The battle of superior home speakers has been healthy, and surround systems have been popping up for their piece of the pie. Many of them are make a good middle ground for a non-egregious amount of money, which is right where Polk has aimed their T15 bookshelves, T30 center, T50 floor standing towers, and PSW111 subwoofer.
People are realizing that you can have the benefits of soundstage, stereo imaging, dynamic range, and depth. All the while keeping things budget-friendly, as the superb Pioneer SP-PK52FS continue into the wonder years. Lingering into an unknown future and ultimately a foreseeable absence off of the market.
Style Comes Included
Polk knows there’s a lucrative void to fill as the T15/T30/T50 speaker start off with a handsome and modern appearance, a trait that’s usually second to functionality. The cabinets are made of a medium-density fiberboard wrapped in a wood grain made of typical black vinyl, with the towers each getting a nicely fitted pedestal base. By themselves, the speakers don’t appear unique without the removable cloth grilles, which sport a outwardly bowed shape and curved diameter for a touch of style and still-effective protection for the drivers. They exude a premium look but everything here is categorically compact in size.
The PSW111 powered subwoofer on the other hand is just a small rounded black box with a standard cloth grille. In fact, it’s pretty generic for a downward firing 8-incher with 300 watts of dynamic power output, but can easily by hidden behind a couch. Around back its also business as usual volume/low pass dials, phase/power switches, audio inputs, and auxiliary speaker terminals.
Technical specs are largely consistent between speaker sizes. Each T15 bookshelf produces 89 dB units (decibels), nominal impedance of 8 ohms, and peak power of 150W. The center and towers are more uniform at 90 dB, an impedance of 6 ohms, and a wave guide drive tweeter; but only the peak handling power offers a slight difference of 100W (T30) versus 150W (T50). All units are equipped with 5-way binding posts in the rear, and compatible with cable ends that are stripped bare or plugged (banana/spades/pinned).
Performance: A Bit Bright
Bright and plucky are approximate characteristics of the T15/T30/T50, and noticed that sound clarity is surprisingly tight. Polk certainly did their homework in making this package fit right in without coarse traces of audible distortion, a common, though undesirable trait that many sub $1K surround system often falter on. Nope, the T15/T30/T50s were relatively solid performers on the movie front.
Putting the speakers through the wringer with Deadpool and Mad Max: Fury Road, these films brought much of the impact that vigorous roars of petrol cars and superhero chaos can sonically induce. From beginning to end, the T50 towers and its three 6.5-inch bass drivers never broke a sweat, while the T15 and T30 largely backed up the soundstage and dialogue with relative compliance.
The PSW111 graciously helps and can pack a wallop when necessary. The subwoofer is definitely oriented towards refined output of bass rather than absolute power, but it thoroughly fits the speaker suite and their inherent physical profile. In short, the PSW111 is very good about producing a believable low-end without calling attention to itself.
Against the World
It’s obvious that Polk modeled their own after the likes of Pioneer SP-PK52FS and the runner-up Energy Take Classic 5.1, which paved the way for premier theater sound on the cheap. But unlike those models the T15/T30/T50 are kept in control but felt immediate in nature, which was a bit of a surprise considering their relative sizes.
The Polk units sound appropriate and forward presence, but Pioneer portrays a deeper tonal balance while the Energy Take 5.1 have the advantage of being a tad cheaper overall. However, many probably won’t notice the difference in clarity without doing a side-by-side themselves, and to be fair, our overall impressions weren’t detrimental either. However, ELAC has their own Debut Speakers which have the innate capacity to overtake anything here acoustically, but doesn’t come in a preconfigured system and unfortunately breaks our fixed ceiling of $1000.
Although we find a standard 5.1 arrangement more than adequate for movies and video games, the T15/T30/T50/PSW111 makes a convincing argument for 7.1 systems on price alone. With an additional pair of T15s in tow (that’s a total of four bookshelves), the dynamic was subtle in change for our viewing of The Revenant, but was enhanced as the atmospheric uneasiness was directly spread out in each channel. Consequently, Polk undercuts its rivals in quality and quantity to an effective degree.
Good Enough For Music
Musically, we listened to some Hi-Res tracks from John Legend’s “Ordinary People” to “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses with the T50 towers. We found the towers remain graciously clean and as soothing vocals were prioritized, with piano and guitar ballads punching through with straightforward definition, although not completely abrasive at higher volumes.
The Polk setup of the T15 bookshelf, T30 center, T50 floor standing tower, and PSW111 subwoofer do budget speakers justice. You can literally have a full 7.1 channel system for what amounts to about $600-$840 (Amazon), a value that’s damn hard to ignore. However, pitting these directly against the perennial SP-PK52FS reveals those still hold a small edge in warmth — albeit narrowed down to perception of more discerning listeners.
But for the money, Polk does clarity and range remarkably well for our budgeted prerequisites. A promising option on the home speaker food-chain.