capsule review

Altec Lansing FX-4021

At a Glance
  • Altec Lansing FX-4021

The FX-4021 is Altec Lansing's most recent "computer" speaker system -- meaning it connects to any device with a standard 1/8-inch audio output. It uses a similar approach as Altec Lansing's previous computer-speaker offerings with a large subwoofer module, left and right satellites, a wired control pod, and a wireless remote. However, unlike the sleek, silver designs of previous Altec systems we've seen, the FX-4021 features black-and silver finishes with angular shapes.

The system's subwoofer, 14.1 inches high by 8.7 inches square at its thickest point, hosts two 5.25-inch woofers aligned in a single column to increase bass response. The enclosure also contains the system's amplifiers, which provide 24 Watts to the sub and 11 Watts (per channel) to the satellites. The top of the sub features a black-metal screen, through which you can see the back of one of the woofers -- an appearance that you'll likely love or hate. On the back of the sub are left and right speaker jacks (the satellites use built-in, 6.5-foot speaker cables, each with an RCA plug on the end; you can't use your own speaker cables); a 1/8-inch stereo input jack; and a special jack for connecting the control pod. Thanks to these different connectors and color-coded RCA plugs, the system is easy to hook up.

Each magnetically-shielded satellite speaker features a 1.6-inch midrange driver and a 0.7-inch tweeter. Each speaker is 6.8 inches tall, 3.5 inches wide, and 3.5 inches deep, and is angled upwards for desktop listening. You can remove the metal desk stands to use the speakers on a shelf; this reduces the overall dimensions of each satellite to 5.8 by 3.1 by 2.3 inches and removes the angled position.

The system's control pod, connected to the sub via a thick, 8-foot cable, provides a rotating disk that lets you adjust the volume or -- via buttons around the outside of the disk -- bass and treble levels. There are also buttons for toggling system power, Loudness and "SFX" (Altec Lansing's Sound Field Xpander Technology). A ring of green lights around the disk shows the current volume level (or, when adjusting bass or treble, the respective level). On the side of the control pod are two 1/8-inch minijacks, one to connect a second audio source and one for connecting headphones for private listening.

The system's wireless remote is surprisingly functional for computer speakers, with buttons for power, volume, bass, adjustment, treble adjustment, Loudness, SFX, and Reset. This last button resets bass and treble to their default (flat) levels, disables Loudness and SFX, and reduces the volume to its default (low) level -- a handy feature when you're across the room and can't see the green level meter. On the other hand, the infrared remote's range, while good (10 to 15 feet) from head-on, isn't great if you wander too far to the left or right of the control pod's infrared receiver.

Computer speakers in this price range have come a long way over the past decade, and the FX-4021 sounds very good compared to what you could get even just a few years ago. Bass is decent without being boomy, and detail is good. On the other hand, the FX-4021's midrange is a bit weak compared to the treble and bass (a combination that can also make the system's treble sound a bit emphasized). I also heard distortion at higher volumes -- better (and, to be fair, more expensive) systems of this size can play louder without distortion.

In terms of sound enhancements, the Loudness feature slightly increases bass and treble levels when listening at low volumes; because of the midrange issue I mentioned above, I actually preferred low-volume listening without Loudness enabled. And unlike the SFX feature of Altec Lansing's portable InMotion iM600, which I felt improved the iM600's sound slightly, to my ears SFX on the FX-4021 didn't improve the system's sound. It did add a bit of "space" to music, but the overall impression sounded unnatural to me. Thankfully, these are optional features.

For its official $130 price tag, the FX-4021 offers good sound and useful features. Even better, I've seen the system widely available for around $100.
--Dan Frakes

At a Glance
  • Altec Lansing FX-4021

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