Thursday, March 25, 2010

Altec Lansing SoundBar Speakers

Because of the unique setup of my desk (and because I'm always extremely cluttered), I really have no room for speakers. My monitor just fits in its space and so there's no room for tall speakers on the right and left which means they either have to go in front of the monitor and block my view, or behind the monitor and have the sound blocked. That's when I thought of getting a speaker bar.

First let me say that finding a speaker bar for computers is freaking hard. In the end, I think I found 2 or 3 that weren't specifically for laptops. So my choices were limited, and to be honest, I took a pretty calculated risk. The product that I leaned toward from the beginning was the Altec Lansing SoundBar. Back when I bought it (Feb 10), there were around 25 reviews with some saying it was amazing and others saying that it sucked. It wasn't overwhelmingly clear if it was good or not, but I still decided to try. Now here's what I think after having it for a few months.
  • Solid Construction: When I first picked it up, I thought that the grey area was actually made of metal just because of it's weight. I really haven't owned that many computer speakers in my lifetime, but all the ones in the past have been so extremely bulky yet light, I could tell that most of it is just hollow. This one's got some weight to it, and I don't know why, but that makes me feel better about it. Granted, that means it's not as "portable", but then this isn't a laptop speaker, it's designed to fit under your desktop monitor. 
  • Stands on feet: This is something I wasn't expecting. It has two feet instead of just sitting on the desk like I had initially visualized, and the reason behind it is that most monitors have a stand that sticks out in front, and having the speakers on feet allows you to get your speakers as close to your monitor (which is great when every inch of desk counts, like mine)
  • Volume Wheel: Maybe it's just because my last computer speakers we're built into a Dell monitor, but I've discovered that I love having a physical wheel for volume. I can know exactly how loud it's set to just by looking, and when it's sitting right in front of your monitor, it's just a quick flick of the wrist to turn your volume up and down.
  •  Mute+On/Off: Another feature I wasn't expecting was being able to mute the speakers (not the PC, the speakers) just by pressing the volume button. Not necessary, but really handy. Similarly, you the wheel controls On/Off, which I thought was cool, just because my last real speakers had a separate button for On/Off and now my speakerbar has condensed it.
  • Aux in + Headphones!: This was two things I was really hoping for in a pair of speakers and they both really won me over, especially the prior. First it has an 1/8" auxillary in port on the side so you can plug in your iPod right there. This really won me over, since I was planning on buying an iPod dock after this and I thought it would be amazing to just hook my dock up to my speakers and never have either of them move. But it also has a headphone jack, which I admit may be fairly standard, but it's still wonderful.
  • Blue light: What can I say? I love blue when it comes to computers and accessories.
Those are the reasons I bought it, and so far, every single one of those has been as great as I imagined (except for the Aux in feature, but I think I'll talk about that in the Dock review). After owning it for a few months, here's what I think of it:

The sound quality is surprisingly good. It really doesn't sound like computer speakers; it sounds more like a half breed between computer speakers and a CD player. That is, the sound is better than average computer speakers, but not quite as good as a CD player. Anyway, I'm impressed with them. I've used them for music, gaming, and then the daily use (eg, Pidgin sound notifications), and I've never noticed that they've been terrible.
I have noticed that it's had.....issues with certain frequencies. I really can't put my finger on it, but occasionally, when playing music, a certain range will just sound 'off' (that's the best way I can described it). It's not really all that awful, since I don't hear it all the time, and it doesn't sound terrible when I do hear it. It just makes me think "Huh, that's weird".
As for range, I was impressed with that too. I was a tad concerned that the range would be limited since it was a bar and there are only three speakers, but from the setup I have (which I think is fairly typical, as in where the monitor is, where I am, how high I sit, etc), I get all the fullness of the sound. I have noticed that when I stand up or scoot back or whatnot a bit of the sound disappears, so I can imagine a special case where you might have the setup made in such a way that you 'dodge' the sound, but I don' think that would be the normal case.
Otherwise, it's been great. Absolutely everything I wanted. It was a bit pricey at $40 (with Amazon's Free Super Saver Shipping), but I personally think it was well worth it. Now I have not only good sound for my computer and speakers that fit my unique desk arrangement, and speakers for my iPod, ere the need ever arise.

I would recommend it to anyone who isn't an audiophile.*

Can you hear me now? Good.

*Because I'm not an audiophile and you can't really speak for one unless you are one, and I don't want an audiophile yelling at me because this speaker system isn't up to their standards.

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