The Altec Lansing T612 Digital Speaker System for iPhone was the first speaker dock to get “works with iPhone” approval from Apple, which means you can plunk your iPhone down and listen to music without having to worry about cellular interference or missing a call because it’s stuck in Airplane Mode. It also happens to be one best speaker docks we’ve had the privilege to look at. Its big sound, compact design, and beautiful aesthetics make the T612 one of our top choices for an iPhone speaker dock.

Description: As soon as I got the T612 out of its box, I immediately fell in love with its design. A band of aluminum wraps around the outside of the speaker dock, giving it a unique look. The speaker itself is angled back from bottom to top, which reflects the same tilt as the iPhone does once it’s seated in the dock. On top of the unit are five buttons for power, volume, bass, and treble. The front of the unit is made up of a black metal grille which covers the two 3″ full-range drivers, two 1″ silkdome tweeters, 5 blue indicator lights, and the IR remote receiver. Below the speaker is the iPhone/iPod dock itself.

On the back are three screw holes which can be used for mounting the speaker using the optional wall-mount kit. You’ll also find the DC-IN port, and a 1/8″ auxiliary input for connecting anything with a headphone jack.

Accompanying the T612 is a small infrared remote control. The remote provides the same power, volume, treble, and bass controls as the top of the unit does. Additionally, buttons for play/pause and next/previous tracks can also be found on the remote

Pros: The most obvious advantage to the T612 is that it fully supports the iPhone without requiring Airplane Mode to be engaged. Unapproved speaker systems suffer from audible cellular interference when used with the iPhone unless Airplane Mode is used. The disadvantage to Airplane Mode, among others, is that any incoming calls are automatically forwarded to voicemail. The T612 is shielded against cellular interference so that, while you’re listening to music, calls can come in as they normally would. The T612 also works with any iPod with a dock connector, thanks to Altec Lansing’s use of Apple’s Universal Dock insert model.

For an iPhone speaker, the T612′s performance is phenomenal. The T612 easily fills any medium-sized bedroom, office, or living room with a very rich sound. While using the speaker in my basement, my family upstairs heard it through the floor and assumed that I had cranked the home stereo system. You can imagine how surprised they were when I told them it was merely a little speaker dock.

The quality of the sound is especially good for a small iPod/iPhone speaker. Because the T612 uses full-range drivers and tweeters in combination, the audio is very clear. Sounds occupying the higher range of the audio spectrum come through well and aren’t overpowered by lower frequency sound. The low-end on this unit isn’t bad either. Although it doesn’t blast me out of my chair, it performs at quite an impressive level for not having a dedicated subwoofer. Thankfully, unlike some “made for iPod” speakers, the T612 isn’t very directional and sounds great from just about any angle. The front indicator lights are also very visible from nearly any angle.

In addition to the obvious volume and track controls, I was very pleased to learn that I could tweak the bass and treble right from the remote.

Cons: Although the T612 performs astonishingly well for an iPod speaker dock, it does have a few downsides. The biggest for me was the remote. Compared to my fantastic little Apple Remote which I use to control my MacBook and Apple TV, the T612′s remote is absolutely awful. In order to be effective at controlling the unit, you need to point the remote directly at the center of the speaker dock. If you’re successful at getting the T612 to respond to the remote, it’s great. You can play/pause and control volume, treble, and bass, but you can’t navigate the iPod app as you can with some other remotes.

The other significant complaint I have about the T612 is its low-end performance. Like most speaker docks out there, the T612 doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer. Instead, it makes use of two full-range drivers in place of a ‘woofer. For the most part, this works great – until you crank the volume. At some point, depending on the amount of bass in any particular song, you’ll start getting bass distortions. My first low-end test led me to play Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games” which features a great bass line. To my surprise, I didn’t get a whole lot of distortion until I pushed the unit far past the point of comfort. However, with Radiohead’s “Nude”, the T612 started distorting as soon as the bass came in. Lowering the volume or using the bass controls to knock down some of the low-end will do the trick, but the low-end distortion is too significant to ignore, especially since the dock costs $200.

Bottom line: Altec Lansing’s combination of appealing aesthetics, booming clear sound, and near-perfect integration with the iPhone make this the speaker dock we can’t ignore. It sounds great in almost any location with just about any sort of music you can think of. Low-end distortion is a significant problem with some music, but it can be easily tweaked away. The remote is my only huge complaint. It works well, but only if you can get a clear shot at the speaker. Considering the remotes on many other units we’ve seen don’t fare so well either, we can’t be too hard on Altec Lansing, especially since it works some of the time.

The T612 by Altec Lansing is available in Apple Stores for $199.95. More information and specifications are available at alteclansing.com.

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