In the US, Polk Audio is a big name in terms of surround sound. Will they be with us soon, now that Polk is coming to Europe again? Time to put the affordable T and Signature speakers of the brand on the rack! From the T-series we assess the Polk T50 (149 euros), the Polk T15 (75 euros) and the Polk T30 (75 euros). From the Signature series we assess the Polk Signature S60 (549 euros), the Polk Signature S35 (349 euros) and the Polk Signature S20 (175 euros).
Polk Audio T series and Signature series loudspeakers
The Signature and T-speakers we see in this article are the first of Polk Audio to cross the ocean to Europe again. After all, Polk was absent for a long time in Belgium and the Netherlands, just like sister brand Definitive Technology. But the group behind the two American brands (Sound United) bought D & M Holdings, the company of Denon and Marantz, in the spring. This makes Polk find his way to the European music lover again, just like Definitive Technology. That is quite interesting, because in the United States the 45-year-old Polk is a major player, including in the entry segment.
For this article we received two impressive pallets, with a 5.0 speaker setup. One set consisted of Polk T-speakers (2 x T50, T30 and 2 x T15), the second one of the Signature-line speakers (2 x S60, S35 and 2 x S20). This article therefore differs from a typical surround test, because this time we watch a lot more speakers than usual.
The Signature series
That we are supplied with Polk surround arrangements is not surprising. Many loudspeaker families take in sight both the stereo enthusiast and film fanatics. For example, Monitor Audio’s Bronze / Silver / Gold series, the Bowers & Wilkins 600/700, and others. With the Signature family, Polk first and foremost strikes the home cinema lover, although the speakers can of course also be placed in a stereo setup. Also striking, both at the Signatures and the T-speakers, is that the Polks proudly carry the label ‘American’. You can even take that literally, because with the Signatures that message is placed around the tweeter.
Polk’s choice for home cinema is clearly reflected by the design of the speakers themselves. With the very impressive S60 floorstanders in particular, because they have what Polk calls a ‘Power Port’. What is this? The floorstanders have fairly large openings at the bottom. When we sit on our knees and gaze into the openings, we see an acoustic lens. This is a technique that is used to spread the sound waves coming from a driver evenly in all directions. We have such a reversed half drop shape, especially of 360 ° -grade speakers, such as from Samsung or Libratone, where the lens has to distribute higher frequencies evenly throughout the room. However, Polk uses the acoustic lens in the PowerPort to better spread the layer coming from a bottom-facing bass port through the room. The manufacturer claims to have 3 dB more bass output than with a conventional port.
The Polk speakers from the Signature family proudly carry the inscription ‘American HiFi’ around the tweeter. You do not really need that label to know that these products are from the US, because their format alone means they are American-American. They fit all the way to the nation that invented giant pickups with a V8 engine and supersized hamburgers.
The S60 floorstanders are so strong things, high but especially very deep. The width is then more limited, and therefore you get speakers that have a very unique profile and appearance. You can not look at it, that is a fact, but the Signatures eyes slightly softer thanks to strongly rounded corners than you might suspect after the above. The curves of the MDF housing are indeed very well finished and do the Polks quite modern feel. An impression that is reinforced by the striking walnut veneer that was applied to the black version that we are testing. This veneer runs seamlessly to the back, making the housing seem to be one piece. And that is something that you do earlier with more expensive speakers but not with lower priced speakers. Others brands do their best to hide bolts and screws, but not Polk. They work with very visible bolts to attach the drivers. All this means that the S60 has its own unique look: modern, a little industrial, impressive, and also striking. American. We suspect that it is a true love it or hate it design.
The other Signature speakers that we receive are at least as impressive. They fit perfectly, with the same curves and level of finish. The S20 bookshelf speaker is also considerably deeper than you would expect and has a Powerport, but at the rear. You may have to get used to this brute plastic lens construction, because it contrasts with the finely finished housing. The size of the S20s makes these speakers feel more at home on a stand than on a piece of furniture. If you use them as surround channels, they take up a lot of space in the back of your room. In a smaller living room you may prefer to choose the S10 or S15.
The S35 center speaker is also a real eyecatcher on its American. And because it consists of six (6!) 3-inch drivers and a centrally located tweeter. An interesting choice, especially towards the placement. The S35 is indeed very wide and only 10 cm high, so you can easily put it under a TV. You would almost think that it is a soundbar, though. If you want to tackle it more subtly, you can opt for a smaller center speaker (the S30) with two drivers and a central tweeter. But it is higher.
The T-series forms the budget offer of Polk, with price tags that are very low. That you speak about an entry sequence we see quickly when unpacking. The no-nonsense philosophy comes first, we immediately notice the finishing touch. The T50, T15 and T30 we put together are solidly constructed – and for this price you can even say “very solid” – but do not look luxurious or special. They are ‘real’ loudspeakers, exactly as you would get if you asked anybody to draw a loudspeaker. Although there are some small things here and there that add something refined, such as the finishing of the corners and the plastic base.
