Altec Lansing 5100 5.1 Speaker System

Introduction:

Altec Lansing is a force to be reckoned with when talking about sound production. The Altec Lansing name was formed when the All Technical Products Company decided to solidify its business and extend its manufacturing capabilities. The company bought Lansing Manufacturing Company headed by James B. Lansing and formed Altec Lansing Corporation on May 1, 1941. Since then, they have become a major contender in the audio system industry. Altec has given us at SLCentral a wonderful opportunity to review their 5100 speaker system. The 5100's are Altec's top of the line gaming speakers. Equipped with five satellites (four surrounding and one center) and 1 subwoofer, the 5100's look quite promising.

Features:

Deep Bass Subwoofer - Low frequency bass from ported, front-firing, long-throw dual woofers in a wooden cabinet.
6-Speaker Surround - Connects to 3D positional sound cards for surround sound.
Small look Big sound - Two full-range 1" neodymium micro drivers with aluminum cones to aid in sound production.
Fully Functional Digital Controller - Wired controller allows easy access and full control over the system.
Auxiliary Input Jack - Connect two different sources simultaneously.
Tri-Mode Selector - Found on the wired controller- used to change settings to any one of the three sound modes: 5.1 Theater Sound, 4.1 Gaming Sound, or Stereo X2.
Cast Alloy Stands - Look sharp and add to the satellites' stability.
Shielded Satellites - For use near video monitors.

TOTAL CONTINUOS POWER - 73 Watts RMS

  • Front Speakers: 7 Watts/Channel @ 4 ohms @10% THD @ 100-22000 Hz 2 Channels Loaded
  • Rear Speakers: 7 Watts/Channel @ 4 ohms @ 10% THD @ 100 - 22000 Hz 2 Channels Loaded
  • Subwoofer: 23 Watts @ 4 ohms @ 10% THD @ 30 - 85 Hz Single Channel Loaded

  • SYSTEM RESPONSE:
    32 Hz - 20 kHz (-10dB)

    SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO @ 1 KHZ INPUT:
    >70 dB

    DRIVERS (PER SATELITE):
    Two 1" neodymium micro drivers

    DIMENSIONS
    2.25" (W) x 2.5" (D) x 7.3" (H)

    CENTER SPEAKER:
    Two 1" neodymium micro drivers

    DIMENSIONS
    6.4" (W) x 1.9" (D) x 2.6" (H)

    SUBWOOFER DRIVER:
    Two 4" long-throw woofers

    DIMENSIONS
    6.5" (W) x 13.5" (D) x 12.0" (H)

    The 5100's have many features, but notably, deliver only 73 watts for $179USD. In comparison, the Logitech® Z-640 5.1 configuration speakers have 70 watts for just $79.95USD. That is a $100USD difference in price for around the same amount of power. So why is there such a huge price difference? Because the 5100's are superior to the Z640's; the Z640's support only 5.1 surround sound, while the 5100's can convert from being a home theater in 5.1 sound to a game system in 4.1 sound to a music playing system in its Stereo X2 mode.

    The package includes a wired remote that plugs into the back of the subwoofer. The remote has quick access for volume, bass, and treble control. It also has the "Mode" button on it which obviously shuffles through the Stereo X2, 4.1 gaming, 5.1 Theater sound modes.

    Aside from the technical details, the 5100's look extremely sharp as you will see in the next section of the review.

    Installation:

    Time to install this puppy. Shown above is the entire 5100 package except the Quick Connect Card, the subwoofer (below), and the front and rear speaker connector cables (used to connect the subwoofer to the sound card). First, let's take a look at the Quick Connect Card created by Altec to help aid in the installation.

    The card isn't the easiest thing to follow, but it gets the point across (card size not to scale). In section 5B it shows how you can hook up external devices, such as your walkman or PlayStation 2, to the subwoofer using the auxiliary input jack. Speaking of woofers, let's look at the 23 watt subwoofer.

    Here we see the front of the 12" tall front-firing, long-throw dual woofers. On the top of the subwoofer you see the Altec Lansing holographic logo. This is also found on all 5 of the satellites, which are addressed below. The back of the subwoofer is well laid out and greatly aids in the installation of the speaker system for even novice users. Each input jack is color coded to show where the matching colored cord is supposed to go. Installing the system is as simple as matching like colors together. Also found on the top of the subwoofer is a sticker that reads "Subwoofer frequencies are non-directional. Therefore the subwoofer does not need to be placed in a particular relationship to the satellite speakers."


