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iPod speakers usually have all the sonic beauty of a supermarket PA system bleating muzak through tiny rusted grills. But the inMotion iM7 from Altec Lansing throws convention to the wind and proves that iPod speakers don't have to sound bad. The key to the iM7's impressive sound is the subwoofer built into the chassis of the unit -- this bolsters the output where small speakers usually fail most dramatically: in reproducing low frequencies.
Plugging your iPod into the iM7 is a simple case of adjusting the docking station to match the width of your player and inserting it. The iPod dock retracts into the speaker system like the mechanism on an old tape deck, protecting your iPod while it's docked. The end result is an extremely slick-looking ghetto blaster with your iPod riding in its marsupial pouch.
The iM7 takes eight D-size batteries -- in case you're not familiar with these, they're the biggest batteries you can hope to buy from the average shop. They're bulky things, but they need to be to drive the iM7's impressive speaker array. There are two speakers in the iM7 covering the left and right audio channels, and a subwoofer to provide low end punch.
Sound quality on the iM7 was extremely well defined and, most importantly for a boom-box replacement, very loud. Though the system errs naturally towards a more bass-heavy sound -- perhaps it wants to show off that sub -- you can adjust equaliser settings to obtain a more natural tone from more dynamic music.
If you're a Shuffle owner, this is the one iPod that doesn't mount in the iM7's dock. However, you can use a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm audio lead to listen to your Shuffle via the iM7's speakers. The same set-up would allow you to use any MP3 player with the iM7, but there is little point in buying it explicitly for that purpose -- with anything other than an iPod, you lose the simplicity and elegance of the integrated dock.
If you have a video iPod, or the older iPod Photo, you can use the iM7's composite or S-video outs to send video or pictures from the iPod to your television. There's also a tiny remote control that can be stowed in the back of the iM7 during transit.
Good, bass-rich sound comes at a price, and in the case of the iM7, the penalty you pay is the sheer weight of the unit. Though it is portable, it's not light. The speaker system alone is heavy, but when you add to that the weight of eight D-size batteries, you're carrying around a hefty bit of luggage. A little exercise never did anyone any harm though, and -- given the quality of sound the iM7 produces -- we doubt you could cram a better-sounding speaker and amp package into the same space.
For music lovers who want a portable system, but can't stand the magically disappearing low-end on most iPod speakers, the iM7 is a dream come true. At around £200, it's not cheap, but then you get what you pay for. What you gain in sound quality, though, you pay for in weight, but there's no way round this. The fact is, the vital parts of a good-sounding speaker set up (solid casing and quality drivers) are heavy, so if you want portable speakers that sound like they're worthy of your iPod, you will be lugging rather than carrying them. Nonetheless, the iM7 is a gorgeous-sounding, tonally refined speaker unit that puts other offerings in this market to shame.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide