Tuesday, February 11th 2020

Quick Look: Altec Lansing Nano Pods

What do you do when you come back from CES with swag galore? More often than not, you leave it in your hotel room for the hotel staff to enjoy, because there is only so much you can fit in your luggage. But this year, it seemed to be the year of audio, and the year of True Wireless buds to be more specific. Perhaps it was again Apple that started the trend, with their Airpods and the removal of the previously-ubiquitous 3.5 mm audio jack on phone creating another venue of cash income for audio companies, and also phone makers. We've seen quite a few companies jump aboard this train to various degrees of success, and we will cover some of them in our Quick Look format that we debuted with the HyperX replacement keycaps . What better way to begin than via a $29.99 set of true wireless earpods from Altec Lansing?

Yeah, you read that right. We received two sets of these, in different colors, for visiting the company at CES. They had a plethora of gaming products to show off as part of a new business unit launching this year, and these Nano Pods are part of their TWS (true wireless) earphone lineup. There were three other entries debuting at the trade show, all of which were more expensive too, but no doubt these colorful, inexpensive earphones were what I wanted to start this series with. Read past the break for our quick thoughts and comments on the Altec Lansing Nano Pods!
The compact MZX559 Nano Pods from Altec Lansing are claimed to be the world's smallest TWS earphones by the company, and they are colorful with six finishes to choose from. The earphones come packaged inside the carry case, which also doubles as a battery charger as tends to be the case with these TWS solutions, and we get them in a plastic wrap only. This is no doubt where the company saves money, which in turn helps keep the price point low. The mint green version above is functionally identical to the others, with a soft touch finish and the Altec Lansing logo on the top of the rounded case. There are four indicator LEDs on the side in a white accent trim, which show the battery status of the case (550 mAh total), but also when it is charging the earbuds via a blinking light. On the back are certification and technical specs, which also tells us the earbuds themselves have a 50 mAh battery each, so the case can charge them another 4-5 times. Charging happens via a USB Type-C port on the case with a max charging rate of 2.75 W (5 V, 550 mA) for some slow, slow charging. The quick start guide suggests the retail packaging may come with a cable included.
A crevice in the case helps open it to reveal color-coordinated compact earbuds inside. They may well be the smallest such TWS earphones, but I've also seen others at the trade show that may compete for that title. The earbuds have a glossy plastic construction which feels fine, especially considering the asking price, and have more Altec Lansing logos on them just in case you decide to be a free ad for the company. They are held in place via magnetic pins which also enable charging, and the less-than-100% efficient charging here means you are more likely to get 4 charges out of the case than the potential five. You do not get different ear tips to choose from, and the default medium size is one you best hope works out, just in case the retail version does not come with different sets. For what it is worth, the quick start guide does suggest the inclusion of small, medium, and large size tips. The default medium ones did work decent enough for me and my colleague at CES, but that does not really say much without knowing the shape and size of our ear canals.

The rated battery life is 4 hours, and they did come close to 4 more often than not, with an average of 3 hr 40 min across ten separate use cycles. Battery life no doubt depends on the volume the drivers have to output, and your mileage may vary. The Nano Pods connect via Bluetooth 4.0 with a rated wireless range of up to 50', so again in theory you could leave your phone in a gym locker and then go work out. It is good then that these are also rated for IPX5 water resistance, so you are good to go with sweat. Indeed, I've used these in the gym myself without issues. The bigger deal, however, is that the audio output is just.. okay at best? My colleague reported audio crackling from time to time, and I often found the two earbuds out of sync for a few seconds each time, which in turn caused a stereo audio signal to be attempted to come out of one earpod and then another at varying volume levels. The audio signature is also marginally acceptable, with a decent bass output but nothing to write home about when it comes to the mids and highs. Vocals were an especially weak point here, and again I had to keep reminding myself these are $30 TWS earpods.
What is impressive is there is still some form of touch control implementation here at all. The outer surface of the earpods have a touch sensor, and they also pair/unpair automatically to a previously paired device when taken out of the case or put back in. A manual reset did also help with the audio desync issue for now, and the soft touch controls on both the left and right buds allows for volume and media control, and often better than some of the more expensive such TWS earbuds I also took back with me from CES. Support for the voice assistant (Siri or Google Assistant) is nice as well, but do not use these as a replacement for a headset. If the audio from the drivers was mediocre at best, the microphones are even worse. This is a general issue across the vast majority of these devices, but the Altec Lansing Nano Pods make the rest look better in this regard. Still, for $30 and a release in different colors coming this spring, these will make for excellent gifts without breaking the bank, and even as a gateway into the TWS world.
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8 Comments on Quick Look: Altec Lansing Nano Pods

#1
Chomiq
It's like one Chinese OEM made their "true wireless" housing and we see these rebrands pop up.
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#2
MDWiley
Altec Listening Nano Pods*
Remember kids: In an age where personal data is worth more than oil, you’re not the customer, you’re the product!
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#4
VSG
Editor, Reviews & News
DeathtoGnomes
Wow Altec Lansing is still around?
Not only are they still around, they are debuting new product lines too!
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#5
DeathtoGnomes
my first 4.1 was, ummm, AC43? 45? bought it in late '98. It partially failed 2 years ago, the volume suddenly went full blast one day and could not be controlled with the knob. Its sitting in the bottom of the closet now. Looking forward to seeing what they come up with.
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#6
bobbybluz
Altec should make some mini A7 VOTT's for a computer sound system.
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#7
FreedomEclipse
~Technological Technocrat~
DeathtoGnomes
Wow Altec Lansing is still around?
VSG
Not only are they still around, they are debuting new product lines too!
They arent quite the same company they were back in the 80s & 90s, when they were the buzzword for premium audio and PC desktop speakers....

