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ION Pathfinder 280 Speaker Review

Tested using Methodology v0.8
Reviewed Feb 09, 2022 at 10:21 am
ION Pathfinder 280 Picture
6.8
Music
5.7
Videos/Movies
7.5
Podcasts
3.1
Voice Assistant
6.6
Outdoors
Battery Powered
Yes
Speakerphone
No
Voice Assistant
No
Bluetooth
Yes
Wi-Fi
No

The ION Pathfinder 280 is a large squarish speaker that gets incredibly loud, making it suitable for tailgate parties or other large gatherings. It comes with RGB lights and radio capabilities that let you save up to 16 radio stations. It's rated IPX5 for water resistance, certifying it to withstand being in direct contact with water for up to 3 minutes, so it can handle a bit of light rain when outdoors. Out-of-the-box, vocals and lead instruments sound present in the mix, though there's some unevenness in the sound profile that causes them to sound alternately honky and dull at times. It also lacks a thumpy and rumbling low-bass. Fortunately, you can tweak its sound to your likings thanks to its graphic EQ and EQ presets.

Our Verdict

6.8 Music

The ION Pathfinder 280 is alright for music. Vocals and lead instruments sound present out-of-the-box, though there's some unevenness in the mid and treble ranges that causes them to sound alternately honky and veiled at times. Also, it lacks a thumpy and rumbling low-bass. Fortunately, there's a graphic EQ and presets to tweak its sound to your liking. There's also a Boom Button to help bump up the bass. It gets loud enough to fill large crowded spaces, making it suitable for parties. Unfortunately, its soundstage is perceived as fairly narrow and isn't as immersive.

Pros
  • Gets very loud.
  • Few compression artifacts present at max volume.
  • Graphic EQ and presets.
Cons
  • Requires a second unit for stereo audio.
  • Narrow soundstage.
  • Lacks a thumpy low-bass.
5.7 Videos/Movies

The ION Pathfinder 280 is sub-par for watching videos and movies. It has high Bluetooth latency with iOS and Android devices, which causes syncing issues between audio and video, which isn't very suitable for watching videos and movies. That said, some apps compensate for latency differently, and your experience may vary. While it gets pretty loud, it lacks some low-bass out-of-the-box, so you don't feel the deep thump and rumble typically present in action-packed scenes. Voices and dialogue also sound alternately honky and veiled at times.

Pros
  • Gets very loud.
  • Few compression artifacts present at max volume.
  • Graphic EQ and presets.
Cons
  • Requires a second unit for stereo audio.
  • High Bluetooth latency.
  • Narrow soundstage.
  • Lacks a thumpy low-bass.
7.5 Podcasts

The ION Pathfinder 280 is good for podcasts. While it isn't necessarily designed for this, it's battery-powered and has a built-in carrying handle and wheels, making it fairly portable. It also gets incredibly loud with little compression present at max volume, so audio quality doesn't degrade as you increase its volume, and you can hear your podcasts clearly from far away. Unfortunately, its mid and treble ranges are a bit uneven, so voices and dialogue sound alternately honky, and dull at times.

Pros
  • Gets very loud.
  • Few compression artifacts present at max volume.
  • Decently portable.
  • Graphic EQ and presets.
Cons
  • Requires a second unit for stereo audio.
  • Narrow soundstage.
  • Lacks a thumpy low-bass.
3.1 Voice Assistant

The ION Pathfinder 280 doesn't support voice assistants.

6.6 Outdoors

The ION Pathfinder 280 is alright for outdoor use. It has an IPX5 rating for water resistance certifying it to withstand direct contact with water for up to three minutes, so you don't have to worry about it getting a bit wet from some light rain at your next tailgate party. It gets incredibly loud, and its long-lasting battery life makes it suitable for long listening sessions spent outdoors. Unfortunately, it needs to be paired to a second unit to play stereo content and downmixes stereo to mono when using it on its own, which isn't as immersive.

Pros
  • Gets very loud.
  • IPX5 rating for water resistance.
  • Decently portable.
Cons
  • Requires a second unit for stereo audio.
  • Narrow soundstage.
  • Lacks a thumpy low-bass.
  • 6.8 Music
  • 5.7 Videos/Movies
  • 7.5 Podcasts
  • 3.1 Voice Assistant
  • 6.6 Outdoors
  1. Updated Feb 09, 2022: Review published.
  2. Updated Feb 01, 2022: Early access published.