Compared to the Signature speakers, the T50 floor stand, T15 bookshelf speakers and T30 center have more standard dimensions. You place them more easily in a living room; certainly the compact center and bookshelf speakers make a surround setup possible in a smaller space.
The structure of the T-speakers is quite classic, with an dome tweeter placed in a metal ring that acts as a wave guide. The intention is that the tweeter gets a broader appearance, which makes the speakers sound good in more places in the room. Another plus is that all T-speakers are fairly sensitive (89 to 90 dB), making them easier to control. That is a nice bonus if you want to connect the Polk T-speakers to a cheaper AV receiver that does not have much watts at its disposal.
The T50 looks very awesome with its three large 6.5-inch drivers under the tweeter, although we have to add that this is two passive bass radiators and one direct-driven midrange woofer. So two of the three serve in support.
What does it sound like?
We tested both the T and the Signature setup with a Denon AVR-X6300H, tuned with the Audessey MultEQ app. We have a Monitor Audio Silver W12 subwoofer involved in the test, although we do not feel that this is an absolute necessity at the Signature setup. The Power Ports on the S60 floor uprights ensure a certain presence in the low, as is evident from the measurements. With ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ as source material we try the arrangement with and without sub, because we wonder whether that Power Port can indeed make a separate subwoofer superfluous.
For a home cinema, the answer is frankly: “No”. The PowerPort gives the S60 in particular a stronger profile in the low, but it does not come close to what you achieve with a full-fledged subwoofer. With a subwoofer there is a noticeable improvement in the sub-bass and detail in the low. These are things that might not be missed immediately in spectacular films, but which are also important. That is not surprising, of course, because a bass port – even with an acoustic lens – can not match its own dedicated, large woofer. (In this area, we are curious about the new loudspeakers of Definitive Technology, which go a step further by incorporating an active subwoofer at the bottom of the floorstanders).
What the Power Port does, is the S60 and to a lesser extent give the S20 a slightly larger dynamic power. They are speakers who, for example, in the destruction of Jedha in Rogue One and the attempt by the Rebels to leave the planet in time to convey the drama of the moment. Again: with extra sub it sounds really better, but without Power Port the American tuned Signatures would sound less balanced. Placing the Power Port on the S60 – with openings to the four wind directions – does mean that the impact of this technique increases as it is more enclosed between furniture or closer to a wall. Even more than with other speakers, you have to experiment with these floorstanders to really get the layer to your liking.
And what about that crazy, ultra-wide S35 center speaker? It is really a separate thing to see, but you get used to it. Especially because it is indeed very wide and therefore the center channel also enters the room. This is an advantage if you are watching a movie with the whole family on the couch. What is striking is that the Signature speakers fit together well, which creates a coherent surround sound image.
The T-arrangement is frankly the major revelation in the test, especially when we take into account the total price of the 5.0 set-up. That is just under 600 euros. That is really little, especially compared to the other sets that we recently visited. And yet it sounds far from bad. At that sum you have to add the purchase of a subwoofer, because very quickly we notice that the T-series in terms of middle and high certainly perform well, but do not really spread many basses. The cabinets of the T-speakers are fairly light and therefore possible sources of vibrations, so maybe that’s not a bad thing.
While we look at ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ (a bad film, but excellent to test a suround setup) we are presented with a rather beautiful surround image. The wider appearance of the T-speakers is a plus if you look with the whole family, because you enjoy the necessary details everywhere in the seat. The downside is that you sometimes miss some fresh, high detail, something that struck us the most in the center channel. For that reason, it may be necessary to give the center channel a bit more volume and / or treble than the other channels, although you have to be very careful with the latter to prevent listening fatigue due to excessive sharpness.
The Polk T surround setup does need an additional subwoofer to be completely complete, because in pure 5.0 setup (without sub) the strong sound effects of the Transformer film are less impressive, for example in the scenes where the Autobots are being chased by the US government. If we jump back to the Signature loudspeakers, then those slightly more expensive speakers in that area have a clear advantage.
We think that the special design and especially the size of the Signature speakers will evoke recurring reactions to a number of people. But look past that (especially) greater depth, and you will notice that these Polk speakers have something to offer. A finish that is better than you would expect for the price for example. The Signature speakers can also be controlled easily, just like the cheaper Polk T-speakers, so you get more from a less powerful AV receiver. The S60 in particular gets some benefit from the Power Port, making this speaker performs better in terms of dynamics. The S35 is an almost unique concept: an ultra-wide center speaker that is not that high. Certainly interesting for certain scenarios (like TV’s with very low feet) and it also sounds pretty detailed.
What we like most about this double test is the T-series. Ok, your heart will not spontaneously beat faster when you see these speakers. It is all functionality with these Polks, but for their price they offer a relatively detailed and good representation. Perfect for those who want to experience true surround at a very modest price.