The separation of dock and speaker unit is a good idea in itself, but Altec has taken things just that little bit further. Buy two M812 systems and you can set up two speakers in one room as a stereo pair; a little switch on the bottom allows you to choose between 40W per channel stereo and 80W, single channel left or right modes. Alternatively, you can place up to seven additional Octiv Air speakers around the house and get a basic multi-room setup going, though you will, of course, have the same music playing in every room. It's an intelligent, flexible approach, and one that gives you room to expand your system in the future.
The units themselves are well-built and attractive. It's a shame that the lightweight transmitter dock can't double as a PC connection cradle - it recharges your iPod but doesn't have any USB sync facilities - but on the upside it has an auxiliary 3.5mm input and, when hooked up to supplied T-shaped FM antenna, will feed the speaker unit with a signal from the built-in FM radio. Radio features are fairly basic; you can search for channels and add them as presets or manually tune, but there's no full automated auto-tune facility. All the same, the quality of sound is more than acceptable, and I didn't experience any problems getting the major channels in what's not a particularly brilliant signal area.
The supplied remote, which unlike some speaker dock remotes feels like a proper consumer electronics control, gives you access to all these features, plus volume, bass and treble adjustments, not to mention the most basic track navigation controls. Be warned, however, that if you want to skip from album to album or playlist to playlist you'll still need to do so from your iPod itself.
The speaker unit also leaves a good impression. It's solid, robust and reasonably heavy, with a round plastic stand on the base and four rubber feet on the back allowing you to place it horizontally or vertically. Thanks to its neat, uncomplicated design it looks good either way. The front is all black bar the Altec logo and a simple LCD display, which gives you feedback on volume or radio channel changes.
There's nothing flashy or unnecessary about the design, and while this means that the Octiv Air isn't a style statement like the B&W Zeppelin, it also means that it's not something that your other half might describe as an eyesore.