Why I Love iLoud’s Absurdly Good MTM Speakers

And why I'm not keeping them

Key Takeaways

  • The iLoud MTM is a tiny, powered studio monitor speaker that sounds huge. 
  • They ship with a room calibration microphone in the box for super-easy tuning.
  • These speakers may look like toys, but they are professional tools.
The iLoud MTM desktop speaker.

iLoud

iLoud’s MTM speakers look like a pair of 1990s computer speakers, but sound like something impossibly bigger. 

Normally, small speakers equal smaller sound. Those little speaker cones just can’t shift as much air as a bigger cone, which usually leads to a thinner sound, with less bass. Or smaller speakers manage to extend their bass with clever tricks, like rear-opening bass ports, or complex sound-shaping tubes inside. This helps, but the result can be flabby, or unfocused. 

These iLoud speakers use a mixture of clever design, digital processing, and an included room calibration microphone to create a sound that rivals huge speakers with even 8-inch drivers. 

"A good speaker can last you for decades. But these speakers are also computers, and I worry that they might not stay the course..."

Size (No Longer) Matters

The iLoud MTMs (the MTM refers to the symmetrical mid-tweeter-mid layout of the drivers, notable for not including a W, or woofer) are powered, near-field studio monitors. That means they have their own amplifiers inside, and that they’re designed to be sat on the desk, or on stands near the desk, and used at close quarters. This kind of monitor is used by musicians, film editors, and anyone else who needs accurate sounds for creating and mixing music. 

I make music, and I used to use a pair of (excellent) Yamaha HS-8 speakers, giant boxes that sound amazing even up close, but which are way too big for most desks. They’re over 15 inches tall and more than a foot deep, with 8-inch cones. I wanted to downsize and found the iLouds. 

I was skeptical that the iLouds could even come close to the Yamahas, simply because of the size. But a couple of years back, I did some extensive side-by-side comparisons. I ended up returning the iLouds and keeping the big boxes, but only out of laziness. It was easier to return the new speakers than to sell my old ones. 

Sound-wise, there was little difference. Or rather, the differences weren’t what you might expect. 

A musician's setup including two iLoud MTM speakers on the desktop.

iLoud

3D Space

The MTM comes with a little microphone and a cable that connects it to a small jack in the back of the speaker. Once you have the speakers in position, place the mic where your head usually goes (you'll need a mic stand or similar), and press the calibration button on the speaker. The speakers blast out a series of sonic whoops, the mic listens, and the speaker uses the information to calibrate your space. 

Ask any sound engineer if you need to buy better speakers, and they'll tell you to treat your room instead to minimize rogue sound waves and trap uncontrolled bass reflections.

The iLoud's automatic room calibration (ARC) is no substitute for all those foam blocks and panels, but it still makes a huge difference, compensating for any odd effects your room might have. And ARC is incredible for people who use a room at home as their studio and will never stick that stuff on the walls. 

Once calibrated, you get speakers that are accurate from bass to treble and sound amazingly big and clear. It seems almost impossible that such sound could come out of such small boxes. 

The "sound stage"—the 3D picture of the music in front of you—is absurdly precise. The HS8's do a good job, but the MTM's stereo imaging is so tight you can point to where every sound comes from. The sound never seems to be coming from the speakers. It just exists.

A closer look at a musician's setup with the iLoud MTM speaker.

iLoud

And how about the bass? That, too, is surprising. I bet if you are into really rumbling, bass-heavy music, the bigger speakers are better. But for almost anything else, the MTMs are equal to the larger speakers, which surprised me. 

The only place the bigger Yamahas obviously won was in general listening. The accepted wisdom is that studio monitors cannot be used to listen to music for fun because they're too sterile or accurate. That's bunk. The Yamahas sound great in the room, wherever you might be. The iLouds, however, are only really great when used as monitors. If you move away from the desk, the sound is more muddled and sometimes unpleasant. 

In the end, though, I'm not keeping them. There's a high-pitched whine coming from the power transformer in the back of each speaker. It is a known problem with some units. A good speaker can last you for decades. But these speakers are also computers, and I worry that they might not stay the course, which is a shame because there really is nothing else like them.

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