Altec Lansing VS3251
- Above average audio performance, nice design, simple
- No on screen display makes calibration difficult, 5.1 only supported with compatible sound cards, bass performance lacking at higher volumes
The VS3251 speakers are a great option for PC users, but fall short in other categories. Their versatility is a plus, although they are let down by difficult controls.
Price$ 199.95 (AUD)
Altec Lansing's VS3251 audio system is a 5.1 surround sound speaker set, including a subwoofer, centre speaker, and two front and two rear speakers. Despite delivering reasonable audio performance, there are a number of issues with this system which really limit its potential, preventing it from becoming a fantastic device. Its compatibility can't be faulted, as it can be used with anything from PCs to Home Entertainment setups to MP3 players. Unfortunately though, it's held back by a frustrating interface and setup, and poor bass performance.
Sound quality on the VS3251 is generally quite good. It's well balanced, without a noticeable bias towards treble or bass. The midrange is powerful, but not to the point of overpowering the rest of the audio. While the entire range of audio is fairly well represented, it isn't necessarily so well reproduced. Treble has a distant and twangy edge to it, while midrange isn't very sharp, tending towards slurring at times. We found bass performance to be a little strange. At lower volumes it's punchy and quick, perfect for games and movies, although at higher levels it tends to reduce the entire audio output to a dull rumble. Nevertheless, audio performance is quite strong, and while not quite what we'd call "high-end", it definitely differentiates itself from a lot of the more average models we've seen. It should also be noted that 5.1 audio is only available when the unit is connected to a 5.1 compatible sound card, and that most DVD players and gaming consoles will only deliver stereo (2.0 channel) sound.
Setting up the unit starts out well; connect the cables, turn the unit on, and plug it into your audio source. After that however, things get a little more complicated. There's no way to really calibrate the speakers, apart from adjusting the volume on the rear and centre speakers to try to bring them to the same levels as the front ones. This is seriously hampered by the lack of an on-screen display, so you really have to do a lot of guess-work when trying to achieve the right volume levels. Bass and master volume levels suffer from the same lack of an OSD, and it took us quite a long time to get levels which we were happy with.
The VS3251's design is quite nice. The black finish and wooden case look attractive, and combine into a simple and elegant package once cables have been tucked away. The subwoofer houses the speaker and soundcard connections on the rear, with auxiliary and headphone jacks on the front, along with an LED power light and a volume knob. An infrared dongle is attached to the sub via a cable, allowing the remote control to be used even if the sub is placed under a desk, or in an inconvenient corner. The remote itself actually bares most of the unit's controls, and care must be taken not to lose it, since the front panel of the sub can't switch inputs or change specific volume levels.
Overall, the VS3251 speakers are a good package for PC users, or those looking for something with plenty of versatility. Users looking for a home theatre setup though, would probably be better served looking elsewhere.
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