Standing nearly 10 inches high but with footprints no larger than that of a typical computer mouse, the ATP3's space-efficient desktop satellites make an indelible aesthetic impression even before they pump out their first note. Each unit features two distinct ingredients: a semicircular base that houses a unique downward-firing, 3-inch midrange speaker and a slim minitower with two tiny 28mm drivers. A rotary volume dial, treble and bass controls, an LED power indicator, and an on/off switch are incorporated into one of the satellites, although a headphone jack is conspicuously absent.
Two disappointingly short 6-foot wires connect the satellites to the subwoofer cabinet, which itself is bedecked with enough curves and lines to make its rectangular 14-by-8-inch profile look downright futuristic. One 6.5-inch driver sits inside, as does a seriously punchy 30-watt (RMS) amplifier. Altec Lansing neglected to include a discrete subwoofer volume control or LED, but it has smartly constructed the unit so that its power transformer resides inside the box rather than attached to the AC cord. One more cable connects the system to the sound card's line-out jack.
The ATP3's distinctive, multidriver design and powerful amplifier combine to produce plenty of dynamic headroom for potent passages and an efficient sound that is capable of earsplitting volume. The three speakers contained in each satellite translate cymbals, high-pitched guitar notes, and other trebly effects with a tenacity that's rare at any price point. Moreover, the downward-firing midrange driver and rear port help disperse the satellite output into a surprisingly wide soundstage.
However, general sound quality decays at higher volumes. With all controls at the 2 o'clock position or above, you can expect raspy treble and distorted bass. The bass-level control influences the sound of all three speakers, creating distortion in each one at high volume. Fortunately, such listening levels will rarely (if ever) be required.
True sounds of value
Substantially pricier systems, such as the Boston Acoustics BA7500G, produce smoother sound and a bigger bottom end, but the Altec Lansing ATP3 outperforms most other sub-$100 units and looks cool, to boot. It's a tough combination to beat.