Altec Services maintained the very first movie sound systems back in the 1920s. And the Lansing Manufacturing Company made loudspeakers as early as 1927, then was bought by Altec in 1941, with Mr Lansing leaving five years later to become the ‘L’ in JBL. These days Altec Lansing is more a ‘brand’ than a company, operating under equity investors in New York: Infinity Lifestyle Brands.
We suspect those early founders would marvel at the XPEDITION 8. It has twin eight-inch woofers that light up and flash. Bluetooth sends music to it wirelessly. It has a ‘Beast’ mode, and strobe lights. Yank the power cord and it can continue playing on batteries for a quoted 24 hours of playback, depending on how loud and how flashily you choose to use it.
And good heavens, it is big. Despite seeing pictures of the XPEDITION 8 prior to its arrival, its 70cm width and 11kg weight were a surprise. Yet it’s waterproof to IPX67, which means good to one metre depth for 30 minutes. Not that it will stay at that depth because it’s designed to float, and in a position where the drivers are free to play.
On land, horizontal, it resembles an on-stage foldback monitor. Vertically it just looks like a bloomin’ great speaker. Press ‘Lights’ and the cones and surrounds illuminate with three choices of flashing modes plus our favourite of ‘always on but shifting shades’ between red, purple, blue, green, ice white and yellow. Press ‘Strobe’ and strong white LED lights at the side pulse. The segments around the central knob illuminate in red as you crank the level. We like that.
Used inside, casual listening levels reached barely a quarter of those knob segments for our Bluetooth-connected iPhone. The intro to Walk On The Wild Side sounded nice, with strong sliding bass, guitar jangly and unusually clear. When the vocal arrived, it had powerful cut-through, but was thinned and edgy. The high string note opening the last verse was piercing rather than sweet, the sax solo too reedy and peaky.
We listen to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Live in London’ vocal as a challenge for speakers to combine the depth and the rasp into a single image. The Altec achieved that well, though again those sibilants were edgy.
We’d thought the ‘Beast’ button might simply flood the bass frequencies, but it actually served to soften the edginess as well as beef up the bass, so that the best balance was not a permanent preference but rather varied with the material. Too thin? Beast on! Bit muddy? Beast off! Either way, when turning it up, the XPEDITION 8 could maintain a musical balance overall. It grabbed bass lines and presented them strongly and not too flabbily either, although it didn’t pick up the lowest notes on Neil Young’s Walk With Me (in the 30s of hertz) despite its size, and even with the Beast engaged. And more problematically that edgy midrange became increasingly accentuated under pressure. The impulse is to turn it down, when surely you’re supposed to crank it up! It was hard to reconcile the shriek around the vocal range with the unit’s ability to deliver higher levels of volume.
It’s perhaps unfair to criticise the XPEDITION 8’s performance when it’s air-shifting volumes that none of the other price-comparable speakers are remotely physically capable of shifting. With three tweeters, the two woofers and also passive radiators at the rear, this speaker of course sounds bigger and more room-filling than smaller units at the price. But used inside we found it unpleasant-sounding at any level.
Outside, though, on battery power, that edge does deliver cut-through over distance. So non-critical music delivery al fresco is more its metier. Indeed we note that another XPEDITION model at the same price, the ‘Lightning’, offers an active PA speaker on a stand with 15-inch woofer and horn speaker (and yes, flashing lights). As with the XPEDITION 8 you can wirelessly link up two Lightnings to make a stereo pair.
But the XPEDITION 8 adds portability, the grab handles, the water-proofing (just make sure the rear compartment is sealed and twisted shut). We can envisage endless al fresco uses, from sports training to pool party.
And who cares about a shrieky vocal when you’re riding an inflatable dolphin?