The Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System for Zune Review

One of the first things I realized after getting my Zune was that although listening to it through a premium set of earphones was nice, there were going to be plenty of times when I wouldn’t want to hear my music that way. Times when I would want to hear it playing over a better sounding system than the craptastic speakers on my laptop. Figuring out how I was going to accomplish this became my goal, because the fact of the matter is that there is a certain other digital music player that currently enjoys most of the after-market accessory love from all of the premium music dock companies. That’s why I was very interested when I saw the announcement that Altec Lansing – one of those premier music dock companies – would be producing a M604 Powered Audio System specifically for the Microsoft Zune.

It was with eager anticipation that I opened the box once it arrived…

Inside the bubble wrap was the large box containing the speaker system…

The quick start guide is printed on the box’s flaps, which should give an idea of how easy the set-up would be.

Inside are the carefully wrapped goodies…

…the box includes the M604, the power cable, the power brick, a remote control, a 3.5mm stereo adapter, a universal digital audio player (DAP) holder, a user’s guide and the warranty card.

The M604 is composed of a brushed silver metal frame, which holds the dual sets of speakers (two 3″ drivers and two 1″ tweeters) covered by a matte black, mesh metal panel. The base is steadied with a plastic Zune dock made of heavy black plastic.

There are two instances of branding on the front of the speaker system: the Altec Lansing swirl is in the middle of the mesh, and the brand spelled out on the base of the Zune dock. The speaker system measures approximately 13.75″ long x 8.25″ tall x 6″ at the widest point of the base, and it weighs a bit over five pounds.

The back of the system has three screws which can be removed in order to install the optional wall mounting kit, which is $3 plus shipping and handling.

There are ports on the rear for headphones, the power plug, AUX (which can be used to connect to a laptop or desktop PC), mini USB for syncing the Zune a desktop PC or laptop, and a composite A/V cable for the “pass-through video feature” when using the speakers with a monitor or a television for video playback.

There are four buttons on the top of the dock: power, “-“, “+”, Bass and Treble. The negative and positive buttons control the volume unless the Bass or Treble button is pressed first; at that point they will control the increase or decrease of the desired output.

The base of the system is balanced between the jutting dock on the front and the rear facing feet; all are lined in non-slipping and non-marring rubber, and the effect is visually appealing stability.

The Zune slides snugly into the front cradle, which means it must be removed from any case it might have been wearing. The included universal cradle, which is really more of a tray, can be laid over the dock to hold other players or even the Zune when laying on its side for video playback.

When the Zune is plugged into the dock, it must be turned on separately from the speaker system, however once both are on the remote control can be used to adjust volume, adjust bass & treble, play or pause, as well as advance and retreat through songs. Likewise, turning the speaker system off will not power down the Zune – it must be turned off separately.

Connecting a miniUSB cable from the rear of the speaker system to a USB port on a laptop or PC allows the Zune to sync and charge, but the Zune can not play over the speakers when connected in this manner.

The entire time the Zune is in the dock, its backlight will glow as it displays the currently playing song’s album art. The lights seen glowing in the following picture are the green LEDs behind the metal speaker mesh, which indicate volume or treble and bass as they are adjusted. The plus and minus buttons on top of the M604 are the master volume controls which should be set to a level just below their top end. This will ensure that even when the system is cranked via the remote the bass won’t distort, and the treble will remain crisp and clear.

Now we’re to the part that I am really excited to talk about – playback, because the sound coming from the speaker system is absolutely amazing!! The user can set a balance between the built in equalizer settings on the Zune, the bass and treble adjustments on the M604, and the subwoofer-less XdB bass enhancement technology, which results in an excellent result being pushed through the speakers. The speaker system’s sound is surprisingly rich, smooth, clear, and loud.

It seems almost anti-social to listen to your digital music player with earphones on while at home, and the M604 is a great way to get around that little problem – providing others in the room share your taste of music. πŸ˜‰

If you have been looking for a speaker dock that will turn your Zune into a fabulous home stereo, then you might want to consider the Altec Lansing M604. I’ve been using mine for a while, and I am continuously amazed by its great sound. πŸ™‚

The Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System?for the Microsoft Zune is available directly from the manufacturer as well as from other retailers.
MSRP: $199.95
What I Like: Incredibly deep and clear sound from a very compact system, sync and charge from the speaker system’s cradle, charge while playing, great looking system fits in with almost any decor, remote control makes operation easy
What Needs Improvement: On & Off controls are separate for the Zune and speaker system; it would be nice if they could work in tandem

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About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
Judie is the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of Gear Diary, which she founded in September 2006. She started in 1999 writing software reviews at the now-defunct; from mid-2000 through 2006, she wrote hardware reviews for and co-edited at The Gadgeteer. A recipient of the Sigma Kappa Colby Award for Technology, Judie is best known for her device-agnostic approach, deep-dive reviews, and enjoyment of exploring the latest tech, gadgets, and gear.

6 Comments on "The Altec Lansing M604 Powered Audio System for Zune Review"

  1. Thank you for that tip Bill, perfect! πŸ˜€

  2. Nice review Judie. I agree with your comments 100% I love my set of speakers.

    One clarification though, you can play your music with the USB sync cable attached. Just shutdown the Zune software on your desktop after you’re done syncing and the Zune returns to it’s “default” screen giving you access to it’s functionality.


  3. Awww, yeah! Even swap, then. πŸ™‚

  4. You’re welcome! I’m glad I could return the favor as I learned how the bass and treble functions worked from your review.

  5. I have been waiting for a review on these! Thanks! πŸ™‚

  6. jvanauker | June 3, 2008 at 2:20 am |

    I bought an Altec Lansing M604 Zune Speaker for my wife for Christmas 2007. It sounded great and she loved it. By mid February it was cracking and popping like crazy with an apparent short somewhere.

    I called support at Altec Lansing and was immediately issued a return authorization number. We sent the unit in for repair or replacement. Now 2 1/2 months later we have still not received a replacement as the units are on backorder.

    I have noticed something very interesting going on however. The original (or original for me) price at was $89.95. The suggested retail for the M604 on Altec Lansing’s web site is still $99.95 although they don’t have any to sell. The current price at Amazon is $249.95 but there are no changes in model number or unit specs. Is this an example of supply and demand? If so, while the unit is great and I’d love to have what I paid for I have a definite feeling that I (we) and a bunch of other people are getting ripped off.

    By the way, while I missed purchasing this unit at Woot I have purchased a number of other things from that company and I have nothing but praise for their products and their services.

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