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Manufacturer: Altec Lansing
Min OS X: Any Version    Requires: Minijack Audio Port

Altec Lansing 4100
November 13, 2002 | Greg Gant

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Speaker packages containing 4.1 and 5.1 setups are all the rage these days with gamers. Unfortunately, Mac gamers were stifled by the failure of the SoundBlaster Live on the Mac. There are a few games that support 4.1 sound in OS 9 with a SoundBlaster Live. Mac OS X still has no option to use multi-channel sound for games yet, although OpenAL has been ported to X. Multi-channel or not, people are sure to enjoy having have more speakers to amplify their gaming experience.

The Altec Lansing 4100s sport four satellites and a subwoofer. Each satellite is outfitted with two 1-inch microdrivers. The subwoofer also uses dual drivers, packing two 5.25 inch woofers. The entire system packs an impressive 107 watts RMS (continuous power) and 140 watts peak. The 4100s have a 65-db signal to noise ratio meaning white noise can be heard in a quiet environment when no sound is playing. Luckily for most users when the speakers are placed in a room with a computer, the white noise will not be audible over the computer.

The subwoofer isn’t magnetically shielded like many computer speakers. Altec Lansing recommends placing the subwoofer three feet away from video monitoring devices. My tests confirmed that the subwoofer caused video noise roughly at one and half feet. Depending on various setups, users may or may not be able to position the subwoofer as close to the monitor.

The Altec Lansing 4100s come with a full-featured wired remote that sports volume, bass, treble and speaker mode options for 4.1 and two channel mirrored mode. The only things the remote lacked were a headphone jack and a “fade” control so one could adjust the front and back speaker volumes. Since the Altec Lansing 4100s are 4.1 speakers, they can be used for 4.1 sound with the SoundBlaster Live or two channel mirrored mode with non-4.1 sound sources. Two channel mirroring takes any stereo sound source and plays it stereo on both front speakers and back speakers.

The Sound
If there’s one thing that this speaker set has, it is plenty of bass. I found the default setting for the bass a bit high and found myself reaching for the remote to turn it down a bit.

My biggest concern with the 4100s was the lacking midrange. The Altec Lansing 4100s presented powerful bass and plenty of highs but the lower midrange was lost in the mix. This wasn’t as noticeable when playing my usual round of games such Unreal Tournament, The Sims: Hot Date (guilty pleasure), Stronghold and Max Payne. When playing music or watching movies, it was much more apparent. The vocals were almost lost in a few noise heavy sequences in Forrest Gump. The bass however did spawn a complaint from a neighbor.

The few games that do support 4.1 sounded much better thanks to the now defunct SoundBlaster Live. As a testament to the power of 4.1 sound, I had a friend with a PC and a Sound Blaster Audigy test out Jedi Knight 2 with EAX 3.0. I’m sorry to say it was an experience to behold. If the Mac ever gets a second chance at multi-channel sound for games, the 4100s will be ready for action. Two channel mirrored mode didn’t make up for the lack of 4.1 sound in games under OS X, but helped give games a more “full sound” since the soundscape consisted of front and back speakers.


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