Comparison: Altec Lansing iM7 / Cambridge SoundWorks PlayDock MP3

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INTRODUCTION

    Are you in the market
for a higher-end portable MP3 player speaker system?
Today we look at curious-looking offerings from Altec
Lansing and Cambridge SoundWorks, the inMotion iM7
and PlayDock MP3, respectively. Both promise to provide
rich tone and room filling sound while keeping to
the mobility factor in mind. We’ll dissect each in
terms of sound, features, and usefulness, to help
you decide which one is right for you. You hear?

WHAT’S HOT

    Below is a comparison of each system’s
physical dimensions and MSRP.

Device
H
x W x D
Weight

MSRP

Altec
Lansing iM7

6.5"

x
16.7" x

6.5"

11lbs
| 4.9kg

$249.95
Cambridge
SoundWorks PlayDock MP3
9.7" x

11"

x
10.3 "

14lbs
| 6.3kg

$199.99

    Both
players aren’t lightweights – and aren’t the ideal
mobile companion (neither comes with a case), but
have handles on the back for easy tote-around.
The PlayDock MP3 users a unique three speaker system
with subwoofer and wide firing speaker angles to
project sound, while the iM7 uses a proprietary
bass system to produce rich midbass out of its
dual "subwoofers" along the sides. The PlayDock
MP3 comes with several inserts that allow it to
ask as a cradle for many popular devices on the
market, while the iM7 is more so targeted towards
the iPod owner, allowing for track controls via
the remote, and video output for color iPods.

PRODUCT FEATURES
– Altec Lansing iM7


(all images
link to higher resolution)

Box
contents include: male/male audio cable, international plug set,
AC adapter (not shown), remote with battery, iPod mini plastic insert,
quick start instructions, user manuel, and the iM7.

The
iM7 is reminiscent of a 80s style boombox (think MC Hammer), and
is clearly made to fit an iPod in the center…

…like
so. Since the iM7 is made to house all iPod types (I’m unsure about
the iPod nano at this time), it comes with a cradle for the mini.

    When
you press the area above the dock, the door slowly opens, revealing
a piston-like plastic piece that is shimmied
forward by a "pusher" mechanism behind (a great piece
of engineering!). You’d want to set the pusher all the way back when
using a thick iPod photo, or all the way forward when using a thinner
iPod mini, etc.

Logitech
loves to use blue LEDs. On the top of the unit you’ll find power
and volume control. If an iPod is docked, it’ll turn on with
the unit and begin charging.

The
iM7 carries on the silver mesh theme onto the back. The internal
handle has a rubber insert for a good grip.

On
the back, there is an s-video and composite video
output (for use within any color-screened iPod, allowing
you to view pictures on a larger screen), power connection, headphone
jack, and auxiliary audio input (for use with other audio sources).

The
iM7 can also be powered via four D batteries, which provided 4-6
hours of playback time depending on the volume.

    The
remote is very small, and lets you adjust bass, treble and volume
on the unit (with no visual indication of the current level, which
can be frustrating), and forward/reverse/play/pause controls for
your iPod. The range of the remote was a decent 10-15 feet, making
it more suited towards closer-range indoor than outdoor use. Unfortunately,
if you loose the remote, you’ll never be able to adjust bass or treble
again!

PRODUCT
FEATURES – Cambridge SoundWorks PlayDock MP3

Box contents: Two types
of charging cables, user guide, AC power adapter (not shown), two
big and two small rubber inserts, and the PlayDock MP3.

An
iPod connected to the system looks attractive; I really didn’t mind
the wire coming from the top. Unfortunately, you cannot charge an
iPod or adjust playback controls, but as mentioned earlier, this
is really made for a range of MP3 players, rather than just the iPod.

Somewhere
bellow the large handle at the rear is the internal rechargeable
battery, which keeps the unit powered for 5-10 hours, depending on
volume. The battery certainly adds weight to the unit, but it also
adds value.

You may only power Dell and Creative MP3 players via
the onboard charging system.

The
PlayDock MP3 uses an interesting three speaker system. The center
speaker takes on the role of a subwoofer for low frequencies, while
the stereo side speakers reproduce mids and highs. As you could imagine,
the firing angle of the speakers…

…coupled
with the "wide" setting, can really make for some excellent
sound dispersion. Also on the control panel are volume and power/standby
control, but no bass or treble adjustment. Blue LEDs would have been
cooler, but we’ll settle for green.

Continue
On: Comparisons / Bugs and Wishes / Pros and
Cons / Conclusion . . .




COMPARISON

The iM7 is wider than the PlayDock
MP3, but smaller in height and depth. Both use the
same white/silver color scheme.

