It was my fourteenth birthday and I got an awesome gift from my dad. At the time, I lived in Philadelphia with my mom, so on the day of my birthday my dad picked me up and took me to Bryn Mawr Stereo in Maple Shade, New Jersey, where he let me pick out a really cool stereo system. For a teenaged kid like me, it was a hi-fi dream come true: a Nakamichi Music Bank CD changer, an NAD receiver with 125 watts per channel and a remote, along with a pair of Polk floorstanding speakers and some Monster Cable to connect everything. I am not sure anybody could have predicted the audio junkie that this system would turn me into, but with my coat room tip money and any other funds I could scrounge up--perhaps some winnings from the golf course or minimum wage from running the range picker at Philadelphia Cricket Club's driving range--I started out on a path of audio upgrades that years and years later developed into one hell of an audiophile habit.
The subject of this review is without question a throwback to those early audiophile days and the crucial component of the system that flamed the fires in my audiophile heart. Polk's Signature S50 floorstanding speakers, priced at a mere $499 per pair, share a lot of DNA with the little towers on which I rocked Appetite For Destruction back in the late 1980s. But they prove just how far we've come since then. The S50's form factor is familiarly slim, coming in at 37.4 inches tall, 10.25 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and weighing a manageable 32 pounds. But th Polk Signature S50 comes packing a one-inch Terylene tweeter and two 5.25 inch mid-range drivers as well as a Power Port at the bottom of the speaker, which helps put out a reported and respectable 33 Hz of low end sound. The S50 is 89dB sensitive and can be driven by today's more modest receivers--Polk would likely suggest a Denon or a Marantz as they are all part of the Sound United family of products. In my case, I was using a $799-retail Denon AVR-X2500H receiver (review pending) which powered the Polk S50s with ease.
The Polk Signature S50s have very nice feet included that can be installed easily once you spend a little time testing speaker placement in your room. Getting the S50s to image nicely was no problem, as they aren't finicky like some more expensive audiophile speakers. Just a little toe-in and these Polks imaged fantastically in a somewhat nearfield application.
Despite their ported design, the speakers aren't as fussy about positioning in relation to the wall behind them as I may have expected, either. In the end, I placed the S50s between nine to 12 inches away from the wall and just a little in front of the $79 IKEA equipment rack that I used for this modest application. With the speakers placed just a little in front of the rack, I was able to get the type of imaging that I hoped for without having to make any meaningful compromises in terms of other furniture in this small room.
For just under $500 per pair, you get gold binding posts, really nice cabinetry--including your choice of a black or cherry finish--and a five-year warranty. Polk states that the speakers are designed in California and engineered in Baltimore, but they are almost assuredly made in China and by today's standards. That is a good thing, because it would be really hard to have a speaker this sophisticated built in the good old U-S-of-A and have it come out at this price. Sorry, that is just our global manufacturing reality today.
Although I disconnected it for much of my testing of the Polk Signature S50s, I also added a $150 Polk PSW 108 subwoofer in a 2.1 configuration to go just a little lower for music and movies in this apartment-like environment. If you aren't pissing off your neighbors a little bit with your system, perhaps you aren't trying hard enough?
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...