Altec Lansing VS-3121 Computer Speaker
Company: Altec Lansing
Manufacturers Product Web Page
When undertaking a speaker review the reviewer treads dangerous ground. You see there are these people that exist who call themselves audiophiles. These are the kind of people who will make argue indefinitely about the various pros and cons of audio encoding, proper acoustics for a listening area, the various merits of speakers that reproduce tones beyond the range of human hearing and the renormalization of the acoustic waveform with respect to personal brain biomass (actually I made the last one, but it sounds deliciously technical). Plus they’ll go nuts about Ogg Vorbis all day long. If you are one of these people (and they are about as rare as meat eating Gorillas) I urge you to read no further. Trust me when I say Altec Lansing’s VS-3121 are not for you (for the semi technical minded the spec sheet can be found here. I suggest you save the $79.95 suggested retail price and deposit it in a compound interest bearing account. Given enough time and a favorable interest rate you will finally be able to afford that purest of listening experiences: hiring the damn band to play in your backyard. Of course you’ll be disappointed in Foghat’s performance, but it is the price of perfection.
If you are a less demanding consumer of sonic waveforms there is a good chance you might be interested in the performance of the Altec Lansing VS-3121. Let us start with the basics and work our way up. With the VS-3121 you get your sub woofer, two satellite speakers (wall mountable should you desire) and a nifty control pod thingy, called a (get ready for it) a “control pod” hard wired to the system. Personally I really appreciate the wired control pod, one more remote control is something I don’t need. Let us begin with a closer look at the command center of the VS-3121s.
The control pod features a volume knob (not very surprising) and separate knobs for controlling the “sub” and “treble.” Usually one would expect the knobs to be labeled “bass” and “treble” but from what I can tell one knob does, in fact, control the volume of the subwoofer and the other knob adjusts the actual treble. In any event they left me with the feeling I had plenty of control over the performance. Face it the volume slider on your Mac just isn’t that sensitive so the addition of a secondary (and tertiary) volume knobs are welcome additions. The controller also features a headphone mini-jack (very nice if you have an older Mac with the connector on the back), RCA jacks (great if you have a separate gaming system, say an Xbox), and an sfx button (Sound Field Xpander), which everyone expects these days. Oh, wait; you don’t expect the sfx button? To be honest neither did I. The sfx button supposedly widens the stereo image. By this I assume that Altec Lansing means that it makes the physical separation between the speakers seem more than it really is. I’m was skeptical and chalked this up to gimmickry but I gave it a try. The results surprised me, I honestly have to say it seems to work, the sound does seem better with the button depressed. Of course others will say it sounds worse, that you will be missing this high or that low. Each to their own, but I’m leaving the thing fully depressed.
Looking at installation we note that “plug and play” speaker installation is ridiculously easy. The VS-3121s are no different, you plug the mini jack into the back of your Mac and hook the other cords into the subwoofer (ports are marked for easy identification). About the only thing that go wrong when installing speakers like this is a dearth of cable length (the cable is integrated so you’re pretty much stuck with what comes out of the box). Unlike my everyday set of ancient Altec Lansings these had cord length to spare.
So it comes to sound quality. At this point I admit I have no objective reference, no finely tuned ear, no oscilloscope to aid my rating. Basically it comes down to whether or not I think these are decent sounding speakers. I can say that I found them more than passable for listening to music, playing games, etc. Whatever task I threw at the Altec Lansings they handled to my satisfaction. To be fair I went to Best Buy and, by memory, tried to compare the speakers against other similarly priced models. I found that some had infinitely worse sound and others that sounded almost as good (remember a Best Buy trial is not optimal listening conditions, that guy in the blue shirt keeps jabbering at you). That is not to say these speakers are stellar performers, I am sure you will get much better performance out of, say, these speakers but they retail for roughly $38,000each. When you take into account the price of the Altec Lansings, ($79.95 they keep the price low by the leaving the e out of “Sound Field Xpander”) I’ve got to say they are a pretty good deal. You get more than adequate sound, plenty of versatility and control, plus they look pretty slick. The only downside I see is that any audiophiles you know may laugh at such value minded speakers. Still there are a lot of options in this price range. Some don’t have as many features and some probably have a few more gimmicks. In any event it wouldn’t hurt to shop around if possible, if you just need to order some speakers sight unseen you’ll get a fair value for your money with VS-3121.
Pros: Lot of good sound for a reasonable price
Cons: Won’t satisfy the “hardcore” audiophiles of the world