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ALTEC LANSING ACS-295 Speakers
Reviewed by Vijay Anand (19 Aug 99)

Sound System Specifications

Satellites
No. of Drivers (Satellites) 2
Each Driver(Satellite) One 3" Shielded Full Range
One 1" Tweeter
Satellite Power 14 watts RMS (7 watts per satellite)
THD Less than 0.8% @ 1 Watt @ 1kHz
Treble Control +/- 9dB @ 7kHz(3dB Steps)
Bass Control +/- 9dB @ 150Hz(3dB Steps)
Subwoofer
Drivers(Subwoofer) One 6 " Long Throw Sub-Woofer
Subwoofer Power 20 Watts RMS
THD Less than 0.8% @ 1 Watt @ 100Hz
Speaker System
Frequency Response 35Hz - 20kHz
Input Impedance Larger than 10k ohms (inputs 1 and 2)
Input Sensitivity 500mV for full output support
S/N Ratio Less than 65db
Crossover Frequency (Subwoofer) 150Hz

[Introduction] [The Good] [The Bad] [Conclusion] [Rating]

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Introduction

Some time back, I asked CPU-Zilla why he hadn't considered the Altec Speakers instead of his Cambridge speaker set. Then came the most unusual reason I've heard to date; He replied that Altec Lansing sounded as if they were made in China and bought the Cambridge instead! It's true that most Altec Lansing Speaker sets we receive are made in China but the company is US-based! I didn't know that some people had such different opinions about Altec Lansing, which is one of the leading brands for PC speakers just like how Diamond is for the video-card business. They have large partners such as Dell where they sell large quantities of OEM speaker-sets and even make a few tailored models for them. I'm sure that most of you at some point of time have come across Altec Lansing speakers in action. Some of us may argue that the Midiland (Diamond), Cambridge or Boss offerings are better. To say the truth, it all depends on the listener and I would put them all in the same league as they all sound terrific but have their own ups and downs.

The Altec Lansing speaker models that have been popular lately are the ACS90/43/22, ACS44/33 and ACS45.1 ; Notice something similar about them? They are all affordably priced and provide good sound-output to typical PC users. Here's a newcomer in that category: The ACS295. The funny thing about it is it's sold as an OEM package unlike the ACS45.1 or the others that come in a very eye-catching box-art. I'll give you more details in the next section.

The Speaker-set was tested with some games, mainly NFS4, Q2 and Ceaser-3. Not to forget are Audio CD's, mainly, Mega Best 99, Madonna:The Immaculate Collection, MJ-Thriller, MJ-Bad, MJ-Dangerous, MJ-History and MJ-Blood on the Dance Floor and some MP3s. I know, I know... please don't complain for my taste of songs! I know they are outdated but I really like them. Besides I find that Madonna's and MJ's songs are great to test a wide rang of sounds from low hums in the song to their high pitched voices + lots of bass to test the subwoofer! All was tested using an AOpen 40x CD-ROM drive & the humble Creative Sound Blaster 16pnp + 3D (and No, I won't be upgrading this anytime soon because I'm waiting for a more radical change like the move from SB-Pro to SB-16 :P).

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The Good

The first encounter was when I bought an ACS45.1 speaker-set and when I lifted it up, I thought I bought an Asus casing! You guys should know that the Asus casings are heavier than most casings but the ACS45.1 and this current ACS295 set is as heavy as those Asus casings (I don't want to even think of the ACS48 yet!). There is a saying that the heavier your speakers are, the higher the sound quality is and the more stable the sound output is. In this case, the heavy weight of the speakers is due to the wooden sub-woofer. I think it's timber. A wooden subwoofer is superior to a plastic subwoofer anytime, as wood doesn't resonate like plastic. They tend to absorb vibration better, thus the output we hear is mostly from the speakers itself and not the casing. Plastic on the other hand, resonates like crazy at low frequency, thus giving it unrealistic/weird/boomy bass. This and a few other reasons apply to why musical instruments like classical guitars or violins, drums and others are made of wood. Those are just my views.

Both the satellites are magnetically shielded, so it's safe to place them near monitors, whose screen images get distorted due to the magnetic fields from the speaker's magnets if not for the shielding. Even telephones, modems, radios and anything that use magnets to operate will affect your monitor's output. But as with all speakers, they do cause some very minor flicker/jumping of the screen when placed next to a Trinitron monitor, so beware. You will not see the jumping if you place the speakers some distance away from the Trinitron monitor. If you insist on placing them close, you can always switch off the main power outlet for the speakers and switch them on when needed only. In my own setup, I've got a Sony speaker set, SRS-PC51 that is made to be hooked on to a Sony monitor and the ACS295 whose satellites are sitting just to the sides of the monitor, an external Hayes modem that sits right in front of the monitor and a telephone to the right of my Sony-200ES monitor. I don't see even the slightest flicker or jumping of the screen but each monitor is not a clone of one another, so yours would vary. But so far, the shielding seems to be well done for this set. Unfortunately, the subwoofer is not shielded and should not be placed near or anywhere within the vicinity of the monitor at all times (refer to the Bad section).

