Every audio junkie might need a pair of speakers like the Polk S10s. Small, dynamic, smooth, sleek, easy to power, very nicely finished, and $229 per pair. Not bad. Over the years, Polk has refined their smallest speakers in so many ways that nobody would blame you if you missed some of the tweaks along the way. Most notably, the cabinets are so very slick compared to mainstream speakers of the sort from the past. The S10s aren't boxy looking (or sounding, for that matter). They use better materials for drivers today, too. Simply put, a speaker in this category would have simply been the foundation of an acceptable starter sound system not that many years ago; the S10, by contrast, actually delivers a lot to love.
I had the chance to play with a pair of these speakers using both a big Marantz SR8012 11.2-channel AV receiver (reviewed here) (which is a bit of an overkill, if I'm being honest), as well as a 7.2-channel Denon AVR-X2500H (reviewed here). The latter in particular is a more realistic pairing, because you could easily combine that affordable AVR (which generally sells in the $350 range these days) with these sub-$250 speakers, add a compact subwoofer, and have an excellent, high-performance mini audio system for a young music and/or movie fan, or even for an old fogey who wants good-sounding tunes in the office or bedroom without hogging a lot of space. Truth be told, though, Polk intends for you to employ the S10s as surround or even height speakers in small or mid-sized home theater setups. Either way, though, these speakers stealthy slide into the décor of smaller rooms or could be used for some pretty tasty sound reinforcement in, say, a garage application. There are so many ways to make a speaker like this price work its way into your audio life.
The Polk S10 packs a one-inch tweeter of Terylene, a synthetic polyester that serves the speaker well. The midrange driver is a four-inch, mica-reinforced polypropylene cone that goes a little lower than you might expect considering its diminutive size. The speakers are 8.4 inches tall, 5.4 inches wide, and 6.25 deep, all with nicely molded/rounded edges and your choice of black walnut and brown walnut finishes. They can easily be mounted using a quarter-inch threaded insert of a keyhole hanger. Sensitivity, while not exactly staggering at 87dB, is still pretty much exactly what you would expect for a small two-way satellite speaker that doesn't rely on horn-loading. The S10's reported low frequency extension is 67 Hz, though no -3dB point is given. At any rate, if you want to go low with the Polk S10, especially if you're going rogue to use them in a stereo setup as I did, you'll need a subwoofer as part of a 2.1 system.
I gave the Polk S10s a good warmup with "Black Hole Sun" from Soundgarden's Superunknown (1440 AIFF) and they did a pretty good job keeping up with the slow, driving drumline. They can't dive deep low enough to really deliver all of the song's bass on their own, but the speakers have a way of knowing their limits (like Dirty Harry says... "a man's got to know his limitations") and were very balanced, and I liked their overall voicing and the complexity they delivered from this relatively dense mix.
I moved on to "One More Red Nightmare" from King Crimson's Red album, where Bill Bruford tears it up on the skins like nobody's business. Crueller to a small pair of speakers is sound of the shiny, glaring "China Boy" cymbals that ring with odd yet compelling tonalities. Red wasn't a commercial success in the United States back in 1974, but it stands the test of time with fans of progressive music and/or sickos who think it's a fair torture test for little baby speakers. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. But thankfully the S10s held their own.
Playing "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk featuring Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers was good fun on the Polk S10s. The 67 Hz-and-up bass sounded energized and was tight and appropriate considering. The imaging was right-on, the overall groove was happening, and I think that's what Pharrell was aiming for on this song.
Recently, I have been watching much more television than movies based mostly on time commitments. One-hour television shows simply fit into my and my family's lifestyle better than 2.5-hour movies right now. One of the shows that I am trying to catch up on is HBO's Succession. The show is very dialogue driven and the Polk S10s are more than up for that challenge, but every so often the show goes to crazy-land, such as in Season One, Episode Two, where Roman Roy is trying to convince his sister "Shiv" to sign off on a new inheritance with their ailing, media mogul father and likely under the influence of their younger stepmother. The duo steps into an auditorium in the hospital to talk in private, and barely a minute later they come to actual blows. Yes, you read that right: a boy/girl adult fight (shit like this happens on Succession a lot). When Roman slaps Shiv right in the face you could hear the crack as if you were standing there. Now, I don't condone sibling fighting, nor violence against women, but I have to say it did sound pretty realistic with the Polks and the Denon AVR-X2500H in play.
Comparison and Competition
We could start with the Polk S15, which at about $260 per pair gives you a good bit more oomph at the bottom end, largely due to the size of its cabinet. If you're doing a small stereo system, though, instead of using these speakers for their intended purpose as surrounds, I would be tempted to buck up for a super-small sub in most situations before going a little bigger in the small speaker category.
A smaller and more colorful option comes from Orb Audio. These metal balls, priced at $259 per pair, come in all sorts of custom colors and are actually smaller than the Polks. They don't play as deep, but offer a wholly different sound and aesthetic that is undeniably appealing.
ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2s are an excellent choice for those who love a well-engineered speaker that can go lower in terms of bass (reportedly 44 Hz). They get a lot of love from the mainstream and audiophile press and are ported, but they don't have the slick, small look of the Polks or even the Orbs.
There are so many other options worthy of consideration in and around this price range, as most good speaker companies offer well-made speakers that anybody can afford. It is best to find what sonic signature you like and start from there. Polk's house sound good for me at this price range, but you might like Definitive Technology, Bowers & Wilkins, MartinLogan, Paradigm, RSL, Aperion, or so many others. There are so many to consider.
It is amazing to see how far we've come in terms of what a low-cost speaker can do in late 2019. One might make the argument that without overseas manufacturing, none of this would be possible, and I get that, but at $229 per pair, it is hard not to see the tremendous value in the Polk S10 satellite speakers. Their versatility for music playback and home theater alike is impressive. Their fit and finish is excellent. They "color well within the lines" without ever losing their Baltimore soul, and that is pretty high praise. I could see these speakers fitting into any number of our readers' systems/homes with ease.
• Visit the Polk Audio website for more product information.
• Visit our Bookshelf Speaker category page to read similar reviews.
• Polk Signature S55 Floorstanding Speakers Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.