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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New Product Review - Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 IM237

The Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 iM237 certainly doesn't look like an audio powerhouse. Smaller than a roll of packaging tape, the Orbit has a silver plastic/metal exterior equipped with an "on" button and a top speaker the size of an Oreo cookie. But the Orbit's modest appearance only makes the amazingly crisp and clear sound that streams out of it that much more impressive.


The Altec Lansing Orbit MP3 iM237 is a canister-shaped speaker with a short wire on the bottom that hooks up to iPods, MP3 players, phones, CD players or any other device with a headphone jack. The iM237 is actually a second-generation Orbit. Altec Lansing adjusted the major complaint people had about the first-generation, which was users had to twist the top of the device to turn it on. This unnecessary design feature led people to unknowingly leave the Orbit running, draining the batteries. The iM237 corrects that problem by eliminating the twist top in favor of a more traditional button and including a small light to signal the user when the power is on. The Orbit runs on three AAA batteries (not included), which Altec Lansing claims can power the device for 24 hours of play. After tossing in the batteries, an individual plugs the Orbit into a device, turns it on and uses the device controls to play music. By positioning the speaker facing upward, Altec Lansing boasts the accessory has a 360-degree sound field, projecting audio in all directions. Additionally, the Orbit comes with an arm band, carrying case, and a hook for attaching the case to a belt loop.


Expecting a quiet, tinny sound, I was blown away by both the volume and clarity of the Orbit. Listening to Cake's "Shadow Stabbing", I had to look down at the device several times to make sure the spectacular sound was actually coming out of this tiny device. Certainly, the Orbit doesn't sound like a single speaker that's only an inch in diameter. In fact, in my opinion, it actually sounds a good deal better than the Sharp dual-speaker CD player I usually listen to in my office. The Orbit gives equal time to every layer of a song - delivering vocals, guitar, bass and drums with even weight and exceptional balance. Playing The Strokes' "12:51", the Orbit emphasized the band's trademark siren guitar in the foreground without diminishing the background claps and drum beat that propel the song. Even more impressively, during the Beastie Boys' "Shake Your Rump" (off one of the more sonically complicated albums, "Paul's Boutique"), the Orbit produced the opening drum beats with remarkable clarity. It also pulled out the deep synth effects, bass and multi-part vocals with equal precision. The bass on the Orbit is particularly notable for such a small unit. It produces a nice boom without vibrating or sounding muddled.

Wild Cards:

The Orbit is not without its limitations. Although it gets pretty loud before it happens, once you crank the volume high enough, the sound does begin to reverberate inside the device's small circular frame. That makes the Orbit more ideal for entertaining a single individual or a small circle of friends at places like the beach or a tailgate, rather than at large house parties or backyard blowouts. It also would be nice if the Orbit had a charging capability. But, while there are a lot of other iPod docks and other such devices currently flooding the audio market, the Orbit does have two clear advantages: size and price. A person can easily use the device almost anywhere (outside, at the office, in the bathroom) because of its small and compact design - without sacrificing sound quality. And, at $39.99, it's cheaper than many other, similar devices out there.

Upshot: If you want a convenient, high-quality means of listening to your iPod without headphones, the Altec Lansing Orbit is out of this world.

Shad Connelly,
Executive Editor -
Invention & Technology News (

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