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, very loose, round, too full, and
containing the dreaded one-note bass. This is bottom end that never, well...ends.
It had no tonality whatsoever. Every kick drum, and bass guitar had exactly
the same sound. Nothing to be characterized as "punchy" here. Anything
over a 2 out of 5 remote setting did nothing except make one think of those
boomer cars cranked way up.
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. The 5100's mids exhibit the awful sounding
"cupped hands" characteristic. With some music or gaming sounds,
they seem to "hoot" at the listener. This made for quite a fatiguing
listening experience that tired my ears out in less than 20 minutes. The thin,
steely, mechanical dual tweeter arrangement simply was never designed to pump
out anything below 2-3 Khz, and pushing the pair lower creates more distortion.
If Altec would add an actual midrange somewhere in the 5100's equation, the
midrange quality would dramatically improve.
To avoid a high end rolled
off, closed in feeling, set the tweeter control to 4 out of 5 lights. At its
default settings, no high frequencies emanated above 7-8 Khz, which pushes
the imaging right in your face and makes the cupped hands sound so extreme
that many ears could only listen for a few minutes before shutting these speakers
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. The 5100's exhibited defined images as any vertical array will,
however, the instruments and sound effects appeared "pinched, "
airy and very forward. Gaming effects were noticeably lacking in weight (smaller
sounding) and stripped of much detail.
No matter what the application,
the 5100's are a poorly designed speaker. Lacking a midrange driver forces
the overworked tweeters to perform in ways they simply can't and sound quality
seriously suffers. While this set is visually stunning, I suspect that many
a Best Buy, Microcenter, etc., will experience an unusually high rate of returns.
At nearly $180 list price, there are better choices, namely Altec's own 641
for only $20 more. That being said, I cannot recommend the 5100's at this
October 20, 2002