Any reviewer worth his or her salt knows that reviewing speakers and headphones is a tricky, tricky business. Is style important? Portability? Sound quality? Price? You could say yes to any of those questions, but the average person probably would say yes to at least three, and possibly all four.
We’ve been playing with Altec Lansing’s new inMotion iM4 speakers ($99.95) for a bit, and we just know they’re going to be popular. They’re essentially what you get if you strip out the iPod-specific parts of the company’s original inMotions, remixed with a more modern style, and compatible with any music player you might throw at them – iPod and iPod shuffle, CD player, or those-that-we-dare-not-name-iPod-competitors. But that under $100 price tag is just key. And some places are already selling them for under $70. If you don’t mind losing the iPod dock, you get a fully portable speaker system with pretty good sound for the same price as a handful of CDs.
Once you’re done ogling the new look – white plastic body, black rubber accents, and black metal grilles – which is a major improvement on Altec’s oddly blue platform-agnostic iM2s, the single biggest difference between the iM4s and their predecessors is that you can pivot the speakers in any direction off the base. Position the two sets of two drivers straight up in the air, 90 degrees from the table, or on an angle straight for your ears. It’s a smart touch for listening at a desk – only missing the speaker detachability we’ve been waiting for. Sound quality’s highly reminiscent of the company’s iM3s (see the review here) and original inMotions (see the review here), which is to say good for a truly portable system. Volume’s fine for single-room listening, and Altec’s bass remains more substantial than similarly portable options, at the cost of a bit of noticeable scratch and compression when the volume’s up.
Besides the fact that they look and sound good, the key new features you’ll care about are the retractable audio plug, the additional audio-in port and included cable, the even-easier-than-iM1/iM3 folding system, and the simple switch and slider controls on front. The two AA battery compartments on the bottom are basically hidden, and keep the speakers going for around 18 hours. Travelers will also dig the travel bag and four international power plugs Altec includes with the AC adapter.