Portable karaoke machines, “party speakers,” and outdoor speakers have a good bit of bad press surrounding their audio quality. While this may seem unfair, it is the direct result of lackluster sound in several previous iterations of outdoor speakers and karaoke speakers. This unfortunate reality has made it difficult for folks to decide on a product that works well as a karaoke machine and a boombox.
Ion Audio, founded in 2002, is a company that specializes in several electronic products ranging from video projectors and turntables to the speakers in this article. Ion has made strides to improve upon its older products by removing the karaoke feature and optimizing speaker quality. In this article, we will broadly cover the Pathfinder 320 and Pathfinder 280 speakers.
JBL, founded in 1946, is a regular here at Swift Moves and a trusted brand in portable speakers. With high-performing products coming out consistently over the last few years, it’s hard to ignore JBL as one of the better brands on the market today. We will be comparing the far more expensive JBL Partybox 310 against the budget-friendly Ion products.
The Pathfinder 320 offers a lot in the way of features and is significantly cheaper than most at around $200 or so. Its design is the most efficient, movable, and aesthetically pleasing of the three and it boasts fairly competent water protection. While it does not have 100 hours of battery, several consumers have reported that they are very satisfied with the battery life. It also carries a surprising amount of volume inside of it for such a budget-friendly product.
The Pathfinder 280 is not a bad speaker, though it is comfortably outpaced by the 320 and Partybox 310. This is only made worse by the fact that they retail for roughly the same price nowadays. It has an additional aux input, though that is hardly enough to justify it over its newer iteration. While we could understand people being more in favor of the Pathfinder series than the Partybox, we would not recommend the 280.
The Partybox 310 is the only real karaoke speaker on this list, though you will pay for the privilege. Sitting in the mid $500s, you could purchase both competing speakers for less money. The additional cost is justified by its fantastic sound, great list of features (including compatibility with microphones and guitars), and serious customization.
It is the heaviest of the three by far, however, and is likely the most delicate as well. We would recommend this product with an asterisk for those that want to take it outdoors. While it does provide some water resistance, it feels far more fragile and less balanced than the other two speakers.
The JBL product outshines the other products in audio and it isn’t close. The bigger concern in this category is how well a cheaper product like the 320 or 280 can hold up when compared to a far more pricey, higher-quality product. We will also get into the two Ion products and how important the 320 upgrade is.
All three products come with a graphic equalizer to adjust the sound.
The Pathfinder 320 was designed to be the next logical upgrade to the 280. It has a clear and crisp sound that accentuates the vocals and treble of the audio. The bass is lacking the deep punch that some audio enthusiasts look for, though it doesn’t take away from most genres of music. What was most surprising about this speaker and the 280 was the decibel level, which can easily drown out a backyard barbecue with relative ease.
The product has five speakers situated throughout the product. The biggest and most noticeable is the large bass speaker in the center of the device. There are another two on each side of the speaker with the last pair sitting towards the top of the product. The sound is listed at “200-watts” though we did not personally test this ourselves (and wattage isn’t a perfect measure, anyway).
The Pathfinder has an 8-inch woofer, two 1-inch tweeters, and two 3-inch drivers. It offers separate controls to tweak the treble, bass, and mids and offers three different equalizer options on the speaker menu.
It comes with the ability to have one extra ION speaker paired up with it to produce stereo sound and gives an FM radio with sixteen customizable presets. You won’t be able to hold a private concert, but this speaker gets it done competently at a low cost.
The Pathfinder 280 might be the older version of the 320, but it stays competitive in terms of audio. To my ear, the bass sounds a bit more fully represented here than when listening to the 320, though the mid and treble aren’t as pleasant as its newer stablemate. This doesn’t change the fact that it cannot compete with the JBL speaker in terms of lower bass and falls short on the lower end of its frequency response.
The 280 has one 8-inch woofer along with three 3-inch tweeters. The woofer sits just a bit to the right of the center towards the front of the speaker. There are two tweeters on either side of the speakers with the last sitting in the top-left corner of the front-facing grille. The speaker has a “Boom Button” on the speaker menu that perks up the bass, lighting, and decibels.
The 280 has the ability to pair up with one additional ION speaker. Without this feature, you will only get mono audio, though the side tweeters do create a very wide cone of audio projection.
To end on a bright note, the volume of this speaker is really good, getting up to 100 decibels in certain tests. It also has very little scratching, static, or skipping at max volumes which is unheard of for the price range it is in.
The Partybox 310 is superior to the other products in nearly every measurable aspect of its audio. The bass on this product is superb and sounds incredible when listening to heavier-hitting genres like rap, dubstep, or thumping electronic music.
The bass can be enhanced with the product’s Bass Boost feature as well. The mids and highs sound fully represented, though the sound is a bit thinly spread despite playing in stereo.
