there really exist a classic computer product? Us computer enthusiasts (nerds)
simply love to upgrade various components, because technology well, progresses.
What about technology that doesn't necessarily involve speed? Certainly, audio
reproduction can progress, just not at such a furious pace. Enter the Altec Lansing
ACS-48 3-way speakers.
Altec's promo stuff
Speaker System, from Altec Lansing, is the market's leading affordable three piece
multimedia audio solution for the home or office personal. Now, Altec Lansing
offers an audiophile step-up from the PowerCube: the PowerCube Plus Multimedia
The PowerCube Plus offers audiophile performance and
power for multimedia playback from its multiple speaker drivers in the satellites:
each one houses a 3" midrange and a 3/4" tweeter so that you can experience
hi-fi audio from your CDs, games or the Internet. In addition, the PowerCube Plus
6" subwoofer is encased in wood, offering you deeper, richer bass output
for greater audio low frequency dynamics.
The PowerCube Plus Speaker
System has electronic controls to adjust the volume of the powered satellite speakers
and the subwoofer simultaneously so you don't need to continue to adjust each
piece separately. Most systems require separate adjustments, but with the PowerCube
Plus, just set the subwoofer output level for the desired bass effect, and your
volume control adjustments will effect all three pieces at the same time.
The PowerCube Plus Speaker System is the audiophile solution for those who
demand a greater level of power and performance from their PC's multimedia playback,
and its only from the leader in computer audio, Altec Lansing.
(The Boring Stuff)
Drivers (per satellite):
One 3 inch shielded
full range driver
One 3/4 inch high frequency tweeter
One 6 inch long throw woofer
Satellite Power: 20 Watts per channel RMS at
Subwoofer Power: 40 Watts at 0.8% THD
System Response: 35 Hz
- 20 kHz
Input Impedance: >10k ohms
S/N Ratio: >65dB
The first thing that struck me as I lifted, er hoisted these
babies out of the box, is that the subwoofer box is HEAVY. About 16 pounds of
6" subwoofer and amplifiers to be specific. That box also is NOT plastic,
like so many other manufacturers have decided to produce. However, if the box
is wood, then that means it's also not magnetically shielded. That's not so bad
because how many of you have room for a 16 pound box nearly a foot deep and 7"
tall on your desktop! I don't think that virtual speakers will ever be a reality
due to physics, but it would be very cool to claim you have a 50" woofer
on your virtual desktop.
I have seen many ads and heard many speakers,
but these are something very special. Most consumers don't have home stereo systems
that sound this good. Being a high-end audio enthusiast for over 15 years, I can
readily appreciate the occasional shining star. The ACS-48's join that unique
and excruciatingly small company of components known as "great." Are
these diminutive wonders up there with the likes of Thiel, Vandersteen, or B&W?
Of course not, nevertheless, Altec has succeeded in producing what has already
become a classic, computer related or not.
Inside the mysterious white
A word of caution: Do not open the subwoofer box, it will void
your warranty. That being said, the rear panel port and connector bay unscrews
and slips out rather easily. What makes this box so heavy is from two parts. The
power inductor, bolted to the inside front of the enclosure, appears to be a hefty
80 watt unit. The sub itself, with it's magnet assembly, is at least as sturdy
as the inductor. Upon closer inspection, I found three components that are being,
I found three TDA7294 IC amplifiers screwed to a
massive heatsink that could easily pump out 100 watts each! If the power supply
was a bit beefier, a full 300 watts of peak power could be squeezed down the dinky
little wires that connect the satellites to the woofer box. Somehow, I'm moderately
relieved that Altec decided NOT to do this as these jewels nearly make your pants
leg (or skirts)flap.
The web is a wonderful place, call it God's library,
to find out just about anything you'd want to...and some stuff that you wouldn't
want to. The spec sheet for the TDA7294 claims that the chips can pump 100 watts
into a 4 or 8 ohm load. Small dips in the impedance curves stress an amplifier,
sometimes to gross distortion, and when you decide to crank the 48's up, you find
yourself shouting to anyone, even if they're only 12" from you! I was able
to measure over 110 decibel peaks at a distance of 2 feet. This is loud...lease
breaking loud for those apartment dwellers out there. Can you imagine the landlord
throwing you out because "your computer is too loud?" With the 48's,
it's not only a possibility, it's a reality. Watch your volume levels folks, before
you can't hear the beautiful noises that emanate from the paper and plastic cones.
