This in my review of the Altec Lansing inMotion im300 Travel Speakers. I understand how hard it is to find decent travel speakers. I hope this review helps make the search a little easier.
I’ve been on a relentless search for quality travel speakers since I bought my first DiscMan many years ago. It’s unbelievably hard to strike a balance between sound quality, durability, functionality and price. Even though speaker technology is advancing at a rapid rate, manufactures are resorting to cheaper materials to house their new technologies. Finally, I’ve found a set of travel speakers that meet (but could never exceed) my travel speaker needs.
Forgive me for sounding like an old rambling man, but there really was a day when electronics were far more robust and versatile than they are today. Travel speakers today are tit for tat, if they excel in one area, they are always lacking in another. Some of the most common problems with compact travel speakers today are:
-Poor sound quality: Most travel speakers lack base and try to compensate by blowing out the mid and high tones.
-Limited Connectivity: Countless speakers only connect with an iPod, or via USB, and offer no line-in capability. I want the ability to connect to anything with an audio-output.
-Inconvenient Power Options: Isn’t the purpose behind “Travel Speakers" to be able to TRAVEL with them? Traveling in my mind means getting as far away from electrical sockets as possible. This eliminates all plug-in and internal battery units. And in their quest for miniaturization, many companies have resorted to tipple A batteries which are three times harder to find, triple the price and have one third the life span of double A batteries.
-Cheap Materials: Traveling is hard on gear. Travel speakers need to survive the backpack falling off the Thai Tuk Tuk, the beach and the wipeout on the ski mountain. Generally, less moving parts and less stylish bodies mean a more robust product.
-Too Much Digitization: You ever try to get that perfect volume in your tent, bungalow or hotel room when that special someone is there? As more and more audio products start using digital volume controls ambiance can only be controlled in set increments – there is nothing between too loud and silence. It’s all about analogue - rotating that knob or sliding that slider until the perfect volume is reached.
-Size: Of course smaller and lighter is better when it comes to traveling, but generally, a smaller speaker also means smaller sound. So once you eliminate all those tinny sounding speaker sets that fit in the palm of your hand, your left with mid to large size units. There are ton of travel speakers out there that only the business traveler can use because their Golden Frequent Flyer Card includes an extra luggage allowance. My dad has this beast of a unit that can connect via wifi, has a built in three-day battery and an iPod dock but the thing weighs and ton and fills a suitcase.
Too Complex: Keep it simple, a volume control, an audio-in jack, double A batteries and a solid case.
I owned a set of Sony SRS T77s for well over five years. They survived the artic cold, six months of back packing and dirt biking through South East Asia, and countless camping trips. They didn’t survive my wipeout going down Muju Mountain in South Korea – see the video here. Actually... the left speaker did! Now it’s taken the place of my girlfriend’s G4 Power PC speaker in Seoul!
I researched travel speakers long and hard before buying a set to return to Thailand with. I tried the JBL OnTour speaker set but was disappointed with their sound, functionality and price tag. There are some pretty favorable reviews on Amazon however, many of them were written by hotel room listeners. If you read the negative reviews you’ll see the authors note poor sound quality and size issues whereas the negative reviews for the Altec Lansing inMotion discuss possible manufacturing defects and service issues.
Altec Lansing offers a wide range of travel speakers but only a few models fit my travel needs, the inMotion iM3 and the inMotion iM Mini. To my surprise, the iM Mini had better sound quality than it’s larger and younger brother, the iM3. The iM Mini was also smaller, better built and had an analogue volume control. After a side-by-side comparison, I even found the iM Mini to have deeper base than the iM3. The biggest turnoff about the iM3 was its feel, it was a bulky, hollow, plastic-y unit with a retracting protective cover mechanism that was way too complex. The spring mechanism would have broken within days.
It seemed counter intuitive to be buying the older, smaller, cheaper iM Mini - but there was no denying its superiority. Yes, the iM3 did come with a funky little remote control, but in my mind, that’s just one more breakable, lose-able thing I need to buy batteries for. I did try many more sets of travel speakers, but in the end it came down to either another set off Sony SRS T77’s, the JBL OnTour’s, the inMotion iM3’s or the inMotion Mini’s.