The speakers built into just about any laptop you buy will be, at best, tolerable in terms of audio quality. When at home you can hook up to a nice surround sound speaker set to solve your laptop audio woes. But when on the road, it’s impractical to carry a set of large and heavy speakers. The Altec Lansing XT1 Portable Audio System provides a solution for great audio in an innovative and mobile speaker set.
Altec Lansing XT1 speakers (view larger image)
I use a $2000+ IBM ThinkPad T-series notebook as my main PC. I love it, but boy is the audio terrible, none of the $2,000 went towards providing good speakers, that’s for sure. This is the same story with almost every laptop I’ve ever owned though. It seems that speaker quality on notebooks ranges from not much better than listening to sound through a tin can to simply tolerable audio when the volume is kept at a medium setting. And so to solve this you could get something like a 3-piece speaker set that includes 2 satellite speakers and a subwoofer and hook it up to your laptop. Several such speaker solutions exist and work great when you’re at home, but I certainly don’t recommend lugging multiple speakers and all the cords you’d need for decent audio when you travel.
So how does one solve this issue of trying to get better audio on the road or away from home when you want to watch a DVD or give a presentation to an audience and get good audio? Enter the Altec Lansing XT1 portable speaker system.
Altec Lansing XT1 Laptop Speaker System
Let’s first take a look at the specs of the XT1 speakers:
- Speaker type: Portable satellites
- Total RMS power: 1.5 watts (0.75 watts x 2)
- Frequency response: 100 Hz to 20 kHz
- Drivers: Two 28 mm full-range micro drivers per speaker
- Signal-to-noise ratio: Greater than 65 dB
- PC system requirements: Windows 98 SE, 2000, Me, XP, or higher; certified USB controller
- Mac system requirements: OS X or higher; built-in USB connection
- Magnetically shielded
- Width: 1.9 inches
- Height: 7.5 inches
- Depth: 1.3 inches
- Warranty: 1 year parts and labor
- Included in the box: 2 speakers, retractable USB cord, 2 removable stands, deluxe carrying case, user’s manual.
- Four specially engineered full-range neodymium micro drivers with aluminum cones smoothly deliver a full spectrum of pure, distinct sound with unprecedented signal accuracy.
Full spec sheet: http://www.alteclansing.com/downloads/US_XT1_SELL_SHEET_PA.pdf
The Altec Lansing XT1 speakers are designed to be light weight and extremely portable and yet still be able to provide you with great audio. The XT1’s do this in a unique way. The speaker system simply consists of two satellite speakers that are powered, not by an AC adapter or batteries, but via your laptop’s USB port. By plugging in the XT1 speakers to your laptop USB port, drivers will be installed that allow for the speakers to draw power from your laptop and also to take the audio stream and reroute it through the XT1 external satellite speakers and not those horrid built-in speakers your notebook has. There’s literally only two cords you need to worry about, the USB cord that connects to the laptop and the cord that is used to connect the two satellite speakers (this cord that connects the speakers also has the speaker stands at each end). To manage even this small amount of wiring the USB cord is made retractable, no need to wrap the cord around the speakers when carrying it around. The stands and speaker connecting cord is easily stowed in the provided carrying case.
You’ll see from the image of the speakers above that each speaker has a removable stand. The stands plug into the bottom of each speaker, and since these stands are connected via a cord you won’t lose them easily and the cord serves to carry audio and power from the main satellite speaker (left) to the child speaker (right) so you get the correct audio balance.
On the back of the main speaker is a jack that you plug the cord into that then runs into the USB port on your notebook. Here’s the beautiful thing, everything is plug and play about these speakers, simply plug the retractable USB cord into the notebook and you’ll see the drivers getting loaded and then audio and power will automatically start flowing to the speakers. This all works as long as you have Windows 98 or higher, or if you have a Mac then you’ll need OS X or higher.
To actually carry these lightweight speakers Altec provides a high-quality durable carrying case. Since the speakers are thin the carrying case is also relatively thin, and certainly very easy to slide into a backpack or suitcase when hitting the road.
The speakers and cords are housed easily and conveniently inside the provided carrying case (view larger image)
Altec provides a high-quality durable carrying case for the XT1 speakers (view larger image)
There wouldn’t be much point to carrying these speakers around if you didn’t get superior audio as compared to what you get from your notebook speakers. All I can say is, don’t worry, the audio is much, much better than any laptop speakers I’ve ever come across. Music reproduction was very clear and using the speakers for audio with DVD movies provided a great experience. You use the volume controls on the side of the speakers to actually control the master volume from your laptop. I found that taking the volume up to 80% still provided very clear audio, above that and there was slight distortion, but the volume was already loud at 80% anyway and I don’t see why you’d need to go much above that. Games will delight with the improved audio these speakers provide too.
One thing you must realize is that you’re still not going to get theatre quality or THX certified audio from these speakers, but it’s still much improved and better than any built-in laptop speakers. And yes, you do get some decent bass content from the speakers, but again, not enough to shake a room by any means!
Design and Build
These speakers not only function very well, but they also just plain look nice. I like the blue LED that indicates power is on, it’s understated and suttle yet cool looking at the same time. The look of the speakers is very clean. The construction is of silver and gray plastic, this material selection keeps the weight down. The speaker cover and grill area is made of a light weight aluminum which gives the speakers a great solid look.
On the side of the main satellite speaker is located the power on/off button and volume control. Under the volume buttons is an AUX jack that allows you to plug in a console system or MP3 player so that audio from those systems can be played through these speakers as well. The power still has to come from a laptop though as the only way to power these speakers is via USB, so having this AUX input is nice but only so useful since the laptop needs to be around as a third party power supply (I don’t recommend buying a laptop just to drive power to speakers, there are cheaper alternatives!).
The speaker stands are easy to plug in, I do find that since these stands are rather small that if you bump an area the stands are sitting on there’s a good chance of toppling the speakers as they are vertically oriented and have a small base relative to the height. I actually think Altec might have done well to increase the weight or surface area of the stands to provide a little more stability. On the whole though, the stands function okay.
A view of the Altec Lansing XT1 portable spekers alongside my IBM ThinkPad T40 (view larger image)
The XT1 speakers are definitely a permanent fixture for my accessory items I carry when I take my laptop on the road. I actually use them at home even, living in an apartment means I only have so much space and so many power outlets, so these speakers work well there. Furthermore, I love the fact there’s no AC adapter but that the speakers are powered via the USB port instead. Less wires behind my laptop and creeping over my desk brings a bigger smile to my face. The sound I get from the speakers is great, I’m not embarassed to play and share music files using my laptop now. The case you get with the speakers makes it easy to carry them around and the extra weight of carrying these speakers is almost negligible when placed in a backpack or other carrying case. If you have $100 and want a solution for good speakers that are easy to take with you, look to the Altec Lansing XT1 speakers.
Pricing and Availability