iRiver IBA-50 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker
Price: £59.00 RRP
~ An Elliot Holmes Review ~
• Stylish, sleek and modern looking design.
• Big sound on a small scale with little distortion at higher volume levels.
• The speaker can also double-up as a loudspeaker for your phone when taking calls.
• There isn’t a huge amount of bass so bass-heavy music can sound a bit flat occasionally.
• Despite the small size the IBA-50 is still a little bit too big to carry around on a daily basis.
• The battery life is 8 hours so you may need to plug it in to the mains continue listening once the battery runs out.
iRiver were once a super power in the MP3 player market as they were one of the first companies who got it right and delivered products which not only sounded great but also had decent storage and weren’t quite as house-brick-bulky as some of their competitors. As time went on they built a reputation for pushing the boundaries of design (again they mostly got this right, like with the elegant magazine style UI of the ‘P7’ MP3 player or the radio turning one on the ‘SPINN’, which seems to have been resurrected for the new Astell & Kern players) and offering features which weren’t readily available on others players at the time – like DAB radio, memory expansion and their awesome rocker switch navigation system. Then one day they seemingly all but vanished from the UK and European markets.
Sure, they kept working away and producing products in their native South Korea – like the squat ‘B100’ player, the Disneytastic ‘Mplayer’ and some sort of attempt at launching a phone in conjunction with LG – but it wasn’t until very recently that they decided to grace us with their presence again. And boy they are definitely out to show us what we’ve been missing.
This year iRiver gifted the world with the incredible AK100 and AK120 players (please note: by “gifted” I mean they want you to pay them £569.00 or £1,099.00 respectively) and have, at least for the time being, made a name for themselves again back at the top of the DAP market. But what about their other products? Well there’s some kind of MP3 player/earphones hybrid, which looks slightly like Geordi La Forge’s* visor in reverse, and a stunning little speaker they call the iRiver IBA-50…
*For those of you who enjoyed sunshine and playing outdoors during your childhood he’s a dude from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
The iRiver IBA-50 is one of the best Bluetooth speakers I’ve tried in recent years and more than holds its own against competition from the likes of SoundScience and so their ilk. However, it’s not just the sound quality where the IBA-50 does well; it’s also the overall design and additional features which make it an ideal companion for home, office or even holiday.
Playing through two channels, with each channel outputting 2W, you might not think that the IBA-50 has a great deal of sound quality or much volume. In my experience though I could not fault the sound quality and the level of volume was extremely good, especially when using the auxiliary input, so while this might not replace a fully-fledged home HiFi I’d have no concerns about it delivering when used in the right situation – such as in an office or the kitchen.
There are two ways of playing music from the IBA-50 and both are incredibly easy to set up. The standard method is to stream music from a mobile phone or Bluetooth enabled player and this, like when connecting a hands-free headset, is simply a matter of enabling Bluetooth on your device then pairing it to the speaker. The other method, for non-Bluetooth devices or if you just want to preserve battery, is to run an audio cable from your player to the axillary input on the rear of the speaker.
When playing over Bluetooth the music sounds clear and the only problem I came across was that the bass was slightly lacking so certain music styles lost their punch. This could possibly be rectified by fiddling with the equaliser on your player to push the bass a bit more; although as I didn’t try this myself (since it’s just occurred to me in all honesty) there might not be a tremendously noticeable difference.
Playing through the IBA-50 when using the line in feature was a real treat as while I expected the sound to be good, given how decent it sounds over Bluetooth, I really wasn’t expecting them to sound that good. The volume was very loud and the clarity was great – more impressive than that though was that there wasn’t too much distortion at higher volumes…unless pushed to maximum. Moreover, all volume changes are controlled by the computer so you don’t need to reach over your desk to press the volume buttons on the speaker. Learn from my foolish mistakes though and remember to check the volume level isn’t set to full on the computer before playing a track otherwise it will be distorted and incredibly painful when next to your ear.
You also don’t need to limit yourself to music with the IBA-50 thanks to a handy little feature – the call answer button. This is located near the volume control on the top of the speaker and if you have connected to the speaker over Bluetooth with your phone you can use this feature for conference calls. There isn’t a mic on the speaker from what I can see though so you’d need to keep your phone close to make sure whoever you’re talking to can hear you.
However, if you aren’t using the IBA-50 to make a call and fancy having a wander feel free to pop your phone in your pocket and take a stroll. The speaker has a 30 foot Bluetooth range so while you can’t exactly walk down to the shops (unless they’re less than 30 feet away of course) you can get pretty far away before the signal drops out.
The other important thing to bear in mind is that the rechargeable battery will only give you 8 hours of play time so you might need to keep a charger to hand for when the battery runs out. As standard the IBA-50 charges from the USB port on a computer but you should be able to use a 5V USB to AC adapter to charge away from your computer (Please Note: Charging the speaker outside of the instructions from iRiver is entirely at your own risk).
Really the only thing left to mention is the size and design – the design of the speaker should suit most people as iRiver have kept things nice and simple. The speaker is made from a nice smooth plastic and has a metallic speaker grille at the front to protect this from knocks. Moreover, the buttons on the top, for controlling volume and so on, are easy to locate and give a nice solid ‘click’ when pressed. Finally the rear of the speaker features the slider power button, the charge indicator light and also the line-in socket so they’re all nicely tucked away out of sight and help maintain the sleek lines of the speaker.
So, that leaves us with size. In my mind this will hinge greatly on where you want to use the speaker as depending on the locations it’s either just right or too big. What I’m getting at is the IBA-50 seems to be sized for not moving around a great deal as it’s just a little bit too big to be carried around for great distances. Basically if you did want to use it as a travel speaker you’ll need to make sure there’s enough room in your bag or suitcase as otherwise you might struggle to fit it in. While it is small enough to move around with, again assuming you have the room in a bag or a free hand, I’d say it’s really best used at home or office since it’s not a hassle to carry from room to room.
As I mentioned in the introduction, iRiver have made some great products over the years and also a whole lot of strange decisions with their legacy players. Fortunately they are back on form with their latest offerings and this speaker will be perfect if you want something small for using at home or office with the option of taking it with you when you’re out and about.
Everything from the design to the sound is strong and other than the size making it that little bit too big to easily carry around and the battery life being slightly short I really cannot find anything negative to set the old alarm bells ringing.
Furthermore, since the iRiver IBA-50 is so inexpensive (RRP is £59.00) it’s a great little, cost effective addition to your audio arsenal.
In fact I like this speaker so much I’m severely tempted to pick one up myself as I am really, really taken with it.