Years ago, I had the Altec Lansing iMT800 MIX BoomBox and absolutely loved it. I eventually gave it to one of my sons as I upgraded my speakers, but I still have a soft spot in my heart (head?) for that monster—and it was a monster! However, with the popularity of Bluetooth and convenience trumping audio quality, the great-sounding iPod dock-based boomboxes of just a few years ago have all but disappeared—as did Altec Lansing itself. Today, Altec Lansing has returned or at least the name has. The new Altec Lansing has taken a decidedly different approach to speakers and the Life Jacket portable wireless Bluetooth speaker is one of the results.
Altec Lansing used to be a name which meant quality—if sometimes—quirky audio products. Now, their range of speakers look like me-too products trying to grab onto a bit of market share. Other than a bright aqua and black color combination and a great IPX7 waterproof rating, the Life Jacket Bluetooth speaker has little going for it.
The outer shell is somewhat attractive and not as weird looking as those older Altec Lansing products. It’s divided into three sections with two forward-firing speakers at each end. In the center at the back is the bass speaker. The speakers hide behind a black, metal grill embedded into the shell.
The rubberized shell is definitely tough. The Life Jacket speaker can be dropped repeatedly and remain undamaged except for maybe some scuff marks. It will withstand all kinds of water, dirt, snow and general muck easily. All necessary ports are kept clean and dry by a tight-fitting rubber flap thats easy to open and close.
There are just three buttons to deal with on the Life Jacket speaker. On/Off, Volume up and Volume down sit on top of the speaker and are hidden under the rubber shell with aqua markings. There is no Bluetooth button because once turned on, the Life Jacket speaker instantly tries to connect to the nearest device. Once you tell your device you want to connect, it happens automatically and flawlessly. For some strange reason the speaker shows up in the Bluetooth listing as IMW575 instead of Life Jacket or something that makes sense. If you have a long list of Bluetooth devices as I do, it could be easily overlooked.
To disconnect the pairing, just hold both volume buttons for 2 seconds. There is also a hands-off NFC option for non-iPhone Bluetooth devices equipped with NFC.
Included in the package are a mini plug cable for a hard-wired connection and a mini USB to USB cable for charging. There’s is a standard USB port at the back for charging a smartphone—always a nice touch which probably won’t have much effect on its 16-hour battery.
On the surface, the Life Jacket speaker is a winner. Along with impressive battery life, it has decent—if not exciting—looks and is built for punishment … until you turn it on.
One of the things that did not carry over from the Altec Lansing legacy is audio quality. The Life Jacket speaker misses the mark compared to similar speakers. The smaller and better-sounding Fugoo speakers and Braven BRV-X blow this out of the water (pun intended). Plus, the Life Jacket speaker costs $150—not cheap. If it sold for $75-$100, I would be much more charitable.
The audio from the Life Jacket speaker sounds shallow and lacks defined bass. Oh, bass is there, but that’s the problem—it’s just there. The speaker sounds like a half-way decent AM radio which, unfortunately, isn’t saying much. Music lacks emotion and any aural presence is just un-involving.
I will say that talk radio sounds great, but you don’t spend $150 bucks to listen to talk radio. Well, maybe some people would, but that’s another story.
As disappointing as the audio was, call quality was worse. Broken-up call audio combined with the person on the other end complaining about not hearing or understanding me very well did not result in a pleasant call. I eventually had to switch to a less expensive speaker to successfully finish the call.
I really wanted to like the Altec Lansing Life Jacket Bluetooth speaker because it could be a perfect solution while doing yard work, washing the dog and other messy chores. Unfortunately, aside from talk radio, I can’t recommend this speaker.
Now, to find that station Rush is on…
Source: The sample for this review was provided by Altec Lansing. Please visit www.alteclansing.com for more info.