Altec Lansing Zune Speaker Dock
Altec Lansing's Zune speaker dock works with the first and second generation Zunes. It's identical to the iPod version in every way except for the USB docking connection.
The dock ships with a universal AV wire and a plastic stand which allow the dock to work with non-Zune players of all shapes and sizes. The remote control powers the dock on/off and also can control volume, basss/treble response, and track advancement. Unlike the official first party remote, it is not magnetic.
A powerbrick comes with the power cable and is labeled as a 18 Watt DC power source which seems to contradict the 60 Watt power rating advertised on the Altec Lansing's website.
The M604 dock features a yellow video output jack for showing Zune movies on a television. The rear panel also has a headphone jack, auxiliary input, and a USB port for syncing the Zune while docked. It should be noted that in order to actually listen to the Zune the USB cable must be unplugged.
Controls for power, volume, bass and treble are avialbe on the top of the unit.
The enclosure is made of plastic exept for the front griille which is metal with a black coating.
Five green LED lights appear temporarily when the volume, bass, and treble are being adjusted. As the volume is increased more and more lights turn on from left to right, but they do not stay on or "dance" to the music being played.
The dock itself has a modern attractive shape and boasts a pair of 1" tweeters and 3" drivers. Unfortunately there is not a powered bass speaker that si commonly found in Altec Lansing's 2.1 channel PC speaker systems. The small size (14" wide by 8.2"by 5.4" deep) of the dock allows it to be easily placed on a bookshelf or countertop. A seperate wall mounting kit is also available from the manufacturer and would probably look nice below a wall mounted plasma TV.
Now for the critical part, how does the speaker system sound? We tested the device with several different genres of music to get a feel for the unit's clarity and response at various ranges. The sound quality was somewhat dependent on the volume level being used. At low to medium volumes the quality is nice considering the size and available power. At higher volumes distortion ruins the experience, especially at the mid and lower frequencies. The device will not compete against a reasonable set of 3 piece PC speakers, but is on par with a decent 2 piece system. Some bass response is audible but not really proportional to the rest of the frequencies. There is only so much that can be done with a 3" driver.
It's not fair to compare Altec's M604 speakers to a larger more expensive system, but currently there are only two Zune speaker docks on the market and so a comparison cannot be avoided.
Side by side the $500 Octavio dock is much larger and heavier than the $200 Altec Lansing M604.
We tested the sound of the systems side by side in an attempt to quantify the difference in audio output. Unfortunately after spending some time with the system, Altec's dock left us missing the the more powerful bass and sound imaging of the Octavio. Some may ask if the difference in sound is worth the $300 price differential. The answer is easy depending on how you listen to music. For those seeking "background" music while doing things around the house the Altec speakers are more than sufficient. Consumers interested in an inspiring listening experience will need more than what the unit has to offer. For example, a set of Altec Lansing PC speakers for half the price of the dock will definitely outperform it.
In conclusion the M604 dock is a welcome member of the Zune accessory club. It's a super convenient way to charge, sync, and listen to the Zune. Aesthetically the dock looks great in any room with it's silver/black finish and sleek styling. The sound quality is good at lower volumes and the footprint allows it to be placed in any room in the house. The M604 has a niche as the lowest price Zune dock on the market and comes from the very reputable Altec Lansing brand.
UPDATE: Photos of the Zune 80 and Zune 4 have been added to this review. By popping out the insert they will work with the dock.