A Tailgater is a sound system that is portable and can be used, as the name suggests off the back of a pickup truck. That isn’t the only place it can operate, of course, but the idea being it is a portable party machine. That is not its only function either. It can be used in any venue where some form of audio is required or even at home.
Going back to the party machine aspect, some of them make great karaoke machines.
As a unit, it will obviously have its own amplifier and speakers and probably Bluetooth as well as other connections. The subject of this ION Audio Tailgater Review is manufactured by ION. And for those who don’t know the company, let’s take a little look…
ION was founded in 2002 and is a privately-owned manufacturer of electronic equipment for consumer use. They are based in Rhode Island and are part of the InMusic Brands group. InMusic Brands are a growing group of companies in the consumer electronics market and include names like Akai Professional, Alesis, and Numark.
ION themselves manufacture audio products with Bluetooth, electronic instruments, and turntables. They are a respected name in the audio world, if not the first name you might think of. The ION Audio Tailgater is one of their products, so let’s have a quick look at what it has to offer…
The ION Tailgater IPA 77 is a complete ‘sound system in one’ that includes Bluetooth and NFC connectivity. It also has a microphone and is fitted with an auxiliary input. This allows you to connect up your phone or tablet using a wired system if you do not have wireless capability.
It is a great little example of what we described in our introduction – a lightweight and compact sound system that has a variety of potential uses. From a small garden party to a slightly larger gathering, it is an ideal system. Providing that is, you don’t want the volume to blow their heads off.
Because it is so portable, it can be a great little weekender system for outdoor use providing the gathering isn’t too big. Inside it will easily fill a modestly sized room.
It can operate off the mains supply or by the battery. The uses are varied, and the inclusion of the microphone opens up the possibilities for karaoke or for a DJ.
It looks like it as a lot going for it, let’s find out if it does?
You might expect that a sound system that is going to be carried around to parties would need to be tough. It is certainly that, featuring a heavy-duty design and very strong reinforced corners, you get the impression it can take a few knocks. The sealed unit is strong and has a wire mesh grille to protect the speakers and easy to use controls on the front, which feature a mic and an aux input.
There are two carrying handles, one on each side. And located on top, a rubber antenna that clips down to keep it out the way when not in use. It measures 9.21 by 12.5 by 13 inches, and despite its rugged build is reasonably lightweight at seventeen pounds.
Inside the box is a 6.5-inch main driver and also a one-inch horn tweeter. This will deliver a peak power of 50 watts, so you can expect the RMS to be 25-30 watts. As we said earlier, it is great as long as you don’t want to blow their heads off. At 50 watts it is far from the loudest you can buy.
It has built-in Bluetooth connectivity, which means you can connect up to your other Bluetooth enabled devices or a computer for playlists.
One of the big assets of the ION Audio Tailgater is the battery power. It can be used either connected to an AC outlet or via the Lithium battery. But the battery gives you a staggering fifty hours of playtime. This is for every charge. The battery power can be used to drive the machine as well as supplying power to the USB port.
This port is for recharging devices, which it will do while the speaker is in use. This USB power bank is a very useful extra feature ION has included. Allowing you to recharge devices while the machine is playing, keeping the music rolling on.
Finally, it has a built-in AM/FM radio. So, you can go ‘old-school’ if you want to and just dial up your favorite station. The rubber antenna located on the top gives a wide range. There is the facility to store up to 12 channels: six AM and six FM. Station and other information is displayed on the front of the unit in the control panel on the display.
Not many, there are no wheels, but the unit only weighs seventeen pounds, so maybe they aren’t that essential. It is quite compact enough to pick up and put in the car. To have wheels would have been better. But the lack of them is not a deal-breaker as far as we are concerned.
The only other issue we can think of is that it is not water-resistant. If you are holding an outdoor party and you get a bit of rain, you’d better cover it up. Again a minor issue really.
Build-wise it ticks the boxes. It is well-built with good materials, tough and strong, and with everything you need. It is made in China.
Let us return to the control panel. It is situated at the front of the speaker at the top, so it is convenient as well as functional. There is a standard size jack plug socket for the microphone and a 3.5mm aux input. This is where you can connect up your devices for a wired connection assuming your device has a headphone socket.
There are two large controls on each side. One is for the volume for the microphone and the other the master volume for the speaker. A good idea to have the mic volume separate. This allows the speaker to be used for other activities like Karaoke, where control of the mic level is essential.
There is also a USB charging port. This is not for connection purposes only for charging devices.
There are further controls for Bluetooth and the built-in AM/FM radio. And there is an illuminated screen that will give basic information. This includes the status of the battery level, Bluetooth, the track playing, and the radio if it is being used. On the top is the extendable rubber antenna. On the back of the unit is an AC connection socket and an off and on switch.
All very neat and tidy and self-explanatory. The controls are easy to use and very visible, which is essential if you are in party mode. The oversized master and mic volume controls are also a good feature. There is also access to the ION Block Rocker app for further sound controls, but we will talk about that later.
The ION Tailgater IPA 77 is Bluetooth 4.0 enabled, which allows you to stream your favorite music from other Bluetooth compatible devices. This also includes any NFC (Near Field Communication) devices. It features the standard Bluetooth operating distance of about 30 meters and will operate better if there are no obstacles in the way.
