The Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021 is a 2.1 speaker system, which means it uses relatively compact left and right satellites for higher frequencies plus a larger subwoofer/amplifier component for lower frequencies.
Each Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus satellite houses a single 2in driver, with the subwoofer/amplifier unit hosting a 5.25in woofer and providing 36 Watts of power-28 Watts to the sub and 4 to each satellites.
These are fairly typical specs for a budget 2.1 system, but what's not typical at this price is the Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021's appearance. The subwoofer and satellite enclosures share an industrial-looking, round design that evokes the look of the speaker inside.
For the subwoofer, this means a shape much like a cone with the top chopped off. At just 262mm across and 152mm tall, the subwoofer unit is compact enough that you could conceivably put it on your desk instead of under it. The Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021 sub's enclosure is made of plastic, but the glossy-black finish, metallic-grey top surface, and radial feet give the unit a more upscale appearance.
On the top of the Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021's subwoofer is a large, matte-rubber-coated knob for adjusting the subwoofer's output level. For most music, we found setting this knob at approximately the midpoint provided decent tonal balance.
The knob also acts as a power switch: push down on the knob to toggle the system on and off. While the control has a nice feel, its placement means you have to reach under your Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021 desk to turn the system on and off; a power button on either speaker would have been more convenient.
On the back of the Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021's subwoofer, near the bottom, are two 1/8in audio inputs-one for your computer (a 5-foot miniplug-to-miniplug cable is included), the other for another source-along with a 9-pin jack for connecting the satellites and a jack for connecting the AC "wall wart" power adaptor.
Although we appreciated being able to connect two audio sources, we again wished the second input was located on one of the satellites to make it easier to connect an iPod or iPhone.
Each satellite also takes a conical shape, with the glossy-black-cone housing supported by a rubber-footed metal stand that allows you to rotate the speaker up or down. This is a nice feature, as it allows you to position the satellites so they point towards your ears even when they're sitting on a low desk.
On the other hand, instead of turning smoothly, the speakers ratchet into several discrete, but slightly wobbly, positions. (Altec Lansing's marketing photos show the stands as having a polished-chrome finish, but our review system's stands had a matte finish.)
The speaker driver is protected behind a plastic ring that holds a black-fabric mesh grille. On top of the righthand speaker are an amber power-indicator light and rubber-covered Volume Down and Volume Up buttons. Having the volume buttons on one of the satellites, instead of on the subwoofer, is convenient, although the buttons require enough force to push that we often changed the angle of the speaker while adjusting the volume.
The righthand speaker connects to the subwoofer/amplifier unit via a thick, 6-foot cable that's permanently attached to the satellite; the left and right satellites are tethered by a thinner, 5-foot cable, permanently attached to both.
The Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021's audio quality can't compete with some of the better systems we've tested, but it's pretty good for a sub-£100 sub/sat system. You get plenty of treble detail, although the system is missing some richness and warmth in the midrange.
As you might expect from a system with such a small woofer, bass and upper-bass response is a bit boomy, especially at louder volumes. Still, the Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021's low-frequency production isn't as "one-notey" as that of the Edifier 3350, another sub/sat system we recently tested. As for bass extension, bass response begins to roll off just below 100Hz, and once you get below 70Hz, there's not much left. (As with the Edifier E3350, don't believe the marketing specs of bass extension down to 40Hz.)
The Altec Lansing Expressionist Plus FX3021 doesn't have a lot of power compared to more expensive 2.1 systems, and this limitation is made clear at louder volumes, where the FX3021 exhibits some distortion and strain. But while sitting at a desk, we were able to crank the volume to uncomfortable levels without problems.
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