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Product Review: iLive Bluetooth Tailgate Party Speaker (ISB380B)

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2020 5:53 PM


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We were contacted by the PR agency for iLive to evaluate the iLive Bluetooth Tailgate Party Speaker (ISB380B) for watching movies outdoors. The coronavirus pandemic has many people looking to watch movies at home in new ways, and setting up a projector to watch movies outside is a great idea. Along with the big image, getting some big sound is a natural match, so we said we’d be happy to check it out.

This speaker can be found at retailers such as Best Buy and WalMart for approximately $50. This puts it at the low price range of these types of speakers.

The ISB380B is marketed as a “party” speaker, and those intentions are obvious. It’s portable and has a convenient carry handle as well as wheels like a carry-on luggage case to make it easy to move around. Front and center is the 8” speaker. Even though it looks like it has two small speakers in addition to the main speaker, those are just for show. Adding to the show is the flashing LED that illuminates the speaker with a variety of colors. This effect is distracting when watching a movie, so thankfully, it can be disabled by long-pressing the input button. We do wish that this setting change was more obvious and that it was persistent, instead of the LED going back to party mode after being switched off and back on again. If the LED flash pattern was synchronized with the music, that would make it less of a distraction and something of interest as well.

The battery is advertised as lasting 6 hours at 50% volume, which is good when you want to watch a 2-hour movie. Our testing found the advertised rating to be about right.

We made sure to top off the rechargeable battery using the supplied micro-USB cable and a spare charging brick that we had available. Contrary to other reviews that we found, it is possible to use the speaker while charging.

Connecting to the speaker via Bluetooth with an iPhone and an iPad was trouble-free. Range is excellent and we found it exceeded 60 feet, which is listed in the specifications.

Playing Music

Playing music is an excellent use for this speaker. Its sound quality is decent for a bluetooth speaker in this price range, and it plays loud enough to do the job. You will find that you’ll be visiting the top end of the volume range on a windy day or in a large open setting. We also had the chance to use it to play spooky music during Halloween trick-or-treat, and it did an excellent job for the full three hours, playing at nearly full volume.

Watching Movies

Movie sound is more demanding, though, and since we were asked to evaluate this speaker for that use, we pulled out a variety of movies and got to work.

We started with the John Wayne western movie, El Dorado. The ISB380B did a fine job with the movie’s mono soundtrack, which featured more talking than special effects. This was a great start for the iLive ISB380B!

Next up was Marvel's The Avengers, and that’s where this speaker showed its limitations. The movie’s many action scenes proved to be too much for this speaker to reproduce well. The layers of dialog and special effects in the movie overwhelmed the single speaker, creating a situation where the dialog was difficult to understand because an explosion or other sound effects muffled it.

Other action movies exposed the same limitations, so it’s important to temper your expectations when asking an economical speaker to take on the duties of a more substantial sound system. Perhaps multiple speakers could have helped, but to our knowledge, this speaker is not capable of supporting a stereo configuration via Bluetooth, and we only had one, so this was not tested (the manual does not mention stereo support with multiple speakers).

The Bluetooth connection is not ideal for watching movies, as a media player that you would connect to a projector (whether it be a Blu-ray/DVD player or a Roku-type device) typically has stereo RCA outputs, so it’s good that this speaker has a 3.5mm audio input that can be used for such a connection (using an adaptor cable, that is not supplied). Even if you do have a media player with Bluetooth capability, wired connections are always more reliable than wireless, and the last thing you want to be doing when you just want to enjoy a movie is to fiddle with a lost Bluetooth connection or wireless noise or interference of some kind.

A remote would be very handy with a device like this. Whether you’re watching a movie or listening to music, being able to mute the sound or adjust the volume on command would be appreciated.

Switching between the various inputs on the speaker was very easy, with voice confirmation of settings changes. There is an FM radio and the ability to play audio from a Micro SD slot and a USB port. A microphone input is also available. However, we did not give these inputs more than a cursory glance as that was not the scope of this review.

Front Panel PhotoClose-up view of the front panel

Conclusion

Overall, this speaker is a very good bluetooth speaker for playing music in most environments. Its great Bluetooth range means that you can have the speaker playing at a party and your phone in your pocket and you don’t have to worry about going out of range when you go back in the house for something. While not delivering amazing bass quality, it’s better than your average tiny portable Bluetooth speaker.

However, we can’t recommend this speaker for watching movies beyond your average romantic comedy or a classic movie that was made in a time before multichannel sound systems existed. It’s asking too much of a device that wasn’t designed for that purpose. As long as you are aware of those limitations, the iLive ISB380B Bluetooth Tailgate Party Speaker might be a nice addition to your entertainment setup.

Please note: A sample of this speaker was provided to us at no charge by the manufacturer. No restrictions about the outcome of this review were placed on us as a condition, and we were very clear that no restrictions would be welcomed. While this review probably didn't come out the way they would have liked, we appreciate them providing us with the test sample, and their willingness to let the chips fall where they may. Photos were provided by iLive and obtained from their website.

Published Specifications

The following specifications were listed on the iLive website for the ISB380B at the time of this writing:

Specifications

  • Supports Bluetooth v5.0
  • Wireless range: 60 feet
  • 8" full range speaker
  • FM scan
  • Aux in (3.5mm audio input)
  • Micro SD slot and USB port: supports audio file playback
  • Microphone input
  • Micro-USB port for battery recharge
  • Color changing LED light effects
  • Voice prompts announce speaker functions
  • Retractable pull handle and roller wheels for easy transport
  • Play/pause/pairing/LED lights button
  • Power/source button
  • Rotary volume control
  • LED power/charging indicator
  • Built-in FM wire antenna
  • DC battery power: built-in rechargeable lithium ion battery
  • Battery life: ~6 hours at 50% volume
  • Charge time: 4 hours
  • DIMS: 9.84 x 9.25 x 16.93"

INCLUDES

  • Micro-USB to USB cable
  • 90-Day Limited Warranty
  • User's guide


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