Further Bluetooth associated control is via the ION Block rocker app.
If you have non-Bluetooth devices, then you can connect up to the 3.5mm aux input to listen to your playlists in a wired mode. You can use it with most media devices, such as CD players, MP3 players, or a PC.
The communications are basic but effective. They may not be particularly sophisticated, but considering the purpose, they do not need to be.
So far, we have discovered a sound system that has a lot of positive things going for it. But much of how we define this speaker will be by its sound. So, how well does it hold up?
We have already said, it’s not the loudest. In our opinion, it doesn’t need to be. ION has not designed this speaker for an outdoor rock concert or for a couple of thousand people at a party. If you want to provide music for them, you are talking about a different, much more expensive price point.
The 50 watts peak power is not loud by today’s standards but is more than adequate for a small outdoor gathering.
Quality-wise it is what we might call acceptable, and people at functions are not expecting to hear high-end sound reproduction. However, the sound is quite good and balanced across the frequencies. You will get a little bit of clipping towards the top of the volume range for music with heavy bass, but that can be adjusted slightly. It has a frequency range of 77Hz to 20kHz.
As far as controlling the sound goes, it is not well-blessed with options. There is no three or five band EQ built-in, which is rather limiting. The only controls you have to hand are the Master volume and the level for the mic. The ION Block Rocker app will allow you to make some EQ alterations, but in the midst of a party that is unlikely to happen.
Overall the sound is acceptable, but the control of it might be considered lacking.
As a Karaoke Machine
You may well be having a party at home or outdoors, and after a few beers, someone wants to get up and have a sing. Not always possible with many Tailgaters, but it certainly is with the ION Tailgater IPA 77.
There are a number of different ways that you can enjoy the pleasures of karaoke on this Tailgater. The microphone that is supplied can be used on all of them. Firstly they can just sing straight over the top of a song from your playlist. Or you can use a karaoke playlist from Youtube or another media source.
If you connect your computer or a CD player, then a karaoke CD can be used. If you do it this way, you can download a CD+G app so that they can sing along to a backing track. The words will also then be displayed on the computer screen.
Unfortunately, the only thing missing that a karaoke machine might have given you is sound effects. Some karaoke machines provide delay and reverb for the voice, but this system does not have that option.
The easiest option will probably be Youtube, and there are a lot of songs, backing tracks, and lyrics there that can be used. It will also save you buying a Karaoke CD if you haven’t got one. This Tailgetare makes Karaoke a very viable option and is guaranteed to get the party going. With the separate controls for mic levels and backing track volumes, this sound system is a winner.
We have just been discussing the use of the microphone for karaoke; it has a cord with a length of about seven and a half feet. Aside from karaoke, this enables you to do a spot of DJ work with the music if you are so inclined. Or it can be used just for announcements or even a speech.
We have already mentioned the ION Block Rocker app, but what does it offer?
It is basic but will give you some sound options. For example, there is a very simple EQ adjustment which controls the bass and treble for both mic and music. It also has a few extra options for the Bluetooth connection. It is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.
ION Audio Tailgater Pros & Cons
- Portable with a rechargeable battery.
- Three different output options.
- One tap Bluetooth connection.
- USB charging point for mobile devices.
- Good volume for smaller gatherings.
- Incredibly affordable.
- Battery issues.
- Radio reception and range could be better.
- Not the highest quality speaker system around.
Other Excellent Options
If you’re not quite convinced by the quality of this ION, we recommend you check out our reviews of the Best Tailgate Speakers currently available.
Looking for something with slightly more fidelity? If so, please check out our reviews of the Best Solar Powered Bluetooth Speakers, the Best Bluetooth Speakers with Radio, and the Best Wireless Outdoor Speakers on the market.
And if you need something smaller, then check out our in-depth reviews of the JBL Flip 3, the Anker Soundcore, the Fugoo Sport, the JBL Xtreme, or the JBL Extreme 2.
What We Think
Having gone through what the ION Tailgater IPA 77 can do, what are our thoughts? Let’s deal first of all with where it might be a bit lacking.
Firstly, not having wheels could be a problem for some users. It is not a heavy machine, but nevertheless, the seventeen pounds might be a struggle for some. Whereas with wheels, it would just have been pushing it around. Not a major issue, in our opinion, but certainly something that might affect some.
Secondly, it is not the loudest speaker you will ever come across. It is adequate for small gatherings, but you can’t always predict the size of a gathering unless it is by invite. For gatherings of more than one hundred outside, and it might struggle a bit.
And finally, sound systems that are designed with the party in mind, like this one, often have built-in lighting. This has none. However, lighting is not a major issue as it is quite cheap to buy.
Even with these issues, we feel we are being a bit picky. They are not reasons for not buying this system. This brings us to a very relevant point, the cost.
The price point of this sound system is really quite staggering. With the way this is built and the features it includes, you have to look twice to make sure you’ve got it right. It is a very affordable unit, and ION has done a remarkable job of producing a very good system at such a price.
It as a tough and rugged build that will take a few knocks, and has a rechargeable battery that will give you 50 hours of use. A USB power bank that allows simultaneous charging of devices while the system is in use. It has a decent sound, is Bluetooth compatible with other connection options, and comes with a microphone.
It is a very good little unit, and at this price point, the ION Tailgater IPA 77 is a very affordable winner.