Editors' note: As of June 2011, the Altec Lansing Mix iMT800 has been replaced by the nearly identical iPhone 4 certification, blue backlighting, silver accents), the older iMT800 reviewed here is a better deal while it remains on sale at a discount until inventory has been fully depleted.. However, if you don't need the slight changes found on the new model (
Back in the 1980s, when portable audio was synonymous with "cassette tapes," boom boxes were a mainstay of music culture. While luggable, battery-powered speaker systems still exist today, they tend to be somewhat dainty iPod speakers. Altec Lansing's $300 Mix iMT800, meanwhile, aims to mix and match the best of the old and new. It has the look and feel of an old-school, crank-it-till-your-ears-bleed boom box--albeit a rather stylish one--but it boasts an iPod/iPhone dock (and it's GSM-shielded, to boot, so you don't need to flip the iPhone into airplane mode).
While this can certainly be used as a stay-at-home stereo, Altec isn't shy about mentioning that it also makes for a good party system indoors or outside. On top, you'll find a handle, and you can also pick the unit up using the "grab" handles on the front of the speakers.
While the Mix doesn't have a second iPod dock, it does offer two 3.5-millimeter line inputs that allow your friends to plug in their MP3 players and cue up their playlists. The inputs are conveniently placed at the top of the unit, and there's a depression under the handle that's reserved for parking additional devices. Additionally, the Mix has a telescoping antenna on top of the unit. While there's no AM radio on board, it does do FM, with four presets available.
The system comes with a small remote that clips onto a belt loop or stores in a hideaway slot in the body of the Mix itself. While the clip looks like a bottle opener, it's not really intended to be one (the clip itself is made of plastic, not metal, so it's probably not a good idea to regularly open bottles with it). Like most remotes included with these types of iPod speakers, it controls only the basic playback functions of your iPod or iPhone. It's also worth noting that there's no provision for video output, so you won't be able to use the Mix to watch iPod videos on an external TV.
A couple other design notes: If you look at the picture of the unit, you'll notice that the protective silver "guard" bar over the top of the iPhone (docked in the bottom center) looks like it would make it tough to get iPhones/iPods in and out. Don't fear: it actually slides up and down, making the dock easily accessible. In theory, it also may help save your iPod or iPhone from serious damage in the event that some drunk, stumbling idiot knocks into the Mix during a party.
As noted, this is also a portable system and it runs on AC or battery power. According to Altec, it can last up to 30 hours on eight D-cell batteries, which will cost you over $20. We'd recommend that frequent battery users invest in rechargeables. To that end, it would've been nice if Altec included a built-in rechargeable battery pack, or the ability to juice up third-party rechargeables just by plugging the Mix into the wall (a feature we loved on the Tivoli SongBook).