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Subjective Listening Tests

 

I'm going to break this up into four categories: Lows, Midrange, Highs and Imaging. First, the low end impressions.

Lows

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.

Midrange

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.

Highs

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.

Imaging

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.

Conclusion

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 high quality.

William Yaple
February 27, 2003

 





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