Last fall we reviewed Altec Lansing’s inMotion iM5, the company’s lower-cost ($150) alternative to the popular $180 iM3. Altec Lansing continues to add systems to the inMotion line, and the new $100 iM11 is the least expensive iPod-docking inMotion system yet. (The company’s iM4, designed for non-iPod portable audio players, is also priced at $100.) At 8.5″ wide by 4.25″ high by 1.4″ deep when folded up for travel, the iM11 is also the smallest inMotion system that accommodates full-size iPods; only the inMotion iMmini, designed for the discontinued iPod mini, is smaller. (Don’t be confused by the iM11’s “high” model number — there’s no numerical logic to Altec Lansing’s iM3/iM4/iM5/iM7/iM9/iM11 product naming scheme.)
Like the iM5, the iM11 achieves its lower price by offering fewer features and lesser sound quality than its more expensive siblings. The iM11 provides only a single speaker driver for each channel (left/right) — as compared to the dual-driver design of the iM3 and iM5 — and lacks a remote control. It also omits the video-output and subwoofer-output jacks of the iM5 and, instead of an electronic volume control, uses an analog volume slider. What you’re left with is a basic, compact speaker system that will play your iPod’s audio or (via a 1/8″ minijack) that of a second audio source. You can also use the iM11’s USB minijack to sync your iPod with your computer while docked.
The iM11 is powered by 4 AA batteries or the included AC adapter; your iPod is charged while the system is powered by the adapter. As with all the inMotion models, the adapter is an international version with an number of interchangeable wall plugs. The iM11 also includes battery-saving circuitry; if the system is running off batteries and no audio is detected for three minutes, the iM11 will automatically turn off. Unfortunately, like the iM5, the iM11 doesn’t automatically pause or shut off your iPod when you turn the system off; instead, your iPod keeps playing — something you may not realize until you try to try to listen again and your iPod’s battery is dead.
The iM11’s dock cradle is more similar to that of the older iM3 than the newer design found on the iM5, and that’s a good thing. As mentioned in our review of the iM5, the iM5’s cradle has a tendency to pop open accidentally during travel; the iM11’s dock exhibited no such problems during my testing.
Finally, the iM11 package also includes a mini-to-mini stereo connector cable for connecting a second audio source; a USB cable for connecting the iM11 to your computer; 5 dock adapters for compatibility with all dockable iPods; and a padded carrying case that holds the iM11, power adapter, cables/adapters, and your iPod.
Overall, the iM11’s sound quality corresponds to its place at the bottom of the iM line. Although it provides good detail, its small enclosure and single-driver speakers aren’t capable of producing much bass, even compared to the just slightly thicker iM5. (And, unfortunately, the iM11 doesn’t include a subwoofer output, so you can’t use Altec Lansing’s new BB2001 to add bass when listening at home.) Similarly, the iM11 can’t play as loud as the iM5 or other iM models without distorting. I also heard a bit of hiss when the iM5 was on; although this noise wasn’t noticeable from across the room, it was audible when the iM5 was sitting on a desk in front of me without music playing.
That said, the iM11 does have a couple sonic advantages over the more expensive iM5. The first is that the iM11’s design angles its face upwards more than the iM5, which, thanks to the directionality of treble frequencies, results in better treble response when listening at a desk. The second is that, because the iM11 uses an analog volume control, it doesn’t suffer from the “full blast at power-up” bug I experienced with the iM5. (I also found the analog volume slider to be easier to use than the iM5’s rubber up/down buttons.)
My biggest criticism of the inMotion iM5 was that it didn’t hold up well against similarly priced systems from other manufacturers. The iM11 fares better in this respect; although there are other $100 speaker systems out there that better the iM11 in some respects — for example, the $100 Logic 3 i-Station will give you slightly better sound quality in a less compact package — the iM11 is a decent addition to the inMotion line. In fact, overall, I prefer the iM11 to the “better” iM5; the iM11’s sound quality isn’t quite as good, and it’s missing a couple useful output jacks, but its design feels more solid and at $50 less expensive, it’s a better value. For those looking for a compact speaker system under $100, the iM11 is worth considering.–Dan Frakes