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Manufacturer: Altec Lansing
Min OS X: Not Supported    Requires: Minijack Audio Port

Altec Lansing ATP5
June 25, 2001 | Andy Largent

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Just before beginning this review, I ran across an article that described an audiophile who has spent nearly $150,000 USD on his home stereo system. Even with audio cables costing tens of thousands of dollars and special air bladders and sandbox systems to prevent vibration, the setup was still not yet perfect to his oh-so-discriminating ear.

Here in reality, most of us aren't willing to throw down more than a couple hundred dollars on a set of speakers for our Macs. However the tale of the $150k stereo is an important example of just how subjective sound quality is to the listener. With this in mind, here is our review of a midrange "multimedia" speaker setup.

Getting Started
The ATP5 is a revision of an earlier set of Altec speakers, the ATP3 series, which had two fewer speakers. Altec also bumped up the spec on the subwoofer to give the ATP5 a little more 'oomph.' The ATP5 is a 4.1 speaker set, which means it has four satellites and a subwoofer. Those with a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live! card will definitely want to consider moving to a 4.1 system to take advantage of the extra capabilities of the card, if they haven't already.

The installation of the speakers was a mixed experience. By design, a 4.1 speaker system takes much more room to set up and 'configure' for the best audio quality. The placement should optimally be near ear level to your immediate left and right. Because of the special configuration of the ATP5 satellites, a solid surface is definitely recommended so that the sound will have something to reverberate from -- placing them on carpet is a bad idea. It is just as important that the subwoofer be on a hard surface as well for the cleanest audio response. If you have a carpeted floor, a great solution is to get a vinyl flooring scrap or a small piece of plywood (see your local home improvement store) to put under it.

A little trial and error may be required to get them sounding 'right' to your ear, so don't be afraid to reposition them if necessary. Of course, this might not be possible depending on where you computer is located, so make sure you've got the room before spending the money.

While the manual for the ATP5 is fairly sparse on explaining exactly what all of the features do, it does a good job of helping with basic installation. The cables are extraordinarily long, which is great if you need to work around some things to find a place for the rear speakers. Unfortunately, the color coding Altec chose can be a little confusing. For some reason they chose to include the colors orange, brown, and gold for the speaker outputs, which can get confusing in low-light situations. Get out a flashlight to make sure you make the right connections when you're hooking up the satelites to the subwoofer.

As far as which cables go where, there are a few options. The ATP5 has front and rear inputs on the subwoofer for both analog and digital signals. If you've got a standard Mac, you'll likely just run one cable from your audio out to the front analog input. Sound Blaster Live! owners will probably want to use the card's two analog outputs to connect to the ATP5's analog front and rear inputs. Since the Sound Blaster Live! only has one digital out (and the ATP5 can't do any digital post-processing anyway), analog is probably the best route for now.


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