The name Polk invokes a certain brand promise--one of quality and value built over a long history of fine products in home audio and beyond. My own personal history with Polk dates back to my first after-market car audio system, put together with Polk dB speakers back in the early 2000s. And for the home, the Polk LSi 707s (precursor to the current LSiM series) were part of my first foray into quality hi-fi audio. So, when I was offered the opportunity to review the S55 tower speakers from Polk's new Signature line, I jumped at the chance.
The Signature line is one step up from the company's entry-level T-series speakers. There are three tower speakers in the Signature line. The S55 is the middle one in the range; it uses the same tweeter as the other two models, mated with dual 6.5-inch midrange woofers. The S50 features two 5.25-inch woofers, while the S60 carries three 6.5-inch woofers. The S55 retails for $329.95 each.
Weighing in at 44 pounds each, the S55s were fairly easy to unbox and maneuver upstairs into my third-floor living room, a fact that I appreciated greatly. It's an important consideration, as I often find that most floorstanding speakers--especially those with traditional driver designs--tend to be of the forklift-required variety. I don't know about you, but I certainly am not competing for any strongman titles in the near future.
Wireworld's Silver Eclipse were my cables of choice to connect the Polks to the Anthem MCA 525 amplifier or, alternatively, my reference Crown XLS 2500 amplifier. Two sets of speaker posts on back allow for bi-wiring, if desired, and it was very easy to access them to connect the cables. The Anthem AVM 60 served as preamp/controller, and the Sony PlayStation 3 spun my shiny discs.
I'm a huge Trekkie. With Star Trek Discovery (the first Star Trek series on TV in well over a decade) coming this fall, I was in the mood to do some reviewing of old material to make sure I am fresh on all the important stories in the Star Trek universe. I know that Enterprise (Blu-ray, Paramount) isn't the most well liked series of the bunch, but it has, in my opinion, one of the coolest theme songs: "Faith of the Heart," featuring British singer Russel Watson doing his rendition of an old Rod Stewart classic. It's a great song for testing out the musicality of any speakers. You get Watson's voice smooth with that familiar classic-rock ballad-style passion, but a bit deeper and with more gravitas than Stewart's original version. The accompanying steel stringed guitar was presented with excellent clarity. The S55 didn't have quite the precision and crispness up top that you get from a higher-end performance class--like Polk's own LSiM speakers, for instance. Then again, at $660/pair, one ought not to expect that. The S55s also did a good job with the tone of the viola, but I didn't feel the full heftiness of it until I brought in my SVS PC-13 Ultra sub.
In two-channel mode, without subs, the Polks effortlessly filled my room (which is about 17 feet deep, 13 across, and 9 feet tall and shaped in a fairly symmetric enclosed rectangle); I didn't sense any gaps in the room in terms of coverage. However, when I opened the doors, leaving the left wall largely exposed to the rest of the house, the sound got a bit thinner. The S55s still managed to pressurize the space, but I was left with the feeling that they were working harder to do so.
Next up was a little instrumental from Kenny G's Breathless album (CD, Arista). I cued up his hit "Forever in Love." The Polk Signature S55s did not disappoint here. They locked on to the texture and tone of Kenny G's smooth sax just right. Midrange notes were done well, with great detail so that you could hear all the air that went into each note change. I could even make out the sound of air resonating in the sax chamber. No, it wasn't as detailed as I hear through my reference B&W CM6 S2 monitors; but again, at this price point, I was highly satisfied with the Polk speakers' musicality.
Polk also sent along the S35 center ($249.95) and a pair of the S15 bookshelf speakers ($199.95/pair) so that I could do a complete multichannel system evaluation. The S35 features a one-inch tweeter and six three-inch midrange drivers; Polk labels the S35 as a slim center speaker, since it stands roughly four inches tall and has a depth of 6.1 inches. Its low profile allows it to sit on a mantel or be set in front of your TV, with less likelihood of blocking the screen. It's also wall-mountable. The S15 combines a one-inch tweeter with a 5.25-inch midrange driver.
Putting the complete system through its paces with The Matrix (Blu-ray, Warner Brothers), the Signature speakers were able to fully deliver from all angles with my favorite torture test: the Lobby Shooting Spree. Bullets ricocheting, concrete bits flying, kung fu punches and kicks--all portrayed with very good clarity. Playing with just a 5.0 complement (no subwoofer), the Polks still did well with the low bass notes in the background score. But together with a competent sub like my SVS PC-13 Ultra, the system really excelled. I'm sure if I did an A/B test with a much more costly system, I could hear some differences--but in listening to the Polk system on its own, I couldn't point out any significant shortcomings.
Dialogue through the S35 was clear and easy to follow, which made for an overall engaging movie experience. You don't get that hollow, tinny sound that's so common with lesser-quality speakers in this price range that just scream cheap. With all speakers firing, even when I opened the doors to my listening room, the Polks had no trouble driving sound to pressurize the whole listening space. The sound presentation wasn't quite as even as that of my reference speakers when I moved outside the sweet spot listening position.
Click over to Page Two for The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
One limitation I noticed was how much volume the S55s could deliver on their own. With the reinforcement of a full surround sound complement, there was nothing to be missed in that department; however, if you prefer a lot of volume for your two-channel listening, you might want to consider stepping upmarket to something that can deliver a bigger sound--especially if your listening space is toward the larger end of the spectrum. In terms of lower bass reproduction, the S55 can hit just about all but the very, very lowest notes. However, to get a really well-rounded, deep, tight, defined bass, you'll need to pair the S55s with a subwoofer (or two). I want to be clear that these two issues are not particular to the S55--you'd be hard pressed to find any floorstanding speaker at this price point which could deliver significantly better.
Comparison and Competition
The sub-$700/pair floorstanding speaker market has gotten incredibly competitive in recent years. One speaker that comes to mind immediately is the ELAC Debut F5, at $249.99 each. You may find that the ELACs exhibit a little better clarity, especially on the high end. However, the Polk's bass is a little weightier and projects a bit more volume into the room.
Finally, for just a little more money, Polk's own RTiA5 (at $399.95 each) makes a very good case for paying a little more to step up to even better sound.
The Polk Signature S55 speakers are spectacular speakers, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience I had with them. Tone, clarity, and overall quality of sound were better than I expected at this price range. You will probably find that they can just about keep up with any associated equipment you might have, barring the most premium or esoteric. As the foundation of a Polk Signature Series surround sound system, the S55 delivers everything you need for a perfectly thrilling movie, TV, or surround music experience. It also performs very well with two-channel music, although as I said above you might think about going slightly upmarket if you need a grander sense of scale for a larger room. For those who want to remain firmly in the sub-$700 price range, the Polk Signature S55 is an investment that you will not regret.
• Visit the Polk Audio website for more product information.
• Check out our Floorstanding Speakers category page to read similar reviews.
• Polk Introduces Signature Speaker Series at HomeTheaterReview.com.