We’ve been testing two very different portable speaker systems over the past couple of weeks, though they both have one thing in common: they compete directly against Logitech’s S715i, a very capable $150 portable speaker released last year. One is a bigger version of the S715i with additional frills, while the other is Altec Lansing’s iMT630 Classic ($150), which goes in the other direction, opting for a smaller and thinner chassis with less audio power. While there are reasons that some users might like each of the newer options, they both have conceptual rough edges that are a little hard to get past.
iMT630 has been pitched by Altec Lansing as an “ultra-portable” speaker system, and though it’s hard to hear those words without thinking of the company’s famously 0.67”-thick iPod nano speaker iM500, this new design is definitely smaller than most of the current iPod/iPhone docking speakers we’ve seen in the last couple of years. Measuring just a little over 12” wide by 5” tall by 1.5” deep at its largest points, iMT630 has some nice little aesthetic touches, including a black cube-pattered front grille, matte charcoal edging, and a glossy black plastic core with top-mounted power, volume, and source buttons.
Altec seems to have been extremely concerned about saving space here—arguably a little too concerned. The iPod/iPhone dock pops out on the front, creating just enough room for an unencased iPhone 4; if you’re using a case with any added thickness at the bottom, you’ll be out of luck with iMT630. As we’ve said many times before, users shouldn’t need to pull off their iPhone cases to use a speaker, a fairly obvious flaw in this design, though thinner cases and devices may be better off in here. Additionally, a stand flips out on the back to keep the system standing on a slight recline. A magnetic Infrared remote control is included, and can be stored in a recess within the rear stand; it works reliably from distances of roughly 20 feet from the iMT630’s face. A wall power adapter is included in the package; ports for it and auxiliary audio input are both found inside the flip-open stand compartment.
Apart from the lack of space in the dock, iMT630 is a pretty good “ultra portable” audio system. Given that Altec chose to use only two speaker drivers inside its small enclosure, the big surprise here is that iMT630 puts out fairly loud and relatively low-distortion sound, stopping several steps below the S715i’s peak volume level but possessing enough midrange and bass to sound respectable for its asking price. By contrast with the S715i, the audio is flatter, without as much detail in the mids and too little treble, but then Logitech’s audio design is in a class by itself for the price. iMT630 continues Altec’s tradition of providing sound that skews relatively warm and pleasant out of the box, without breaking new ground in detail or power.
Judged on portability, iMT630 similarly offers reasonable rather than groundbreaking compromises. The battery inside runs for seven hours, versus S715i’s eight; this is about par for the course with speakers these days. While the chassis is considerably smaller than other recent Altec systems, and noticeably occupies less space than the S715i, the difference isn’t so much night and day as “iPod mini versus full-sized iPod.” Both will fit in the same backpacks, but iMT630 will fit more easily, and S715i comes with a very simple carrying case that Altec omits.
The choice of which of these systems will work better for your needs depends on how much you value extra space relative to extra sonic performance. Given that they sell for the same $150 price and meet the same needs, with S715i outperforming iMT630 Classic sonically, we’d be inclined to pick the Logitech model instead. But if you’re looking for a smaller or more neutral design, Altec’s option is worth considering, assuming that iPhone case compatibility isn’t a major concern.
Company and Price
Company: Altec Lansing
Compatible: iPod classic, nano, touch, iPhone/3G/3GS/4