When it comes to speaker systems, sometimes you need something small to fit on a night stand, sometimes you need something big and impressive to fill a living room, and sometimes you just need something to throw in the back of the truck for getting loud. As the name would imply, the Ion Tailgater ($199) is specifically designed for the later example, providing a rugged, all-purpose solution for amplifying an iPod, or just about anything else you feel like plugging in.
If the Tailgater looks familiar, you might be thinking of its older cousin: the Ion Block Rocker. The Tailgater is essentially a miniaturized version of the Block Rocker, packing nearly identical features in a more portable design.
Like the Block Rocker, the Tailgater shares more in common with a guitar amp than an iPod speaker. The backbone of the system is a single 7-inch woofer with a 2-inch tweeter, powered by a 16-watt amplifier. Before you turn up your nose at the Tailgater's monophonic music playback, rest assured that its deep, powerful, and punchy sound exceeds the quality you'll find in most sub-$200 systems.
You'll find an abundance of audio inputs on the Tailgater, including an iPod Dock, RCA stereo jacks, XLR mic input, and quarter-inch instrument jacks for plugging in a guitar. The iPod dock slapped on the top of the Tailgater isn't the safest way to travel with your iPod, but the dock design is fairly typical for portable speakers in this price range. All other audio inputs are located on the front of the Tailgater, along with large plastic knobs for adjusting input gain and volume output.
A standard, three-prong power cable input is located on the back of the Tailgater (a power cable is included), which is used to provide direct power or recharge the system's internal battery (it takes about 12 hours to reach full charge, giving you approximately 8 hours of continuous playback). The back of the Tailgater also includes a power switch, an output link for pairing with another speaker, and a battery level indicator.
We're happy to see that all of the Tailgater's audio inputs can be used simultaneously, allowing you to combine your iPod with a microphone or instrument input (karaoke anyone?), and the capability to adjust each input independently makes it easy to balance levels. A lightweight, karaoke-style microphone is also included with the Tailgater.
The ugly duckling
The Tailgater is an oddity among iPod speaker systems, making it tough to assign an accurate rating. Given its rough design and monophonic sound, this is certainly not the kind of iPod speaker system we recommend for the living room or night stand. With the understanding that the Tailgater is intended for outdoor parties, family karaoke nights, and practicing musicians, we think it hits the mark and offers a good value.