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Renowned multimedia speaker manufacturer confuses British Sci-Fi Robot for subwoofer...

We preview Altec Lansing's 2008 speaker line-up at CeBIT Australia 2008

Once a speaker powerhouse boasting market share with all types of consumers and whose products such as the Infamous Altec Lansing ADA-880/D 4.1 speaker set from 2000 received acclaim from press, popularity and were also picked up by OEM partners such as DELL, however Altec Lansing have seemed to disappear into obscurity within the last few years.
After Merging with Plantronics, a leader in voice communication products such as headsets in 2005, Plantronics new Altec Lansing subsidiary has been trying to regain its position in the market and part of this was reintroducing itself at this years CeBIT exhibition.


The Plantronics division was showcasing its innovation in Stereo Bluetooth headsets, a product segment that has been actively investigating especially since these types of devices have been sluggish to achieve mass market penetration for a number of reasons, technical and acceptance
Plantronics Voyager 855 Stereo Bluetooth headset is toted as one of the first truly compact stereo Bluetooth headsets on the market taking the form factor of a traditional Bluetooth 2.0 earpiece plus a corded earphone to make up the other audio channel.

The alternative to such headsets are bulky, cumbersome and power hungry full size over the head or behind the head stereo Bluetooth headsets available from a number of vendors including Plantronics so we were pleased to see innovation in the stereo Bluetooth headset segment. Upon enquiry on why Stereo Bluetooth has had slow acceptance into the market we were told by this firm that they had been making sure that their products worked with the A2DP Stereo Bluetooth profile well and they were working towards maximising the clarity and performance of these devices.
A feature of the 855 is ease of switching between audio sources.
Additionally, Plantronics were now venturing into the analogue multipurpose headphone market and had such a pair on display, which claimed its usefulness for gaming, Voice over IP and music playback – a general purpose product.
Plantronic’s representative for Bluetooth products could not tell us what differentiating features these [traditional] headphones had over their competition and claimed that Plantronics products had superior clarity over other products due to their market experience and leadership. We remain sceptical however and suspect these new products are simply an attempt to broaden the firm’s product mix rather than innovate.
We pledge to further investigate these products.

