Ion Audio, founded in 2002, has quietly become one of the go-to brands for solid, affordable portable speakers with impressive battery life. To offer you better insight into which portable speaker will be preferable to your own tastes, we will be going over these three products in as much detail as we can find.
As is the custom, we will be covering the sound quality of the speakers, their design and durability, the battery life as well as any features and software that may come attached to these speakers. One of them even comes with a bottle opener — let it not be said that Ion doesn’t know its audience.
These aren’t top-of-the-line speakers (or karaoke machines) by any means, which Ion is aware of. These are marketed towards a crowd that doesn’t wanna spend their kid’s college fund on Soundboks, JBL, or Bose. These speakers will run in the sub-$175 price range, so while they aren’t top of the line, you are saving a good bit of cash.
These speakers for the most part can hit a high volume, but their sound quality is not exactly “Audiophile approved.” This is the biggest downfall of these speakers in my opinion. It certainly isn’t the only downfall of these products, however, which we will cover below.
All three products have pretty suspect batteries, so know that they will need to be plugged in most of the time if you are going to buy them. Right out of the packaging, battery life is solid, which allows Ion to make some bold claims about battery longevity. However, most users report that the battery life runs down very quickly after just a few charges.
The Ion Block Rocker Plus is a budget-friendly speaker with an included microphone for the occasional karaoke or mid-party speech. To be frank, it is the slightly inferior and pricier alternative to the Ion Sport XL which does everything the Block Rocker Plus does plus adds water resistance, better battery life, and a lower price tag.
The Ion Sport XL is a fine choice for someone that is looking for a decent speaker that they can use for karaoke or speeches at times when the need arises. It is a durable piece of equipment that will likely survive most accidents or acts of god that befall it. To make a good karaoke system better, you can buy this speaker for not much more than a hundred dollars US.
If you want a speaker that doesn’t try to be anything else, you could do worse than the Ion Pathfinder 280. Reasonably priced in the sub-$125 range (if you can find them in stock), this speaker can put out a good bit of volume that should comfortably fill a room of socializing civilians. The sound clarity isn’t incredible and you could certainly find better quality speakers, though not for the discounted price this machine costs. To make it even more alluring, this speaker has an IP5 rating (water-resistant) and is comfortably durable.
Ion Audio isn’t the most forthcoming with the sound quality specifications of these speakers, which is a bit telling in itself. What I will say in defense of these lower-end portable speakers is that you will have no problem pushing the volume up for parties or social gatherings. If you want to impress your contemporaries with brilliant clarity throughout every frequency of sound, these are not for you.
Let’s begin with the Ion Sport XL and Ion Block Rocker Plus which comes equipped with an 8” woofer and a 3” inch tweeter. Both offer 100-watts of maximum power and are the two products that come equipped with a microphone for speaking or karaoke. The reason these are paired together is that their sound quality is pretty much interchangeable. They get loud but they also really start to diminish in quality as they get turned up to 11. If you are looking for a soundstage that feels omnidirectional, these are certainly not for you.
Moving on to the Ion Pathfinder 280 which offers the familiar 8” woofer but comes stacked with up to three 3” tweeters, which is likely where the “280 degrees of wide-range sound” claim comes from — one thing that stands out to me as an overall positive is the ability to change the bass and treble through individual controls. Credit where it is due, however, the soundstage of this speaker is notably better than the other two, which seem to have thrown in the karaoke option to sacrifice audio clarity.
Verdict – Ion Pathfinder 280 comfortably takes this category with a superior sound stage, quality of sound, and volume output.
You could club someone with these products and not notice a drop-off in sound quality. Hyperbole aside, these products are clearly made to survive some wear and tear. Style-wise they are not exactly the sleekest products on the market today, but they are durable and practical in design. To give you a better idea of what each product offers, let’s look at them individually.
The Ion Block Rocker Plus is empathetic to the fact that it weighs a tad over twenty pounds. This block-shaped karaoke alternative comes with an expandable handle, wheels and two side handles if you want to pick it up. The base design of this product is not rated for water resistance, though there is a water-resistant model available. You will be paying close to an additional 70 dollars for that IP4 rating, however. It is the runt of the litter at 9.85 x 17.33 x 14.57 inches.