Taking a peak underneath the illuminated shell of the JBL speaker will reveal two 6.5-inch woofers as well as two 2.5-inch tweeters. It has a frequency response of 45Hz – 20 kHz (-6 dB) as specified by the manufacturer.
This is the loudest speaker of the three and can get very loud, though this is where it fails the most. While you will rarely need to throw it to max volume, the static scritching and compression found when the dial is set to eleven can prove disappointing.
Like the other two products, you can also pair the Partybox 310 with another Partybox 310 to create a more full sound. Unlike the other two speakers, the Partybox 310 will play in stereo regardless.
This speaker also seems to pump the jams a little louder when connected to a wired power source. With that being said, the Partybox 310 is the winner in this category whether it is plugged in or mobile.
Verdict – The Partybox 310 justifies its price tag with a great sound quality that falls a bit short when it comes to its soundstage. The ION products are both worthwhile and can get very loud, though you get what you pay for.
Design & Durability
Whether we want to admit it or not, no one wants to buy a speaker with a rhinestone spine and supplemental stickers to decorate the exterior. Looks matter, at least where portable speakers are concerned. We also want to take a look at the efficiency of the design, how transportable each product is, and how much water it can withstand before becoming an LED-covered brick.
(All measurements made are width x height x depth)
The ION Pathfinder 320 is a dense customer, though ION has provided several ways for the product to be lugged around. Along with the convenient top-side handle, it comes with a retractable pulling grip and wheels on the back side of the device. This is ideal as the speaker sits at nearly 23 pounds and is 15 x 19 x 10 inches, which is by no means pocket-sized.
The topside menu comes with several interesting backlit menu options. It comes with a battery indicator, radio dial, volume control, three (hi, mid, low) EQ buttons, Bluetooth, the Bass Boom feature, a button to trigger LEDs on or off, and the usual play/pause and skip.
The design of the product is surprisingly attractive if a bit bulky and dense on the sides. The perimeter LED that wrapped around the front grille for the 280 has been replaced by two subtle, smaller lights that are visually pleasing without being overbearing.
It has a hidden compartment in the back to store cables, along with a bottle opener. Finally, the speaker comes equipped with an IPX5 rating, so a poor weather forecast isn’t a dealbreaker.
The Pathfinder 280 is a bit blockier than its younger stablemate, though still has plenty to show for itself. It offers a telescopic handle and wheels though it lacks the handle on top.
It is roughly 27 pounds and 15 x 18 x 11 inches in size. It should be easy enough to transport– though if you have a few sets of stairs, you also have our sympathy.
The menu panel on the 280 is fairly deep and offers a good amount of options for the folks that enjoy a bit of control over their speakers. Starting from the top left, you get a power button, an LED screen with a battery indicator, and the current FM station.
Below that, there is a Bluetooth option, Light option, Bass Boom, Radio, Link, and EQ buttons along with 8 different radio preset buttons. Finally, you get the usual play/pause and skip buttons as well as a volume dial to mess with.
While it isn’t an ugly device, it is not nearly as visually appealing as its newer model. The lights on the device are nice, as well as the waterproof compartment located in the back of the speaker. Speaking of waterproof, this product is rated to be water resistant (IPX5), though dust could be an issue.
The JBL Partybox 310 looks like a pulsating, well-lit giant next to the other two products. Keeping with the fashion of this category the JBL speaker comes with a telescoping handle and wheels.
This is helpful but doesn’t change the fact that this is close to a 40-pound speaker that measures out to 31 x 17 x 15 inches. The size of this speaker is going to be a big point of contention for several consumers.
The design is built tall and because of that owners of the JBL speaker will need to be mindful that it doesn’t get knocked over. The product has an IPX4 rating which can withstand splashes, though be mindful of heavy rain or dust. The LEDs are nice and the metal grille feels very secure, though for a speaker this pricey – the plastic encasing feels a bit cheap.
The user panel on the device offers a volume switch, play button, and bass boost trigger towards the left side. In the middle, you get access to bass, treble, and echo controls (which are exclusively for karaoke options), three sound effect buttons, and LED indicators for USB, Aux, and Bluetooth. Towards the right, there is a light button to change the LED or shut it off as well as a pairing button.
Verdict – All of these products are heavier than most would like, though all do their best to accommodate this inconvenient reality. For the appealing design, robust exterior, and water resistance, we will give the 320 the nod here.
The battery is a very important aspect of any portable electronic.
Speakers are hard to pin down, and several things affect their battery life. How loud is the volume, how many LEDs are turned on, what music are you listening to, etc? Unfortunately, this variability can cause the battery specifications listed on your product to be unbelievably inaccurate.
On an unrelated note, let’s cover the Pathfinders.
