Editors' note: 10/9/2006 The SanDisk e200R Rhapsody was not supported by the iM510 when this review was written. The latest firmware update makes the e200R compatible with the iM510s.
Stand back, iPod! There's a third-party portable speaker system that's not made for the iPod. Altec Lansing's Made for Sansa inMotion iM510 speaker set is designed for the SanDisk Sansa e200 and c200 series of MP3 players. Altec Lansing has been paying attention to SanDisk's rapid rise to number two in sales--far behind Apple--and will certainly get a piece of the Sansa accessories pie with this compact and good-sounding speaker set ($120). And its few weaknesses won't spoil the party.
Measuring 8.4 by 2.1 by 3.8 inches when closed and weighing just over a pound without batteries, the mostly black, contoured, box-shaped speakers are compact enough to stow away in a mostly full backpack. They aren't waif-thin like the iM500 set, which are specifically made for the iPod Nano, but the battery- and AC-powered set travels well (a soft case with extra pockets is included).
Pressing the button located between the four drivers (two on each side) pops open the Sansa player dock. No Nakamichi smoothness here, it just snaps out. The proprietary dock connector will work with Sansa e200 and c200 players (those with older players will want to update to the latest firmware). The new Sansa e200R Rhapsody will also work with the speakers. All other devices can be connected via the line-in jack on the backside (standard cable included).
Before you dock your Sansa, you need to attach to the speakers a model-specific spacer (two are provided) that keep the player sturdy. Though we recommend using them, they can be a pain when you're mobile, as it's an extra piece you need to account for. I also don't like how the dock too easily pops open with some pressure on the backside.
The power button on top glows blue when the unit's on, matching the Sansa's blue scroll wheel; while the rubbery plus and minus buttons control master volume. I'm not really into this type of feedback-less button, but there is another way to control volume. Though the Sansa's audio is fed to the speakers via the dock connector, it's not line-level. Because of this, you should be wary of your player's volume before docking. On a positive note, you can control your volume using the player's wheel (in the e200's case), just make sure your player and speaker volume levels are optimized. Back to the dark side: When you turn the unit off, then on again, volume jumps up to a high default level--not good with a baby in the house. Also, I wish the iM510s had a remote control.
The iM510 speakers will charge the Sansa player while docked (even with speaker power off), and the pass-through mini USB port allows for syncing--even without the Sansa's proprietary USB cable. Additionally, the subwoofer-out jack opens up the possibility of adding subbass to the mix (specifically, a model BB2001 subwoofer). Though the AC adapter is wall-wart style, we would have appreciated a case-friendly flip-out-style plug. Sadly, the iM510s are not appropriate for viewing video on the Sansa e200, since video plays in landscape mode--you'd be watching sideways.
The iM510s' most redeeming quality is their balanced and crisp sound. The four drivers deliver punchy sound with reasonable amounts of bass for a speaker system this small. They are powerful enough to fill a small room, and with batteries installed, they can add amplified sound to your travels (up to 24 hours of battery life on four AAs). Again, remember to keep volume levels between player and speaker in balance, or you'll get distorted or crackly sound at high volumes.
Overall, I like the speakers--they sound good for use at work, at home (in the kitchen for example), and on the go. I think they are a tad overpriced, and I'd prefer tactile volume buttons. I'm also not a big fan of the spacing adapters, but the iM510 speakers partner nicely with the Sansa, and they are so far the only speakers designed for the Sansa.