Differences Between Sizes And Variants

The ION Pathfinder 280 only comes in one color variant: 'Black'. You can find the label for the model tested here.

If you come across other variants of this speaker, let us know in the discussions, and we'll update our review.

Compared To Other Speakers

The ION Pathfinder 280 is a squarish party speaker with RGB lights. Like the JBL PartyBox 310, it has a built-in telescopic handle and wheels to help transport it. Out-of-the-box, vocals and lead instruments sound present in the mix, though there's some unevenness in the mid and treble ranges that cause them to sound alternately honky and dull at times. It also doesn't produce as deep a bass as other party speakers like the JBL PartyBox 110. Fortunately, there's a graphic EQ and presets to tweak its sound to your liking. It comes with radio capabilities and lets you save up to 16 stations. Its long-lasting battery life and decent build quality also make it suitable for multiple long listening sessions spent outdoors.

See also our recommendations for the best speakers for parties, the best Bluetooth speakers for bass, and the loudest Bluetooth speakers.

JBL PartyBox 100

The JBL PartyBox 100 is a better speaker than the ION Pathfinder 280, though they have different strengths. The JBL can get louder than the ION and can produce a more extended low-bass with 'Bass Boost' set to '1'. It can also play stereo content without downmixing it to mono which is more immersive and comes with mic and guitar inputs. The ION comes with a graphic EQ and presets in its companion app to customize its sound and has radio capabilities. It's also better-built, smaller, and has a built-in telescopic handle with wheels to help transport it.

JBL PartyBox 310

The JBL PartyBox 310 is a better speaker than the ION Pathfinder 280. With 'Bass Boost' set to '1', the JBL can produce a much more extended low-bass than the ION. It can play stereo content without downmixing it to mono and can get louder. Also, there are mic and guitar inputs you can use to connect an external mic or guitar to the speaker. That said, the ION is smaller and lighter, making it more portable. It also has radio capabilities that let you save up to 16 radio stations.

JBL Charge 5

The JBL Charge 5 and the ION Pathfinder 280 are designed for different uses and have different strengths. The JBL is a small, better-built portable speaker you can easily bring along with you on the go. It has a better-balanced sound profile than the ION and can produce a more extended low-bass. However, the ION is a larger speaker designed for use at large gatherings like parties. It comes with RGB lights, radio capabilities, and two AUX and USB ports to wire your devices to the speaker. It also gets incredibly loud with less compression at max volume, so audio quality doesn't degrade as much as you bump up its volume.

Monster Rockin' Roller 270X

The ION Pathfinder 280 and the Monster Rockin' Roller 270X are similar speakers. The ION offers a slightly more balanced sound profile out of the box and gets louder with less compression present at max volume, resulting in cleaner audio at louder volume levels. It also has a full graphic EQ to tweak its sound to your liking. Both speakers have telescopic handles and wheels to transport them and also feature radio capabilities. However, the Monster comes with mic and mic/guitar inputs and can produce a more extended low-bass than the ION. It also has a Qi wireless charging pad that you can use to charge your devices.

Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM

The Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM is a better speaker than the ION Pathfinder 280, though they're designed for different uses. The Ultimate Ears is smaller and more portable than the ION. It has a better-balanced sound profile that can produce a more extended low-bass than the ION and can play stereo content without downmixing it to mono. That said, the ION comes with RGB lights and radio capabilities. It lasted up to 68 hours from a seven-hour charge during testing, making it suitable for multiple long listening sessions. While it's larger than the Ultimate Ears, it has a built-in telescopic handle and wheels to help transport it.

Sony XP700

The Sony XP700 is a slightly better speaker than the ION Pathfinder 280. With 'MEGA BASS' enabled, the Sony can produce a more extended low-bass than the ION. It can play stereo content without downmixing it to mono, which is more immersive. It also features mic and guitar inputs. That said, the ION is smaller and more portable thanks to its telescopic handle and wheels. It can get a bit louder with less compression present at max volume, resulting in cleaner audio at louder volumes. It also has a longer-lasting battery life of up to 68 hours, though this can vary depending on your usage.

