Sunday, December 02, 2007
Altec Lansing Orbit 360 Travel MP3 Speaker
Most speaker systems that hook to your MP3 player are either too big to take with you in a suitcase or they're too cheap-sounding and flimsy to project outside a hotel bathroom. This Orbit 360 MP3 speaker from Altec Lansing thankfully occupies the middle ground. It's not without a few odd interaction annoyances, but overall it's a good choice for portable sound, on a budget, in a small package.
This is a single speaker, meaning you won't get the stereo effect, but the upside is that it is one good speaker instead of two halfway good ones. In my tests it easily filled a 15 by 15 foot room with sound--definitely good enough for your average hotel room or beach deck. The bass response was better than the usual tinny speakers in this price range, though naturally it performs better on music with lots of treble (like electronica, dance music, and salsa) than it does with thumping rap or heavy metal. There's definite distortion at high volume though. With my cheapo MP3 player I got to about 80 percent of max before it got distorted. On my iPod it started getting distorted at about 65 percent (due to the crappier iTunes compression probably). A portable CD player did best, at around 90 percent of potential volume, probably because the original sound source was better quality.
It uses three AAA batteries--not included--and so far I've run it about six hours on a set of rechargeables without it running down. Supposedly it will go up to 20 hours on a set of batteries if you're not cranking it.
The product designers did some things right but appear to have been smoking something when planning others. What they did right was make it so that the connecter cord winds into the speaker itself. They also included an adapter that makes it able to plug into pretty much any MP3 player and some mobile phones. This Orbit speaker may send your patience into orbit at first though: you actually have to use both hands and considerable force to get the battery cover off and back on. To turn the unit on, you don't just flip a switch. You actually have to put one hand on the bottom, one hand on the top, and crank it to one side. Then the reverse when you want to turn it off. Forget any ideas of quick mood enhancement by keeping this on the nightstand.
After you get used to the design quirks though, this is a solid but compact speaker that is worth the packing space. At a list price of $40 (and on sale for $30 at many online retailers), this is worth picking up for yourself or as a gift for a traveler.