Appletell reviews the Altec Lansing Expressionist ULTRA 2.1 speaker system

Sections: Macintosh/Apple Hardware, Peripherals, Reviews, Speakers and Headphones

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Altec Lansing Expressionist ULTRA 2.1 speaker system

Provides: 200 watt speaker system for computers
Developer: Altec Lansing
Minimum Requirements: Computer or other audio device with 1/8″ stereo mini jack
Price: $199.95
Availability: Now

How loud do computer speakers need to be? I considered this question when hooking up the Expressionist UlTRA system from Altec Lansing. After all, my Marshall bass amp sits behind my computer desk, and not even that is 200 watts (although, yes, it should be). When working at my desk, the computer speakers are about two feet from my head. Surely I don’t need 200 watts pumping music and game audio from that short distance…or do I?


First, the specs. Each satellite speaker utilizes a 3″ mid-range and 1″ high-frequency neodymium drivers. In addition, a very large cabinet houses a 6.5″ long-throw subwoofer. The midranges and tweeters are 33 Watts each, and the subwoofer pumps out 68 Watts.

  • Sound Pressure Level: 106dB
  • Midrange Driver: 33 Watts per Channel @ 4 Ohms @ 10% THD @ 150 Hz – 2.5 kHz
  • Tweeter: 33 Watts per Channel @ 4 Ohms @ 10% THD @ 2.5kHz – 20 KHz
  • Subwoofer: 68 Watts @ 8 Ohms @ 10% THD @ 40 Hz – 180Hz
    Single Channel Loaded
  • System Response: 40 Hz – 20 kHz (-10 dB)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio @ 1 kHz input: >75 dB

I don’t pretend to fully understand the science of sound, but I can compare this to other computer speakers I’ve reviewed and recognize that the power is likely overkill. But this system isn’t fully about power, it’s also about balance and clarity. The separate midrange and tweeter drivers offer crisp, clear sound that is perfect for listening to CDs on your computer, and will likely make you regret ripping all your music at 128 kbps back when your iPod only held 2,000 songs. With the ULTRA system, you cleanly hear what you’re supposed to hear, along with what you’re not.

The powerful subwoofer offers the kind of kick that will make gamers want to go back and replay games just so the explosions sound better. At 68 Watts, you won’t have to worry about low end distortion when you’ve got things turned up. But more importantly, you won’t have to jack up the volume on the subwoofer just to hear anything. With many systems I’ve tried, the subwoofers have either pumped out too little or too much; there was no middle ground. This subwoofer is powerful enough to give me subtle bass when needed, and that makes a big difference.


Let’s stick with the subwoofer for a moment. At 15.8″ high, 10.2″ wide and 15.1″ deep, it’s quite clear where Altec Lansing wants this unit to go. Unlike with their Expressionist PLUS system, there are no audio controls on the subwoofer itself. You’re free to place this on the floor where the subwoofer belongs. In fact, unless you’re some kind of glutton for punishment, you really have no choice.

There are also no controls on the speakers. Instead, you get a very-well designed unit that is, quite honestly, a bit hard for me describe. Take a look at the picture and insert your own 1,000 words.

Altec Lansing Expressionist ULTRA 2.1 speaker system

These speakers come in at 8.7″ high, 5.4″ wide and 6.2″ deep. They look great framing my MacBook, but more importantly, they stay put. They have a decent amount of weight to them, and the cylinders that house the midrange provide a nicely angled base. A rubber pad at the back prevents slipping, and you’d have to go pretty far out of your way to knock these speakers over, unlike with the aforementioned Expressionist PLUS. I still prefer the design of the Expressionist BASS system, but I have no complaints here.


Now, if there are no controls on the subwoofer or the speakers, how do make adjustments? With the Desktop Controller. This device—about 3.5″ in diameter and 1.75″ high—provides full control at your fingertips. The entire angled side is the volume control, which you adjust by slightly turning to the left and holding for volume up, right and holding for volume down. I understand why didn’t just go full spin with a volume knob this large, but I would prefer for the volume to adjust quicker than it does.

At the top of the unit are three buttons. The center button is power. Above and below that are treble and bass. Hit either of these buttons and you control their volume separately. All of the control indicators light up a soft orange when active, and the volume indicators even give you a bit of a light show.

Altec Lansing Expressionist ULTRA 2.1 speaker system

But the Desktop Controller isn’t done. It also sports an auxiliary 1/8″ input for other devices, and, even better, a headphone jack. It may not seem like much, but it drives me insane when computer speakers don’t have a headphone jack because you’re then forced to unplug the speakers when you need private audio. If you have to reach behind an iMac to do so, it gets annoying quite quickly. Here, you can plug your headphones straight into the Desktop Controller, automatically disabling the speakers. And even better, the Controller is likely closer to you than the back of your computer, so you don’t need an extra-long headphone cable to accommodate it.


There is very little to not like about the Expressionist ULTRA system. I could gripe about the startling pop that happens when I turn off the computer before I turn off the speakers. Worse, though, is the slight hiss the speakers put out when connected to my computer. I can only hear this when I’m not listening to anything else, so it’s easy just to turn the speakers off when idle. Still, it’s surprising that Altec Lansing would let something like this through.

Everything else, though. Is great. The speakers are well-balanced for music, games and movies. The sound is fantastic. The design is great. And the power…well, paying extra for this power is excessive for the majority of your computer audio needs. The functionality of the Desktop Control helps to justify the price hike, though, and I’d love to see it included with their other speaker systems.

Overall, this is a great looking system with fantastic sound. You likely aren’t going to need to crank the Expressionist ULTRA to its limits. But if you do, your neighbors will be just as impressed with them as you are.

Appletell Rating:

Buy the Expressionist ULTRA

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