Like id try to explain it but i spent 20mins trying to break down their wiki page into chronological events but my brain error 404'd so heres all you really need to know...
Altec Lansing Corporation produced professional audio products until 1995, when Telex Communications, who had purchased Altec Lansing's parent company, EVI Audio, Inc., in 1997, consolidated all of their electronics manufacturing facilities into one location in Minnesota.


Post-1996[edit]
In 1996, Altec Lansing Technologies Multimedia established an R&D center in Kfar Saba, Israel. The center, known as ALST Technical Excellence Center, cooperate with STMicroelectronics (ALST = Altec Lansing + STMicro) and focused on advanced multimedia technologies such as USB audio, surround sound and wireless audio as well as on handheld video. The center was closed in 2001 and the development activities moved to the Milford headquarters.[13] In May 2000, Altec Lansing's Professional division was closed by Telex and the Altec Lansing was later sold to Sparkomatic and renamed Altec Lansing Technologies.[14] The Altec Lansing Professional line was relaunched in April 2002 by Altec Lansing Technologies using a few former executives and sound engineers of the old Oklahoma City-based Altec Lansing Corporation, bringing Altec's professional and consumer products under the same roof for the first time since 1986. The company later dropped the professional audio products and Altec Lansing Professional's Oklahoma City offices were closed in late 2006 and all remaining activities relocated to the headquarters in Milford, Pennsylvania.[citation needed]



On 30 April 2001 Altec Lansing Technologies launched their first line of headphones named as the AHP series. This series of headphones had various different designs and price ranges.[15] In February 2004, Altec Lansing Technologies reissued a number of loudspeakers starting with the A7 Voice of the Theatre, manufactured in the US with some changes to the enclosure. Similarly, Altec Lansing Technologies reissued the 510, 508 and 305 loudspeakers.[16] Very few were actually made. On July 11, 2005, Altec Lansing Technologies announced that it was to be acquired by Plantronics for approximately $166 million.[17] On September 10, 2008, Altec Lansing Technologies went through a corporate makeover changing its name to Altec Lansing LLC and its logo from a "whirlpool" to an abstraction of a multi-cellular horn.[18]

On 1 October 2009 Altec Lansing LLC announced that it was to be acquired by Prophet Equity for approximately 18 million dollars.[19] In July 2011, Altec Lansing LLC announced the opening of new West Coast headquarters in San Diego, California. Brendon Stead joined as Vice President of Product Management and Engineering. Stead was formerly the General Manager and Vice President of Harman International and Labtec.[20] On October 18, 2012, The Infinity Group bought Altec Lansing for $17.5 million at auction thus saving the company from bankruptcy. Infinity specializes in acquiring and turning around struggling or bankrupt consumer brands.[8]
All i can say is it sounds like they were super badly mismanaged or outright ignored by their parent company and because the company kept on being bought and sold so many times. I think staff just gave up because they didnt know if they were gonna be in the same job a month down the line.

I guess management didnt care, Staff didnt care. parent company didnt care and Altec Lansing never regained their foothold on the audio market.

Their last owner and current owner are private equity firms - which should tell you a lot about the products that Altec are releasing. Rather than dreaming big and taking the brand to higher places, they are sticking with the boring tried and test route....

You can read more about Altec Lansing here -- they seemed to have really fallen from grace because of bad decisions by management to close down departments and being owned by private equity/investment companies that know/care nothing about the products and only the brand that used to mean something.

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It would be amazing if Altec to retake back their former glory and start doing high-end audio equipment like Audiophile headphones, Amps/DACs, bookshelf speakers and studio monitor speakers etc etc. While the market is quite competitive and there are a load of audio dinosaurs from Japan, Taiwan, Germany & USA still rolling around. There is always room for more
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#8
bobbybluz
Sadly Altec's glory days ended when the company was sold (again) and they quit producing speakers like the Model 19 and their professional speakers. Telex bought the company, didn't know what to do with it and sold it to an even more clueless group of investors. Telex also bought Electro Voice and nearly ruined it as well before Bosch bought it and only continued their professional audio division. Altec, JBL and EV were the big three in Pro audio up to the mid-70's. Altec floundered due to mismanagement. EV stopped producing things for consumer audio and JBL was able to stay in both consumer and pro audio through a skilled marketing team. A friend headed up JBL's consumer marketing at one time. I'm still in regular contact with him as well as former management and engineers from EV prior to them leaving Buchanan, Michigan after the sale to Telex. Harman International owns nearly all of the big audio brand names now.
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