaoke hub is a little higher, you might consider the JBL PartyBox On-The-Go. That speaker has adjustable light features and advanced audio performance controls for things like echo, is IPX4 splash-proof, has similar battery life, and comes with a wireless mic that works extremely well. Oh, and its sound is spectacular—but it’s also $300, though it’s possible you’d be able to find it on sale.
If perfect audio is less important to you, though, and you really just need a cheap Bluetooth device that supports mic capabilities so you can sing your heart out while also social distancing, the iLive Bluetooth Tailgate Party Speaker is a fine option. Just don’t expect studio-quality sound from this disco luggage machine.