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Altec Lansing's Expressionist Ultra MX6021 currently sits at the top of the company's line of stylish "expressionist" PC speaker systems, which also includes the Expressionist Classic, Expressionist Bass, and Expressionist Plus. Of the four models, the Ultra is the only one of the bunch that Altec truly designates as a "gaming" PC speaker on its Web site. The Ultra earns that designation for being a brawny 2.1 system that features a 6.5-inch, front-firing subwoofer and 200 watts of sound.
In keeping with the Expressionist design, the Ultra has a modern look: the subwoofer (measuring 15.8 tall by 15.1 inches wide by 10.2 inches deep) is shaped like a flat-topped pyramid, and the cylindrical satellite speakers are set into translucent smoked plastic stands. The satellites sport 3-inch midrange drivers and 1-inch inch neodymium tweeters.
The two satellite speakers connect directly to the sub (the cables are thick) along with a separate desktop controller that lets you turn the system on and off, as well as adjust volume, bass, and treble levels. If there's a shortcoming to the system, it's that the speaker cords are a little on the short side and that they use a proprietary connector, so you can't go by extension cords at a retail store. As a result, you lose some flexibility on where to place the speakers. However, it you're someone who expects to stick the sub under a desk or table and have the satellites on either side of your monitor, the Ultra will work fine for you.
As for the controller, it has a premium look and feel to it. While it took a little fiddling to get used to the control mechanism, we got the hang of it after a few minutes and were able to set bass and treble levels to our liking (we ended up leaving the bass at a mid setting but turned down the treble).
Integrated into the controller you'll find a 3.5mm auxiliary input to connect other devices such as an MP3 player, DVD player, or TV, along with a 3.5mm headphone input. The sub also has a 3.5mm input--that's where most folks will plug in their PC--so you're pretty well covered on the connectivity front. We appreciate that the Ultra ships with a cord for connecting your devices to the system. The cord has 3.5mm jacks at each end, but you also get an RCA adapter for connecting TVs and game consoles via a set of basic red/white composite cables (not included).
As for sound, the Ultra generally delivered on its promise of being a "powerhouse" system. Not only were we impressed with the big, relatively tight bass from the Ultra, but we also thought the system offered good clarity, and is well balanced overall. We listened to our usual assortment of test music that included Elvis Costello, Dan Auerbach, Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, and some classical tracks, and came away feeling the Ultra acquitted itself quite well for a system that costs about $170 online (its list price is $199).
While this isn't a 5.1 surround system like Altec's FX5051, the system delivers ample visceral punch for gaming and movie watching. To be clear, you shouldn't expect the world from a $170 PC speaker system, but relatively speaking, the Ultra offers very good bang for the buck.
Of course, if you're concerned about the idea of placing a pretty beefy sub in your room--yes, it's hard to conceal--this probably isn't the system for you. You should also be forewarned that if you live in close proximity to others--such as in apartment building or dorm room-- at high volume the sub pumps out enough bass to rattle some walls and floors. However, for many, that will be an appealing trait.
If you're looking for an even more affordable priced 2.1 PC speaker system, you could step down to Altec Lansing's Expressionist Plus or Logitech's Z523. However, simply put, the Ultra sounds better and offers significantly more oomph than those systems.