SOUNDBOKS (Gen. 3)

Depending on your listening habits, you may prefer either the SOUNDBOKS (Gen. 3) or the ION Pathfinder 280. With its default settings enabled, the SOUNDBOKS can produce a deep, thumpy, and rumbling low-bass. It can get louder than the ION and features two XLR ports to connect an external microphone, guitar, DJ mixer, or other instruments to the speaker. The ION is smaller and more portable thanks to its built-in telescopic handle and wheels. It also has less compression present at max volume, resulting in cleaner audio at louder volume levels, and has better directivity, resulting in a more natural-sounding soundstage.

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Test Results

perceptual testing image
Design
Design
Style
RGB Lights Yes

The ION Pathfinder 280 is a large square-shaped speaker meant to be placed upright on its feet. Like the JBL PartyBox 310, it comes with customizable RGB lights as well as a built-in telescopic handle and wheels to help you wheel it to your next party.

7.0
Design
Portability
Volume
2,703 inยณ (44,294 cmยณ)
Weight
23.8 lbs (10.8 kg)
Power Source
AC & Battery
One-Hand Carry
Yes

The ION Pathfinder 280 is decently portable. While it's a bit large and heavy, it comes with two built-in handles on its sides, a telescopic handle, and wheels to help you transport the party with you wherever you go. It's also battery-powered, so you can use it without wiring it to a power source.

Note: The test result for the ION Pathfinder 280's volume represents its size with its telescopic handle fully extended.

7.0
Design
Build Quality
Material Quality
Good
Water Resistance
Waterproof (IPx5)
Dust Resistance
Unspecified
Impact Resistance
Unspecified
Floats In Water
Unspecified

The ION Pathfinder 280's build quality is decent. Its body is mostly made of thick plastic that feels quite sturdy, and there's a bottle opener on its right side. A rubber flap protects its inputs, and its rubberized controls are clearly labeled. Metal grilles protect its drivers on its front and sides, and there's a strip of lights surrounding its front grille. It comes with two built-in handles on either side of it, and a telescopic handle on its rear with wheels to help transport it. There's a compartment on top of the speaker with an AUX and USB-A port inside, which you can use to store and charge your devices.

The Pathfinder 280 is also rated IPX5 for water resistance, meaning it's certified to withstand direct contact with water for up to three minutes, so you don't have to worry about it getting a bit wet from some light rain. That said, the manufacturer also advises against placing the speaker standing in water.

7.0
Design
Controls
Ease Of Use
Great
Feedback
Great
Music Play/Pause
Yes (Physical)
Call Answer/End
No
Volume Up/Down
Yes (Physical)
Track Next/Previous
Yes (Physical)
Microphone On/Off
No
Additional Controls
Yes

The ION Pathfinder 280 has a decent selection of easy-to-use controls. You can press and hold the Bluetooth button to enable Bluetooth pairing mode or disconnect a paired device. You can press its light button to control the speaker's lights and select a color pattern of your choice. You can use its BOOM button to help enhance its bass, as well as activate a light show. You can use the link button to connect it to another compatible ION speaker when you want to create a stereo pair.

The Pathfinder 280 will emit audible feedback when you turn it on/off and when it's successfully connected and disconnected from a device. It emits a long sound when pressing the BOOM button. The display also indicates your selected volume level and the 280 speaker's remaining battery level.

You can use its companion app to adjust its graphic EQ. If you don't want to use your phone, you can adjust its bass and treble ranges by pressing the physical EQ button until the display shows 'HI' or 'LO'. You can then turn the volume knob to adjust the sound profile to your liking and confirm it by pressing the EQ button again.

You can also press the speaker's radio button to turn the radio on/off and to set it to FM1 or FM2. You can use the previous and next buttons to scroll through different radio stations, and you can save your favorite stations to one of the Radio Preset Buttons numbered from 1 to 8. There are two banks of eight for FM1 and FM2, allowing you to set up to 16 presets in total.

Design
In The Box

  • ION Pathfinder 280 speaker
  • IEC320 C13 power cable
  • Quick Start Guide

Sound
6.5
Sound
Frequency Response Accuracy
Slope
-0.59
Std. Err.
2.91 dB
Low-Frequency Extension
73.4 Hz
High-Frequency Extension
16.3 kHz

The ION Pathfinder 280's frequency response accuracy is alright. Out-of-the-box, vocals and lead instruments sound present in the mix, though there's some unevenness in the mid and treble ranges that causes them to sound alternately honky and dull at times. It also lacks a deep thump and rumbling low-bass. That said, you can use the speaker's Boom Button to help bump up the bass in your audio, and you can customize the speaker's sound profile thanks to the graphic EQ and presets featured in its companion app. For a similar speaker that can produce a more extended low-bass, check out the Monster Rockin' Roller 270X.

