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by Altec Lansing

I’m a happy gamer. That seems like the best place to start. All my games have been given new life, and it’s a better life. The dull rattling of my car engine has become a thundering vibration. The ping of my machine gun is a crushing blast and convincing recoil. I am certain that the invincible Flood falls before my might at an unprecedented rate as if they too feel and then fear the thundering tear of my weapons. This is a good thing.

And it’s only the first thing. DVDs are a new, glorious experience as well. Quite frankly, I’m not sure how I got along with out Dolby Pro Logic 5.1 surround sound, and I will never, could never, go back. I’ve been in the console game for a long time now, and although the realm of speaker talk is still new to me, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I’ll give up my new speaker system when they pry it out of my cold dead hands—and then only maybe.

With 100 watts of total speaker power being funneled to a 3" full range center channel, four 3" satellites, and one 6.5-inch long-throw subwoofer, the sound quality is excellent. The only problem I experienced was drowning out movie dialogue because the various other noises—background, soundtrack, and so on—were being picked up too well. Through patient tweaking I was able to minimize this. The incredible bass does a lot for games and movies all by itself. There’s enough bass to put you in the middle of the game, and, if you want, to put your neighbors in the game too.

What’s more, the XA3051 delivers high quality at a reasonable price. The suggested retail price of $199.95 seems well below the going rate for most comparable 6 speaker, 5.1 Dolby Digital systems. On the one hand, that’s the cost of a new console system, but on the other hand it’s a significant upgrade to every system you own, as well as your, VCR, DVD player, TV and stereo. It’s a bargain, plain and simple.

The XA 3051 looks reasonably stylish as well. If you happen to be an X-box owner, the XA 3051 is a color coded match—dominant black with green accents. The ribbed plastic cages on the front of the speakers are somewhat less than elegant, but they’re not ugly and in the end it’s the sound quality that counts most.

Set up is simple; the components are color coded and virtually impossible to screw-up. I did run into difficulty with the back speakers, as the cords weren’t long enough. My living-room is moderately large, but not significantly above average, so you may or may not find this problem. I bought two extension cable that cost a couple of dollars for a quick and easy fix. Speaking of connection cords, there’s room for improvement here. Blessed will be the age of wireless; when cables from three consoles, twelve controllers, a VCR, and a six speakers aren’t competing to form the biggest ball of living-room cord chaos. All hail the Wavebird, future of gaming, but that’s another story. For the time being, we are stuck with cords, so we ought to do something to minimize their intrusiveness. We can start with color. The speakers can easily be hung from the wall, but the black cords draping down the wall are unnecessary. Until we can loose the cords, let us work on camouflage. Who has black walls? No one. We all have white walls, so why don’t we have white cables too? Now this may seem like a small thing, but it’s a good start. Down with convention for the sake of convention alone.

These minor issues notwithstanding, my only real complaint is with the wired remote. Refer to the last paragraph for my thoughts on adding another cable to the mix for my sound system controller. I thought controllers were firmly entrenched, leading the charge of the impending wireless revolution. My VCR has a wireless controller, so does my DVD player, and my surround sound system should too. In all likelihood this was a cost saving measure, and a wireless remote probably would have necessitated an independent receiver, increasing the cost of the system, so I understand the motivation here. The controller has other weaknesses as well, however. Some buttons have multiple functions. Press for the forward speakers, hold down for the rear speakers, for example. Overall the controller is cumbersome to use, and I would have like more from the one point of consistent interaction with my $199.95 system. On the plus side, the analogue volume adjustments allow for ease of use and precision control.

The controller issues fall into the "room for improvement" category, but overall don’t detract significantly from the outstanding quality of the XA3051. Do your games, and your movies, a favor and treat them to Dolby Digital 5.1. They will never be the same--and neither will you.

Jeff Luther   (010/04/2002)


Ups: Kick-ass sound quality; games and DVDs are better than you ever thought possible; good value at $199; easy set-up.

Downs: Weak controller; cords are too short.

Platform: Console gaming; DVD players; portable CD players.