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Reviews

Altec Lansing’s inMotion iM3

By Brandon Miniman January 28, 2005, 12:00 am

Altec Lansing, in an update to their original inMotion, have birthed the inMotion iM3. The differences are aesthetic and size related, with the addition of an IR remote that allows for basic playback manipulation of the docked iPod. With this solution, mobility is allegedly moved to a new level: a user can listen to his tunes while in a hotel room, in the office, or any other personal space. But with four measly 28mm speakers, do the inMotion iM3 rock out, or do they sing the blues? Listen up, and read on.

WHAT'S HOT

Below is a list of feature highlights:

Mobility Factor: These speakers were truly designed with the traveler in mind. Included in the box is a set of international power plugs. In addition, the sub-one-pound weight of the iM3 makes it a feather to carry around inside of the included iM3-branded carrying case.

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Versatility: Although the iM3 was very much designed to fit an iPod, the auxiliary audio input allows any audio device with a headphone jack to be connected to the speakers.

Power: Within the box is a power adapter, but there is also the option of running the speakers off of 4 AA batteries (not included), which will provide sound for 24 hours, according to Altec Lansing — who say YES! to bringing your iPod and iM3 speakers with on the weekend camping trip.

Remote: The remote, with an iPod connected, will allow for playback control, including volume. Volume is only changed through the unit — when docked, the volume on the iPod stays constant.

Sound: Although I don't want to give it away too early in the review, the sound is outstanding considering the source (see "LISTENING EXPERIENCE" for full description of sound quality).

DeviceAltec Lansing inMotion iM3Bose SoundDock JBL On Stage
Size (inches)5.5 x 8 x 1.16.65 x 11.91 x 6.482 x 6.9
Weight (pounds)0.94.561.0
MSRP$179.95$299.00$159.95
Frequency Response60Hz-20kHzNA80Hz-20kHz

Above, I've compared the iM3 speakers to its most worthy competitors: the Bose SoundDock and the JBL On Stage. All three take on various interesting "modern" shapes, with the inMotion iM3 weighing the least — which increases the mobility factor. The most expensive, the Bose SoundDock, has received mixed reviews, while the JBL On Stage has been proclaimed a good value.

BOX CONTENTS

The box is attractive (great for marketing) with a modern gray and white color scheme. A sticker reveals that the inMotion also works with the (fatter) iPod Photo.

Altec gives you everything you need to travel with your iPod, except for batteries for the unit. Included is an AC power adapter, power jacks for several countries, seat clips for various iPods or other MP3 players, a male-male headphone cable, user instructions (in about six languages in case you have trouble picking one), plastic case, and the inMotion iM3.

PRODUCT FEATURES

The unit itself, described by the Altec Lansing site as paper-back size, is very portable, although not quite paper-back size.

The included remote is very slim, and carries on the "milky white" color scheme that we've all grown to embrace, (right?). The remote can: turn on/off the device, move forwards/backwards a track, fast forward/rewind, play/pause, and adjust volume up and down. Regarding the performance of the remote — this is one of those "line of sight" remotes that require the user to be close to the receiver for the signal to be received.

The rear of the speakers houses the headphone input jack (for use with other sources using a miniplug audio out), a power on/off switch (used to conserve power when batteries are installed), an iPod cable jack (for use with USB/FireWire docking/syncing), and a power port which charges your iPod when docked.

The iPod, when docked, really looks as if it is comfortable. Well… it is. The fit is perfectly snug, and the white/gray/circular theme is prevalent throughout.

Near the base of the device is the standby button (power on/off is achieved using the switch on back), a power status LED (shines green when on, amber when low on battery), volume up/down, and IR port.

The rear of the device, while opened, is still modest in size. The footprint of the iM3 is small.

Whip out your imagination, and imagine that the above iPod is actually another device — say, a Creative Zen Micro. If this were the case, (and it is, right?) — you'd need to connect the Zen Micro via the attached headphone jack. Remote functionality for volume would then remain, but you obviously would ‘t be able to use remote playback controls. In such a case of using a non-iPod with the iM3 (how dare you!), you will need to swap out the seat clip with the flat one, shown on the right. The other clips are used for the iPod variations, including the Photo and mini.

