Editors' note: As of June 2011, the Altec Lansing Mix iMT800 has been replaced by the nearly identical Altec Lansing Mix iMT810. However, if you don't need the slight changes found on the new model (iPhone 4 certification, blue backlighting, silver accents), the older iMT800 reviewed here is a better deal while it remains on sale at a discount until inventory has been fully depleted.
Back in the 1980s, when portable audio was synonymous with "cassette tapes," boom boxes were a mainstay of music culture. While luggable, battery-powered speaker systems still exist today, they tend to be somewhat dainty iPod speakers. Altec Lansing's $300 Mix iMT800, meanwhile, aims to mix and match the best of the old and new. It has the look and feel of an old-school, crank-it-till-your-ears-bleed boom box--albeit a rather stylish one--but it boasts an iPod/iPhone dock (and it's GSM-shielded, to boot, so you don't need to flip the iPhone into airplane mode).
While this can certainly be used as a stay-at-home stereo, Altec isn't shy about mentioning that it also makes for a good party system indoors or outside. On top, you'll find a handle, and you can also pick the unit up using the "grab" handles on the front of the speakers.
While the Mix doesn't have a second iPod dock, it does offer two 3.5-millimeter line inputs that allow your friends to plug in their MP3 players and cue up their playlists. The inputs are conveniently placed at the top of the unit, and there's a depression under the handle that's reserved for parking additional devices. Additionally, the Mix has a telescoping antenna on top of the unit. While there's no AM radio on board, it does do FM, with four presets available.
The system comes with a small remote that clips onto a belt loop or stores in a hideaway slot in the body of the Mix itself. While the clip looks like a bottle opener, it's not really intended to be one (the clip itself is made of plastic, not metal, so it's probably not a good idea to regularly open bottles with it). Like most remotes included with these types of iPod speakers, it controls only the basic playback functions of your iPod or iPhone. It's also worth noting that there's no provision for video output, so you won't be able to use the Mix to watch iPod videos on an external TV.
A couple other design notes: If you look at the picture of the unit, you'll notice that the protective silver "guard" bar over the top of the iPhone (docked in the bottom center) looks like it would make it tough to get iPhones/iPods in and out. Don't fear: it actually slides up and down, making the dock easily accessible. In theory, it also may help save your iPod or iPhone from serious damage in the event that some drunk, stumbling idiot knocks into the Mix during a party.
As noted, this is also a portable system and it runs on AC or battery power. According to Altec, it can last up to 30 hours on eight D-cell batteries, which will cost you over $20. We'd recommend that frequent battery users invest in rechargeables. To that end, it would've been nice if Altec included a built-in rechargeable battery pack, or the ability to juice up third-party rechargeables just by plugging the Mix into the wall (a feature we loved on the Tivoli SongBook).
That octet of D batteries will add some weight to the unit, which comes in at 10.1 pounds (without batteries) and measures 7.7 inches high by 19.7 inches wide by 9.3 inches deep. Needless to say, this is one of the bigger portable iPod speakers out there and you probably won't want to lug it too far. But carrying it out to the patio or pool shouldn't tax you.
Thanks in large part to its side-firing 5.25-inch subwoofers (one's active, one's a passive radiator), the Mix is designed to play loud and fill a good-size room with sound. The unit also contains two 3-inch midrange drivers and two 1-inch horn-loaded tweeters, and you can adjust the bass and treble settings using the EQ settings button on the remote or on the unit itself.
Overall, we were pretty impressed with what we heard. There's good detail, and the system is well balanced (read: smooth), with no big holes in the high, low, or midrange. And what's immediately clear is that this thing has some serious kick to it. The Mix may not be able to take the place of a true component-based system, but it does sound bigger than it looks, and the bass really thumps. Indeed, this makes for a great party box.
For our testing, we used a wide range of music, including some Elvis Costello and Dan Auerbach, as well as more popular club hits from Lady Gaga and Rihanna. The Mix acquitted itself well with all of it and outperformed the identically priced iHome iP1, which we had sitting next to it.
In the end, while its retro styling may not appeal to everyone, the Mix iMT800 is a well-designed and versatile iPod speaker that you should strongly consider if you're looking for a system that sounds good, has some oomph to it, and is portable (or at least luggable). We have no reservations recommending it.
Freelancer Steve Guttenberg contributed to this review.