Can Your PC Sound any Better Than This?

For Notebook users, getting true 5.1 sound has been tricky – you really needed a dedicated and expensive 5.1 surround sound card. Altec Lansing has just made getting truly immersive sound much easier with the release of the FX5051 6 piece 5.1 Surround Sound System. Just how good is it? Read on for my thoughts.
I have spent much time testing and listening to Speakers and Sound Systems and have remarked of the quality of many of the ‘All in One’ systems available. But what about great sound from the PC – especially from a Notebook Computer? While great strides have been made in Sound Cards and integrated speakers – they just don’t cut it when you know that new game is encoded in rich 5.1 Dolby Stereo.

I have written previously about the quality of Altec Lansing products. While they do manufacture some ‘lower end’ systems used by PC manufacturers – they also make extremely high quality add on systems for everything from the iPod to your PC.

The FX5051 takes a unique approach – a USB connection which provided discrete 5.1 surround sound (if your media is recorded as such.) When not playing a game of DVD encoded in 5.1 sound, the FX5051 still plays amazing stereo from the five speakers and the generous sub-woofer.

Here is the official line from the Altec Lansing Web site:

It’s a unique benefit: The Altec Lansing FX5051 system gives you genuine 5.1 surround sound with no hassles and no 6-channel sound card required! You simply plug a USB cable from your sub woofer into your PC and get 6 discrete channels of powerhouse sound. The FX5051 features dual drivers in every satellite, plus a ‘two-barreled,’ isobaric sub woofer that gives you awesome bass in half the space. What’s more, it’s long on looks. The perfect complement to your flat-panel displays. Satellites feature removable bases for easy wall mounting. System includes a wireless remote.


Crisp Surround Sound
Hear the enemy creep up from four satellite speakers and enjoy lifelike dialogue from the center speaker.

Feel the Bass
Isobaric-configured dual 6.5′ woofers deliver bass comparable to systems twice as large.

Dual-Mode Selector
Each listening mode is specially engineered to provide outstanding performance.
– Use the 6-Channel Surround Mode with the USB port on your PC or 6-channel sound card to thrill your senses with the vivid, panoramic experience of true surround sound.
– Use the 2/4 Channel Mode to enjoy impressive six-speaker sound from any source – MP3 players, CD players.

Understated Elegance
Contemporary design with removable cast-metal stands looks terrific next to your flat-panel screen or mounted on wall (satellite and center speakers are magnetically shielded.)

Wireless Remote and Control Pod
Volume (master, center, and rear), bass, and treble controls are at your fingertips. Just sit back and enjoy!

iPod / MP3 Player Jack
Connect your iPod, MP3 player, or CD player at the same time as your computer.

Headphone Jack
For private listening.

So, let’s put these little babies through their paces!


Altec Lansing has taken a very modern and elegant approach with the design of each of the satellite speakers in the FX50501 system. The Front and Rear speakers are identical; wedge shaped speakers attached to an open, square base. An optional wall bracket is available to mount these from the wall and best of all – it is free – just go to the Altec Lansing site and order them!

The Front Center speaker is the same as the rest, just mounted on the stand sideways. There is a difference between the center speaker and the front and rear speakers – the front is rated at 13 watts per channel for a single channel and the others are 12 watts per channel. In a true 5.1 sound system, the front speaker is responsible for virtually all the vocals and many of the effects.

The Sub-Woofer is a thing of beauty. It is comprised of two 6.5 inch woofers mounted in such a way that they actually face one another inside the box in what Altec Lansing calls ‘Isobaric Configuration.’ The Sub Woofer puts out 28 watts and weighs in at about 20 lbs.


The FX5051 recommends using the USB connection when attaching to the PC. With the USB, no dedicated 5.1 sound card is necessary – just configure the speakers through the Windows Control Panel and you are set to go. I also made an adjustment in the Windows Media Player, choosing the 5.1 surround option in the settings.

There are cables galore to connect the FX5051. Each speaker is hard-wired – but an RCA plug at the end needs to be connected to the back of the sub. That’s five cables right there. Then there is the USB cable to connect.

The FX5051 comes with a volume pad that needs to be connected to the sub (more on that later) and it also has cables for a direct connection to a 5.1 sound card if available. In one of those jacks (the one marked front) you can attach the included cable and plug it in to any device with a headphone jack. I used my iPod, my PSP and a Pocket PC and all sounded fabulous!


The FX5051 has a switch on the back that you can move from 2/4 channel to 6 channel (5.1 sound.) When you are playing a DVD or a game which is encoded in 5.1 sound – move it to 6 channel. For MP3 playback or standard use with your PC – switch it back to 2/4 channel mode and you will still experience sound from all the speakers and bass from the sub-woofer.

Sound Quality:

This is what really matters, right? Does it deliver as advertised? Well, in a word…yup. This is an amazing sounding system. I tested various types of media – DVD’s, Video Games and Music with the FX5051.


I had one 5.1 surround encoded DVD of Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ and it was amazing. Each channel came in just like it was supposed to and the Bass was amazing (as it was with each of the tested Media.) For standard 2 channel stereo, this system does not disappoint. There is a dedicated Midrange Driver and High Frequency Driver in each satellite and the sound was crystal clear.

Peter Frampton’s guitar sung, Norah Jones’ voice sounded so natural and beautiful and bass was clear and exceptionally tight with all kinds of music. No boominess whatsoever in the low frequencies – just deep, rich and tight bass. The entire testing experience was made when my teenage son had to come upstairs and ask me to turn down the music because his ceiling was shaking – how is that for irony!

DVD playback:

I tried several DVD’s with great sound and effects. Star Wars, Spider Man, Sky Captain and Pirate of the Caribbean all sounded amazing on this system. I am used to my home theatre being spread out through the den – there is something very impressive about literally surrounding yourself at your desk and having all these sound effects come at you from every which way. The sub woofer made the scary scenes and the high bass intensity scenes just jump out of the computer.

Video Games:

Turn out the lights and put in Call of Duty, Halo – whatever you want and you will be spooked. Sounds come from everywhere – all the digital effects are reproduced just as the sound editors of these games would hope for. For truly impressive gaming and true-to-life audio, the FX 5051 delivers.

Over all Conclusions:

This is just an amazing sound system. The technology of converting USB audio into true 5.1 surround sound is here and it is fabulous. I would be remiss if I did not mention that there was a constant low frequency ‘hiss’ that came through each speaker using the USB connection. It was not overpowering – but when the system was not in use, it was detectable. This did not occur through a direct connection to a 5.1 surround card.

Aside from that – there is nothing to complain about here. Dedicated 5.1 surround sound when the right sound source is playing and great sound from all around when a standard 2 channel sound source is in use. The detail, high frequencies and room shaking bass make this sound much superior to any single unit add on for your MP3 player and it gives you 5.1 sound from DVD’s.

At $249.00 MSRP (and less on the web) it costs about the same as other ‘premium’ all in one sound systems and delivers sound and technology they just can’t match.

Final Grade: A

Pros: Amazing detail, bass and over all sound. Truly immersive 5.1 sound when using the appropriate media

Cons: Slight low frequency hiss detectable when not being used to reproduce music or other source material.

The FX5051 is available at and at other on-line merchants.

Written by Gary