Note: The ION Pathfinder 280 was tested standing upright with its default settings enabled.

Sound
Raw Frequency Response
Binaural Recording @ 1m
Binaural Recording @ 2m
5.7
Sound
Soundstage
Directivity Index
4.31 dB
Stereo
No (mono)

The ION Pathfinder 280's soundstage is disappointing. While you can connect it to another unit create a stereo pair and play stereo content, it downmixes stereo content to mono when using it on its own, which isn't as immersive. Its directivity is also just okay, so you'll perceive its soundstage as a bit narrow and directional.

8.9
Sound
Dynamics
SPL @ Max Volume
100.5 dB SPL
DRC @ Max Volume
1.13 dB

The ION Pathfinder 280 has an excellent dynamics performance. It can get incredibly loud, making it suitable to use at parties. It also has little compression present at max volume, so audio quality doesn't degrade much as you bump up its volume.

Active Features
5.4
Active Features
Battery
Battery Life
68.0 hrs
Charge Time
7.0 hrs
Power Saving
No
Charging Port
AC
Battery Powered
Yes

The ION Pathfinder 280's manual states it can last up to 100 hours from a 10-hour charge. That said, it could last 68 hours from a seven-hour charge during the testing process. While it still takes a while to charge, its long-lasting battery life is still fantastic and is suitable for multiple long listening sessions. The speaker's display also dims completely once it's been left inactive for a while, leaving a blue dot on the display to indicate that its's is still on. This battery-saving feature doesn't shut the speaker down on its own, so you need to remember to turn it off.

0
Active Features
Voice Assistant
Alexa
No
Google Assistant
No
Speakerphone
No
Siri
No
Voice Assistant
No
Voice Activation
No
Microphone Mute
No Microphone
Far-Field Performance
No Assistant
Ambient Noise Performance
No Assistant
6.3
Active Features
App
App Name
ION Sound XP
iOS
Yes
Android
Yes
EQ
Graphic + Presets
Stereo Pair Mode
Yes
Party Mode
No
Multi-Room
No

The ION Pathfinder 280's ION Sound XP app isn't bad and is compatible with iOS and Android devices. While you can customize the speaker's bass and treble via its physical EQ button, the app comes with a 3-band graphic EQ to customize the speaker's bass, mid, and treble ranges to your liking. There are seven EQ presets: 'Normal', 'Rock', 'Classical', 'Jazz', 'Country', 'Pop', and 'Bass'. The app also lets you pair the speaker to another compatible speaker to create a stereo pair. There's a 'Boom Button' to help bump up the bass, and you can also use the app to control the speaker's lights and radio capabilities.

Connectivity
Connectivity
Wired
Aux Input
Yes
USB Audio
No
Other Ports
Yes

The ION Pathfinder 280 features two USB-A ports you can use to charge your devices, though you can't use them to wire devices like your laptop to the speaker for audio playback. That said, there are two AUX inputs you can use to wire your devices to the speaker. You can find these inputs at the front of the speaker underneath the '5V - 1A' rubber flap, and the second underneath the top panel, '5V -2.2A'. Unlike other party speakers like the JBL PartyBox 310 and Sony XP700, there aren't any mic inputs.

6.5
Connectivity
Bluetooth
Bluetooth
Yes
Bluetooth Version
5.0
Bluetooth iOS Latency
322 ms
Bluetooth Android Latency
245 ms
Bluetooth Range
278.9 ft (85.0 m)
Multi-Device Pairing
No

The ION Pathfinder 280 has alright Bluetooth connectivity. It has a fantastic range, so your paired devices remain connected to the speaker even from far away. However, it has high Bluetooth latency with iOS and Android devices that causes syncing issues between audio and visuals while watching videos and movies. That said, some apps compensate for latency differently, and your experience may differ.

0
Connectivity
Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Version
No Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi Frequency Band
No Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi
No
Apple AirPlay
No
AirPlay Latency
N/A
Google Chromecast
No
Chromecast Latency
N/A

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