Altec Lansing is an American electronics company out of California that became big in the 1960’s and 1970’s for providing sound equipment to both cinemas and concert venues, including the Woodstock music festival. Today, in addition to making products for music and movie theatres, they have expanded into making home sound equipment.

I had the opportunity to try five different portable speakers from Altec Lansing, which ranged from smaller travelling speakers to bigger soundbar style speakers. All of these speakers can be connected to your Apple or Android phone, mp3 player, laptop or tablet via Bluetooth or auxiliary cable. In addition, once connected via Bluetooth, all these speakers (except the XL Soundblade) can be used as a speakerphone: when there is an incoming call, the call can be answered by pressing the phone button once and rejected by holding down the phone button. As mentioned above, all of these products can also be connect to your electronic device via an auxiliary (AUX) cable.

However, though all the speakers have some similarities, they all differ in terms of sound quality, battery life and ease of overall use, so I will break down each speaker individually:

The Orbit Mobile Bluetooth Speaker:

Overall Look: The Orbit Mobile Bluetooth Speaker is the smallest one of the bunch. Its compact, round style makes it the perfect travelling speaker! It has a loop at the top of the speaker that hooks onto an included carabineer, making it easy to hook onto a camping backpack or beach bag. It also comes with a felt pouch to protect it when not in use.

Battery Life: It’s a personal pet peeve of mine, but I didn’t like that itscharger didn’t come with a wall plug. It also has the shortest battery life of any Altec speaker, at only 5 hours of battery life. However, this is quite good when I compare this to some other small speakers I’ve tried that only last 2 or 3 hours. There is an advantage of a short battery life, as it only took an hour to fully charge.

Connectivity: When I was testing it, it was one of the quickest to connect. The Bluetooth network on iPod quickly found the speaker and paired instantly. I also found that this speaker was the quickest and easiest to re-connect once originally paired. I didn’t even have to select it on my iPod’s Bluetooth network again, it just reconnected on its own and began playing.  However, I found that the Bluetooth connectivity cut in and out when the speaker was more than a few feet away from my iPod. This speaker didn’t come with an auxiliary cable, but it does have the capability. When connecting my iPod via AUX, I found that there was some crackling when plugging it in.

Sound Quality: The sound quality was quite good compared to other smaller portable speakers I’ve tried in the past, but the Orbit faltered with high volume and big bass. As the volume got to the max, the sound became tinny and echoed and when I tried the speaker with some big bass hip hop, I found that the Orbit sound started to ra
ttle even at normal volumes. This sound quality was also reflected when I used the speakerphone feature. The caller could hear me fine, but their voice was often crackly.

The Jacket Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker:

Overall Look: This octagon shaped speaker is slightly bigger than the Orbit, but still small enough to make it perfect for travelling, camping or the beach. It also comes with 2 outer silicone “jackets” or covers so you can change the colour of the speaker from black to red. I love the octagon shape of this speaker, it is a unique look to Altec Lansing.

Battery Life: Unlike the Orbit, this speaker came with a wall charger. Once charged, this speaker lasts a max of eight hours. However, it is interesting to note that speaker battery life depends on what connection you’re using. When I connected my iPod to all the speakers via Bluetooth, I found that the battery on my iPod quickly depleted and the speaker battery was not as affected, whereas when I connected my iPod with the AUX cable, my iPod battery barely changed because most of the battery power was being drawn from the speaker.

Connectivity: Similar to the Orbit, I was easily able to connect my iPod via Bluetooth, but again I found the connection cut in and out if my iPod moved too far away from the speaker. There was also crackling whenever my iPod moved when it was connected via AUX, which made it frustrating when I wanted to pick it up to change songs.

Sound Quality: I normally find that speakers that sit on their side tend to have better sound quality and this is the case when comparing the sound quality of the Orbit and the Jacket. Like the Orbit I found that the sound did become tinny at higher volumes. In heavier hip hop songs, the rubber jacket and side position of the speaker was able to absorb the bass
notes, decreasing the rattle. I also found that the rubber jacket absorbed some of the crackles when using the speakerphone feature, but the sound was still not as clear as I would have liked.

The XL Jacket Portable Bluetooth Speaker with Surround Sound:

Overall Look: The XL Jacket looks like the big brother of The Jacket – same octagon look, same red and black rubber jacket options, but about twice the size and a few more features. However, though this is bigger than the Jacket, this is still small enough to be a great option for the beach or camping.

Battery Life: This speaker has 10 hours of battery life, which makes it tied with the In Motion speaker for the most battery life.

USB Port: The XL Jacket is the ability to charge your device via USB. This could be a life-saver if you’re camping, as it allows you to steal battery from your speaker to charge your phone! What I didn’t like about this was that you couldn’t play music when your device was attached by USB. The XL Jacket specifically also didn’t charge my older iPod, which is another pet peeve of mine!

