Product Review (August 2004)
Altec Lansing - VS3151 5.1 Speaker System

Altec Lansing is a name that dates back to my parent's generation. The company is known for their legendary speaker designs that were typically driven by tube amplifiers. Times have certainly changed, yet the Altec Lansing name continues. They have recently introduced an affordable 5.1 speaker system called the VS-3151 geared for gamers and PC users. Priced at an amazingly low $99.95 retail, the VS-3151 comes with five satellite speakers, a powered subwoofer and a Control Pod for setting the audio levels. The system has built-in audio amplifiers for each of the channels and is designed to support 2, 4 or 6 channel audio cards via the 3.5mm mini plugs. In additon, the Control Pod accepts a pair of line level signals from its RCA inputs. The system can even be used with portable audio devices to give users a full surround audio system. All five satellite speakers are magnetically shielded, making it safe when placed near CRT-based monitors. A Quick Connect card provides a series of configuration diagrams for those who hate reading manuals.

Control Pod
The Control Pod for the VS-3151 is approximately six inches wide and has a master volume as well as individual level controls for the surround, center and subwoofer channels. All of the level controls are analog potentiometers, so the levels do not get reset in the event of a power failure. A headphone jack is also provided and automatically mutes the speaker outputs when the user inserts a set of headphones for private listening. The on/off power switch is located on the top right side of the Control Pod just above the headphone jack and illuminates the green power LED on the front panel. The Control Pod looks plain, yet the design cosmetically matches the satellite speakers with the silver and black colors. The box has rubber feet and sits firmly on a flat surface making it easy to use the controls.

The rear panel of the Control Pod has a pair of RCA inputs for line level devices such as a television or gaming device. Also located here is a two-position switch for selecting either 2/4 or 6 channel inputs. The VS-3151 system automatically processes two or four channel sources to create a full sounding surround system using all six channels. There is also a cable that connects the subwoofer via a mini-DIN connector and a separate cable with three stereo 3.5mm plugs designed to interface to a sound card. Multi-channel sound cards such as our M-Audio Revolution 7.1 have each pair of audio signals dedicated to a 3.5mm jack. The VS-3151 is designed to plug directly into the sound card jacks. Covers are included for the unused 3.5mm audio plugs in the event of only two or four channels being connected. An adapter cable that converts a single 3.5mm male plug to a pair of RCA plugs is also included.

Satellite Speakers
Each satellite speaker contains a single 2" driver capable of producing audio from 150 Hz to 20 kHz according to the manufacturer. The thin flat-panel design looks great and gives the PC a high-tech appeal. The front of the speaker consists of a metal panel that protects the driver from damage. Sloted mounting holes are available on the back of each speaker in case the user decides to hang them on the walls. Rubber feet to help prevent the speakers from sliding on a smooth surface. The center channel is designed to pivot up or down to better direct the sound towards the listener. This can be especially important when watching movies and listening to dialog. Due to the size of the satellite speakers, they are not capable of producing frequencies much lower than 150 Hz, so the crossover frequency used with the subwoofer must be near this frequency. This can be an issue for some listeners since we humans tend to localize sounds near or above 80 Hz. What this means is the location of the subwoofer sound will most likely be heard by the listener. However, this is very common on PC speaker systems since most PC satellite speakers are limited in size. Each speaker is clearly labeled on the back (i.e. Front Right, Front Left, etc.).

Subwoofer
The subwoofer included with the system features a single long-throw 5.25-inch driver capable of producing moderately low bass in the ported enclosure. Unlike plastic cabinets, this unit is made from wood and helps deaden the enclosure and reduce resonances. The built-in 20-watt RMS amplifier provides adequate power to the driver for solid bass output. Due to the size of the driver and cabinet design, the low-end frequency response is limited to around 40 Hz. Even so, the bass is fairly tight and quite satisfying in most cases. Like the satellite speakers, the front of the subwoofer consists of a metal speaker cover that protects the driver from damage. We think this is a good design since the subwoofer typically sits on the floor where it can be easily kicked by mistake.

Connection Panel
Five RCA connectors and a single mini-DIN connector are located on the rear panel of the subwoofer cabinet. Each of the five satellite speakers plug into this back panel and are uniquely keyed and color-coded to prevent improper connections. Each connector is also clearly labeled for the user, so it is virtually impossible to connect them incorrectly. The mini-DIN connector, which is also keyed, mates to the Control Pod cable.

Performance
The Altec Lansing VS-3151 is a great package for a 5.1 system that retails for under $100. Sound quality was a bit limited, but given the price it is difficult to be too picky. Movies were quite enjoyable as sound panned from speaker to speaker emersing the listener with discrete 5.1 audio. The speakers did have a bit of an edge to them at higher levels, but performed well overall. Bass was good, but was not quite as deep as more expensive PC-based systems. Overall, the system created a spacious soundfield around us.

Music also worked well on this system considering the size of the satellite drivers. Some of our DTS 5.1 encoded recordings revealed good detail. The subwoofer played at reasonably high levels and was fairly deep, making movies more enjoyable than what one would hear with typical PC speakers. The rather high crossover frequency (150 Hz) required the subwoofer to fill the frequency gap. This caused the satellite speakers to sound a bit thin in some instances.

Conclusion
Given the cost, the VS-3151 5.1 speaker system is a bargain. The system is designed to be very easy to install and supports a variety of configurations depending on your PC's capabilities. The performance was good, but not great especially when compared to some of the more expensive PC speaker systems available. If you are picky about sound quality and are willing to pay the price for it, you will find better sounding systems available. However, for less than $100 (<$75 street), this affordable speaker system will deliver full 5.1 sound to your PC.

- Kevin Nakano


Review System

Desktop PC - Sony Vaio PCV-RX550, 1.5GHz Pentium 4
Display: Viewsonic G810
21" Monitor

Audio Card: M-Audio - Revolution 7.1


Review at a glance

Altec Lansing VS-3151 5.1 Speaker System

Features

  • Full 5.1 Surround Sound for PCs and Video Game Consoles.
  • Supports 2/4 or 6 channel sound cards.
  • Power and Volume (Master, Center, Surround and Subwoofer) Controls.
  • Headphone Jack
  • Built-in RCA inputs for your TV or Video Gaming System.
  • Specifications

  • Total Continuous Power: 50 Watts RMS
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 103 dB
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio @ 1 kHz: > 80 dB
  • Front Speakers (2): 5 Watts/channel @ 8 ohms, 10% THD, 150 Hz - 20 kHz, 2-loaded.
  • Rear Speakers (2): 5 Watts/channel @ 8 ohms, 10% THD, 150 Hz - 20 kHz, 2-loaded.
  • Center Speaker: 10 Watts @ 8 ohms, 10% THD, 150 Hz - 20 kHz, 1-loaded
  • Subwoofer: 20 Watts @ 8 ohms, 10% THD, 40 – 150 Hz, 1-loaded
  • Shielded satellites for use near video monitors

    Company Information
    Altec Lansing Technologies, Inc.
    Route 6 & 209
    Milford, Pennsylvania 18337-0277

    Phone: 866-570-5702
    Sales: 570-296-4434

    570-296-6887
    Support: 800-ALTEC-88

    Source: Manufacture Supplied
    MSRP: $99.95
    Warranty: 1 year limited warranty

    Spec Sheet

    User Manual

    URL: www.alteclansing.com
    Support: csupport@alteclansing.com

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