The 48's are a true 3-way design, meaning that there are two crossover points
and three drivers. The sub isn't really a sub, but a normal woofer that recreates
sound atabout 150Hz and below. The shielded 3" midrange handles the voice
and various man-made instruments from about 150Hz to 3kHz. The 3/4" plastic
tweeter, while less than desirable, handles the sibilant sounds, including cymbals
and various other high frequency harmonics. Most of the "Dolby pro-logic"
multimedia setups (including some in Altec's own lineup) are not true three way
designs--they have no tweeter. Tell me how any 3" midrange is going to reproduce
10-20kHz signals? They aren't and don't. Gotta have tweeters, period.
Listening For Over One Year
The set I currently own is actually
my second set. I let some relatives listen to my old set and they had to have
them, so I suffered with some old Yamaha's (one 3" driver) for a week until
the new pair arrived. I didn't listen to much music then, just Windows 98 theme
.wav file noises.
I listen to a ludicrously wide variety of music. I'm
told I'm weird. Fine. I like my Rock, Pop, Dance, Trance, Ants -In-Your-Pants,
Classical, New Age, World, and Electronic music just fine, thank you. The 48's
reproduce it all strikingly well. Altec's claim of 35Hz for the bottom end is
a bit far fetched. Sprach Zarathustra, also known as the theme from 2001, has
a 32Hz introduction playing for over half a minute and serves as an excellent
gage for woofers. My Pinnacle PN8+ speakers can reproduce this fundamental with
appreciable realism. While the Altec's couldn't keep pace with the Pinnacles,
they weren't that far behind. I'd say subjectively, that the woofer is capable
of frequencies in the 50Hz region at significant levels, Milli Vanilli proved
this to be the case, 110 dB worth!
In fact, I writing this review while
listen to B-Tribe, a very difficult to reproduce CD. The mid-range is simply exquisite.
Very liquid, non-tiring, and pleasant are words that can be associated with these
drivers. Voices can be clearly understood without a harshness or graininess that
accompanies most computer speakers. The tweeters only add "reach" to
Altec's choice of plastic tweeters is less than desirable
in a multitude of ways, but they had to make these puppies at a price point, so
in they went. I usually listen to a metal dome or paper hybrid type of tweeter
and plastic units usually make me barf, or run out of the room with my fingers
in my ears. I have had listening periods of over 5-6 hours straight with no impending
I should mention that ACS-48 set #1 had a Creative Labs PCI128
sound card and set #2 has a Creative Labs Live! Value sound card powering them.
Ever heard of "garbage in, garbage out?" If you have a $10 sound card,
don't even think of hooking these monsters up. You'll be running for the cotton
because these will reveal any shortcomings (lack of quality) your cheap sound
card will possess.
Signal To Noise And Other Observations
65dB S/N (signal to noise) is a ratio by where you measure a signal level and
compare it to a noise level. Being a sound studio owner and an avid laboratory
tester, I can say that 65dB is not a fair estimation of the hiss that the 48's
generate. Aside from computer fan issues, I measured a S/N (unweighed) of 65dB
relative to 2.82 volts or 1 watt into an 8 ohm load. In the computer room, I was
never able tohear any hiss from the tweeters, so I could only attribute this figure
to a lower frequency power supply hum at 60Hz, which also could never be heard.
I also don't listen at the "1 watt" level either. Fully winding out
the push button volume control (should be a knob, not up/down type buttons) revealed
an extremely slight hiss, which of course went away when the music faded up. With
the right kind of music, this fade up could also give one a heart attack--say
if it's starts loudly, like most dance music does. Relative to maximum output,
the S/N calculates out to be in the low 80dB range, which is what is perceived.
It was my wife actually, that found these speakers.
About a year ago, we were in a CompUSA and she was pushing the demo buttons, alternating
through all kinds of speakers when she pushed the ACS-48's button. I was farther
down the aisle looking at cables or something. WHAT IS THAT? I shouted in the
middle of the store. I figured that computer speakers were a total joke and my
finicky tastes would have to be satisfied by nabbing home-style speakers and shoving
them near the monitor, which would've bent the picture up quite nicely. I ran
over to find out what she did and could hardly believe that this little conglomeration
of boxes was making the sounds that they were. She finally had to drag me away
after I had listened to all of the music selections that were available.
I really hate to say this, but the Altec Lansing ACS-48's will go down in computer
peripheral (and dorm room) history as being THE speakers to get. Buy.Com has them
for about $100, not including shipping. Altec has been selling the 48's for over
two years and I wonder how long they will continue to make them. The computer
industry moves so fast, it's hard to imagine a product being manufactured unchanged
for two years, that would put everyone out of business. In the near future, production
will cease. That will be a sad day for those who don't have a set. The 48's make
my "get them before they're gone list." THAT is a very short list.