The company calls the 650’s design wedge-shaped - it’s 13 inches wide, 6 inches tall, and between 2 inches and 6 inches deep, with the deepest part right in the middle - but to my eye, it looks more like an anvil turned on its side. The body of the Octiv 650 is made of black plastic, with the face of the unit covered in black mesh fabric.
Along the top of the Altec Lansing Octiv 650 sit six buttons: On/Off, Volume Down, Volume Up, Bass, Treble, and Video. To adjust the Octiv 650’s bass or treble level, you use the volume controls while holding down the Bass or Treble button, respectively. A blue LED on the face of the unit, just below those buttons, glows solidly when the system is on, replaced by a five-segment indicator when you adjust volume or audio levels.
The included remote - which measures about 4 inches long by 1.7 inches wide - offers many more controls. In addition to On/Off, Mute, Volume Up, and Volume Down, there are devoted buttons for Play/Pause, Previous, Next, Bass Up, Bass Down, Treble Up, and Treble Down. There are also three directional (Up, Down, and Back) menu buttons, paired with a Select button, that let you navigate the menus of your iPod or the iOS iPod or Music app. Finally, there are six buttons for selecting different EQ presets: Flat, Rock, Hip Hop, Pop, Altec EQ (apparently a variation on Rock), and Custom (more on this last one below). The remote is packed with enough identically-shaped controls that it's a bit difficult to use by feel alone, although I suppose you'll eventually memorize the locations of the most-commonly used buttons.
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Altec Lansing also offers a custom iOS app, Music Mood, that you can use in conjunction with the Octiv 650 for general music playback along with a host of other options. The app lets you choose a preset EQ setting, or adjust bass and treble levels, but it also provides a 7-band graphical equalizer. You can also use the app to create a custom EQ configuration and save it to the Octiv 650; you then access this setting using the Custom button on the remote. (The app can also generate “nature” sounds and video.) After playing around with the Altec Lansing app, however, I chose to stick with iOS's stock iPod and Music apps for basic music playback - the Music Mood app crashed on occasion, while Apple's apps never have for me.
The front of the Octiv 650 hosts the obligatory iPhone/iPod dock, although it's one that uses a custom design rather than Apple’s Universal Dock design. In my testing, it fit an iPhone and an iPod touch equally well without the need for any kind of adapter.
On the rear of the unit are the jack for the included AC adapter; a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) line-in jack for connecting an additional audio source; and a video-output jack for watching iPhone- or iPod-hosted video on a TV. This video output is actually a dual-function RCA jack that can output both composite and component video (both at standard definition); you’ll need to provide your own cables, however. The video-out feature worked fine in my testing, but given that the Octiv 650 is a bit bulky (and, at six pounds, heavy) for travel, it’s a feature you’ll likely use only if you set up the 650 as part of an “entertainment center” at home.
That said, while the Octiv 650 can’t compete with my home-entertainment center in terms of sound quality or volume, the 650 generates impressive audio. The system’s left and right 3-inch drivers, paired with a single, 4-inch, down-firing subwoofer, combine for solid audio performance. Bass presence is particularly impressive, given the unit’s relatively small size. In fact, that subwoofer generates enough oomph—even at the flat EQ setting—that I felt the need to dial down the bass on some songs. Most of the time, however, the Octiv 650 offers strong performance across the frequency range. The only notable exception was that when I cranked the unit up to its maximum volume, I frequently heard distortion. But at normal listening volumes, and even loud-but-not-cranked volumes, audio was clear.