The iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker isn't the best-looking or sounding device but it delivers on affordability and fun like few others.
iLive is a brand that is not necessarily known for releasing top-of-the-line accessories or audiophile listening devices but has nonetheless consistently offered solid entries into the affordable audio market since its founding way back in 1971. The company's latest offering, the $59.99 Wireless Tailgate Speaker ISB408B doesn't break that mold and won't be the best-in-class speaker some users might be looking for.
What the iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker does bring to the table is a massive number of ways to listen to music at a respectably high volume in a budget package. The inclusion of a full-size microphone port and LED lighting only stack on top of that, placing the gadget as arguably one of the most unique and genuinely fun wireless audio accessories in its class.
iLive doesn't offer up many of the internal specifications for its 6.45 x 6.3 x 13.98-inch Wireless Tailgate Speaker — sold under model number ISB408B. That ordinarily signals that hardware in use is relatively standard rather than anything too spectacular or unusual.
Instead of putting emphasis on the latest high-brand components, Ohms, driver size, or even ruggedization — this speaker is not waterproof although it certainly looks rugged — the company has focused on ensuring a huge variety of functionality. That means that users will have the option to source music from an SD card, USB port, FM radio, 3.5mm aux-in jack, and/or via the full-blown quarter-inch microphone jack.
Bluetooth connectivity is part of the package as well. No specifics are given there either but the company says it will hold a connection at up to 60-feet. Bluetooth supports A2DP, while other inputs support MP3 standards.
An LED display cues users into source information or battery details for the three to five-hour unspecified battery. A ring of LED's is included on the 5.25-inch woofer for added personality.
The battery is charged via micro USB.
In The Box
As is often the case with Bluetooth speakers and other accessories, no power adapter is included with the iLive Wireless Tailgate speaker. The user manual does show that it can be charged with a standard USB port on a computer using the included charging cable, so it can likely be charged with just about any wall adapter. Aside from that relatively straightforward single page manual, the company also includes a fairly generic auxiliary cable for plugging in a source device via the speaker's 3.5mm audio jack.
Hardware and Design
From a hardware perspective, the first attribute to be noticed about the latest tailgate speaker from iLive is unexpectedly lightweight. That comes down to its use of textured hard plastics that are not aesthetically displeasing but the frame is hollow. Taken alongside the lack of any ruggedization rating, that means this speaker isn't going to be the most durable on the market but it feels well-constructed regardless.
Metal is utilized in the mostly-decorative speaker cover and a solid-feeling handle is formed at the top just above the inputs, buttons, and display.
Just behind the speaker grill, iLive has included an array of RGB LEDs accented by reflective material on the speaker itself. Those can't be customized but swap colors in time with the music both in terms of how rapidly the color changes and at what speed the color fades or jumps between hues. For slower beats, the visualization fades slowly enough that nearly the full spectrum is displayed as it cycles through each base color.
Back at the top of the gadget, there are two knobs to the left and right of the red-toned, alarm clock-like LED display. The left knob turns on or off the device as well as controlling volume while the right-hand knob controls the microphone input level. The quarter-inch input for the mic sits just below the latter knob.
Next to the microphone input, iLive has stacked an SD card port and a USB input and moving further to the left is an auxiliary cable jack. The direct current charging port is on the opposite side under the volume knob and buttons are placed in-between for controlling audio playback.
From left to right there is a button to swap the source, a reverse skip button, a multi-purpose play/pause/stop/Bluetooth button — Bluetooth only activates in Bluetooth mode with a long-press to start pairing — and the last button is a forward skip button.
The display is, by nature, somewhat flickery. That's not immediately noticeable while using the device but becomes apparent when attempting to snap an image of the readout. Setting that aside, the panel shows the current input method and in FM radio mode it shows the station that's playing, so it is somewhat useful.
The build quality feels solid on the display front too and it's bright enough to read at some distance.
That translates over to knobs, buttons, and ports as well. Ports are snug and buttons press through cleanly without any indication that they could wear out quickly. Each of the knobs turns smoothly, with the only jarring happening when the volume knob is turned off or on.