    The satellite speakers are very sexy. Each has two full-range 1" neodymium micro drivers with aluminum cones. These drivers are small and help aid in the professional look of the 5100 system. Once again, as shown above, the Altec Lansing holographic logo is on all 5 of the satellites. I'd like to note that the hologram looks much better in person since my camera could not capture the effect of the hologram in a picture. All five of the satellites look exactly the same, so how are you supposed to know which one goes where? Simply look on the back.

    Each speaker is labeled clearly as to where it belongs in the speaker arrangement. As I said before, the speakers' input cords have color coded ends so you know exactly where to plug them in on the subwoofer. Now if you're like me, you don't look at your speakers while watching a movie or playing a game. All you care about is whether or not these speakers are going to make your nerves rattle when something scary suddenly jumps out at you in your favorite scary DVD. Time to check out the 5100's performance.

    Performance:

    Is the picture above an accurate depiction of how you will feel when you crank up the volume? Well, not quite. In terms of blasting power, the 5100's are lacking. With a total of only 73 watts, they don't quite pack as big of a punch as some other audio systems out there. Let's be realistic though; in real life situations having ear piercing sound isn't a must, and unless you're using the system for a gigantic party you don't need it to be that loud. The 5100's are designed for exceptional crystal-clear sound, the kind of sound that you like to experience when watching movies, listening to music, or playing video games. On the loudest setting, I didn't notice any distortion in sound at all. I feel this may be due to the fact that the loudest setting isn't ear-piercingly loud so the sound is more controllable. Before I move on, I just want to make it clear that although it might seem that I indicate that the 5100's are underpowered, they are infact very loud, and I have zero complaints with the system having only 73 watts. I usually have the volume setting at 1 or 2 out of 5 simply because they are loud enough for any type of use at that setting.

    Aside from testing for distortion at high volumes, I also checked for that annoying hissing sound when the volume is up on the speakers but no audio is playing. Bottom line: there is none except at the very loudest volume setting (5 out of 5). There is hissing at the 4 out of 5 volume level, but it can only be heard if you stick your ear up to one of the satellites.

    I have a Sound Blaster Live 5.1 sound card, that comes with full support for all of the sound modes that the 5100's are capable of. The first thing I tested out was the 4.1 gaming mode. I used Tactical Ops, an Unreal Tournament MOD, for testing. I must say I was impressed by the clarity of the sounds. The singularity of each gun shot burst was quite nice to see and hear at the same time. With my past speakers, I have grown accustomed to seeing 4 or 5 gun shots but only being able to hear 2 or 3 because of such grogginess with the sound. The surround sound worked great, and when I had the volume turned up to about the 3 out of 5 setting, allowed me to hear my opponents footsteps. This was a sound I was not used to hearing, and it actually gave me an edge in the game.

    When I was done playing games, I decided to test out the sound while watching a DVD. I popped in "The Matrix", changed the sound to 5.1 mode from the 4.1 gaming mode and turned up the volume. Once again I was very impressed with the sound. I have a minor complaint about the subwoofer. While it sounds very good when being used to play subtle sounds, such as a bass guitar in a song, it is somewhat lacking in boom for louder sounds, such as a grenade going off. You can definitely hear it, but it just doesn't quite pack enough bang to get your heart pumping.

    Conclusion:

    Sadly all of this audio fun must come to an end. It's conclusion time. I must say my first impression of the 5100's was that they looked very sharp. Altec did a great job of designing the satellites, center speaker, and the subwoofer. They have a sleek futuristic look to them that makes them very appealing to the eye. The input cords built into the speakers are very long which can be both good and bad. If you use the long cords to their full potential and have them setup all around the room, then they are good. If you have have them setup around your desk, then the wires form a little pile of cords behind the subwoofer...

    This isn't that big of a deal because you can easily bundle up the cords with some plastic twist ties or something like that. I'm just lazy J . The performance of the 5100's was very impressive. The sound was wonderfully crisp and clear even at the highest of volume settings. I really feel Altec did a great job of designing these speakers for people that care about sound quality and not how loud their speakers can blare. Even though many speaker systems have more power than the 5100's, the sound quality of many other more powerful sound systems degrade after 60-70%, essentially wasting all the extra juice. The only real complaint I have about the 5100 speaker system is that the subwoofer could use a little more kick for those big explosions. Other than that very minor complaint, the subwoofer does an excellent job in pumping out smooth bass.

    Overall, I really liked the 5100's. I think the retail price of $179USD is a fair price because of the high quality of the system. I have to give the Altec Lansing 5100 Speaker System a big applause and a 9.5 out of 10.

    SLRating: 9.5/10



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