Review: Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 iM237
Company: Altec Lansing
Model: Orbit MP3 iM237
Compatible: All iPods, iPhone
Back in February, we reviewed a "large pocket-sized speaker" from Altec Lansing called Orbit-MP3 iM207, praising the iPod- and iPhone-compatible $40 unit's simplicity and good looks. Now there's a sequel, Orbit MP3 iM237 ($40), which isn't so much better as it is different. The new model preserves iPod and iPhone headphone port compatibility, but has been cosmetically redesigned and is larger than its predecessor, with modestly improved treble performance. You'll have to decide whether its size and looks are worth accepting for the small sonic improvements it offers.
Both iM207 and iM237 rely upon the same formula: each has a metal grille on top, covering a single speaker that’s housed inside of an otherwise mostly plastic shell. The bottom of each shell unscrews to house three AAA batteries for 24 hours of run time, and a black device-agnostic audio cable wraps around the bottom sides for storage. Whereas iM207 has a 3.5” diameter and 1.5” height, iM237 has a 3.4” diameter and 2” height. Volumetrically, the iM237 looks and is larger than its predecessor, which appears to give its audio driver a little extra breathing room inside the chassis.
That chassis has been substantially redesigned from the earlier model. iM207 was chrome and silver on the top with an otherwise black glossy plastic speaker shell; iM237 has a two-tone gray and silver enclosure that comes closer to the company’s most recent industrial designs, featuring prominent top screws and a darkened metal speaker grille on top. A hint of gold can be seen on the edge of the speaker grille, tying into the design of the company’s $200 inMotion MAX audio system, though it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Altec has replaced the prior unit’s power switch, which required you to turn iM207’s chrome face a click to the left or right, with a button and power light on the side, due south of the company logo printed on its face. This is the only major functional improvement to the prior chassis, which otherwise feels bigger and a little cheaper than its predecessor.
Pack-ins, however, have changed for the better. iM207 shipped with nothing more than a 3.5mm to 2.5mm audio adapter, designed to let that speaker work with the miniature headphone ports found on some mobile phones, but in iM237, Altec has dropped that adapter in favor of a wrist strap—a bit confusing, yes—and a zippered carrying pouch with a detachable carabiner hook. We’re glad to see these items here, but they underscore the fact that you’ll need a little more help than with iM207 to carry this speaker around, as it’s officially grown out of the large pocket category.
What has the larger size of iM237 enabled Altec to do? Not a lot. In comparative tests against the iM207, it was obvious on close listening that the iM237 offered somewhat better treble response, with high-pitched noises and instruments popping a little bit as compared with the flatter iM207, and apparent clarity going up by the same amount. No bass or midrange compromises were made to achieve this added performance, and both systems reach the same maximum volume level, distorting heavily at the iPod’s very peak output, but performing fine before that.
Which of these two systems is better? Neither. While we’d pick iM237 on aggregate sound quality, the difference between the units’ audio is small, though the size, cosmetic, and pack-in differences may matter to some users. In our view, iM237 is an overall improvement on its predecessor, but the fact that it’s larger and offers only modest sonic improvements justifies iM207’s continued existence. Either of these Orbit units is a solid choice for users looking for a small iPod- or iPhone-friendly speaker.