Altec Lansing's barrel-shaped BXR 1220 USB power speakers offer an expansive sound with credible bass that belies their size, but be prepared to ride the volume control.
The Altec Lansing BXR 1220 USB powered speaker system has two separate speakers, joined by a cable, to allow wide stereo separation. Each of them is roughly the size of 400g tin of baked beans. The lay on their sides, with a round end pointed towards you, and an integrated stand canting them up a little from horizontal. Not by much though; they'll be firing towards the chest of the typical laptop user.
The right hand speaker has the electronics and the cables which connect to the headphone output of your notebook computer, plus a USB cable for power. It has a hard-wired power switch on the back, and a knurled thumb wheel on the top for volume. The 50mm speaker drivers are behind the cloth grilles facing the user. The left hand speaker gives a better sense of the construction of the system, given that it is basically a bare-bones speaker enclosure. This weighs 183g alone.
Setup and cartage
There's nothing special about setting up the system. Just put one to the right of your computer, the other to the left and plug in the 3.5mm audio cable and the USB cable for power. Rotate the switch on the back of the right speaker (they are labelled) and adjust the volume to your pleasure.
The system may be a little on the bulky side for hauling with you on your travels, and the fixed cables need managing, but it is no worse than any other two-speaker system.
The first thing to note about these speakers is that they give a surprisingly balanced performance, with quite respectable bass. Oddly, Altec Lansing specifies their bass end down to 180Hz, but we measured usable bass all the way down to 110Hz. Below that point the frequency response plummets, to by 30dB at 90Hz. We suspect that they've put an electronic filter in there, so precipitous is the drop.
At the other end, the usable response extends to 19kHz.
These bare figures threaten to make these speakers seem like high fidelity units. They aren't, of course, although they are reasonable for their sub-AU$40 cost.
The overall sound is one of balance because they do the upper bass properly, along with matching levels for the mid frequencies and for the high frequencies. In parts of the spectrum anyway — there was actually something like a 12dB range between the stronger frequencies and the weaker ones, but because these peaks and troughs were spread evenly over the spectrum there was no great sense of unbalance.
But there was a certain colour to the sound, as though it were a little hollow, almost certainly due to those wide swings in response.
The speakers were able to get surprisingly loud, which we put down to their larger than normal enclosures (which no doubt helped the bass as well) allowing greater efficiency. Indeed, when we measured their distortion components at 1kHz at a 70dB level (at 500mm), both the second and third harmonics were well under a tiny 0.1%.
But there was a limitation. Classical guitar was delivered at very attractive levels with little distortion and reasonable articulation. But throw some heavy bass into the mix, such as the test track from the group Muse, and the system was readily driven into marked distortion. This is likely due to the power limitations of USB. The 2.5 watts maximum available from a USB port simply isn't very much. This made it necessary to rotate that volume control depending on what was playing.
The test podcast was clean, and the male voices therein sounded a little more realistic thanks to some of their lower frequency content being reproduced.
The Altec Lansing BXR 1220 USB powered speakers produce surprisingly full sound at a reasonable price.