I'm going to break this
up into four categories: Lows, Midrange, Highs and Imaging. First, the low
The low frequencies or
bottom end can be described as extended, mildly loose, round, full and slightly
undefined. The 5.25" driver has been optimized quite well even though
the "Q" is set for a higher than 0.707 optimum response. The bass
extension is far lower than many competing, similarly sized drivers. The overall
bass quality was frankly more than I expected and I expect quite a bit.
My belief has always been
that if what's parked in front of your ears can't do the basics right, there's
no point in listening further. If voices and midrange type instruments sound
like other instruments, all is lost. Altec had to "massage" the
single 3" midrange driver to do double duty. As a result, this driver
has been forced to reproduce highs beyond the typical 300Hz-3KHz response.
Except for a slight reticent quality, the mids were very non-fatiging as found
in the 621's and 48's. Voices ended up being somewhat thin but this consequence
is one of omission rather than commission.
Simply put, most computer/gaming
speakers don't have anything appreciable above 8KHz. The midrange driver pumped
out highs well beyond 12KHz and even sounded reasonably convincing without
the sometimes horrendously significant distortion that can accompany this
type of 2-way configuration. The number of rigs in this price class that have
even moderately acceptable HF I can count on one hand and the 251's occupy
one of those fingers.
Possibly the least talked
about speaker characteristic, imaging is the placement of instruments and
vocals in such a manner as to give the appearance of a "sound stage."
This is where all other manufacturers should take note. Altec Lansing has
achieved true superiority at a rock bottom price to a degree that should embarrass
everyone else. I have repeated the above words for other Altec models and
the 251's are no exception. Well matched, musically accurate drivers are key
to throwing out a believable soundstage. Achieving this at 18 inches from
the satellites is a daunting task, but this multichannel rig is up to the
challenge. The soundstage was moderately stable, wide and tight--yet another
unusual characteristic of sound reproducers in this price class.
At under the magic
$100 mark, the 251's are hands down the best choice for gamers and
music listeners on a budget. The multichannel capabilities are overwhelming
and sound quality is far beyond the typical distorted, unbalanced
and sloppy units generally available today.
The 251's nearest
competition comes from another Altec product, the 641's...at double
the price! I get many emails per week that read something along the
lines of, "looking for cheap speakers under $100...has to do
everything well." I even hesitate to call this set "cheap"
because the implied connotations just don't fit with a rig of this
February 27, 2003