The setup is fairly simple and is aided by a thin A4-size manual which has large, easy to understand diagrams. Altec has also provided all necessary cables to get you started. Basically, plug the power cord from the subwoofer cabinet to a power-outlet and the green-plugged stereo cable is to be connected to the subwoofer input (labelled in green also) to your sound-card's audio-output. A red-Din-plug cable that sticks out from the back of the rear satellite is to be connected to the Subwoofer (labelled in red also) and provides power and sound output to the satellites (it is very thick and of a high quality). Finally, a mono white-plugged cable from the left satellite is to be connected to the right-satellite. That's all! If my explanation seems a little complicated, just wait till you buy the set and see the back page of the manual for a schematic of the connections and you'll be enlightened in a few seconds! That's how easy Altec has made setting up speakers to be. The colour coded connectors and cables themselves are so helpful, you don't need to look at the manual for any reference (unless you are colour-blind!). One note here is that it's advisable not to switch on the speakers or supply power to it while making the connections, do it after the connections are done.

The picture that I've drawn at the bottom left represents the control centre on top of the ACS295 right-satellite (top view). There's a Master Level Rotary Control, Power, Treble and Bass buttons. The method of control is quite clever and I'll explain them in detail just below. The 3 LED's provide indication of what's being adjusted by you when the buttons are pressed as well as contributing to make the speakers look more advanced and colourful.

  • Power button: Well, as the name implies it's to switch the power on/off for the speakers. The orange-LED next to the power button will indicate the speakers on/off status.

  • Treble / Bass buttons: Allows you to control the Treble and Bass output levels through hardware unlike many speaker sets that needs this to be adjusted through Windows Sound Properties. This brings out a cleaner signal as well as convenience in controlling the sound output. But how well do just the buttons alone help? Are these some sort of Treble and Bass boost buttons? That's what I thought at first sight and shunned these controls immediately until I played with the next control...

  • Master Level Rotary Control: At first sight, I thought it's a volume dial only which has no start and end! So it's free-spinning and wondered how stupid the design was. But learnt later from the manual and experimenting that not only it's a volume control, but also a level controller for Treble and Bass! Now I know why the dial was a free-spinning type. You can use it directly to control the volume but when you press the Bass/Treble buttons, their green LED will light to indicate that any adjustments made with the Rotary dial will affect either the Bass or Treble respectively. You can press the Bass/Treble buttons again to end their function quickly or leave it as it is and the function will end shortly by itself (respective green-LED will turn off once their function ends).

    Want to get back factory default setting for Bass/Treble? No problem, just depress appropriate button for 3 seconds and the green LED will go out denoting the control has been reset.
  • And now comes the part where most of you are waiting for: The Sound Quality! In one word, I would say it rocks! For just $130, you're getting a good deal! The sound is very clear, feels alive and has a fairly powerful Bass output. I cranked up the speaker's volume to its highest and found it to have a hissing sound in the background, so toning it down a little bit is fine. Next I tried to find out what distance it's able to deliver the sound and still be quite enjoyable. Positioning myself at different distances from the speaker set, I'm confident that you can pretty much party with this set at a good volume in a room with these dimensions: 5m x 5m x 3.3m. It can serve well up to 10m in my testing but how loud and how powerful you like the sound to be is quite subjective (Test PC is at dinning hall, which is a whole stretch including the hall, 11m x 5m x 3.3m). Best stereo and spatial effect can be achieved by placing the speakers as far apart as practical (minimum is 3 to 4 feet). If you remember your high school physics two point sources would act like one if you place them close enough, the waves will converge and the stereo effect would be lost. If you're sitting right in front of your system, spacing the satellites by the monitor only should sound fine, so a long as you keep the volume to a comfortable level.

    I can't really convey the sound quality on a webpage but you must really hear it for yourself! But don't get ideas of going to a shop and asking them for a demo. It's totally unrealistic! The sound output you hear at the shop and at home are totally different. You should not compare them there unless there is a room dedicated to trying out the speakers. You're better off going to a friend's place (even my own!) to get a feel of the quality.