Altec Lansing


A reinvigorated consumer speaker line was demonstrated by Altec Lansing, comprising of Apple iPod and soon iPhone compatible lifestyle speaker systems such as the T612 audio dock and more traditional 2.1 channel and 5.1 channel speaker sets intended for use with multimedia and PC sources.
For demonstration purposes all speakers were connected to the same audio source via switchbox so the listener could accurately hear differences between specific speaker sets.
For the PC speaker segment, the 2.1 channel VS2421 and 5.1 channels FX5051 are available
The VS2421 comprises of a subwoofer unit with a side-firing 5.25” ported driver and is designed as a compact 2.1 speaker set for typical use with a computer or consumer multimedia devices. This model is a value for money offering aimed against the Logitech X230 and is not an enthusiast 2.1 speaker set.
The specifications are unremarkable with 7 watt satellites and a 14 watt subwoofer; we note the frequency response of the ‘subwoofer’ tops out at 180Hz which reproduce more of the mid-bass, directional tones than low down ‘punchy’ tones.
This speaker has the usual array of auxiliary inputs for media players as well as uniquely a control pod and built in microphone, features not that common with speakers in this segment which typically include the controls in one of the satellites or the woofer unit.
We are not too sure about the unprotected 5.25” woofer however, which can be easily damaged through physical abuse, bumps or knocks. A simple wide spaced black grille over the woofer would solve this problem but from the product brief it seems that ‘style’ was an aspect desired for the product and target market.
Altec Lansing lists continuous and peak power in their product specifications as well as separate frequency response for the satellites and the woofer unit, rather than only list the basic overall system specs.
The firm’s openness over system specifications and target market is welcomed.
It is clear attention has been made on size reduction to bring a more user and home friendly rather than focusing on performance, the tagline for the product even mentions this aspect – ‘small footprint, big impression’.
As such we have no reservations with a value for money product such as this one as long as the vendor in question does not try to make any false claims regarding specification, performance or target market. 
We welcome the competition but from our preview we feel this specific product could have been bumped up a notch in its design especially since the vendor has such a rich audio history.
On the back on our verdict of the VS2421, our opinion of the FX5051- [Altec Lansing’s new mainstream 5.1 speaker system] is quite the inverse of what we though of the VS2421.
Altec Lansing has cranked up the volume (pardon the pun) on the styling for this speaker set.
The design for the woofer/amplifier unit is like nothing we have seen so far in the consumer - multimedia speaker space. The cube like styling with upper 360 degree mesh grille and lack of visible bass porting makes the subwoofer resemble the Dalek character from the Doctor Who television series rather than a subwoofer.
The satellites however are more conservatively styled with angular cabinets and stands.
This set, especially the subwoofer design is styled to complement modern flat panel displays. For owners of any of DELL’s 2008 line of large LCD monitors for instance, the FX5051 would be a match for the two-tone black and silver with silver stands and accents.
Performance wise the speaker set features a unique subwoofer design with two 6.5” long throw woofers in an isobaric ‘clamshell’ setup. Isobaric loaded sub-woofer designs allow the designer to utilise a speaker cabinet that can be two times smaller than what would be needed with a single (larger) woofer driver. The drawback of the isobaric design is a reduction in sensitivity.
The woofer drivers would typically be wired in opposite phases, in a push-pull configuration. To sum up, half the space is needed because you have twice the strength.
Total power and frequency response for the subwoofer unit is 28 watts and 40 – 150 Hz.
The surround satellite speakers are two-way with a mid range driver and tweeter and their frequency response of 150 Hz - 20 kHz indicates their dynamic nature. Oddly enough the asymmetrical centre speaker is rated at 13 watts instead of 12 watts for the front and rear channel speakers.
While users can remove the stands for the satellite speakers however these are connected to the main unit not by speaker wire but by detachable fixed length audio cables.
Location of the satellites would be limited by the length of these cables as well as proving to be a hindrance to optimal operation of the speaker system if these cables or the connectors are damaged in any way.
In addition to the isobaric design trait, Altec Lansing did include some innovate and unique features that are to the direct benefit of the user.
This speaker set is marketed as a plug and play set as it includes a six-channel PC audio device connected via the USB interface. Users who own a computer with only a two channel analogue audio output, a laptop computer or are unable to install an add-in card into their computer can enjoy the full 5.1 (6) channel surround experience from games or DVD films, and experience these titles the way they were meant to be played or watched.
While USB audio devices (or ‘sound cards’) do have a large number of drawbacks and limitations, inclusion of such a device benefits a large number of users who are simply unable to easily output full time six channel audio from their computer, and really they don’t know what they are missing out on until they have had the surround experience.
The unit can still be used with traditional six channel analogue inputs, unlike some other premium multimedia speakers released recently from Logitech and Razer which give the user the choice of USB audio or stereo analogue only.
The unit also comes with a matching wireless remote control and is also aimed against its equivalent Logitech competitor the X530 has observed this speaker set available at Australian ‘daily bargain’ type online e-tailers for around $250 AUD. Considering the unit includes a six channel ‘sound card’, The price is reasonable for what is being offered.
Finally Altec Lansing also had their home theatre audio system, model PT7031 being demonstrated. These devices, colloquially called ‘sound bars’ by the market are a new product segment in the industry, not just from Altec Lansing; aimed at the lifestyle market who wants a minimalist approach to their surround audio to complement their large flat planel television, avoiding the need bulky and power hungry A/V receivers,  ugly wires, unsightly speakers and to complement modern aesthetic design of the home.
This particular model is able to deliver the ‘full surround experience’ through Dolby Digital and DTS decoding through flat loudspeakers licensed from NXT, an innovator in flat speaker design.
Since such hybrid audio solutions are usually aimed at a particular niche market, we would rather not know the price!


With Plantronics now owning Altec Lansing, one would expect some change in the way things are done or product strategy. Based on units we previewed Altec Lansing still seems to have some of the innovation and engineering prowess that the market had recognised from the brand in past years  however we feel there is room for improvement in their current PC speaker sets.
We commend Altec Lansing on utilising audio concepts such as isobaric loading and including a six channel USB audio device to improve the users experience rather than just building ‘another 5.1 channel speaker set’