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Altec Lansing 251 Speakers Review

/ Jun 28th, 2002 No Comments

In business, there is a term called “market segmentation”. What that means is that a business will create products for a very specific application – and hopefully they will tap into that market. The Model 251 was judged a solid success for the PC-gamer basic system market (80% of systems will want this product).

ALTEC LANSING is one of the recognized leaders in acoustic speaker systems. ALTEC LANSING has 1500 people in facilities throughout the United States, Asia/Pacific and Europe. Their manufacturing facility in Dongguan, China, supplies speaker components, micro speaker assemblies and complete audio packages. Importantly, they are ISO9002 and SA8000 certified. To most gamers, that last piece of information is something important but not usually recognized.

I want something to work and last – the ISO9002 and SA8000 certifications mean that the production facility maintains quality control and quality assurance minimums that have been set by international professional societies. This is important, because being certified means your products are likely to last longer and meet the “advertised” performance specifications. If you don’t do much else – take away from this article that you should look for ISO9002 and SA8000 certification on any speaker system you are considering.

ALTEC LANSING offers a wide range (both in price and configuration) of speaker systems. The model 251 is in the rage of a “basic” system configuration. The list price of $99.95 certainly is targeted to the market segment of most PC-gamers. The system is well powered at 90 watts (45 watts RMS), and has 6 speakers: a 5.25-inch powered subwoofer; and 5 channel speakers each 3-inch. The channel speakers are shielded – which means you can place them next to and on top of the monitor. The speaker configuration is for a center speaker, front right/left, rear right/left, and subwoofer near the monitor.

There are several sound cards that provide surround sound output, and this system seems a perfect match for them. The performance specs are reasonable: Frequency Response: 35 Hz – 18 kHz; Signal to Noise Ratio @ 1 kHz input: > 70 dB; and System THD (distortion): < 0.5 % THD at -10 dB full-scale input voltage.

So why consider these speakers? There were several aspects of the Model 251, which are very well designed. First, there is a headset jack on the front right speaker (which will sit adjacent to your monitor – this enables easy access for headset use (no longer do you have to hook your headset into the rear output of your soundcard. Second, there are individual controls for the center speaker, surround, and master volume also on the right front speaker for easy use. We canvassed several speakers at the local electronics warehouse and there is wide variance in these features from manufacturer to manufacturer.

We qualitatively tested the Model 251 using several test signals:

We noted that the subwoofer was stronger than expected and could overwhelm the satellite speakers – so we dropped the volume and got a very acceptable bass level. However, the distortion from a 5.25-inch subwoofer is greater than that from larger subwoofer speakers. We tested 6.5-inch and 10-inch subwoofer from systems costing over $200 (the 10-inch subwoofer itself retails at $300), and there is a noticeable difference in distortion. This is an important issue if you want to buy speakers for a video system (i.e., home theater) but is really irrelevant for a PC-gamer application. The explosions from Grand Theft Auto 3 sound crisp and deep.

The 3-inch satellite speakers provide a good quality sound. Music was distortion free at normal output levels, but you cannot run a disco with these speakers. However, as with the subwoofer, for a PC-gamer application these speakers were crisp and enjoyable. Unless you want to spend twice the money for larger speakers, the shielded 3-inch satellites were very well designed. What you miss from these satellite speakers (and what costs so much in more expensive speakers) is the overall richness – something evident if you are playing classical music or want to recreate a concert-quality sound.

Lastly, we evaluated the system using several other sound sources. We qualitatively tested the system using a portable CD player (SONY) and an MP3 player. As in the PC gaming applications, the sound quality was a pleasant surprise.


ALTEC LANSING hits the money with their Model 251 system. If you want to spend around $100 for a solid system that will “put you in the middle of the action”, then these are the speakers for you. The old “80-20 Rule” probably applied here – 80% of the PC-gamers want a solid basic sound system and this is it! The Model 251’s 5-1 surround sound will nicely fit the bill.

The Final Word: A fantastic product, one that cannot be duplicated for the $99.99 pricepoint!

Greg Gibson

Greg Gibson

Lead Reviewer / Editorial Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Greg Gibson’s resume spans over 40 years in the world of nuclear engineering and technology, having received a Masters Degree in e-commerce in 1998. Our resident MMORPG expert, Greg’s ability to understand the dynamics of MMOs is unparalleled.
Greg Gibson

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