Altec Lansing Expressionist Speaker Review

by Reads (12,695)

by Jerry Jackson

Switching from a desktop computer to a laptop doesn’t always mean you have to sacrifice quality speakers. In fact, if you aren’t happy with the weak performance of your notebook’s built-in speakers Altec Lansing has two impressive options for you with their new “Expressionist” series of desktop speakers. We took a close look and an even closer listen to the Expressionist Bass and the Expressionist Plus to find out whether these attractive speakers sound and good as they look.

Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass Specifications:

  • Two 1.5 (40 mm) full-range and two 4 (100 mm) subwoofer drivers
  • Total Continuous Power: 25 Watts RMS
  • Subwoofer: 9 Watts per Channel @ 4 Ohms @ 10% THD @ 40 Hz – 200 Hz Single Channel Loaded
  • Each Speaker: 3.5 Watts per Channel @ 12 Ohms @ 10% THD @ 200 Hz – 16 kHz
  • System Response: 40 Hz – 16 kHz (-10 dB)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio @ 1 kHz Input: > 85 dB
  • Dimensions: 5.25 (W) x 5.25 (D) x 10 (H)
  • MSRP: $129.95

If you’re a student living in a small dorm room with a desk that’s big enough for a laptop but no room for a subwoofer then your speaker options are generally limited. Most music and movies just don’t sound very impressive without a big subwoofer adding bass. The Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass features twin desktop speakers with dual subwoofers built right in. Yes, you read that correctly. This desktop speaker set includes two subwoofers built into the base of each speaker.

Each cone-shaped speaker includes a separate 1.5-inch driver that delivers mid and high frequencies and a 4-inch subwoofer for the bass. This means vocals and subtle details are nice and clear while the desk-thumping lows are strong enough to feel all the way through the floor. The speaker enclosures are made of thick, glossy black plastic and are prone to fingerprint smudges, but are still very attractive. In addition to the main audio input for your laptop, an auxiliary audio input allows you to connect any MP3 player without needing to disconnect your computer.


The hard-wired cable that connects the speakers is of a pretty impressive gauge … considerably thicker than most external speakers we’ve seen in our office. The lower the gauge, the thicker the cable, and some audiophiles believe that when it comes to speaker wires the best audio signal comes from lower gauge wires. That said, the overall thickness of a cable does not actually indicate the gauge of the conducting wire used inside. The biggest benefit we saw in our lab is the fact that the thick speaker cables are more rugged than most speaker cables and should survive being yanked or tripped over in a dorm room. The Expressionist Bass also includes built-in controls for the power and volume located at the top of one of the speakers. This makes it easy to instantly adjust the volume or kill the audio at the touch of a button.


Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus Specifications:

  • Two 2 (50 mm) full-range drivers and 5.25 (135 mm) woofer
  • Sound Pressure Level (SPL): 93 dB
  • Total Continuous Power: 33 Watts RMS
  • Each Speaker: 4 Watts per Channel @ 8 Ohms @ 10% THD @ 180 Hz – 20 kHz Both Channels Loaded
  • Subwoofer: 28 Watts @ 4 ohms @ 10 % THD @ 50 Hz 180 Hz Single Channel Loaded
  • System Response: 40 Hz – 20 kHz (-10 dB)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio @ 1 kHz input: > 72 dB
  • Satellite Dimensions: 5.2 (W) x 4.2 (D) x 4.9 (H)
  • Subwoofer Dimensions: 10.4 (Diameter) x 6.1 (H)
  • MSRP: $99.95

If dual subwoofers are a little intimidating to you then the Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus music system is a solid alternative in a more traditional package of a 2.1 speaker set. The cone-shaped satellites are easily adjustable and deliver distortion-free sound from the 2 speakers inside. The 5.25 desktop subwoofer can fit on your desk or on the floor next to your feet and produces impressively deep bass. The downward-firing, long-throw 5.25 woofer features a convenient power and volume control on the top of the enclosure.

I’m not a huge fan of the thin, hard-wired connection between the satellites since this means the cables cannot be replaced without splicing. On a related cable note, it is a little odd that the cable between satellite speakers is longer than the cable used to connect your computer to the subwoofer … making it potentially difficult to position the subwoofer where you want it.

The Expressionist Plus speaker set is designed with what Altec Lansing’s marketing department calls “Audio Alignment.” In short, the drivers, enclosure and electronics are “balanced for optimum sound.” We’ll talk a little more about that in the audio quality section of the review. Just like the Expressionist Bass, the Expressionist Plus features a second AUX IN jack for connecting a portable CD, DVD or MP3 player.

Audio Quality
The Expressionist Bass and Expressionist Plus each have some unique audio characteristics that are inherent to their designs. First, the design of the Expressionist Bass is quite unlike any typical 2.1 speaker system. Instead of a pair of drivers for highs and middles and a subwoofer for bass, this is essentially a 2.2 speaker system with dual woofers that focus the bass levels.

The Expressionist Bass puts out a ton of bass that you can feel through your desk as you’re working on your laptop. The only potential negative issues with this arrangement are:

  1. You can’t physically separate the drivers from the woofers if you want more distance between highs and lows in your music.
  2. The woofers put out so much bass that the vibrations on your desk “might” have a harmful long-term effect on any external hard drives sitting next to the woofers on your desk.

Nevertheless, I personally have nothing but favorable things to say about the Expressionist Bass, and I will likely be using a set of these with my home PC.

As for the Expressionist Plus, this traditional 2.1 speaker set puts out some impressive sound of its own. Independent positioning of the satellite speakers and the subwoofer gives you excellent control over the way sound hits your ears. This may be what Altec Lansing is talking about with their “Audio Alignment” marketing jargon.

For those who are interested, neither the satellites nor the sub are magnetically shielded. This probably won’t matter to the overwhelming majority of modern-day PC users, but the massive subwoofer “might” pose a risk to sensitive electronics if you have it located on your desk.

The audio quality of both the Expressionist Bass and the Expressionist Plus is a huge improvement over any laptop’s built-in speaker system, although thats not saying much. In all seriousness though, the audio quality on the Expressionist series is great. At the maximum volume levels of about 85 dBs for the Expressionist Bass and 95 dBs for the Expressionist Plus, the music suffers from barely any distortion. At about 3-5 decibels lower than maximum volume on each speaker set, the music is still extremely loud but clear.

Theres no software required, just plug the audio cable into the headphone jack on your laptop and both the systems work perfectly.

After a few weeks of testing both of the latest Altec Lansing desktop speaker offerings, the Expressionist Bass and the Expressionist Plus proved to be great additions to any computer that is lacking in sound/speaker quality. 

The Expressionist Bass offers a less cluttered solution for people who want the powerful bass of a dedicated subwoofer but are short on available desk space. On the other hand, if you’ve got some room to move things around in your workspace then the Expressionist Plus provides premium sound in a traditional form factor. These speakers may be primarily geared towards desktop PCs but I loved using them with notebooks when working at a desk.

In short, if you’re looking for a way to improve your listening experience when playing movies or music on your laptop then either the Altec Lansing Expressionist Bass or the  Expressionist Plus will make an excellent choice.


Expressionist Bass Expressionist Plus
  • Dual subwoofers
  • Durable cables
  • Fantastic sound
  • Massive subwoofer
  • Separate satellites
  • Fantastic sound


Expressionist Bass Expressionist Plus
  • Hard-wired cables
  • No way to separate drivers
    and woofers
  • Some distortion at max volume
  • Hard-wired cables
  • Short wire for audio in
  • Massive subwoofer



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