On the surface, Polk Audio's little L100 bookshelf may seem like the least interesting offering in the company's new Legend Series lineup. That's especially the case when you consider that the upper end of the lineup, the L800, includes the return of distinctive Polk technologies like Stereo Dimensional Array. Heck, the L100 isn't even compatible with the line's Legend Series Height Module, which adds an up-firing element to the L600 and aforementioned L800.
But don't discount this compact wunderkind. While the L100 may not pack quite as much in the way of whizbang wizardry as its bigger brethren, it's still representative of the design philosophy that went into the overall Legend Series lineup. At $1,199 per pair, the L100 boasts the same Pinnacle Tweeter as the rest of the family--a newly designed one-inch ring radiator that extends the speaker's frequency response up to 38,000 Hz (±3dB). This two-way speaker also features a 5.25-inch version of the Turbine Cone driver found throughout the line, which is essentially a foam-core woofer with molded spiral protrusions that enhance the rigidity of the driver without adding mass.
To see the niftiest of the L100's features, though, I would argue that you need to spin the 13.64-inch tall, 7.78-inch wide, 11.29-inch deep cabinet around and take a gander at its derrière. There'll you'll find what Polk refers to as the Enhanced Power Port, which is something of a familiar sight for Polk fans (the LSiM703, for which the L100 could be considered a replacement, boasted a similar structure).
We'll be touching on the Enhanced Power Port quite a bit in the Hookup section, so I won't dwell on it much here in the intro, but in short, it effectively inserts a cone (or anti-funnel of sorts, if you will) into the mouth of the rear-firing port of the speaker to promote laminar airflow. It also has the side-effect of dispersing the ported sound parallel to the back surface of the speaker, which changes the way the L100 interacts with the room.
One thing worth pointing out is that the Enhanced Power Port does add to the depth of the speakers, accounting for roughly an inch-and-a-half of its 11.29-inches from front to back. It does little, in my opinion to take away from the elegant simplicity of the speaker, which is available in your choice of a black ash or brown walnut veneer (the latter of which I've only seen in photos and at CEDIA Expo, as my review samples were finished in the former. But given my druthers, I would greatly prefer the brown walnut).
The L100 also comes equipped with a magnetically affixed grille that Polk says was designed with minimal sonic interference in mind. I'll admit that I don't always have a strong preference one way or another for grilles-on or grilles off, but I think displaying the L100 in the altogether does go a long way toward shifting the aesthetic emphasis more toward the elegant and less toward the simple end of the design spectrum. I dig the look of the ring tweeter, as well as the vortex-like design of the Turbine Cone.
Unlike the rest of the cabinet, though, the front façade of the speaker does sport a very glossy finish, so that may sway your opinion more toward grilles-on, especially if you're planning to use this speaker at the front of an AV setup and have any stray ambient light from behind to worry about. The finish surrounding the drivers is almost mirror-like in its ability to reflect light, which could serve as a distraction. Furthermore, in addition to protecting the drivers themselves, the grille in this case provides some small level of protection from the tweeter's phase plug, which is a dangerous-looking spike smack-dab in the middle of the ring tweeter.
Still, though, the grilles bop on and slip off so easily that it's hardly a hassle to experiment and see which option works best in your listening/viewing environment.
As I alluded to above, the L100 represents an interesting problem-solver for me. My two-channel listening room also happens to be my home office. It's where I do the bulk of my testing for bookshelf and tower speakers alike (those that come in stereo pairs, obviously; full surround systems go in one of the media rooms). That does result in rather cramped quarters, though. To give speakers--especially rear ported ones--enough room to breathe, I normally have to position them out in front of the pair of short bookshelves in the room. Which puts my main listening position a little closer to the rear wall of the room than I'm comfortable with. It's a necessary compromise, though, even for bookshelf speakers (which I normally stand mount), because those shelves not only leave little room for airspace behind a speaker, but they're also cheap Walmart specials, and hence don't provide a very inert platform on which to perch a pair of transducers.
The one bookshelf speaker that I've ever successfully employed as an actual bookshelf speaker in this room was the aforementioned Polk LSiM703, in large part due to its Power Port. So, upon unboxing the pair of L100s, I immediately plopped them atop those shelves, with about six inches between them and the wall behind, intent upon bringing them down and out into the room on stands if they didn't sound their best.
Normally, for such placement, I would also use a pair of Auralex isolation pads (in a flat configuration), but upon lifting the L100s and giving them a good rap, I found the cabinets to be incredible inert, so I skipped the pads but kept them nearby in case they were needed. Spoiler warning: they weren't.
One other thing worth noting regarding the hookup for the L100 is that its binding posts, while lovely, don't follow the standard spacing of 0.75-inch. They are, rather, separated by about an inch-and-a-half on center, which shouldn't be a concern if you're using a bare-wire connection, spades, or single banana plugs (as I am, courtesy of the pre-terminated ELAC Sensible Speaker Cables I used throughout this review), but which definitely won't work if you're using dual banana plug connectors, or if your speaker wires are housed in a single jacket that doesn't give you a lot of flexibility at the point of connection.
Other equipment used in the course of my evaluation included my Peachtree Audio Nova220SE integrated amp, along with my Maingear Vybe media and gaming PC running JRiver Media Center 20 (nope, I haven't upgraded in a year or three). I also, at times, added an RSL Speedwoofer 10S to the mix, to give the L100 a bit of extra reinforcement in the bottom end.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...