Altec Lansing orbit MP3 (IM237)

A great portable speaker for iPods, MP3 Players and notebooks

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Altec Lansing orbit MP3 (IM237)
  • Altec Lansing orbit MP3 (IM237)
  • Altec Lansing orbit MP3 (IM237)
  • Altec Lansing orbit MP3 (IM237)

Pros

  • Small and very portable, long-lasting battery life, reasonable audio quality

Cons

  • Heavy distortion at high volumes, cord can be hard to retrieve when wound

Bottom Line

The Altec Lansing orbit MP3 (IM237) is a great portable speaker designed for listening to music while on the go. Good battery life and acceptable sound quality make for a great way of sharing music with friends.

Would you buy this?

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Not to be confused with the Orbit-MP3, Altec Lansing's orbit MP3 (IM237) is a highly portable speaker designed to share music from MP3 players and notebooks. Boasting a driver that is capable of blasting music at a reasonable volume without distortion, the orbit MP3 is a great companion to iPods and alternative MP3 players.

The orbit MP3 abandons the ubiquitous boxy shape of most speakers in favour of circular enclosure. Combined with an art deco logo, it makes for a refreshing look.

Standing 5cm high and 9cm across, this speaker isn't the smallest around; Altec Lansing's claim that you will be able to carry it around in your pocket is a little far fetched. Nevertheless, it is certainly a very portable device, and it comes with a plush carrying case to protect it from knocks and bumps.

Unlike the iPod-specific peripherals that populate the portable speaker market, the orbit MP3 has a standard 3.5mm jack. The use of a cord rather than an integrated iPod dock may seem a little unwieldy, but thankfully the cable can easily be stored under the device itself.

The 3.5mm jack lets you to use the speaker with any standard headphone jack on an iPod, MP3 player, laptop or compatible mobile phone. For mobile phones that use the less common 2.5mm jack Altec Lansing bundles an adapter.

Powered by three AAA batteries, the orbit MP3 has a claimed running time of 24 hours but our real-world tests showed very different results. Tested in 10-hour stints over four days, the orbit MP3 managed to last just under 37 hours at the highest possible distortion-free volume, surprising everyone at the PCWorld office. The speaker won't go out with a whimper either — once the batteries had finally begun to die, the speaker began to horribly distort, a telling sign that the batteries have been tortured to breaking point. Thankfully, the orbit MP3's power LED also acts as a battery indicator, turning red with a few hours of battery life left, before finally fading. There is no AC adapter, so users are limited to battery power. Then again, with this battery life, there really is no need to carry an extra adaptor around.

The 1.8in driver is certainly able to put out enough volume to share music with a few friends at the beach or park. Depending on the source, the orbit MP3 is quite capable of reaching beyond reasonable listening volumes without introducing distortion; as expected, however, sound becomes heavily distorted in the upper reaches of the speaker's limits. The volume can't be adjusted on the speaker itself.

Being such a small speaker, you shouldn't expect audiophile quality. However, music isn't as tinny as you would expect from a small speaker, but there is a heavy bias towards upper mid-range frequencies, preventing a warm or balanced sound. Though the orbit MP3 won't match the sound quality of a dedicated set of speakers, its quality is still surprising and certainly a step-up from the integrated speakers in mobile phones and most notebooks.

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