Review: Altec Lansing VS3151

by on March 18, 2005

Digital music is now an integral part of the computing experience. Whether in the form of a computer running iTunes, an iPod, or just playing some audio CDs, all the music ends up in the same place — headphones or speakers. Also becoming popular are surround sound systems. Since the internal speakers on most computers are merely adequate for anything other than system beeps, we decided to take a look at the VS3151 by Altec Lansing.

VS3151 Satellite
VS3151 Satellite

VS3151 Center Satellite
VS3151 Center Satellite

VS3151 Control Pod
VS3151 Control Pod

VS3151 Subwoofer
VS3151 Subwoofer

Essentially the replacement for the discontinued 251 system, the VS3151 system offers slightly more power and three extra speakers for true 5.1 surround sound. Were the extra speakers worth the added expense? Was the sound quality as good as Altec Lansing’s $100 2.1 setup, the VS4121? How much cable clutter will the three extra speakers cause?

As stated in other speaker reviews, this review is intended to be a review of general sound quality for average computer users as well as roundup of the features. I’m no audiophile, although I do enjoy listening to a wide variety of music and watching movies on my computer.

The VS3151 is a typical 5.1 setup, with four identical satellites, a subwoofer, and a center-channel speaker. All of the speakers plug into the subwoofer with RCA connectors. Not only is every connector color-coded, but each one has a connector designed to fit its specific jack. (Standard RCA cables work fine with the subwoofer, in case you need to use an extension.) The control pod has controls for power, master / subwoofer / surround / center-channel volume, and a headphone jack. On the back of the pod is a pair of RCA jacks for connection of a gaming system or VCR, along with a selector for 2.1, 4.1, or 5.1 audio. The system has a power output of 50 watts RMS.

A cable with three 3.5-mm stereo mini plugs connects the system, via the control pod, to the computer. For those with a 6-channel sound card, all three cables are connected. For those with a 4-channel sound card, only two are connected. For anyone else, only one is connected. Protective caps are included to cover unused connectors.

Each satellite features a 2″ full-range driver. They feature a silver-on-black color scheme and design that should look good with any Mac, pro or consumer. The satellites have dimensions of 3.2″ (W) x 3.1″ (D) x 8.3″ (H). Each satellite, as well as the center-channel speaker, can be mounted on either the wall or stand freely.

The subwoofer, with its 5.25″ woofer, produces decent sounding bass with most of the stuff we threw at it. It features a design similar to many of Altec Lansing’s newer speaker systems in the 3000 series. The subwoofer’s size is 10.8″ (W) x 7.3″ (D) x 7.1″ (H).

The system performed very well in all of the tests. These included listening to a wide range of classic rock songs (including selections by Led Zeppelin, Kansas, and the Who), newer songs (including Jet and Josh Radin), jazz (Grant Green, Lalo Schifrin), and movies (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Saved!). Connection of a VCR through the RCA jacks also yields good-sounding audio.

Our only gripe was that audio coming from both inputs came through at all times. The ability to switch inputs on and off would be a great convenience.

I was able to turn up the volume on the speakers almost all the way and still have clear, undistorted sound. Turning up the subwoofer to the highest volume resulting in my being able to “feel” the music from across the room, but still gave excellent quality sound.

The headphone jack on the control pod is similar to those found on many other computer speaker systems, whereby plugging in any standard set of headphones mutes the speakers. Having the headphone jack on the pod allows you to put the speakers almost anywhere.

Overall, the VS3151 is a great system, with the only downside being the lack of an input selector switch. It is a great choice for anyone who wants to get into surround sound, and have hardware that will grow with them, whether they are using a basic audio out port on their Mac, or a 6-channel sound card.

The One-Sentence Verdict™

The Altec Lansing VS3151 system provides Mac users with excellent audio quality for a price similar to many 2.1 systems.

Pros: Fast and easy set up, powerful bass, crisp sound, satellites have a small footprint, true surround sound

Cons: Audio input not selectable

The Facts

4.5/5Product: VS3151
Company: Altec Lansing
Platform: Mac/Win
Price: $99.95

Speaker Facts

Maximum Continuous Power: 50 Watts RMS
Front/Rear Satellites: 5 Watts/channel @ 8 ohms, 10% THD
Center Satellite: 10 Watts/channel @ 8 ohms, 10% THD
Subwoofer: 20 Watts @ 8 ohms, 10% THD

Frequency Response:
Front/Rear Satellites: 150-20000 Hz
Center Satellite: 150-20000 Hz
Subwoofer: 20-150 Hz

This post has been filed in Reviews and Speakers/Audio