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Altec Lansing's conventionally shaped BXR 1320 USB-powered speakers offer an expansive sound with credible bass that belies their size, but be prepared to ride the volume control.
The Altec Lansing BXR 1320 system looks perfectly conventional. Two speakers, with the right-hand one containing the amplifier and controls, they are raised above the desk surface on integrated stands and point slightly upwards.
The two speakers are connected by fixed wires. The left-hand unit, which is driver and enclosure alone, weighs nearly 210 grams, which is a relative heavyweight in this role. On the front of the right-hand unit, next to the power LED, is a rotating, hard-wired switch for power, and next to that is an analog volume knob.
Contained within the two enclosures, behind the removable cloth grille, are 50mm full-range drivers. The 3.5mm signal cable and the USB power cable are joined together until near their ends for relatively neat cable management. If your computer has weirdly located connections, they can be easily pulled apart to reach two different locations.
Altec Lansing says that the system is good for frequencies from 180 hertz to 20,000 hertz at -10dB.
As with other analog speakers, the set-up was straightforward, because you're not messing with software. Just plug the green plug into the headphone output on your computer, and the USB cable for power, rotate the power switch clockwise and off you go.
And as with other two-speaker units, lugging it around with your notebook might lead to a few tangles. But sitting on your desk at home, ready to be plugged in at any time, it's ideal.
In most ways, the system sounded and performed similarly to the slightly more expensive Altec Lansing BXR 1220 speakers. Presumably the same design has been adopted on the important acoustic criteria. The 1220s have their bass reflex ports at the back of their enclosures, while these ones have theirs under the grille at the front.
The bass response was just as extended with this system, down to an effective 110 hertz, with nothing below that. The treble started rolling off just a bit earlier, but there was no practical effect on the sound due to that. Instead, what the speakers delivered was a remarkably well-balanced sound, with enough upper bass to make them seem convincingly realistic.
But even with the similarity to their barrel-shaped siblings, these speakers actually sounded a touch more realistic, due to reduced colouration. This is probably due, at least in part, to the speaker drivers standing considerably farther away from the desk surface. This was reflected in the measured frequency response, which swung much less wildly between highs and lows of output across the audio spectrum. They managed to shed that slight hollowness of the other model Altec Lansing speakers.
However, they suffered the same output-level problem, perhaps to an even greater extent. To recap, you can advance the volume control quite a way past the level at which good sound is produced. Go beyond it, and you run into quite heavy distortion due to power supply limitations. USB was never designed to deliver gobs of power to audio devices. This is particularly the case with bass-heavy content, which makes even greater than normal demands on power.
With a track from the group Muse, the vocals were easily distorted by much of the power being drawn in an attempt to deliver bass deeper than the speakers were capable of delivering. This seemed to happen at a lower level than with the 1220s, suggesting that these speakers might be a bit less efficient.
Nonetheless, with spoken vocals and more normal music — especially the classical guitar — they really sounded quite nice and clean.
A little pricier than the norm for speakers of this kind, the Altec Lansing BXR 1320 USB-powered speakers deliver a reasonably classy sound that warrants the dollars.