Altec Lansing recently revamped the aesthetics across its speakers line, and one of the first models sporting the makeover is the inMotion Max, a slimline iPod speaker with a few handy extras. Compatible with the newest crop of iPods and the iPhone 3G, as well as most older models, the inMotion Max lets you listen to your digital music, FM radio, or any analog line-in source without taking up much desk space. A built-in battery and retractable dock and stand adds a nice dash of portability, too.
A pair of 2-inch speaker drivers and another pair of 2-inch passive radiators are set into the inMotion Max’ 12.2-inch wide, 7.5-inch tall frame, covered by a black metal grille. A spring-loaded retractable iPod dock pops out from the front, and a small stand folds out from the back so the 1.8-inch-thick speaker doesn’t tip over. The top of the unit is glossy black, with a small amber LCD on the front and backlit touch-sensitive controls along the top for power, source, volume, track skip, and ESS (sound enhancer). The sides are finished in silver plastic, and on the back are a cubby slot for the wireless remote, a power jack, a 3.5mm line input, and a jack for the included FM antenna.
We like the overall design, especially its compact footprint and upward-angled shape (so sound is aimed at your head, not your chest) but the LCD is smaller and dimmer than it should be, and the touch controls aren’t as responsive as we’d like. The wireless infrared remote provides good-enough range (we got about 25 feet), but the blister-style buttons occasionally required multiple presses and the speaker’s response sometimes lagged. Pressing the P1 and P2 buttons on the remote properly activated shuffle and repeat features for all the iPods we tested, but playlist skip (P3 and P4 buttons) didn’t work with our iPod touch 2G and iPhone 3G, only with older models such as the 80GB iPod 5G with video.
We inserted a few different iPods, including an 80GB iPod 5G with video, an iPod touch (2G), and an iPhone 3G, and all models charged and played just fine. We listened to some John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, and Aphex Twin, and although the speaker’s bass wasn’t deep, the overall sound was pleasing, with emphasis on the mid-range sounds for vocals, guitar, and horns. The ESS (Expanded Sound Stage) setting added some liveliness to the sound, making the system sound less like a one-piece box and more like a traditional pair of speakers.
The inMotion Max sounds best at low-to-medium volumes, but when we cranked it up, our 80GB iPod and iPhone 3G buzzed against the metal grille, and the sound from all the iPods we tested distorted a little, though not too badly. The volume is enough for a bedroom, office, or den, though we also got clear sound outdoors in a quiet backyard. We got a little more than 3 hours of battery life outside at moderate volume while playing music from our iPod, which is in line with the company’s 3.5-hour maximum claim. It can also run on AC power.
Phone Calls and Radio
When a call came in on our iPhone 3G, the well-shielded speakers didn’t have that awful GSM buzz, and our music was replaced by a ringtone, but like many iPhone-compatible speakers we’ve recently reviewed, you can’t use the inMotion Max as a speakerphone. When the call ended, the music picked up where it left off.
FM radio reception via the included antenna cable was very good in the metro New Orleans area, though the inMotion Max supports only four memory presets. The speaker also functions reasonably well as an alarm clock, though it’s entirely dependent on the iPod/iPhone’s alarm feature, as the inMotion Max lacks a clock or alarm of its own.
The inMotion Max is well suited to a desktop at home or at work, and it would even make a good study companion in a dorm room. It’ll sound tinny in wide-open spaces such as beaches and parks, but in smaller outdoor areas it sounds pretty good for its size. At roughly half the price of Bose’s superior-sounding SoundDock Portable and with more features, the inMotion Max is a good buy.