Altec Lansing delivers power, clarity for a price, but Labtec's $80 four-speaker system rings true

Altec Lansing delivers power, clarity for a price, but Labtec's $80 four-speaker system rings true

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

It takes a good speaker package to accept and play high-quality digital audio signals from your computer's sound card.

First, decide whether to buy a four- or two-speaker sound system. Two-speaker sound is much more common, but that does not mean it costs less. Generally a two-speaker system is fancier in speaker quality and sometimes costs more.

A four-speaker system places two satellite speakers in front of the user and two behind. This lets the computer accurately reproduce sounds all around the user. It also reproduces echo and reverberation better.

Four-speaker systems usually are small, portable units that don't have as much raw power as two-speaker units. Also, the PC's sound card must support four-speaker audio to take full advantage of them, which means the card has to have one audio output jack for the front pair of speakers and one for the back. All high-quality systems have subwoofers, too.

I reviewed two speaker setups: the high-end ADA310W two-speaker system from Altec Lansing Technologies Inc. and the LCS-2514 four-speaker system from Labtec Inc.

The ADA310W comes with a Universal Serial Bus connection, which is a big advantage in both setup and control. Setup of the two satellite speakers and subwoofer takes about five minutes, and there is no mistaking where the cables go on the color-coded chart.

You can adjust the volume with an on-screen program or use controls on the right-channel satellite unit.

The four-speaker LCS-2514 sound system delivers good audio and is priced at $80.

The speakers are powerful, especially the subwoofer, which has a six-inch dual voice coil.

The satellite speakers' amp deliver up to 20 watts of power, which won't shake the walls but will produce good, loud sound.

The subwoofer amp is even more powerful at 24 watts. The GCN Lab floor shook when I turned up the volume near maximum. Even so, I heard very little distortion when playing an audio CD-ROM or listening to computer-generated sounds.

The ADA310W is designed to deliver true digital sound, including dynamic audio effects that most systems cannot reproduce.

You will notice such effects only in activities such as playing a DVD movie. Even then, the differences between the ADA310W and a standard system are difficult for most people to hear. I could distinguish them only after repeatedly playing a DVD on a standard system and then on the ADA310W.

In spite of the ADA310W's advantages, I consider $250 high for a set of computer speakers.

They are elegant but cost more than twice as much as most sound cards. Audio purists will enjoy their power, but most users can easily get by with a less expensive setup.

Box Score ''''''''''''''''

Labtec LCS-2514

Quadraphonic sound system

Labtec Inc.; Vancouver, Wash.;

tel. 360-896-2000

Price: $80

+ True four-speaker system

+ Can mimic four-way sound with older sound cards

+ Inexpensive

Box Score ''''''''''''''''


High-quality computer speaker system

Altec Lansing Technologies Inc.; Milford, Pa.;

tel. 800-258-3288

Price: $250

+ USB support

+ True digital speakers

+ Good sound

' Expensive

I plugged the entry-level Labtec LCS-2514 four-speaker system into a Quadzilla quadraphonic sound card from Voyetra Technologies Inc. of Yonkers, N.Y.

The two rear speakers had 12-foot cords, and the front satellite speakers had 7-foot cords, which is generous. You can easily find a place for them with that much cable, though the optimum place is behind your head.

Ideally you should keep the rear speakers aligned with the front two speakers, seating yourself in the center of the imaginary square they form.

Take care not to roll over their wires with your chair, as they are extremely thin. You can wall-mount the satellites, though in any sound system the subwoofer should be placed on the floor. The four-speaker system sounded incredible with an appropriate sound card. I could close my eyes and imagine sitting in a concert hall, hearing every section and the individual instruments in the orchestra.

The satellite speakers' amps are not very powerful at only 4 watts each, but they combine to make amazing effects.

The subwoofer amp is more powerful at 31 watts and, like the ADA310W, has a wooden case for a richer sound than plastic-encased units can produce.

The best thing about the LCS-2514 system is that it works with sound cards that lack quadraphonic support.

I plugged it into a standard card and activated 3-D sound.

Although its sound mimicry was not nearly so impressive, it was still far better than an average setup. And its four-speaker sound support costs less than $100.

Both speaker systems impressed me, but the LCS-2514 looks like the better choice for most users. At $80, it has four-speaker sound with above-average audio.


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