For me, the Polk name conjures images of company founder Matthew Polk in his white lab coat, standing next to speakers of his design; such was the Polk print ad campaign back in the day. I've known the brand well since childhood, due to those marketing efforts, as well as the company's presence in the homes of friends. While Polk's product offerings run the gamut from floorstanding speakers to outdoor speakers to headphones, the subject of this review is the powered Hampden desktop speaker, which retails for $399/pair.
Each Hampden features a one-inch soft-dome silk/polymer tweeter and 4.5-inch mid-woofer. Now here comes the cool part: this is a powered speaker with no internal crossover; rather, each driver is served individually, as the included amplifier has four channels (to feed a pair of speakers). This design is said to improve resolution and dynamic range. Frequency response is rated at 50 Hz to 22 kHz, and the total system power is 80 watts RMS. These speakers are categorized on the Polk website as Computer Speakers. In terms of size, the Hampden is definitely on the larger side for a desktop speaker, measuring 5.96 inches wide by 9.63 inches high by 6.69 inches deep.
The first thought that went through my mind as I unboxed the speakers was, "These are cool." The packaging is cool, the speakers look cool, their functionality is cool, etc. They're simply gorgeous, with wooden cabinets and a well-crafted teak veneer. To truly appreciate the Hampdens' appearance, you have to see them in person, as pictures don't suffice. In addition to an auxiliary input, they feature aptX Bluetooth streaming and also direct USB connectivity, which allows you to bypass your computer's DAC in favor of the Hampden's higher-quality internal offering. As you switch from one audio source to another, the volume-level window on the front of the speakers changes color, letting you know which mode you're using (Bluetooth, USB, etc.). Another notable feature of the Hampden system is its compatibility with DJ Stream, which is an app that allows up to four mobile-device users to create playlists using the music on their respective devices.
In terms of performance, I found that, as long as a few parameters were met, the Hampdens sounded natural, warm, and generally pleasing. What are those parameters? Well, they're best suited for near-field listening, preferably at a desk where their upward tilted stands allow them to fire toward your ears. This isn't necessarily a rub, as that's exactly what they were designed for. However, it is worth mentioning for those who might consider these powered speakers for uses beyond a desktop/computer audio solution, such as a soundbar replacement. Also, bass junkies and/or those looking for a simple and affordable home theater solution should be aware that there is no option to add an external subwoofer.
• They're beautiful and a compliment to just about any existing home or office décor.
• Decades of engineering at Polk have trickled down to the Hampden, providing excellent sound quality for near-field listening.
• They're flexible in terms of connectivity and functionality.
• The internal amp is a bit underpowered for large rooms or offices.
• Bass is limited, and there's no subwoofer output to add a sub.
• They're a bit on the larger side and could be difficult to place on a cramped desktop.
• The Hampden is somewhat pricey for a desktop speaker, but you do get what you pay for.
Comparison and Competition
The powered desktop speaker realm is a crowded, one and there are some worthy competitors. If your budget is tight, you can look to the Klipsch ProMedia 2.1, which sounds great, can be had on the cheap ($139), and includes a dedicated sub. Where the Klipsch system falls short of the Polk system is in its lack of Bluetooth streaming and its less-refined sound quality. Another player in this category with a strong brand name is Focal, specifically the XS Book, which retails for the same $399/pair as the Polk. Focal is another company that puts quite a bit of effort and money into the aesthetics of its speakers, and the XS Book is no exception. While I haven't heard the XS Book system, I can say that, in general, Focal speakers are well engineered and sound great, even at the lower price points. If your budget has some wiggle room and you're a bass enthusiast, you might consider the Paradigm Millenia CT 2, which I recently reviewed. They will play louder and with more bass (thanks to a dedicated subwoofer) than the Polks, but you're going to pay for it, as it retails for $899.
I cannot say enough about the design of these speakers, as they're just stunning. In fact, I was so captivated by the design, I decided it wouldn't be right to submit this review without mentioning the designer's name -- so kudos to you, Cameron Nielsen. If your room/office is on the larger side, you might look elsewhere, but for small to mid-sized rooms, and especially if design is of paramount concern to you, I challenge you to do better than the Hampdens. Not only will you get great sound, but you'll have a cool conversation piece, as well.