Altec Lansing's Expressionist Bass speakers are unique in that each cone-shaped tower features two speaker drivers for covering a range of audio in a compact design, without the need for a separate subwoofer. Whether it's just casual music listening in the office, hardcore gaming at home, or relaxing with the family to stream a movie from Hulu.com, everyone will enjoy this set of $129 speakers.
Setup and Design
The Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass speakers look like shiny, black, cone-shaped rocket ships sitting atop small plastic feet; the left speaker has rubber buttons for both audio controls and power. Each cone has a single 1.5-inch speaker driver dedicated to mid- and high frequencies, as well as a 4-inch downward firing subwoofer for low-frequency bass. This design saves space, as Altec Lansing's design eliminates the need for an external woofer common to most 2.1-channel systems.
We were able to set up the speakers in under a minute: simply plug one speaker into the other with a 3.5mm headphone jack, and then run an identical cord into your notebook's 3.5mm audio-out jack. An auxiliary jack on the rear of this speaker lets you play audio directly from an MP3 player.
Dire Straits' "So Far Away" sounded excellent on the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass, but there was a hint of distortion in comparison to more-expensive sets. We attribute the aforementioned distortion to the vibrations that resulted from the downfiring woofers on each tower. The snare drum was pronounced, but it didn't sound overly clean. During Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," the snare drum sounded like a slight faint whisper in the background instead of a crisp accent to the guitar and synthesizers; we had to turn the speakers up about 20 percent just to pick out every instrument. Jay-Z's voice in "Say Hello" was pitched so high it came out squeaky and distorted at louder volumes. Still, we preferred this set for bass-filled hip-hop songs over theLogitech Z-5 speakers, which had very little bass response.
Movies and Streaming Video
The Expressionist Bass held their own against the $399 Razer Makos in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, which is very impressive. Loud thumping noises were pronounced, and we could feel the propellers buzzing during the airplane cutscenes when Indy flew across the globe. The din of a crowded marketplace was also well balanced with the background music. We didn't experience any static or clipping at all, even when playing the high-pitched theme song at full volume.
We streamed the movie Saints and Soldiers from Hulu.com and heard some light static in the background, but otherwise were pleased with the quality. When we switched to the high-def stream, the static was gone and the audio excellent. We could hear the subtle rustling of jackets while two soldiers in one quiet scene talked to each other, and the gentle sounds of their hard swallows as they talked of losing men in the past.
The Altec Lansing set was excellent during our Far Cry 2 tests. We could easily make out enemies to our left and right without even a second thought as to their position; spent rounds from our gun sounded like coins falling on the ground. While the bass from an IED explosion wasn't as heart-throbbing as with the Mako set, the speakers provided enough juice to make us jump in our seat. We were pleased that background audio such as birds chirping and trucks rattling behind us were also noticeable.
The Expressionist Bass speakers are very good at producing clean and balanced audio across the board, and they're our top pick at this price point. While we loved that they took up a minimum of space, we thought the integrated subwoofers muddied up some of the clarity of our audio during some tunes. Still, for $129, these speakers will be a pleasant addition to any desk.