Altec Lansing has been a respected name in audio for going on 80 years now. From its storied beginning in film and professional audio, to its more recent line of computer speakers and iPhone docks, Altec has consistently put out innovative designs that have outperformed their size, and often, their competition. So when the company inevitably turned its focus to the world of portable Bluetooth devices with its new speaker, the Jacket (available at $130), there was reason to take notice.
Unfortunately, like a lot of products we test, e.g. the Ferrari Cavallino headphones which (astonishingly) weren’t made by meticulous Ferrari craftsmen, the Jacket is Altec Lansing in name only. Designed by Sakar International, the speaker shares only a logo with Altec Lansing’s core products. Wondering what kind of sound these surrogate developers had created for the Jacket, we decided to pull back the curtain. Here’s what we discovered.
Out of the box
Opening the lid of the Jacket’s thick cardboard box revealed an all-black polygon with matching mesh faces at the front and back, each indented with a trio of driver-sized octagons. A soft polymer sheath lined the exterior, with three buttons emitting from the top panel for power and volume adjustment and an Altec logo carved into the right panel. The Jacket gets its name from its available line of removable skins that pop over the speaker’s exterior, allowing it to morph its color pattern. We found a red skin in the bottom tier of the box, along with a DC charging cable and a 3.5mm Aux input cable.
Features and design
The Jacket is of a similar size and shape to most others in a massive field of competing Bluetooth speakers. But its elongated octagonal shape and ability to spice things up with a variety of available colors give the little speaker a bit of panache that stands out above the multitude of rectangular drones in the segment.
From the onset of our listening session, it was clear that the Jacket offered little midrange to speak of.
Beneath the Jacket’s front speaker screen are a pair of two-inch drivers at the left and right sides. We’d hoped from the triad of indentations that the Jacket was hiding three drivers, but the center octagon simply lends a sense of symmetry and a space for the speaker’s blue LED.
There aren’t a slew of features in the Jacket’s wheelhouse to marvel at, and it falls short in comparison to some of the next-gen Bluetooth speakers we’ve seen lately. Aside from its color changing ability (which was surprisingly hassle free), the Jacket’s primary features include an Aux input at the back, an onboard microphone for hands-free calling, and a middle-of-the-road 8 hour battery run-time. Firing the speaker up prompts a clear (and refreshingly un-robotic) woman’s voice which tells you the speaker is “powering on” and the unit immediately becomes available in your chosen device for pairing.
From the onset of our listening session, it was clear that the Jacket offered little midrange to speak of. It handled vocals pretty well, with a bright, forward presence, and the treble was clear and well detailed. But the low end was often M.I.A, and the speaker is cold and under-powered in the middle of the spectrum. At its best, the Jacket was smooth and lyrical up top, though relatively weak anywhere beneath about 2 kHz. At its worst, it was shrill and sibilant in the treble, creating ear fatigue rather quickly.
Our best experience came from older recordings with a solid layer of tape saturation. In fact, tracks from Zeppelin’s Four, and Physical Graffitti were downright pleasant. “Houses of the Holy” sounded particularly good, with restrained cymbal splashes that had a nice sustain, and a decent little crushed snare. The chorus-soaked electric guitars were thin, though not to the point of being troublesome, and the vocal was smooth and forward in the mix. However, even in this top example, we heard almost no bass guitar whatsoever and wished for more power in the mids.
Turning to other tracks, it was touch and go from song to song. Many times we would be enjoying a song, and then everything would get sabotaged by the high-frequency percussion sounds. This was particularly true with an old favorite, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot. The song was coming along fine when all of the sudden the snare and crash cymbals came in and ruined things. Every puffed, sharp snare hit was like the crack of a ruler next to our ears.
Every puffed, sharp snare hit was like the crack of a ruler next to our ears.
The trend continued as we explored the wide extent of our catalog. There were exceptions from tracks like R.E.M.’s “Can’t Get There From Here,” and The Decemberists’ “16 Military Wives,” which were moderately sizzle-y but not uncomfortably so. But the sharp snap of the upper percussion, and the desolation in the low range made the sonic experience decidedly mediocre.
On the bright side, the Jacket had a strong, error-free Bluetooth connection, as well as a seriously high max volume, with little to no inherent distortion. Of course, if you’re not digging the sound, turning it up isn’t going to help things all that much.
Altec Lansing’s Jacket offers clever design, hassle free pairing, and a lot of power for its size. However, its raspy sound signature and mediocre feature set simply weren’t enough to put it in serious contention in this increasingly competitive Bluetooth speaker market. We recommend checking out the Jlab Crasher, the Braven 600, or the Braven BRV-1 instead. For more suggestions you can also visit our Bluetooth Round-up. And as always, keep checking back with us as the Bluetooth mountain grows ever higher.
- Clear, detailed upper register
- Powerful sound without distortion
- Innovative aesthetic
- Weak midrange and bass response
- Sibilance issues
- Underwhelming feature set