Review: Altec Lansing iM5
For anyone that’s been following the iPod speaker segment, Altec Lansing’s inMotion line has become synonymous with portable speakers. Shortly after the introduction of the rather large iM7 “boombox”, the iM5 was released. Despite having a higher number than the iM3, the iM5 is intended to be more of a lower-end model, with a simpler design and fewer features. This $150 product does have a few unique features, however.
Unlike its siblings, the iM5 does not feature a folding design. Instead, it is one solid unit with a pop-out dock, controlled by a big silver button on the front. Controls are mounted on the top, and the speakers themselves are the same as the other iterations of the inMotions.
iM5 + 5G iPod
iM5 (with dock not exposed)
iM5 Carry Bag
A giant grill covers the entire front of the unit, protecting the four 28mm neodymium magnet Micro Drivers. The power button is on the top-left and features a blue LED to indicate power. Volume controls are underneath a layer of rubber, giving the controls a membrane feel. A large plus and minus sign indicate the direction of adjustment. This new, modern design is very pleasing to the eye, and does not visually detract from the iPod.
Included in the box is the iM5 speakers, an AC adapter, adapters for using the iM5 abroad, a black carrying bag, a dock insert, a short audio cable, a short documentation, and all of the necessary paperwork. Setting up the speakers is easy—plug the AC adapter in (or pop 4 AA batteries in the bottom for 24 hours of play), press the button to expose the dock, and place an iPod in the dock. Smaller iPods can use the plastic dock insert for a better fit.
The carrying bag will hold the iM5, the AC adapter, and even an iPod. It has a hand strap in case you feel like carrying it in that way, although it might look a big ridiculous.
Looking at the back of the unit, one will see the familiar slots for four AA batteries, an auxiliary input (for older iPods and other audio devices), a subwoofer output (more on that later), an RCA video output, and a Dock Connector (for connecting to a computer).
The intent of the auxiliary input is for older iPods without a dock connector (a small cable is included to connect those), laptops, other MP3 players, or anything else that can be connected to regular speakers. The RCA video output is for full-sized iPods with color screens to output to a TV (iPod photo, iPod with a color display, or iPod with video), this eliminating the need to get Apple’s $20 AV cable. The subwoofer output is designed to be used with a particular model according to the manual:
“This output should only be used to connect an Altec Lansing optional subwoofer specifically designed to increase the bass output of this speaker system. Please check www.alteclansing.com for availability information.”
However, we have yet to actually see one available. It is nice, however, to see the provision for expanded functionality.
Just with the other members of the inMotion family, the iM5 are incompatible with many iPod cases, just as a regular dock is. Owners of iSkin cases will find it annoying that pulling the case back (as suggested for use with a dock) will not work with the iM5. Since Apple warns against charging an encased iPod, we didn’t feel it was worth counting the iM5 down on.
Audio-wise, the iM5s are about like the original inMotions and the iM3s. For some reason, the iM3s sound a bit crisper for the highs and lows. Most people probably won’t notice the difference, especially if they aren’t comparing the two units side-by-side. Comparing these to JBL’s On Stage II also resulted in the competition edging out the iM5. Although the OnStage II is $20 more, discounted versions of the original (which is the same, save for a remote) might be a more attractive alternative.
Our only annoyances with the iM5’s design is that the dock sometimes pops out on its own if you are moving them around, and the other is that whenever you turn them on, the volume is at a very high level. This can be a bit annoying if you plan on using the iM5s in a quiet environment.
Judging the iM5s is tough—they sound pretty good, include a lot in the package, and have a good design. The video out is handy for those who might only connect their iPod to the TV occasionally, and don’t want to justify the extra cash to get a cable. The foldaway dock also means that it can stay put away if you’re using some other device through the auxiliary input. Unfortunately, there are products in the price range that sound better or offer other features that sweeten the deal.
In conclusion, the iM5s are a good speaker system, but some of the alternatives, even Altec Lansing’s other products might be a better choice if you’re not picky about features. For the extra $20-$20, the iM3s or On Stage II have better sound and add a remote.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The Altec Lansing iM5 is a decent iPod speaker system, but probably isn’t for everyone
Pros: Easy set up, small, surprisingly good sound from small speakers, doubles as an iPod dock, carry bag included, AUX input, RCA video output, subwoofer output
Cons: Sound quality not as good as similarly-priced products, no remote, volume very high at power-on, almost all cases incompatible, no headphone jack, no bass/treble adjustments
*must use auxiliary input