Aside from being Macworld magazine’s highest-rated PC speakers recently, the FX-6021 enticed me with its unique design. The main speakers are tall, slim affairs, each with six 1" micro-drivers. The arrangement makes these the only line-source PC speakers I know of. (Of course, there is also an under-the-desk subwoofer.) In another bold move, rather than tying controls to a speaker that may be located inconveniently, Altec has put them on an independent control module that goes pretty much anywhere. The module governs power, volume, bass, and treble. A series of blue LEDs allows the user to ascertain settings at a glance, even from a distance. Slick! The system even includes a tiny remote that duplicates the control module’s functions. Other thoughtful touches abound. The satellite towers can be tilted between five and fifteen vertical degrees to optimize balance. The control module includes a headphones jack, an auxiliary input, and a cradle for that remote when it’s not in use. Finally, the undersides of the weighty satellite bases are coated with sticky, tape-like strips that anchor them firmly to the desktop.
Does all this evident care pay off ? It certainly does. Immediately apparent is a soundstage of dramatic realism. Music through the FX-6021 is never anchored to the speakers; instead, in the best high-end tradition, it floats between the satellites. And that soundstage is not flat—it has real depth. The Altec is the only speaker in this survey that places the drums on “Falling Out of Love” well behind the plane of the satellites.
The FX-6021 is no one-trick pony, either. Resolution is simply stunning. The Altec reveals every detail and instrument. Dynamics are likewise stellar. Even something as bland as a Windows alert takes on the piquancy of chili pepper. The FX-6021 also boasts copious bass. Indeed, there is too much of it. I had to dial it back— a simple operation with the handy control module. Even tamed, the bass is boomier than I’d like, and does not integrate seamlessly with the rest of the spectrum. But these flaws are mitigated by the fact that low frequencies are tight and accurately pitched.
The Altec’s sound is a bit hard-edged in the upper frequencies, an effect that can be somewhat modulated (though not entirely eliminated) by carefully adjusting the tilt of the columns. There is also a slight response dip just below the midrange that on some recording robs vocals of their appropriate weight. But I find this system’s resolution, dynamics, and soundstaging more than compensatory. Together, these virtues make even MP3s a compelling experience, which is saying a lot. The FX-6021 lists for $249.95 and is widely discounted, making it a superb value, as well.