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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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The Sats

The 4 remaining satellites are in a vertical position.  There are a few issues we have with the satellite design, so let's address them while you enjoy the picture to the right.

First of all, the first thing you'll notice is a fixed base.  It can not be adjusted, and there are no mounting brackets at all.  This isn't such a big deal for the 3 front speakers, but finding a good place to set the the rear sats might be tough.  Most people prefer to use narrow speaker stand poles, or to attach them to the walls behind the listener. 

Neither option will be easy with the 5100's, and I fear that many people will simply resort to setting them to the side of their desks, which is not the most favorable method.

Furthermore, the stands on the sats are VERY narrow, which makes them somewhat unstable.  I have knocked down the front sats on more than a few occasions.  The carry quite a bit of weight too, and they fall down with quite an impact.  My rear sats are sitting above my bed up high on a book shelf (not the best placement I know, but it's the best I can do with the way the speakers are designed).  Every night I have nightmares about a 2 lb speaker falling on me and cracking my skull; subsequently I haven't slept in weeks.

One other thing to comment on may only be a problem with the set sold in my area.  As you may know, Hong Kong apartments are usually about the size of an average American closet.  Altec Lansing may have had this in mind when specifying speaker length for the rear sats for Asian distribution, because if you happen to set these up in an above-average sized room, you're going to have a tough time with them.  I had to move the subwoofer box out from under my desk to accomodate the short speaker cables.  Again, Altec Lansing is NOT agreeing with the way I want to set my speakers up!

Keep in mind that this MAY not be applicable to our readers.  I just wanted to point it out in case.


Speaking of Cables

While we're on the subject, let's cover the cables for a while.  In the terrible picture you see above, you can see an RCA type adapter, and a standard 'mini' stereo adapter.  The RCA cables run from each speaker to the panel on the rear of the subwoofer.  Oddly, the center sat uses a mini plug.  I guess this was the easiest way for Altec Lansing to upgrade the 5100 from the previous 4.1 channel "4100" set.

The rest of the miniplugs are used to connect the set to your PC's 5.1 input.  Standard 5.1 input on PC audio is 3 cables - front, rear, and center/subwoofer.  Usually (and I stress usually, because this was not the case for me), sound cards and motherboards use similar colours for coding.  Green = front, Black = rear, and Orange/Yellow for the centre/subwoofer channel.  The ports on my motherboard were all black, so I had to look them up in the motherboard manual.  DOH!

And here are the ports in all their color-coded glory on the back of the subwoofer.  As you can see, there is also a 2 channel auxiliary input, which can be used with devices like MP3 players, CD players, video game consoles etc.  You are not limited to mini-stereo plugs either, because Altec Lansing thoughtfully included a stereo RCA > mini plug adapter.  I REALLY appreciate it when manufacturers do this.

The "Center Mix" button will turn the center channel on in ALL operating modes, including 2 channel stereo.  We suggest leaving it off in most cases, because the center channel should only be used discretely.

On a side note, I just wish there was an easy way to connect to the SURROUND channels through RCA.  Many DVD players have Dolby Digital 5.1 or even DTS 5.1 decoders built in.  In these cases, they will have 6 RCA ports to connect to a speaker set - one for each channel.  I have never seen a set of converter cables to allow connection from a 5.1 device to a "3 input" speaker set like 5.1 PC speakers, but that's not to say they don't exist somewhere.

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