iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Altec Lansing 321 and XA3021 2.1 Acoustic Systems Review

September 27, 2002

Today we are dealing with two 2.1 audio systems manufactured by Altec Lansing. The line of 2002 includes about 15 different models. They all have a unique design and are divided into three groups: PC Music, PC Gaming and Video Gaming & TV Audio. The two first sets are positioned as computer computer sets for playing music and and sound in games. The third one includes multimedia acoustic sets for game consoles and TV. But the gradations are actually formal.

Some of the systems in the line are very similar to each other. For example, most 4.1 and 5.1 sets are identical to the 2.1 systems with satellites added. Today we will take a look at the computer music and gaming 321 and XA3021 models. The XA3021 is the light 2.1 version of the XA3051 5.1 system. The 321 model is completely new and is not even mentioned on the manufacturer's site.

Without further ado let's head into analyses of the tested systems.

Altec Lansing 321

Altec Lansing 321

This model is positioned for listening to music on a computer. The design is very austere. At the same time, the roundish shape of the satellites is taken for the front panel of the subwoofer, which makes all the parts looking original. The dual-band satellites are certainly an advantage. But two loudspeakers put into the cabinets of the speakers are absolutely identical and belong to the MF/HF speaker class.

321 satellite

Without the support the satellites measure 75x185x70 mm. The panels are made of plastic. No sound absorber is provided. One of the satellites houses a general volume control, a power switch and a headphones out (minijack). The headphone out is of very good quality. When headphones are jacked in the speakers switch off automatically.

There are two ways you can arrange your satellites. In the first case, without a support, the speaker stands on 4 small legs athwart to the surface. In the second one the speaker standing on an iron support bends back, which makes possible to direct the speakers accurately at a listener. Both speakers have rubber legs protecting lacquered desk surfaces.

The cabinet of this system is made of wood. It measures 20x34x35 cm; the panels are 11 mm thick. The subwoofer stands on rubber legs 1cm high. The subwoofer has the phase-inverter acoustic scheme. The phase-inverter's output is on the front panel. The panel is made of plastic, but it's attached excellently and brings in no additional resonance.

The back panel of the subwoofer incorporates a sub's volume control, an analog input and two outputs for satellites (Right, Left).

Back panel of the 321 subwoofer

3-meter cables used to connect the speakers and the amplifier have a thick insulation. A cable connecting the subwoofer with a sound card is 2 meters long. There is also an illustrated printed manual.


Both audio systems were connected with cables supplied. We used the Terratec 6fire DMX sound card which delivers a top-quality sound.

In general, the sound is not bad. Although some plastic sounds can be noticeable, they do not come forward and just add a peculiar tint. The speakers lack normal middle frequencies as the satellites' loudspeakers are too small. But thanks to the double loudspeakers, the speakers are able to create a fairly good panorama being a meter away from each other.

The LF speaker with the cone output onto the front panel catches the upper lows. But its small diameter doesn't allow it playing frequencies below 35 Hz. There are just some subharmonics. This has a great effect on compositions with rich bass parts. Nevertheless, the subwoofer set to an acceptable volume level produces almost no additional sound or resonance.

If we compare the new model with the classical one Altec ASC48, the sound of the former would be inferior, first of all, because of the lower-quality dynamic heads and passion of the R&D department of Altec Lansing for design.


Altec Lansing XA3021

While the previous model is of an austere design, the XA3021 model is completely different. An appearance of this set looks unusual, as if it comes from science fiction movies. By the way, there are a lot of people out there who will definitely like it. Moreover, it can be an excellent present for a gamer.

All the cabinets of the XA3021 system are plastic. The dimensions of the satellites without the supports are 100x155x100 mm, of the subwoofer - 20x20x38 cm.

XA3021 satellite

The satellites have no filling material inside, however, the thick plastic panels do not produce any additional sound at the working volume level. The magnet of the dynamic head is shielded. The corrugation of the paper cone is too rigid, which decreases sensitivity. But it's typical of most acoustic systems of this class.

The support of the speaker is made of varnished steel wire. It's wrapped in rubber is some parts to prevent parasitic vibrations and protect the desk surface. The mount allows tilting the cabinet at any angle. It's important for all models with small loudspeakers the sound field of which has a dominant direction.

XA3021 subwoofer in the vertical position

The subwoofer can be placed in vertical or horizontal positions. In both cases it stands on rubber-covered legs. The phase-inverter's hole is located in the speaker's base. At first glance it seems to have a fake look, but when music is played air is really pumped through it.

Wired remote control

The wired RC measures 55x140x20 mm and it has the following functions and controls:
  • Power button; 
  • Volume control; 
  • three presets of the low frequency adjustment system (TV, Gaming, Max-Bass). 
Besides, there are two headphone outputs on the bottom of the remote control, which come in handy in games with two players.

Commutation panel of the 321 subwoofer

All existent connectors are located on the general commutation panel:
  • aux in; 
  • input; 
  • input for an external controller; 
  • bass level; 
  • output to connect satellites; 
  • power in. 
Cables connecting the speakers and the remote control are 3 meters long.


This system plays worse, but in games the difference will be inconsiderable. One can notice certain plastic tembre tint in the sound but, fortunately, the panels do not play up to it. The sound is fairly good and don't make your ears tired after 5-minute listening.

The MF speakers of the satellites come with a greater cone's diameter. But it doesn't improve middle frequencies. The loudspeaker's cone remains almost immovable because of the too rigid flexible corrugation probably meant for a high volume level.

The subwoofer plays without any additional sounds although its panels are made of plastic. But the sound has a booming tint. Some sounds are blurry in the beginning especially if they are from the lower frequency range. It is the cost of small dimensions of the subwoofer and its science-fiction look.

Finally, the game produced in games, which is its main field of application, is excellent.

FR and THD measurements

We used the RMAA AE 3.4 program to take measurements. The EgoSys Waveterminal 2496 sound card (frequency response - -0.01/+0.07 dB) was used to generate and record the signal from Behringer ECM8000 measurement mic.

FR and THD diagrams for the 321 satellite

Looking at the above diagrams of the 321 satellite I notice no bad defects. There is some drop in the HF range as separate HF speakers are absent. At 300 Hz the distortions splash up, though only on the sinusoidal signal.

FR and THD of the 321 subwoofer

The subwoofer looks good enough. The frequency response diagram is even, though it's a real problem to produce normal frequencies lower than 40 Hz at small dimensions.

FR and THD diagrams of the XA3021 satellite

The diagram of the XA3021 system is more zigzagging, bit it's OK in the MF range. The distortions level is quite low for an acoustic system of this class.

FR and THD diagrams of the subwoofer of the XA3021 system
(near LF speaker)

FR and THD diagrams of the subwoofer of the XA3021 system
(near phase-inverter's port)
The subwoofer of the XA3021 model works effectively only starting from 50 Hz, but helps a lot to the satellites in the LF range up to 200 Hz, that is why there is no gap in FR between the satellites and the subwoofer.


The new speakers from Altec Lansing sport an original design and an expensive look, therefore, they will be an excellent present for aesthetes. The sound quality is not the strongest point of these models, but we noticed no bad flaws. On the whole, the build quality of the acoustic systems is superb, which was expected from a brand-name company.


  • beautiful appearance, original design; 
  • no clicks when power is switched on/off; 
  • headphone outputs, which automatically turn off the speakers; 
  • the legs have rubber pads; 
  • wired remote control of the XA3021. 


  • sound is inferior to the classical model Altec ASC48; 
  • a little overpriced (expected at a bit over $100); 
  • not available yet. 
Grigory Liadov (xgrigory@ixbt.com)

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