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Altec Lansing M602 review, and we compare with the Bose SoundDock & Apple iPod Hi-Fi
by the Tech Lab staff, written by Keith Benicek, Editor
12 November 2006
   (click on images for enlargements)

Anyone that has been around professional audio – radio, music, theatre, movies – knows the well respected name Altec Lansing®. Along with another renowned speaker system builder, JBL, no one else has the years of knowledge and experience that Altec Lansing has.

So when Altec Lansing got into the “personal” iPod speaker system biz, I for one was expecting a lot of nice sound. Last year we reviewed their ultra compact iM3C inMotion®
portable iPod speaker/charger system and it was tops in it’s category.

Right now the large and deluxe desktop iPod / MP3 player speaker systems are the hot market pieces and Altec Lansing’s brand new M602® is right in the thick of it with some other well-known consumer brand big boys. While this is specifically a review of the new Altec Lansing M602, we thought a little comparative testing with two other well-advertised units might be of interest to you and help us pick the best system to recommend.

Along with the Altec Lansing M602, we tested the Bose ® SoundDock“ and the Apple ® “iPod HiFi”. All three are in very different price brackets, but are very much equivalent in the intended market share. More about the performance and features comparison of the three, later in the article.

Our Tech Edge E-zine‘ Tech Lab‘ testing included listening by a panel of audio professionals and average music enthusiasts like you; but also audio physics tests using a pair of professional AKG® condenser microphones and spectrum analysis software. We had to laugh recently when we read another PC Magazine ® review (this time the Bose SoundDock) where the author claimed they “tested” the hardware in the “PC Magazine Labs®”, yet no specification of the testing criteria, hardware, software or analytical results are given anywhere in the review. Makes the results highly suspect, don’t you think.

We used high quality recorded Hi-Fi Stereo music to “test” the Altec Lansing M602 and the others. We prefer to use recordings by leading Classical Orchestras and Contemporary Jazz artists as our sound benchmarks in audio tests. The reason is pretty simple – Classical music and Jazz is all about the music, not about the artists personality or stage flamboyance – both are generally recorded in the highest quality possible by highly proficient trained musicians; granted there are some exceptions to this rule.

Altec Lansing M602 - The Review
Retail Price $199
When you first open the box and remove the Altec Lansing M602, you will be struck by the extremely high quality of manufacture and it’s heft, it is reassuringly heavy for it’s size.

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spacerThe M602 design is daring compared to previous Altec Lansing models, or any of the other brands as well. Rather than just another horizontal rectangular box with speakers meant to sit directly on a flat surface, this rounded solid speaker enclosure is elevated from the desktop in a strong metal rectangle loop which has the docking station at it’s base. The speaker enclosure is also slightly angeled up and away from relecting surfaces. This is an important point in the design of any high-fidelity speaker system.

Ask any professional Hi-Fi speaker system designer, acoustic engineer or experienced audiophile and they should all tell you that speakers should never sit directly on a flat surface. Rather, depending on the type of speaker, speakers should be elevated to various heights to create accurate sound reproduction.

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"This is the kind of sound engineering I would expect from a renowned sound company like Altec Lansing"
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If you can, visit any recording studio, FM radio station, auditorium concert hall or audiophile’s home theatre, and you will find that speaker enclosures are not directly on flat surfaces like floors and tabletops. They are elevated by the use of pedestals or wall mountings; removing the direct surface contact is the key.

It’s ALL about reflecting sound waves interfering with the sound waves coming to your ears directly from the speaker. This is the kind of sound engineering I would expect from a renowned sound company like Altec Lansing. Think about this when you look at and read about other brands of iPod speaker systems in this range or above.

Let’s be realistic, in a compact Hi-Fi speaker system like the M602, or the others that must use small speakers, you will have sound limitations, it’s a matter of acoustical physics. I’d rather have limited but bright and near accurate sound reproduction of recorded music, rather than artificially accentuated frequencies in the sound created by playing with the external surfaces.

How big is it?
Dimensions & Weight -
* Width - 13.9 in.
* Depth - 5.4 in.
* Weight - 5 lbs. 

Whenever we test audio hardware, whether for computers or for as in this case iPod or MP3 Music Players, we like to put the hardware in front of our review panel for the “listening tests” first. That way we don’t have any prejudices from the Audio Physics tests to decide which to listen to first.
A universal insert and cable included for non iPod Players

After playing a broad selection of Rock, Jazz, Hip Hop, Classical, Alternative and even some Country, the listening panel found the Altec Lansing M602 to deliver exceptionally bright, clear and mostly faithful sound reproduction. If you are looking for headache causing thumping bass, you aren’t going to find it here.

But the low frequencies at realistic volume levels are pretty accurate, especially compared to the Bose and Apple units. The professional audio people in our panel commented that there was very little reflected bass freq’s to “muddy the bottom end” I think that comment proved our previous “elevated speaker” positioning point succinctly.



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