Review: Altec Lansing FX4021
A few years back, we took a look at Altec Lansing’s FX6021, a speaker system that screams Power Mac G5 (or at least Apple Cinema Display). With an appropriately-proportionate price tag, you got a nice set of speakers that fit in well with your system. Unfortunately, there are more people with a Mac mini budget, and Altec Lansing has released a slightly cheaper product, the FX4021.
FX4021 Control Pod + Remote
The FX-line of Altec Lansing’s seems to be the more stylish, but still powerful product line. With a price tag of less than half of the FX6021s ($129), it is priced more competitively with offerings from JBL, Logitech, and Creative. The system also offers about 2/3 of the power, rated at 46 watts RMS. The entire system includes two satellites, a subwoofer, a control pod, and a wireless remote.
First of all, this review is intended to be a review of general sound quality for most computer users, as well as roundup of the features. I’m no audiophile, although I do enjoy listening to all kinds of things in iTunes, as well as watching movies on my computer.
Unlike the FX6021s, the FX4021s have two drivers (one 40mm midrange and one 18mm high-end tweeter) in each satellite, but in our tests, they still pump out enough sound to be more than acceptable. The subwoofer is unique in that it features two 5.25″ drivers, allowing it to stay compact while producing quite a bit of sound. How is this achieved? The two drivers are placed in an isobaric arrangement—it is rather unique and seems to work fairly well.
Setup is like any other Altec Lansing product—put the removable bases on the satellites, connect the satellites to the subwoofer, connect the subwoofer to a computer (or other device) with the included 3.5mm cable, connect the control pod to the subwoofer, and you’re ready to go. A RCA to 3.5mm adapter is included for connection to VCRs, DVD players, TVs, video game consoles, or stereos.
Control pod? What the heck is that? If you’re familiar with the recent trend of computer speakers, the idea is to take the controls off of a satellite, allowing people to put the speakers where they want. The control pod with the FX4021 includes an auxiliary input jack, a headphone jack, a power button, a loudness button, an SFX (Sound Field Xpander) button, and adjustments for volume, treble, bass, and loudness.
Operation of the speakers is how you’d expect—turn them on, adjust the settings to your liking, and go from there. The buttons for loudness and SFX
simply enhance the sound (loudness boosts the high and low frequency sounds, while SFX gives the impression of a wider stereo image). Having both turned on makes music better almost 95% of the time in our tests.
The remote allows access to the same features, but in a more portable form. It is infrared, so you have to point it at an unobstructed control pod, but is handy, especially in dorm rooms or other areas where the computer could be unattended on the other side of the room.
You can have the slickest speaker system, but it’s useless if it sounds awful. Fortunately, in our tests (watching movies, some TV shows, and listening to a wide range of music) the FX4021 fared well for the most part. The system’s subwoofer excelled at rock music and other constant heavy-bass things. In other situations, it is better if the loudness feature is turned off. The FX4021 seems to have trouble with music with very subtle bass, but this has been the case with many computer speaker systems in this price range that we’ve tried.
Our only other gripe is that wall-mounts were not included with the speakers, but a “free, but you pay shipping” coupon is thrown in with the manual. Something that small could have just been included.
Basically, the FX4021 is a system that gives people something that is aesthetically pleasing, slightly-better-than-average-grade sound, and can still be plenty loud. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to audiophiles, but for most people this system should be rather satisfying.
The One-Sentence Verdict™
The FX4021 is a decently-priced, more competitive alternative to its more expensive sibling, the FX6021.
Pros: Fast and easy set up, powerful bass, satellites can hang on a wall or stand on a desk, control pod’s accessibility, multiple inputs
Cons: Best suited for only certain types of music, wall-mounts not included
Maximum Continuous Power: 46 Watts RMS
Satellites: 11 Watts/channel @ 4 ohms, 10% THD
Subwoofer: 24 Watts @ 8 ohms, 10% THD
Maximum Sound Pressure Level: 92 dB
Satellites: 180-20000 Hz
Subwoofer: 32-180 Hz
SNR @ 1KHz: > 85 dB