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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [03.17.03]
Manufactured by: Altec Lansing 

MSRP: $179.95
Est. Street: $140 appx.

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Surround Yourself

Surround gaming as a trend was at its peak around 2001, when the two emerging technologies were EAX and A3D audio.  Creative lived up to their name and 'creatively' defeated the competition - by wrapping them up in lawsuits until Aureal eventually could not sustain itself and eventually went bankrupt.

This is just another mark on Creative's tally of 'creative' business practices, and I'm sure it has affected the buying decisions of more than a few people.

Now that EAX is no longer a fully proprietary format, and now simply an extension to DS3D, there are a lot more surround sound cards to choose from.  And now, many integrated sound options on motherboards are high class 3D chipsets - often the same chipsets used on high range sound cards.  This means 3D gaming is definitely here to stay and not just a passing trend.

Time To Upgrade.. ?

If you've upgraded your motherboard recently, you probably have integrated sound capable of 5.1 audio.  You might be inclined to think you need to upgrade to a Soundblaster Live (and Creative has gone many great lengths to have you think like this) but that is NOT the case.  In many cases, your integrated sound may be better than any SBLive out there.  I recently helped out a fellow hardware site with a sound card review as a sound quality tester.  You can check out our results in Tech-Report's review of 7 sound cards.

What you really need to upgrade are your speakers.  If you've been gaming in 2.1 simply because you never thought about surround gaming as more than a gimmick, you really need to think otherwise.  Surround sound can be a tactical advantage in multiplayer games.  Try manning the flak cannon in Battlefield: 1942 with a 5.1 speaker setup - you can hear exactly where the plane is coming from, even if it is a LONG way away.  Try Counter-Strike with surround gaming, and know exactly where your enemies are.  Not only is it a tactical advantage, but it is simply more enjoyable.  Just as it is more enjoyable watching a movie in DTS surround sound, it is more enjoyable playing a game in full surround sound - if done right of course.

Now that you know you need to start looking at a 5.1 speaker set, why not start with these?

Altec Lansing 5100's are the latest in their lineup of "enhanced" speakers.  This means that they sit somewhere between 'high end' and 'mid range'.  The US box may vary from above, since this is the one for the international/Asian market.  Besides a 220V power supply, my set should be identical in every way to the ones you get at home.

I REALLY hate posting specs in speaker reviews, because manufacturers NEVER post specs properly.  Nonetheless, Altec Lansing rates these as "100 watts peak power" and "73 watts RMS".  Compared to what I think is a direct competitor to this model - the Philips MMS306 we reviewed a while back, this is slightly behind.  Philips rates their set as "100 watts RMS".  Like I said, take these specs with a grain of salt.

Finding any other valuable specifications is not the easiest thing to do, so we're going to have to base the review mostly on subjective testing.

The first step in subjective testing is always looks.  Let's open the box up and see what's inside!

The 5100 satellites are among the most beautiful computer speakers you'll lay eyes on.  They manage to look unique, but not to the extent attained by the gawdy bubble-looking speakers people were going crazy about last year.

Each satellite contains a pair of 1" neodymium micro drivers that create a lot more sound than you would imagine, if somewhat bright.  Each sat is rated at 6W RMS, 7W Peak @ 100Hz-22Khz.  Interestingly, the center satellite you see above is rated much higher, at 18W RMS, 22W Peak, which is almost identical to the subwoofer.

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