The Pathfinder 320 has a listed 100-hour battery life. If this is true, it is astounding and a new standard in portable speakers. While we didn’t do a secondary test on this product’s battery, it’s safe to say the average battery life will be a few hours short.
With that said, all consumers seem incredibly happy and shocked at how long-lasting both Pathfinder products are. The charge time is 10 hours and the product does not have a power-saving function, so you will need to remember to flip it off.
The Pathfinder 320 has the same listed 100-hour battery life that its newer stablemate boasts. This product has undergone secondary testing, however, and seems to sit closer to around 70 hours on average.
While a more realistic measure of the battery life would have been nice, this is still an exceptional battery by any measure. It has a 10-hour charge which is understandable, considering how long-lasting this speaker is. This product dims when not in use though will not auto-shutoff.
The Partybox 310 is seemingly mediocre in terms of battery life at 18 hours, though in any other comparison this would be pretty solid. The biggest issue with this product is that it just has a lot going on. So when you include bass boost, LEDs switching between various glowing hues, and high volume – the battery will drain pretty quickly. The upside is that this product charges in half the time and will shut off after a few minutes of inaction.
Verdict – Either of the Pathfinder speakers will work for days at moderate volume. The Partybox has a good battery life, though it is significantly shorter by comparison.
Features & Software
There are features that a speaker requires to perform at its best and there are features that open bottles. Both are nice, though one category is far more sought after while the bottle opener is a considerate touch.
These products have a little bit of both worlds. We will judge more on the quality of the features given than the quantity listed on the box.
The Pathfinder 320 comes with its fair share of accessories, add-ons, and more. To start, it offers Bluetooth 5.0 which can be used to pair the speaker with one compatible ION speaker. It offers the Boom Button, which enhances the thump of the bass, decibel level, and lights.
The LEDs are a series of different colors that change and vibrate to the beat. It also comes with one auxiliary input and a USB port on the menu interface, which has backlight buttons.
You get different sound adjustments that control the bass, mid and treble as well as a graphic equalizer through the app. You get a hidden compartment to store things in a waterproof container. Speaking of, this does have a bottle opener. Anyone that has seen the product probably already guessed that it does come with FM radio and 16 presets.
The Pathfinder 280 is pretty similar in features to the 320. It comes equipped with BlueTooth 5.0 which you can use to pair compatible ION products. You get Bass and Treble controls, the Boom Button, multi-colored LEDs, a sneaky waterproof compartment, a graphic equalizer, and an FM radio with 16 presets.
The 280 has two auxiliary inputs and comes with a USB port as well. For those concerned, it does have a bottle opener.
The ION Sound XP app has an average review score of 2.5 on Google Play and 3.3 on The App store. The app allows you to change the volume and lighting, change the FM station and even tweak audio through the equalizer.
This is all under the condition that you can connect the app, which is proving challenging to several users. The biggest issue with this app is the clunky user interface that often brings you back to previous pages and the horrific connection issues.
Lastly, the Partybox 310 is stacked with more features than most have come to expect from JBL. It offers an enticing LED display that thumps to the beat and changes color.
This is also the only device that allows for karaoke and instruments. This product can do quite a bit, including additional sound effects, multispeaker connectivity, and a graphic equalizer.
With the Partybox you get Bluetooth 5.1, an illuminated menu, several different remote features through the app, and a USB port with the ability to play music through saved playlists. There are also microphone effects found on the top menu of the device.
The App for the Partybox has an average rating of 4.5 on Google Play and 4.8 on The App Store. This app allows you to customize the lights, tinker with the audio, and allows you to tweak the karaoke effects.
You can also connect an additional compatible speaker. The biggest hang-up with this app will be infrequent connection issues, though this is fairly rare among reviewers.
Verdict – Hard to ignore the customization of the Partybox 310 with Karaoke and Guitar features with additional effects.
While it may be tempting to judge these products as being equal across the board, the Partybox 310 should be the clear winner due to its increased price.
While it does have notable categories that it stands out in, for those looking for cheaper options – both ION products are worthwhile. I would recommend all three of these products, under the condition that you know what you are getting into.
While ION advertises its karaoke machines quite often, both of these products do not offer karaoke options. Also, the listed battery life of 100 hours is…optimistic?
If you are aware that the product will be a lower-end speaker with mid-level capabilities, you are going to be incredibly satisfied with the purchase. If you are expecting a karaoke machine that will play indefinitely without charging, you will be sincerely disappointed.
If you do want a karaoke machine or a speaker that can double as an amplifier, the Partybox 310 is a good pick. It isn’t quite as resilient as we would like and the design is concerning for parties, but its sound is exceptional and the battery is great. Just buy a gym membership ahead of time, all of these speakers are pretty dense!