We review a lot of iPod/iPhone speaker docks and most of them sound somewhere between fair and OK, which is why we initially scoffed at the promotional materials for Altec Lansing's $199 Octiv 650, which the company bills as the "epitome of stylish audio performance."
It's not unusual for a company to speak highly of its own products, but the description for the Octiv 650 was especially gushing: "Its discreet lines and unique wedge shape blend in with your decor while it fills your space with full, well-balanced sound...the design is clean and stylish...it's the epitome of understatement and impressive over-delivery."
Based on experience, we expected to be underwhelmed. Happily, however, we weren't.
As for the design, it's pretty much as described: clean and stylish, with a wedge shape that almost makes it look like an old horn speaker. It's about the same dimensions--7.1 inches tall, 12.5 inches wide, and 5.2 inches deep--as a Bose SoundDock iPod/iPhone speaker but a little deeper. Weighing in at 4.2 lbs, it's got some decent heft but is light enough to be easily moved around the house. (Note that it runs on an AC adapter, not batteries, so it can't be considered a truly portable unit).
Because of its wedge design, the unit actually appears thinner than it really is when you look at it head-on. We didn't love the black cloth grille that covers the speaker because it has a tendency to attract dust, but that's a relatively minor gripe.
The real highlight of both the Octiv 650's design and performance is the inclusion of a bottom-firing "nested" subwoofer, which you can check out by turning the unit over. On top of the speaker you'll find bass, treble, and volume controls, plus a power button and a video button that engages video to your TV. The component video (green/red/blue) output can double as a composite video out (using just the blue terminal); however, it's up to you to supply your own cable or cables.