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Altec Lansing BB2001 Subwoofer

Wed Mar 14, 2007 - 9:58 AM EDT - By Harv Laser

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Product Info


Altec delivers the "Baby Boomer" subwoofer

Note: click any picture in this review to view it full-sized in a new window..

The Altec Lansing BB2001 is an optional accessory subwoofer for their multi-purpose iMT1 Treo speaker system / speaker phone / charging and sync station and for some other Altec portable speaker systems with a "sub-out" port. Jay did a fine and detailed job of reviewing the IMT1 last year, so rather than repeat what he wrote, I'd suggest you read his excellent review then c'mon back here. I'll wait..

Okay, you back?

Now unfortunately at the time Jay reviewed the iMT1, Altec Lansing had announced its optional BB2001 subwoofer (the "BB" stands for Baby Boomer.. get it?).. but it wasn't yet available. Try as best we could, we just couldn't get a pre-release sample out of them. C'est la vie. I have the sneaking suspicion that if Jay had been able to review the iMT1 with this marvelous add-on subwoofer, he wouldn't have ever let it out of his claws. But he couldn't, so he did.

The exact same iMT1 in Jay's review migrated from his home to mine a couple months ago and I've been enjoying it as a bedside speaker system into which I dock my 700p or my 650.. mainly my 700p since its more capacious internal storage allows for more media-oriented software to live inside it, and with a 2gb card on which I store a ton of my favorite MP3 music and some videos, and with Kinoma Player 4 EX and the latest Pocket Tunes Deluxe and mOcean installed, I can sack out in bed and sooth my frazzled nerves to rest with its pleasant sound from literally thousands of different sources radio stations, video and audio files, podcasts, the choices are endless.

You really need to sit in front of an iMT1, or hold it in your hands to realize just how small it is. Behind its attractive front grille are four front-firing one inch speakers.

As I've explained in previous reviews of accessory audio systems, such as the Think Outside Boomtube the laws of speaker physics and the rules of sound reproduction dictate that if you want truly low bass, you have to move a lot of air. There's just no way around it. So although the iMT1 produces perfectly acceptable sound, even with Pocket Tunes' graphical equalizer's sliders cranked up for maximum bass, those four little speakers simply can't make that gut-punching bottom end. They can't move enough air to reproduce deep bass. It's physically impossible.

Unfortunately, Altec doesn't publish any specs on the iMT1's frequency response unusual for a company that's been producing mid to high end audio equipment longer than most people reading this have been alive. In fact, most movie theatres used to be (and many still are) equipped with Altec's enormous "Voice of the Theatre" speaker systems behind their screens. Some people even use those behemoths in their home systems. Some people don't live in apartments, like I do, so they can get away with it.

If you've read many of my reviews, you'll know I care about quality sound reproduction. Whether it's coming from loudspeakers or headphones, tinny sound, distorted sound, bass-less speakers or earbuds or cans just grind my gears (and ears). My tastes in music are extremely eclectic, although whatever I listen to, I want it to sound as good as it can. Or in the immortal words of Frank Zappa :

"Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST..."

If you assume Zappa was right, and I do, then you also want to HEAR your music in the best way possible.

So when the iMT1 made the 3000 mile journey from Jay's home to mine, and I set it up bedside, plopped my 700p into it, fired up Pocket Tunes, and played some of my favorite prog rock, I called Jay and said "Y'know, this thing really does sound pretty good, considering it only has four tiny one inch speakers, but it needs a lot of help on the bottom end."


And fifty bucks will get you that bottom end.. in spades!

A couple of emails and phone calls and a week or so later, Mr. UPS handed me the BB2001 subwoofer, courtesy of Altec Lansing's media relations department. I tore into the box like a 10 year old on Xmas morning. I'm here to tell you that if you are a current iMT1 owner, or you're contemplating buying one, and you, like me, want quality audio reproduction, do yourself a favor.. pop the extra fifty bucks and buy this subwoofer. The difference it makes in the iMT1's sound is nothing short of startling and if it doesn't bring a wide grin to your face the first time you hear that difference, then there's something seriously wrong with you.


Usability

Before the BB2001 even arrived, I wanted to familiarize myself with its specs, and installation procedures, and thankfully, on its product page Altec Lansing provides PDFs of the Quick Start guide, the Owner's Manual, and a glossy "Sell Sheet" with minimal specs. I also learned that the venerable Altec Lansing is now a division of Plantronics. As Johnny Carson would have said, "I. Did. Not. Know. That."


I downloaded and read those docs so when it arrived, hooking it up was child's play.

I own three other three-piece speaker systems including a ten year old, $300.00 Altec system with subwoofer hooked to my older computer, as well as a couple of full-blown vintage HiFi rigs, and as I've mentioned many times, I've been buying and selling and upgrading my audio equipment since I first got into it in the 1960s when I was in high school. I've heard and owned everything from tiny transistor radios to four figure sound systems (and listened to plenty of five figure systems), and I think I know satisfying, accurate, full-range sound when I hear it. The goal is clean, uncolored, un-distorted sound: a superior audio system should sound like music, not like hardware.

The interesting thing about low bass is that it's completely non-directional. With a well-designed system, you can connect and hide the subwoofer somewhere, tucked behind other furniture, behind drapes, whatever's convenient for you, and its sound appears to come from everywhere, even from the satellite speakers which contain only tweeters, which reproduce the highs and mids. Those of you with modern three (or more) piece stereo speaker systems know that you really only need one subwoofer because of the way human beings perceive low bass. But this isn't a class in audio theory, so let's get back to the product at hand.