    You must have seen others and my postings in the Hardware-Clinic regarding the differences between the ACS45.1 and ACS295 because the retail difference is $20 only. Well ACS295 has a 1" Tweeter in each satellite to help bring out the highs better without distortion. This brings the total satellite power from 12W RMS in the ACS45.1 to 14W RMS in the ACS295 set. In actual testing, I feel the extra Tweeter only helped when volumes are turned up quite high. In ACS45.1, maxing out the volume can result in some distortion which is solved by dropping volume to about 85-90 but maxing the volume in ACS295, I can't really hear distortion (there could be a little that I can't detect) but i did hear a hissing noise in the background. So for either speaker set, you'll have to turn down the volume to 90%, which is already quite loud! The hissing sound isn't heard if you're not sitting in front of the speakers, so there is an improvement overall. I also feel the Bass has improved a bit compared to ACS45.1, which is slightly boomier. Another line I used to say is that the ACS295 is a brother to ACS45.1, but what I really forgot to mention is that it's exactly the same as the ADA70 (in appearance and specs) but without USB! (Could this be the reason ACS295 is sold in an OEM box?)

    I played "Stranger in Moscow" and "Who is it", both by MJ (original and not the remixed versions) for testing the Bass effect. These 2 songs have the most Bass that I've heard before in a song. Hitting the play button, I could really feel the Bass through my floor, nearby furniture & doors rumbling (and I really do mean it) and my heart really thumping. The Bass is very powerful considering it's only a 20W subwoofer and all this comes from a $110 set. Of course I've met many who feel the Bass from Altec Lansing is too much. Well, tone it down in the subwoofer then! Currently I've set the subwoofer volume (at the back of the sub) to maximum and am using the right satellite to control the Bass output depending on the songs/games.

    Just a reminder, all my testing was done on the SB16, just wait till you try it on an SB-Live with this speaker set and yes, I've tried it too. It was so crisp that I've to tone down the treble (depending on your factory default setting)!

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    The Bad

    The DIN-cable supplying power and sound output to the satellites is so thick that the right satellite (where the DIN cable starts) may not be able to sit still (both satellites are quite light in weight). You may need to play around with the cable positioning to get the satellite to face the way you need it.

    The subwoofer's main Bass control is at the back of the sub and it's very tiresome to bend down and turn the sub's back facing you to change the Bass level. But I've offset this a little by maxing the sub's Bass level and then using the satellite's Bass button to control the overall Bass level. Sounds fine to me so far.

    When buying the ACS295 speaker set, you'll have to be careful with the satellite appearance. You see, I bought a few of these sets for clients when setting up complete systems but on 2 occasions I had satellites that were tinted brown in the corners. It looked as though the screws inside rusted to form this brown tint on the four corners of the speaker net. Even some display sets at SLS has the same phenomenon. So if you want a perfect looking set, choose the box wisely or if you think the vendor is one of the friendlier ones (is there one in the 1st place?), you can ask him to let you check, but don't count on it as it's just a hopeful suggestion. I was lucky to choose the right box for my personal set and it turned out to be fine! There was a tower of these stacked together and I just chose the box that looked better, Hehe!!

    Altec does not sell the satellites separately nor is there a second output at the back of the sub to hook up to more speakers to get 4 speaker output. Well, it wasn't designed to support 4 speakers but I wish it was. Anyway if you need 4 speakers, the ACS54 and Creative FPS2000 are excellent 4 speaker sets for now.

    Don't forget that the subwoofer is not magnetically shielded and can really show adverse effects to your monitor when placed next to one. My lecturer didn't know that and had placed the ACS45.1's subwoofer next to his Sony-200ES. After a few days, the bottom corners of the monitor were tinted. No matter how much he tried degaussing the tube, the tinted patch remained. So the monitor needed some fine-tuning at Sony's service centre as the technician said it can't be done on-site.

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    Conclusion

    Both the ACS45.1 and ACS295 are overall very good performers but if you can fork out $20 more, the better controls and slightly better Bass are a good welcome! For $130, the ACS295 is the best personal 2 speakers + 1 subwoofer system in terms of quality/performance ratio and wins hands-down in the value-for-money category. Though there are much finer and refined speaker models, they cost much more! For people looking for 4 speaker models and not wanting to spend a lot more, Altec also has the affordable ACS54 at only $165.


    Sound System Rating

    Overall Rating
    (Out of a maximum of 5 Star)

    Installation *****
    Sound Quality ****
    Price *****
    Appearance / Style ****½
    Useability / Style *****
    Overall Rating ****½

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