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My first Zune accessory

Associate editor of MP3 Jasmine France gives her first impressions of Altec Lansing's M604 speaker system for Zune

OK, so it's not exactly "my" Zune accessory. More like CNET's first Zune accessory. Or at least the first one that seems pretty decent. (I'm sorry, but the cases I've seen so far seem to do nothing but add bulk to the already bulky Zune.) When first asked if I'd like to write up something on some Zune speakers, I was skeptical. After all, while I haven't been as vocal about this yet as with my aversion to the iPod, I don't like the Zune...not that I've given it much of a chance, but the lack of backward compatibility really irritates me. I will have to actually use it for more than five minutes before I roundly abuse it, though. But I digress.

I may not like the iPod very much, but that doesn't stop me from writing about its plethora of accessories. I decided it's only fair to give the Zune the same treatment. Enter the Altec Lansing M604, a rather minimalist speaker system that's closely related to the iPod-friendly M602. The system is dominated by a large, single speaker grille, which serves to camoflage 2 2-inch full-range drivers and 2 1-inch tweeters. A centrally placed cradle accepts the Zune player, which charges while docked, or you can snap on the included universal adapter, which protects the dock connector and lets you place any MP3 player front and center.

Along the top edge of the M604, Altec Lansing has provided basic controls: power, volume up/down, and bass and treble buttons that switch the mode of the up/down keys. The speaker system has no display for monitoring levels, but a useful LED system provides a solution. A row of green LEDs sits behind the speaker grille. When you adjust volume, bass, or treble, the LEDs light up accordingly, then go dark after you've finished your adjustments. This is a small but welcome feature. The M604 also includes an IR remote, which adds some rudimentary (play/pause and track shuttle buttons) playback controls. As the Zune's screen is large and fairly easy to read at a distance, it'd be nicer if the remote also included some menu browsing capability. Also lacking is any way to shuttle through FM radio stations, though it is kind of odd to have the headphones (read: antennae) plugged in while the Zune is docked in the speaker.

A couple of final notes: first, the brown Zune, which I personally find rather ugly anyway, looks a bit incongruous plugged into the M604, as the speaker is black with silver accents. Also, cursory testing reveals that the speakers sound very good--as well they should for 200 smackers. Stay tuned for a more in-depth review.