Altec Lansing Orbit iM-237
It's the little iPod speaker that could. The Orbit iM207, Altec Lansing's inexpensive mobile iPod speaker, has a new design and new name: the Orbit MP3 iM237. The new model's got a handful of little upgrades that make it a bit better than its predecessor.
This single speaker is about the size of two hockey pucks stacked on top of each other and weighs only 6.7 ounces (with batteries). That shape doesn't quite make it pocket friendly, but it takes up very little room in a bag when traveling.
The Orbit runs on three AAA batteries for about 24 hours and has a hideaway cord that plugs into the 3.5mm headphone jack on just about any portable electronic product--any MP3 player, all iPods and iPhones, laptops, and portable DVD players. The $40 speaker ships with a protective carrying case (with a convenient belt-clip carabiner) and a lanyard to strap around your wrist (at least, we think that's what it's for).
The understated Orbit iM237 now features an on/off button that lights when the speaker is on. On the earlier model, some people complained that without a light it was easy to forget that the unit was on and the batteries would run down.
The Orbit iM237 is designed to sit on a flat surface (there are rubberized feet on the bottom) and fire upward, but you can also prop it up on its side and have it fire forward like a traditional speaker.
As one might expect from a speaker this small, it doesn't sound all that good. But it also doesn't sound terrible and manages to belt out tunes with unexpected gusto, though--not surprisingly--it does better with lighter fare and less bass-heavy material.
We ran some Beatles tunes through the Orbit and it did OK (audiophiles will cringe, of course, but this thing isn't about good sound). The bass lines on "Come Together" and "Something" just didn't have any punch, but the bass wasn't completely absent, which is all you can ask. It also did fine putting out the soundtrack to Napoleon Dynamite and some episodes of Family Guy.
Altec recommends that you adjust the volume on the source device to 85 percent to 90 percent of maximum and turn off any bass enhancement or EQ settings. We'd disagree on the first part, and suggest that the key thing is not to crank the volume too much. (Volume settings are strictly at the source; the Orbit itself has no built-in volume control.) We tested the Orbit with an iPod and computer, and every time we pushed the volume, the little Orbit's sound distorted and made us cringe. But with a little volume restraint we felt better about the speaker and chances are your friends will be impressed that it's able to deliver as much sound as it does.
The Altec Lansing iM237 Orbit MP3 speaker goes for $40. That puts it more or less in the middle of the other miniportable speakers we've seen: less than the Yamaha NX-A01, pricier than the LG MSP-100, and about even with the iMainGo 2. That said, the price tag is a little disappointing considering that the previous Orbit model was just $30. We hope the new Orbit will soon drift down to that price as well.