Apparently, you can fit an entire party into a portable speaker; excluding the people and cheetos. At least, that’s exactly what sound experts Ion have done with their newest device – the Block Party Live.
To call the $200 Ion Block Party Live just a portable speaker seems a bit insulting. Not only is it an immense 50w speaker system, it has a large battery, microphone input, BlueTooth connectivity, and an incredibly cool music-reactive lighting system on the top.
Best of all, we’ve got one to giveaway to a lucky reader. Got a party coming up? Then keep reading for your chance to win!
In terms of competition, the closest we can find is from a company called Pyle – in the form of a 500w “portable” PA-style speaker for just over $200, however it should be noted that wattage is a useless method to compare speakers. The Pyle appears to have more connectivity options with a built in 30-pin Apple adapter for instance, so it can charge your device simultaneously, and offers finer audio control (by which I mean lots of dials) – but it lacks any kind of built-in light show. It’s the light show which puts the party into Block Party Live.
Although definitely still portable, the size and weight of the Block Party Live is quite immense at roughly 12kg and 28x38x51cm. On the rear of the device is an extendable trolley arm that you can pull up to wheel it along the ground, which you’ll be doing a lot if you want to transport it around often.
Like all professional grade kit, the corners are reinforced with steel, and it generally feels like an extremely solid speaker that should stand up to some rough party handling. The only area which feels a little flimsy is the extendable trolley arm, but the party should be over by the time it comes to transporting the speaker.
Around the rear is a power socket, on/off button, and a few cavity openings for the fans that cool the lighting system.
On the front are a selection of dials and sockets:
- Mic input (large, 12mm plug, not XLR)
- Mic volume
- 3.5mm stereo AUX input
- Bluetooth Disconnect button
- Main Volume
- Light control (off, beat sync, app mode)
- LEDs to indicate power and battery level
Included in the package in a basic microphone, IEC power cable, and 3.5mm stereo cable.
In a word: painless. It’s a Bluetooth device, which doesn’t require pairing, so simply tapping to connect from your phone is all that’s required. Unfortunately, this might be its downfall – if any drunken party-goers figure out they can take over the PA system by standing close enough and playing with their phone, well…
Operating the device is just ridiculously easy. Plug in a microphone if you’re one of those DJs or have an announcement to make. Hit the lighting control button to really get the party started. That’s it. Anyone could operate this.
It Goes Up To 11
Disclaimer: I’m not an audiophile. I am however somewhat deaf from years spent working backstage at concerts, sleeping behind towering speaker stacks. I found the bass soothing.
In terms of loudness, with my iPhone set on full, I couldn’t push the volume knob past 6. Granted, I don’t have a gymnasium to test in, but that was plenty enough for my house. It’s loud, and you’ll be arrested if you turn it to full volume in any urban environment. Any louder, and the sound begins to be distorted, but that’s true of most speakers. The distortion can also be reduced by using a lower volume on the source, and a setting a higher volume on the speaker.
Either way – it’s plenty loud enough.
The only fault I could find with the volume was the included microphone being too quiet to hear over the music – it might have been faulty though, because plugging my own Karaoke system mic seemed to solve that. It’s also possible to use two volume controls – one on the speaker itself which controls the overall output volume, and the microphone; and one on the music source, such as the iPhone. If you find the mic too quiet, turn down the music source, and turn up the speaker. If you think the speaker is just too quiet, your source is probably on very low volume.
It’s no secret that I have a real passion for lasers and intelligent lighting systems, so cheesy disco lights can really annoy me – I was eager to see just how bad the party light built into the Ion Block Party was. I’m pleased to report that it’s actually rather stunning, with quick movement, very responsive to the music, and a lot brighter than I expected.
With the light disabled, the enormous plastic crystal dome on top of the device magnifies the underlying electronics, so you can see it’s all driven by a number of super bright LEDs; the whole thing is mounted on a rotating head, such that it offers strobing, colours, and movement in time to music. The crystal scatters the resulting light into patterns in a number of directions – watch the embedded video at the start of the review to see it in action. While some “party lights” can be disappointing in terms of both brightness and general ability to react to the music, the Ion Block Party delivers in every respect.
It also has remarkably good brightness and spread, filling a reasonable sized room easily with glorious displays of colour. Obviously, it’s limited in where you place it, so at one end of a large room it may not reach the other, but the effect is still impressive.
Battery life varies from 4 hours to 75 hours – depending on whether you use the light or not. At 30% volume and audio only you’ll get the most life; at full volume, with the lights on, you’ll get 4 hours. This seems like a fair compromise, as it’s unlikely you’ll want the light throughout the day if you’re outside; and if you’re inside, you’ll probably be able to plug into a socket.
Even lacking a power socket, you won’t be using it at full volume, so a good 4-6 hours is more than enough for most parties.
Though the Ion Block Party needs no more than an audio input from line-in or Bluetooth, there’s a couple of free apps available that extend the functionality.
The first is the Party Rocker app, which enables manually control of lighting effects. Most of the time you’ll want to leave it in beat sync, but if you need to kill the lights for an announcement, or just want to manually play with strobe features, it’s nice to have.
Block Rocker offers manual EQ control, though I believe it only works with music when played through the apps somewhat limited interface, not if you already have music coming from the standard iTunes or elsewhere. Interestingly, it also includes a sound effects board, suitable for live performances or party games. Again, it’s limited – you can’t add your own effects for instance – but it’s certainly a neat addition.
Should You Buy One?
I assume the market for this kind of semi-professional PA system is somewhat limited, but if you’re a regular party host, Zumba instructor, church party organizer, thinking of running a pub quiz, or just want something more substantial than a little pair of Bluetooth speakers for your next garden party – the Ion Block Party is literally a party in a box.
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