And at the end of the day, before you retire to bed, you'll want to rest the iM3 inside of the good quality and protective case. The outside is vinyl, and the inside is a very soft (almost suede-like) material.

LISTENING EXPERIENCE

And now onto probably the most important aspect of this review: sound quality. Being an audiophile and having the ability to discern between 10.1kHz and 10.2kHz, I decided to put the speakers through a dynamic test of music. After some tracks of Billy Joel, Beethoven, Nelly, Miles Davis, and Metallica, I was able to make my call. Because of the small nature of the speakers (28mm!), expecting desk-rattling bass production would be truly unrealistic. With that presupposition in mind, I was very surprised by the magnitude of bass that the iM3 was able to reproduce without ever dipping below 60Hz (as per the speaks specs in the manual). It accurately and strongly punched out the bass line of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" (a true classic), which, along with it's crystal clear highs (coming from four 28mm neodymium microdrivers, would you expect nothing less?) and cutting midrange, put a smile on my face. Such a frequency response made for a truly dynamic listening experience. However, its falter came when I switched my iPod to Nelly. Playing "Hot in Here" at medium-loud volumes caused the speakers to distort as they struggled to produce the lower frequencies.

Regarding loudness, the iM3 are plenty loud for what it is intended for, which is use in a personal environment. That said, the iM3 is most likely even loud enough to fill a larger room, such as a kitchen or living room, with sound. Because of the nature of the speakers, the sound is very line-of-sight and requires the user to be in a specific listing position for best audio fidelity. Within the manual, Altec Lansing suggests that the unit be placed on a level surface, within three feet of listening position. It's pretty incredible how limited the sound field is with the iM3 — once you step out of the three foot listening distance or move your ears out of line with the speakers, the high frequencies immediately become a bit muffled, as if someone had turned down the treble, although loudness is not affected.

HELP SUPPORT

The included manual does an adequate job at explaining the setup and function of the iM3.

BUGS AND WISHES

When I read the site description of the iM3, I got pretty excited at the phrase "the revolutionary MaxxBass" technology allows listeners to enjoy deep bass without lugging around a subwoofer." When I, the "average consumer", powered on the iM3 speakers, I expected to hear some thumping bass that would make the books on my shelf do a dance. Indeed I was let down when I found there to be no deep bass, but rather dynamic bass that made for a good listening experience. My wish for this situation is for Altec to avoid misleading prospective buyers by promising "deep bass" … because when I think deep bass, I think "Whoa, the dog is skipping across the carpet."

Another issue was the over-abundance of volume. The iM3 moves past the speaker's maximum by about 2 or 3 volume adjustments. There is a fine line between as loud as they can play and louder, but with distortion. I'd like to be able to have some sort of visual of how loud my music is getting so that I know where the ceiling lies. Perhaps a simple display on the iM3 to reveal the volume level could remedy such sessions of potential speaker-hurting.

Although not a bug, it was interesting to watch the green LED turn amber (indicative of low battery power) when I turned the volume up high. The power draw was large enough to cause the unit to think that the batteries were running low, but they were just being used to contort the speaker drivers.

PURCHASING

The Altec Lansing inMotion iM3 speakers can be purchased direct from Altec Lansing for a reasonable $179.95.

#

Pros

  • Outstanding dynamic range (60Hz-20kHz)
  • Crystal clear sound
  • Acts as a regular iPod cradle (charge/sync)
  • Travel accessories included
  • IR remote controls iPod
  • Compact!

Cons

  • Where's the volume indicator?
  • Volume goes about two values too high
  • The "MaxxBass=Deep Bass" statement is misleading
  • Line-of-site listening position required for clearest sound
  • Line-of-site necessary for remote to function

OVERALL IMPRESSION

As of lately, little things have been known to impress. I still wonder how Altec Lansing was able to put four quarter-sized speakers to work in such a way to produce a full range of frequencies that accurately reproduced a a variety of my iPod tracks. With a few picky items aside, and a faltered presupposition about the amount of bass I ought to expect, Altec Lansing has created a very worthy successor to the original inMotion in a package that should appeal to a large base of iPod-addicts.

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