As the heir to Altec Lansing's venerable iM600 portable iPod speaker system, the iMT702 ($199) has some big shoes to fill. We're not thrilled with all of the changes Altec Lansing has made, but the net result is a great-sounding portable system with a compact design and balanced, detailed sound.
The inMotion Max is a truly portable speaker system, with a built-in rechargeable battery and a collapsible design that measures just 2 inches thick, 12 inches wide, and 7.5 inches tall. Granted, the inMotion Max is a monster compared with something like the Logitech Pure-Fi Mobile, but it strikes a slimmer posture than the sonically comparable Bose SoundDock Portable.
For better or worse, the inMotion Max matches the industrial aesthetic recently applied to the entire Altec Lansing consumer product lineup. The right and left sides of the speaker system mimic the look of metal bars with exposed bolts and most of the front is covered in a perforated black metal speaker grille. Also on the face of the inMotion Max is a spring-loaded universal iPod dock (six adapters are included) that retracts from the bottom and a glossy black plastic strip that runs across the top with a 1.75-inch backlit LCD at its center. Four 2-inch speaker cones are also located on the front of the system, although only two of the speakers are powered, while the other two help to passively radiate sound.
The top edge of the inMotion Max features a unique strip of illuminated buttons that work off capacitive touch sensitivity instead of mechanical clicks. Buttons for power, audio source, volume, skip, and ESS sound enhancement (Expanded Sound Stage) are included and their orange backlighting makes them easy to see in the dark. As each button is pushed, the LCD readout on the front of the inMotion Max offers visual feedback, which is reassuring in the absence of buttons that click when pressed.
The back of the inMotion Max includes a compartment for the included remote control, as well as a flap that works as a fold-out stand. An aux input, power adapter socket, and FM antenna connector are also included on the back of the system, concealed behind the fold-out stand when not in use. We're disappointed that Altec Lansing didn't include the same built-in, telescoping antenna that made the iM600 so travel-friendly, but the detachable loose wire antenna supposedly offers better reception.
The battery-powered portability of the inMotion Max is a distinguishing feature, but most people tend to plant their speaker systems semipermanently around the home. Fortunately, the 6-foot long power adapter included with the inMotion Max should have no problem reaching an available power outlet.
The headline features of the inMotion Max are its sound quality, iPhone compatibility, built-in FM radio, and rechargeable battery. The inMotion Max can't compete with the smaller size and lower price of the iPod or iPhone speaker systems made by Logitech or Griffin, however, its sound quality and features should sway those of you looking at the larger, more expensive Bose SoundDock Portable.
The primary purpose of the inMotion Max is playing music from your iPod or iPhone. Beyond standard playback and volume controls, the inMotion Max offers a few neat tricks, such as displaying the currently playing artist and track information on its LCD, and helping to manage incoming calls on your iPhone by automatically pausing music and playing your ringtone at an audible (but not deafening) level through its speakers. The inMotion Max doesn't act as a speakerphone, however, you can keep your iPhone docked and answer calls with a paired Bluetooth headset. We're glad to see that Altec Lansing effectively shielded the Max from wireless interference, allowing us to listen to our iPhone without the bouts of Morse-code-like distortion that are common on nonshielded systems.
The inMotion Max's FM radio also has a few tricks up its sleeve. Radio reception has improved since the iM600, although at the expense of a less convenient antenna, and Altec Lansing has included RDS broadcast information (artist, title, station ID) to display across the system's LCD. We were hoping the RDS-enabled inMotion Max might offer the same iTunes song tagging found in the Polk i-Sonic, but no such luck. The inMotion Max allows you to scan through radio stations using the skip buttons located on the top edge, and you store up to four station presets using the included remote control. There are no preset buttons located on the speaker system, however, so if you lose the remote control you'll lose the ability to store and recall radio stations. Fortunately, the back of the inMotion Max includes a slot for storing the remote control when you don't need it.
For all its desirable features, the inMotion Max is missing quite a few of the extras we've become accustomed to in this price range. There's no Bluetooth, no video output (Apple's partly to blame for this one), line-output, sub-output, USB pass-through, or even a basic clock. The bulk of the inMotion Max's value relative to the competition is tied up in its sound quality.
Given its relatively small size and fold-up design, the inMotion Max sounds fantastic. Similar systems, such as the Griffin Journi and Logitech Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 sound like tin cans by comparison. In general, the iMT702's sound quality is crisp and detailed, sounding brittle only when volume nears maximum. Bass is more present in the iMT702 than the iM600, but you're smoking something if you think you can get booming bass from a speaker system measuring only 2 inches thick. What you do get, however, is a surprising amount of stereo fullness, especially with the Max's ESS sound enhancement activated (we see no reason to switch it off). The rolling classic rock energy behind David Bowie's "Hang on to Yourself" came out loud and clear without making us wish for a beefier system. Modern songs, such as Yo La Tengo's "Mr. Tough" shined as well, with piano, vocals, and horns taking a slightly forward seat in the mix.
The inMotion Max's volume gets loud enough to fill an otherwise quiet room with music. It's not going to power your next dance party, but the inMotion Max has no problem being heard over the daily domestic clatter of screaming kids, washing machines, and television programs. Plus, the inMotion Max's built-in rechargeable battery makes it easy to temporarily move the speaker wherever you need it. Altec Lansing rates the Max's internal battery life at 3.5 hours when played at moderately high volume. For daily use around the house, 3.5 hours is more than enough to provide background music for washing the dishes or an outdoor barbeque, however, it's worth noting that the battery in Altec Lansing's iM600 was rated for twice as long.
The inMotion Max's IR remote control is rated for 30 feet, which we confirmed during testing.