Looking at the Ion Sport XL we see a slightly improved durability, though you would be forgiven for not being able to pick these two products out of a lineup. It comes with the same ease-of-use accessories that the Block Rocker does, expandable handle, wheels as well as side handles. What edges this product out is its included IP5 rating (comfortably water-resistant) that comes without the need of seventy additional dollars. It weighs in at around 25 pounds and sits at 20 x 14 x 14 inches.
Moving on to the Ion Pathfinder 280, we are starting to notice that this is the odd sibling of the trio. While it comes with an IP5 rating and offers the same wheels and handles the others do, it outsizes both by weight and dimensions. Coming in at 27 lbs and taking up 15 x 6.69 x 21 inches of space, this speaker might be more weight and size than certain consumers may want out of a portable speaker. It also comes included with a bottle opener, which doesn’t add to the design, but it certainly makes a statement.
Verdict – Draw between the Pathfinder 280 and Ion Sport XL. Both are similar dimensions and come with an IP5 rating. Want a free bottle opener? Go with the 280.
I should give a disclaimer in this category about what I have read and researched with all three of these products. Their default batteries have impressive (almost unbelievable) battery lives, though all three seem to drop off in battery life length after a couple of weeks.
I have found this issue in all three devices and despite the reasonable price tag, this feels inexcusable. So while the battery life of all three seems incredible, you will likely only see that life expectancy for the first few weeks or months.
The good news here is that these are still pretty solid speakers when using them while plugged in, especially for the price. With a truly portable bluetooth speaker, a bad battery is pretty devastating to the device. But for a larger, PA-style speaker, it usually isn’t too much trouble to find an outlet to power the device.
All batteries will run out faster at higher volumes, so bear in mind that your charge will run out quicker at higher volumes.
The Block Rocker Plus has an out-of-the-box battery life of 35 hours, though as I stated this will diminish notably over time. The Ion Sport XL offers a higher 75 hours (initially) and the Pathfinder 280 takes 1st quite comfortably with an estimated battery life of 100 hours, according to Ion Audio’s own numbers.
Folks, if you do plan to buy one of these speakers, you really should be sure that you are okay with keeping them plugged in. These batteries are pretty abysmal in terms of quality, which is likely insanely frustrating for consumers who bought the product for its long charge time.
Technically speaking, the listed hours of a full battery for any of these blow almost all portable speakers out of the water. Regrettably, this doesn’t last past the first month if (numerous) reviews and critiques are to be believed.
Verdict – Pathfinder 280 takes it, though all three have severely underperforming batteries.
In the spirit of expressing the product’s own individuality, let’s get the shared features of all three speakers out of the way. All three come with a “telescoping” handle and wheels so you can lug these weighty speakers around like airport luggage instead of having to carry them around by hand. They include AM/FM radio on the speakers with numerous presets, Bass Boost, Easy pairing with NFC-enabled phones, Bluetooth compatibility, auxiliary inputs, and a USB port (the ION Sport XL comes with two).
The Sport XL and Pathfinder 280 both use the Ion Sound XP app, which has received a significant amount of criticism for being difficult to get to work, due to bugs and convoluted app design.
The Block Rocker Plus does not have anything that the Sport XL doesn’t, besides fewer USB ports. They both come with wired karaoke microphones, which is in contrast to the Pathfinder 280 which seems to take a more focused design towards being a portable speaker.
The Pathfinder 280 is without a microphone, though it doesn’t lack features by comparison. It offers bass and treble controls, a bottle opener, the ability to wirelessly stream music through two Ion speakers simultaneously, a water-resistant compartment to keep possessions dry, and various lighting effects. The Pathfinder 280 was built for outdoor activities and events and it shows in its list of features.
Verdict – Ion Pathfinder 280, though only if you aren’t looking for a speaker that doubles as a karaoke machine.
It’s rare that one speaker makes such a statement against products from the same brand. Without question, the Ion Pathfinder 280 is the best portable speaker of the three. Consumers seem to agree — you will have a difficult time trying to find this product stocked digitally.
If you are looking for a karaoke system on top of a portable speaker, the Ion Sport XL is going to be your best bet. It is about fifty dollars cheaper than the Block Rocker Plus and offers water resistance which is huge for outdoor events and activities.