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Altec Lansing PT8051 review: Altec Lansing PT8051

Its immense speakers suggest great audio quality, but it's all the little things that the PT8051 lacks that made it lose our favour.

Alex Kidman
Alex Kidman is a freelance word writing machine masquerading as a person, a disguise he's managed for over fifteen years now, including a three year stint at ZDNet/CNET Australia. He likes cats, retro gaming and terrible puns.
Alex Kidman
4 min read

Altec Lansing's PT8051 offers an alternative if you really want to do away with the need for an amplifier in the home. At the same time, though, the lack of HDMI passthrough, lack of an included subwoofer and high asking price detracts significantly.


Altec Lansing PT8051

The Good

Flat panel design. Easy installation. Wall-mountable.

The Bad

Very large speakers. No integrated subwoofer. No display panel. Comparatively expensive.

The Bottom Line

Its immense speakers suggest great audio quality, but it's all the little things that the PT8051 lacks that made it lose our favour.

There are two very key things that you'll notice about this 5.1 surround sound speaker system, and both of them relate to the underlying design. The first is that, for a 5.1 system, they'll tax your mental arithmetic ability somewhat. The entire system is comprised of two speaker units — one front, and one rear. That's because it uses flat panel NXT drivers rather than discrete speakers for each function.

The second thing you'll notice is that the entire system is big. Very, very big — we lined it up against a 32-inch LCD TV, and the front speaker was marginally wider than the TV itself. If you suspect we're over-egging it, consider that the main speaker measures in at 1,021x152x170mm.

We found it somewhat astonishing that Altec Lansing refers to these monolithic speakers as "barely there", as once we'd installed them, we weren't sure whether to listen to audio through them, or just start hitting each over the head with jawbones.

Big, however, can be beautiful, and there's no denying that the PT8051's cabinets are quite attractively designed. Whether you'll be able to get over how solidly they protrude into your home entertainment environment is a matter of taste.

The PT8051 is a 125W wireless 5.1 channel surround sound speaker system with most of the features of a traditional AV receiver built into the front speaker unit. This includes the following inputs: two optical audio, one coaxial digital and three analog audio, as well as an audio output to feed to a self-powered subwoofer. Critically for the PT8051, there's no included subwoofer with the system, but more on this later. There's also no facility for HDMI passthrough, which could prove problematic for users with lots of HDMI equipment — a surprising amount of it doesn't offer a discrete optical audio output option as well.

The PT8051 also includes a single composite video output, which is used for initial configuration, and will also show you which sound modes you're currently configured for. This is, in our opinion, a clunky solution. Nobody wants to switch TV or projector inputs just to check their sound settings, and without it, you're limited only to lights that indicate the audio source and whether you're listening to Dolby (DTS or Pro Logic) or Stereo sound modes. A front LCD panel would have solved this problem in one fell swoop.

We've got to give the PT8051 system credit for this — it really is simple to set up once you've got the speakers in place. You switch it on, plug it in and hit connect, and the front and rear speaker units start talking almost immediately. The PT8051 uses a 2.4GHz wireless connection, which brings with it the potential problems of wireless interference, but in our test environment, which was exceptionally busy with other potential sources of interference, we never hit a problem.

The PT8051 was put through its paces with a variety of surround sound playback tests, including Blu-ray and DVD audio, as well as a considerable amount of games testing. It's not written anywhere that we're not allowed to have fun while testing, after all.

At a basic level, the PT8051 performed as well as you'd expect from a unit that lacks a subwoofer to perform. It's certainly possible to connect a subwoofer, and if you did that you'd have quite a nice system indeed — but you'd also be out the cost of an extra subwoofer should one have come with the PT8051, which feels a little rich to us given the PT8051's AU$1,499 asking price.

The included remote will work to run a variety of home entertainment gear, although we did find ourselves annoyed that the volume controls — surely the single most critical control on a home theatre system — were small and located off-centre on the remote itself. Again, the lack of a display panel also made some matters such as volume checking a matter of trial and error, rather than precise selection.

We can see a market for the PT8051, but it's primarily a design-centric, rather than results-focused one. It's a great looking (albeit immense) speaker system, and the wireless works well, but beyond that you can get better sound — undeniably the core criteria for an audio system — for the same kind of money.