Similarly, there's no jostle or wiggling inside the speaker itself. In spite of its hollow design and relatively cheap cost, the iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker feels well made but not expensive.
Audio quality with this Bluetooth speaker is not the best available but isn't bad either, with consideration for its volume and the gadget's cost.
Pricing is also likely responsible for the primary drawback with this speaker too since the 5.25-inch subwoofer doesn't put out the most pristine tones. Regardless of which frequency sound is playing at, it has an ever-so-slightly muddied sound that shouldn't both most but could grow annoying to those with a more sensitive ear for that.
The overall range of frequencies covered by the speaker isn't provided by the manufacturer either but seems to cover the same gamut as others in its price bracket too. That's good news but also speaks more to the underlying issue with clarity and the decision to use a subwoofer instead of the standard speaker types seen in other portable speakers.
We weren't able to test the mic-input but if the moderate problem is in the speaker itself, it will probably persist there as well. Used as a PA system or in other similar scenarios that won't present a problem since the effect mostly seems to blend sounds on different frequencies together. A single voice carried over the speaker should be clear.
In fact, none of those will automatically be a deal-breaker for most users since the primary purpose of any tailgate speaker is to provide a backdrop of music for a party or get-together.
None of that is to say this is a terrible speaker. There are far worse options available and plenty of those are on offer at a significantly higher cost. What's more, the iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker is exceptionally loud and sound quality doesn't degrade at higher volumes. In fact, the sound quality improves with volume.
During our test, listening to the iLive gadget in a 300 x 300-foot parking lot, we were able to hear the music playing as clearly as the device puts out. That was regardless of where we stood on the lot or where the device was placed and with the volume only cranked to approximately 70-percent.
Each of the inputs seems to function at about the same level too, in terms of quality.
While it is worth pointing out that the device isn't an all-around performer that's well-suited to everybody's needs, it's not going to make the portable speaker any less worthy of consideration — especially in its price bracket and category.
Connectivity and Battery Life
On connectivity, the only missing features here are Wi-Fi and AI assistant integration. That's not really an issue since there are countless other ways to get audio flowing from the speaker. Most users will likely stick to Bluetooth 4.2 at up to 60-feet or aux-in but USB and SD cards are also an option. Each of those options for connecting is solid and offers the same quality of sound.
We weren't able to test the microphone input since it's a quarter-inch jack and all of the mics we had laying around were 3.5mm or USB driven. The cheap USB microphone we had wouldn't work. So it seems only the quarter-inch jack will suffice on that front.
Battery life is not spectacular but that's not necessarily a problem for the intended purpose. Music was played at nearly full volume over Bluetooth and lasted just longer than 3-hours. It did last a bit longer — over four — with an aux cable. The average better life is rated at four to five house and that seems accurate.
Unfortunately, battery charging takes about as long as the battery lasts, even using a smart adaptive charging box to get the maximum charge rate.
That's not a great ratio between charging and discharging. The iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker power source doesn't work with pass-through so it can't be used while charging either. That shouldn't be a problem for its intended usage either but is worth knowing for those who might need something that lasts a bit longer.
At just under $60, consumers probably are expecting much from iLive when it comes to the company's iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker (ISB408B). It's not automatically a bad thing that the device meets that expectation, given its pricing, but this certainly isn't a perfect gadget either.
As already noted, there are minor issues in the slight murkiness of its sound quality, it's too lightweight to really feel premium, and some ruggedization would be appreciated. The upward facing ports are likely a substantial part of the latter caveat but that's a problem other companies have solved.
None of that hits on the real purpose of this speaker, however. As a wireless Bluetooth speaker that won't burn through most of or an entire paycheck but provides loud audio for a rambunctious gathering — and maybe some karaoke — this speaker really does shine. It feels solidly-built enough to persevere through dozens of such weekends without issue.
The only downside to all of that is the gadget's battery life; the one true problem with iLive's latest offering. At its cost, that's something that most can probably overlook and while more discerning listeners should give it a pass, the iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker still certainly has a niche to fill.Buy iLive Wireless Tailgate Speaker ISB408B (Amazon)