Sound…

    Both
systems were able to produce rich midtones and
clear highs. When it was time for the deep bass
rap test, the differences became a bit more apparent.
Both struggled to produce the rock-bottom frequencies
of the Ying Yang Twins, but I heard less distortion
coming from the iM7 during strenuous volume levels
and deep bass. This is because, as I found out
later during an attempt to dissect the iM7 (which
required the removal of a dozen screws rather than
pulling off a speaker grille), it’s got two speakers
acting like subwoofers, placed on either end of
the body, compared to just one speaker acting as
the subwoofer on the PlayDock MP3. The stereo subwoofers
seem to help. I also liked the fact that I was
able to adjust bass and treble on the iM7, but
was annoyed by there being no visible indication
of the levels of each. This kept me from knowing
how much bass was too much, and forced me to adjust
the bass in small increments when changing music
types, rather than being able to reference an exact
level.

    Regarding
volume, both systems showed little distortion
at the upper peaks of their volume capacity, and
projected sound into surrounding rooms in my testing
area. The PlayDock MP3, however, with it’s wide-firing
speaker design, and "wide" setting on
the unit, was the true winner in sound projection.
At one point, I placed the PlayDock MP3 near my
computer station (in the center of my 5.1 speaker
setup) and played back some audio from an MP3 player.
Friends in the room could have sworn that the music
was coming from the surround speakers, rather
than the PlayDock MP3. The point of the story –
they’ve put some excellent sound
engineering into the PlayDock MP3 that really make
for a multi-dimensional listening experience, great
for larger rooms and especially outdoors.

Features…

    Both
have an interesting shape, but if a beauty contest
were to be held for sexiest MP3 player (with these
two systems being the finalists), I’d give the
ribbon to the PlayDock MP3 – I like the robust
look of the half circle large silver mesh screen,
but that’s just me!

    I
can tell that a lot planning went
into the iM7 – I really like how the iPod fits
seamlessly into the system, which is controlled
by a remote. The video-outs are a terrific
idea, making the iM7 a dock not only to charge
your iPod (which does so even when the iM7 is off),
but a dock for viewing your images on a TV. For
those without an iPod, you’ll need to use the auxiliary
port on the rear, and place your unit to the side,
rather in the comfy dock. I didn’t like how there
was no built in battery, especially at this pricepoint,
and no battery indicator either for when you decide
to buy the four D batteries.

    The
PlayDock is more so targeted to those who are seeking
a more generic portable playback system for their
MP3 player. I like the thought that went into making
the rubber inserts house a variety of devices,
but the charging option is limited to only Dell
and Creative devices. The rechargeable internal
battery is a great help when bringing the unit
out to the pool or deck, but like the iM7, has
no accompanying indicator.

HELP SUPPORT

    Both systems are easy
to use, and come with instructions for any issues you
may have.

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

    For the iM7, you’ll
need an iPod photo, mini, 4G, or 3G to be able to utilize the docking
features. Otherwise, you can use any auxiliary audio source using the
input on the rear. And for the PlayDock MP3, to be able to "fit" in
the rubber sleeves, you’ll need to have

a NOMAD Zen, Zen Touch, Zen Micro, Apple iPod and Apple iPod Mini,
Dell Pocket DJ and "other similar MP3 players" – which basically means
that you’ll get any rectangle/square shaped MP3 player to fit. To charge,
though, you’ll need to have a Dell or Creative device.

BUGS AND WISHES

   
By
the time you’ve gotten to this section, you know
what gripes I have for each. For a recap, view the
Cons of each below.

PURCHASING

   
The
cheapest price that I could find on the Altec Lansing iM7 came from
Abt
electronics
for $219. I quick search on Google’s Froogle will show
a large amount of stores that offer this system. As for the Cambridge
SoundWorks PlayDock MP3, you can purchase it direct from Cambridge
SoundWorks
for $199.99,
although at the time of this review, it was on backorder.

Altec
Lansing iM7…

PROS


  • Curious
    design


  • Acts as
    an iPod dock with video outputs


  • Great frequency
    range

  • Treble/bass/volume
    and iPod playback adjustments via remote
  • International
    plug set included

CONS


  • No volume/bass/treble
    indicator

  • No
    rechargeable battery

  • A bit pricey

Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

Cambridge
SoundWorks PlayDock MP3…

PROS


  • Curious
    design


  • Built in rechargeable battery


  • Superior sound dispersion,
    ideal for outdoors

  • Most MP3
    players can fit in cradle
  • Can charge
    and power Dell and Creative devices

CONS


  • No remote


  • No volume indicator


  • No bass/treble adjustment

  • Can charge
    only Dell and Creative devices
Value
Ease
of Use
Features

Overall

What
do these ratings mean
?

OVERALL IMPRESSION

    In conclusion, there is no clear cut winner
here, as you can tell by the same overall rating on each (but different
marks in the other three categories). If you are looking for a top-notch
iPod companion speaker system that has some great iPod-centric features
and can produce full tone, the iM7 is an excellent choice. But if you’d
like a bit of versatility in being able to playback audio from a variety
of MP3 players (and have them rest in the cradle, not off to the side),
or if you need a player that can sit poolside and distribute sound
far and wide, the PlayDock MP3 is the better choice. Take your pick,
and happy listening!


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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.