Altec Lansing FX6021 Speaker System
Developer: Altec Lansing
Price: $300 (list); $200–$250 (street)
Requirements: Mac with mini-headphone plug sound output jack
In a word, wow. The FX6021 speaker system from Altec Lansing is the perfect match to Apple’s pro line in both appearance and features. This 2.1 setup (two stereo speakers plus a subwoofer) can rock out with the best of them and looks great doing it.
Jonathan Ive would be proud. This speaker system looks like a proverbial chip off the ol’ aluminum-framed 23" Cinema Display. It makes me want to blow $2000 on a 23" Cinema Display and VESA mount so I can hang this aesthetic masterpiece on the living room wall.
The speakers come in a fairly large box (10" × 13" × 18"), most of which is taken up by the large subwoofer. Setup is simple, with color-coded connectors for sound input, right and left speakers, the control pod, and power. As with most computer speaker systems, the subwoofer enclosure also serves as the central point of the system, with all cables plugging into the back. Cable lengths are ample, and if your setup demands longer cables than those built into the satellite speakers, six-foot extensions are provided. Longer cable runs can be extended with standard S-video (mini DIN-4) extension cables.
The satellite speakers can be wall-mounted via holes in the back or attached to heavy aluminum-finished bases for desk use. The cables are routed through the bottom of the bases, out of sight, which greatly helps the aesthetics. A small, unobtrusive Altec Lansing logo and name is embossed into the face of each satellite speaker below the non-removable grill, and the subwoofer is similarly decorated (though its logo and text are proportionally larger).
The control pod contains controls for system volume, bass and treble, system power, a standard 3.5-mm auxiliary input jack, and a standard 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack. It also features a slot for the included infrared remote control, which can perform all the control functions of the pod from across the room. (Interestingly, a Sony universal remote programmed for an old Sears LXI television shares its volume-up command with the FX6021’s standby command, and its “9” button turns up the volume on the FX6021. Altec doesn’t have universal remote codes or specifications on its site, so you’re on your own figuring out other possible interference modes.)
Moving the system controls from their usual position on one of the satellites or the subwoofer is a welcome change, as it makes changing settings much simpler. Kudos to the designers for thinking of that. However, those same designers deserve a huge raspberry for putting not one, but eight ultra-bright blue LEDs on the pod as status indicators.
This blue LED madness has to stop. Altec Lansing is only one of the manufacturers guilty of falling victim to this abominable trend, but the degree to which they’ve fallen for it is worse than most. The control pod’s power LED alone lights up a room at night, and with one or two volume LEDs illuminated, the overall brightness becomes uncomfortable. If you’re sending a very low-level audio signal into the system and have to keep it turned up to maximum volume, you’ll have six of these brilliant LEDs turning your ceiling into Rave Central, making it difficult to sleep if you’re facing the system.
The pod desperately needs to be redesigned with either an ambient light sensor that chops the brightness at night, or duller LEDs. The blue-and-silver theme is pretty tired and overdone. I suggest white. Hardware hackers, this is a great little project. Bonus points to the first person to turn the volume indicators into a VU meter-like green/yellow/red display.
Sound from the 12 identical one-inch neodymium drivers is excellent. These are the same drivers found in Altec’s inMotion iPod speaker systems and in their XT1 laptop speaker system, and they’re superb in this application as well. Each pair of drivers has its own amplifier, giving the satellite speakers a lot of high-frequency punch. Altec advertises this as part of its InConcert™ technology, and the speakers live up to the claims—the sound is very crisp, highly directional, and (probably because of its directionality) doesn’t drop off with distance as much as computer speakers often do. The downside of all this mid- to high-frequency performance is a notable hiss in the system in the absence of an audio signal, which is a serious blow to a $300 speaker system. The hiss may also be due in part to the speakers’ reliance on the audio-out port of the computer; Altec Lansing’s XT1 laptop speaker system, which uses the same drivers but relies on USB for its audio signal, does not exhibit this same hiss.
The subwoofer handles bass with aplomb, moving enough air to annoy parents, impress dormitory neighbors, and rattle windows everywhere. The bass from this module is earth-shaking, which is surprising for a unit this small. Credit the dense, ported particleboard cabinet and the 50-watt amplifier driving the 6.5" woofer. As with most subwoofers, you’ll want to place this one out of the way, as the bass is non-directional, and the massive magnet isn’t shielded. Altec recommends at least two feet of distance between it and a CRT or other sensitive equipment.
Watching DVDs on a large-screen PowerBook isn’t too bad, but the built-in speakers just aren’t up to it. The FX6021s solve that problem. Whether it’s a DVD, Flash animations, or TV shows via your EyeTV, these speakers will do your favorite media justice. In the music department, they’re equally at home handling classical, rock, metal, rap, jazz, or easy listening. The definition is so superior to either the built-in speakers or my old Acoustic Research system that when I heard a cough in the background of a Beethoven symphony, I thought someone in the house had coughed. I had never heard that cough before, and I’ve owned the CD for something like eight years.
If you don’t need full 5.1-channel surround sound—and without a 5.1 source in most modern Macs, there’s no need—the FX6021 is a pretty good choice. The biggest sticking points are the price and the high-frequency hiss, and the ridiculous LEDs on the control pod don’t help. The price makes the hiss a problem; for $300, you expect better. Fortunately, street prices on the system are anywhere from $50 to $100 less than retail. The bottom line: the FX6021 is a quality speaker system with a few little quirks that most people can probably ignore, and at street prices it’s a much better deal.
- Maximum Continuous Power
75 Watts RMS
- Maximum Continuous Power, Satellite Speakers
12.5 Watts/channel @ 4 ohms, 10% THD
- Maximum Continuous Power, Subwoofer
50 Watts @ 4 ohms, 10% THD
- Maximum Sound Pressure Level
- Frequency Response
- Frequency Response, Satellite Speakers
- Frequency Response, Subwoofer
- SNR @ 1KHz
> 75 dB
Also in This Series
- Altec Lansing FX6021 Speaker System · July 2005
- Altec Lansing XT1 Speaker System · July 2005