The BB2001 comes out of its nicely protective shipping carton, surrounded in protective egg-carton-like caps and swathed in a foam blanket. Its attractive cabinet measures about 10 inches deep, 10 inches tall, and six inches wide. Remove all that protective stuff and you'll find the sub, a long white cable that terminates on both ends in standard 3.5mm stereo mini-jacks, and a polarized power cord of adequate length.

Installation onto the iMT1 is simple: plug the white cable into the unit's "sub-out" jack on its behind, and plug the other end into the provided jack on the BB2001's backside. Then find a nearby polarized AC outlet and plug the sub's power cord into it. Unlike the iMT1 itself, which has compartments on its bottom to hold a quartet of AA batteries (so it's portable), the eight pound BB2001 runs off AC power only so it's semi-portable.

Here's a shot of the iMT1 (with my 700p docked into it) sitting atop the BB2001.

No, I don't use them in a stack like that. I just wanted you to get an idea of their comparative sizes.

But after hooking things up, I ran into what I consider the only real deficiency of the BB2001's design. Although the unit looks and feels like it's constructed of very high quality materials - the heavy, gray painted cabinet appears to be made of very dense particle board.. and the front plastic bezel houses a grill which perfectly matches that on the iMT1 itself - the sub's power switch / volume control combo knob is on its bottom rear.


Thankfully, that smoothly-damped knob has a center detent so it's easy to give it a twist to power up the subwoofer. A pleasant and not screamingly-bright blue LED, invisible when it's off, lights up behind the top of its front grille so you know it's on. Then turn the knob a tad and without looking at it, thanks to that detent, you can feel when it's set to "half way."

But every time you want to twiddle it for a bit more or less bass, you have to reach waaay down around behind the BB2001's cabinet to get to the knob. This will prove difficult if you choose to tuck the unit behind some furniture, or far under a table and against a wall for maximum bass, as you'll be on your hands and knees to reach that knob. I think this is the one and only design aspect where Altec goofed. The power / volume knob should have been on the front of the BB2001, preferably near the top of the grille. Then again, the unit is very attractive as a piece of industrial design, so you may just prefer to leave it out in plain view.

At any rate, that knob IS where it IS and you'll just have to live where Altec decided to put it.


Ready.. set.. blow your mind..

Now the fun begins. Plop your Treo onto the iMT1's standard Palm connector, power it on and start some music playing. Pick something from your library with wide dynamic range, whatever your preference in music, be it pop, rock, classical, jazz, blues, soundtrack music.. any well-recorded audio with decent dynamics. Doesn't sound too bad coming out of the iMT1 alone, although there's not a whole lot of stereo separation from those tiny speakers behind a grille that's not even a foot wide, but still, it's acceptable.

Ready to be blown away? Reach down and twist the BB2001's power switch and slowly crank up the bass. The sub contains a single, 5 1/2 inch driver which pushes more than enough air to produce very powerful, room-filling low bass, and its cabinet is a ported, bass-reflex design (which explains that round hole below its grille) with these specs:

  • Sound pressure level 95 dB
  • Total continuous power: 16 watts @ 8 ohms @ 10% THD (total harmonic distortion)
  • Frequency response: 40 Hz 175 Hz (-3dB)
  • Signal to Noise Ratio @ 1 kHz input: >85 dB

    Phase has nothing to do with Star Trek

    If you're familiar with typical home stereo system speaker wiring, you'll know that for a pair of loudspeakers to sound correct, speakers should be wired "in phase." Oddly, the BB2001 has a push-push phase button on its rear, next to the power / volume knob, and Altec's instructions say to push it in or leave it out depending on what sounds best to you. I found this very strange, since the subwoofer connects to the iMT1 with a single cable with stereo mini-jacks on both ends, so one would rightly assume it would automatically be in phase with the iMT1's speakers. I played with the phase button a bit and to my ears, it sounded best in the "out" position, so I just left it there and leave it alone.

    Again, Altec Lansing is a company of few words, and I couldn't get anyone to explain to me WHY the BB2001 even HAS a phase button. My advice: leave it in the "out" position and just ignore it.

    The sub's frequency response is pretty narrow, as a true subwoofer should be. Its specs aren't spectacular, as subwoofers go, but again, this is a $50.00 unit, not $500.00 or $5000.00, and considering the size of its built-in amp, single driver, ported enclosure, very dense and substantial cabinet, (I couldn't make it rattle or buzz and I really cranked that sucker on some music with seriously low bass).. and its rated specs, it produces absolutely thunderous, totally satisfying low bass. Too much? Back off on the knob a bit. Not enough, crank it up some.

    The sound of the iMT1 alone compared with the BB2001 added to it is nothing less than startling. It turns a just adequate but pleasant sound system into one that literally can produce "eviction-quality" audio. And what more can you ask for the price?

    Male voices on sound sources such as podcasts and radio stations suddenly sound rich and full-bodied. You can hear acoustic or electric bass instruments the iMT1 alone could only reproduce in its dreams. The whole iMT1 listening experience just expands exponentially into a true high fidelity realm.

    Like I said, if you're into quality audio and the improved sound of the iMT1 in combo with the BB2001 subwoofer doesn't bring a smile to your face, seek professional help.

    This subwoofer kicks the living daylights out of the Boomtube's although the two products are sort of an apples and oranges comparison. The Boomtube is designed for total portability and is a cute, generic three piece speaker system. It doesn't charge or sync your Treo, and it's not a speaker phone. The iMT1 is a speaker system, AND a charging stand, AND a speaker phone, AND a syncing cradle, and it too will run off AC power or batteries, but with the addition of the BB2001 subwoofer, it morphs into a monster audio system. You might not think a 10 inch almost-cube could make such an astonishing difference. It does.



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