Connectivity: Like the smaller Jacket, I had no problem connecting to this speaker with my iPod via both Bluetooth and AUX cable. In addition, the XL Jacket also allows you to connect to the speaker using Near Field Communication (NFC). I loved this feature, because after enabling the NFC connectivity on my phone, all I had to do was tap my phone once on the NFC area of the speaker. This turned on my Bluetooth and paired the devices. To disconnect, I just had to tap the NFC area again. Once connected via Bluetooth or NFC, this speaker gave me a lot more freedom in where I went with my audio device. I was able to move out of sight from the speaker for a few feet before the connection began to cut out.

3D Surround Sound: An additional feature that is unique to the XL Jacket is the 3D Surround Sound feature. By pressing the 3D button on the top of the speaker, you can change your sound to surround sound. I honestly couldn’t really tell the difference when the surround sound was on, unless I was at high volumes. Even then, it didn’t consistently make a difference to the sound of each song. I could tell during some hip-hop or heavier rock songs, but not in many acoustic or softer songs.

Sound Quality: As speakers get bigger, the sound traditionally becomes higher quality. Compared to the other four speakers I tried, I found the XL Jacket fell in the middle in terms of sound quality. Compared to the smaller speakers, the XL Jacket kept the sound much more crisp overall, but began to crackle at the highest volume. Again, in bigger bass songs, the XL Jacket co
uld handle it at normal range volumes, but rattled as I continued to increase the volume.

The XL Soundblade Portable Bluetooth Speaker:

Overall look: This is the only one with a more classic soundbar look. I also loved the matte black finish on this speaker, it gave it a classy look that would blend into any room in your house. Though it is portable, I don’t think this would be easy to cart around but it would be perfect for your deck or backyard.

Battery Life: Of the bigger speakers, the XL Soundblade had the lowest battery life, at a max of 7 hours. This is most likely due to its bigger size. What I found weird about this speaker was the fact that it would not power on and therefore play music when it was charging. This seemed silly to me because charging your speaker shouldn’t stop you from playing your music!

Additional features: Like the XL Jacket, this speaker will also charge your device via USB, although again this speaker did not charge my old iPod. In addition, this speaker also allows you to control your device from the speaker. It has a play/pause button and a track skip button. I loved this feature because I didn’t feel like I had to keep my iPod or phone with me at all times and could control the track and volume on the speaker instead. However, you couldn’t control the device when it was plugged in via AUX cable which I didn’t like. Though this speaker has many unique features, this speaker was the only one that did not offer the speakerphone feature.

Connection: This speaker allows you access it via Bluetooth, auxiliary cable and NFC. The connection range was also the largest with this speaker. Though it claims to not be able to do this, I was able to be out of sight from the speaker without affecting the connection strength. This allowed me to move in and out of the room with my phone while still being able to have my music playing! This speaker also had the least amount of crackle when connecting via
AUX cable.

Sound quality: This speaker had by far the best sound. The sound had a consistent depth to it that I didn’t hear with any other speaker. It was able to absorb and handle max volumes and heavier bass, while maintaining a crisp sound.

The In Motion Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker:

Overall Look: This one had the most unique look of all the speakers. It has a tower design that allows you put it on its side or standing on its end. This vertical style gives it the versatility to fit in smaller rooms. It also has the smoothest look of all the speakers, with round edges and a matte black finish. However, for being one of the bigger speakers in the group, I was surprised it didn’t have any of the additional features I saw in the XL Jacket and XL Soundblade.

Battery Life: Like the XL Jacket, this speaker can last a max of 10 hours without being charged. Like the other big speakers from Altec Lansing, you can charge your device using the USB port. This speaker was also the only one that charged my older iPod!

Connection: This was the only speaker that I had trouble connecting to. I had to refresh my available Bluetooth networks multiple times before the speaker showed up. I had less trouble when connecting via NFC. Once it was connected though I was able to move out of sight of the speaker without losing the connection. When connecting the speaker via AUX, I didn’t like the placement of AUX port. It is at one of the ends of the speaker and I found that when it was on its side, the AUX cable provided was too short to really give me much space to hold my iPod and change the tracks without wiggling the cable port and causing some crackles. When it was vertical though, I could easy fiddle with my iPod and then perch the iPod on top of the speaker.

Sound Quality: I found the sound quality was better when the speaker was on its side compared to when it was vertical. When it was on its side, the feet on the bottom of the speaker was able to absorb more of the bass. When it was vertical, the sound was not as full and became crackly at high volumes and bigger bass. However, I did find this speaker had the best speakerphone sound quality.

All in all, Altec Lansing offers a wide range of portable speakers. The Orbit and the Jacket are small and compact, making them perfect for travelling or slipping into your backpack for a day trip. The XL Jacket, the XL Soundblade and the In Motion speakers give consistently crisp sound, even at higher volumes, and their unique but understated styles will fit into any room in your house!

Lucy Woodhead
My focus is to discuss tech products that are trendy and in demand amongst the younger generation. Over the years I have reviewed, compared and wrote about a wide variety of products, including headphones, speakers, sound docks, iPods and mp3 players. With Best Buy’s launch of VIVA and Home & Lifestyle, I have had the opportunity to expand my focus to include a younger person’s perspective on many of these great products as well!