Altec Lansing has been churning out portable speakers for the Apple iPod and other audio devices long enough to have it down to a science--at least that's what the company's latest iPod-ready product would have us believe. The inMotion iM7 portable audio system is one of the best sound systems we've seen designed for Apple's champion MP3 player. In fact, the iM7 is comparable to the much-extolled
The IDEO-designed Altec Lansing inMotion iM7 certainly isn't wanting for a sleek, sexy design. Not only does the system complement any iPod's form with its ice-white trim and wraparound silver grille, it stands out with a unique cylindrical style that's rooted in the boomboxes of the '80s. Front and center is the neat push-and-release tape-deck-like iPod cradle, which accepts any dock-connecting iPod as if it were a cassette; not to be left out, iPod Mini owners can use the included form-fitting adapter. Plus, as long as the iM7 is plugged in, it will charge your iPod while it's in this snug compartment. On either side of this slot, behind the protective grille, are two 1-inch tweeters and two 3-inch midrange drivers. A 4-inch side-firing subwoofer and a 4-inch passive radiator sit behind the screens on either end of the cylinder.
Flip the iM7 around and you're greeted with a rubber-lined slot that serves as a handle (albeit a somewhat uncomfortable one), a narrow niche for the included IR remote, and a host of in/out ports. There's an auxiliary line-in for connecting other audio devices, a headphone output, a DC power input, and even S-Video and composite-video ports for use with the photo-friendly iPod. Power and volume buttons rest along the top, while compartments for eight D batteries reside underneath the system. At 16.7 by 6.5 by 6.5 inches and 11 pounds with batteries installed or 8 pounds without, the iM7 is a bit large and heavy at for on-the-go travel, but it's ideal for picnics, barbecues, and the like. If you want to cart the unit around, Altec Lansing offers a couple of accessories to simplify the task: the inMotion iM7 shoulder harness ($49.95) and the inMotion iM7 shoulder pack ($49.95), both available in August. Taking the iM7 out of the country? No problem. The unit's modular AC adapter includes three snap-on plug adapters.
Once you pop your iPod into the iM7's specialized dock compartment, the volume control defers entirely to the sound system. That is, you can control the volume with the buttons along the top of the iM7 or those on the remote but not via the Click Wheel. Other controls available on the remote include power, bass and treble toggles, play/pause, and track skip and reverse. The bass and treble controls can make a considerable difference in the sound, but unfortunately, there's no display on the iM7 itself, so there's no visual indication of the levels. It's not a huge deal, but it would be nice to have a meter for this and the volume. One thing the remote cannot do is navigate through the menu options on the iPod; you must make your selection first on the player. Since we prefer to play our entire library on random, this wasn't too much of a hassle in our testing.
The Altec Lansing inMotion iM7 is a solid audio performer in just about every way. The system gave us no noticeable background hiss, provided crystal-clear highs, and delivered dynamic sound across the board. Perhaps most impressive, though, was the deep, tangible bass that reverberated infectiously through surrounding material containing any amount of air. The unit also pumped out surprising volume levels in our tests--definitely too loud for the small room we were in. However, the highest volume also brought about our one complaint: Bass-heavy tracks became noticeably muffled. Finally, if you decide to take the iM7 off the plug, you can expect to get 8 to 10 hours of battery life (estimated).