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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, 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.

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. 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.

Highs

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 off.

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. 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.

Conclusion

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 time.

William Yaple
October 20, 2002

 





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