Sunday, April 14, 2024

REVIEW | Polk Audio S50 front tower speaker

Polk Audio is a California-based company specializing in high-end home audio products. It was founded in 1972 and has since been well-known in the audiophile community for enthusiast-grade sound. Thanks to differentiated product stacks, there are price points for every buyer, starting with the budget-oriented T series, and going all the way up to the LSi series. Today, we will be looking at the recently released Signature series, and more specifically the S50 Front Tower speaker.

High-End Audio

The world of high-end audio is a far cry from the portable Bluetooth speakers, computer speakers, and bundled ear-phones with mobile phones – these three being the bulk of what content is consumed on nowadays. Even TV speakers and low-cost 5.1 home theater offerings do not provide a level of quality that is comparable.

Brands like Polk Audio, Wharfedale, Klipsch, KEF, Focal, ELAC, and the likes are for the discerning audio enthusiast, looking for quality, fidelity, and immersion.

To provide perspective, a pair of Polk Audio T15 Bookshelf Speakers cost P8,990; T50 Tower Speakers cost P19,990; and they would need to be paired with an A/V Receiver, costing upwards of P16,000.

A complete T Series 5.1 home theater will set you back P86,440, while the more premium RTi series 5.1 theater can be had for P162,960. The sky is limit when it comes to high-end audio, with the Triton One Front Tower speakers from GoldenEar Technology retailing for as much as P320,000 for the pair.

The Setup

My existing setup was a 5.1 home-theater, powered by a Yamaha RXV-375 A/V Receiver. The front towers were a pair of Kenwood LS-V230 speakers, a Yamaha NS-C55 at the center, a Yamaha NS-C56 pair of bookshelf speakers at the rear, and a Mordaunt Short Carnival 9 sub-woofer.

While the setup had served me well, I was looking for front towers that would better fill the room with sound, and a sub-woofer that could go deeper and louder. Therein started my search.

After much online research, discussions on AVS Forum, and four visits to The Listening Room in SM Megamall to audition various speakers, I finally chose the combination of the Polk Audio S50 front towers from their Signature Series, and the HTS 12 sub-woofer.

Introducing the Signature Series

Expect a contemporary look with the Signature series, being Polk Audio’s most recent offering. The options include three variants of the Front Tower speakers — the S50, S55, and S60. Bookshelf speaker offerings include S10, S15, and S20. There are two options for the Center channel: the regular S30, and a slim S35 for narrow spaces. As for the sub-woofer, Polk Audio suggests pairing the Signature series with either the HTS 10 or HTS 12 sub-woofers.

The Signature Series is certified for hi-res audio, with the Terylene tweeter being responsible for the accurate delivery of crisp clear highs. The Front Towers as well as the sub-woofers feature Polk Audio’s patented Power Port technology, for deeper bass delivery.

Design and Aesthetics

Polk Audio is well-represented on Facebook, and while I’d seen several ads of the Signature series, they had failed to capture my attention. But on seeing them in person I was immediately impressed.

The design is very modern, with the steel feet being particularly trendy. The entire front is covered with mesh that is magnetic and can be easily removed and attached. The edges of the cabinet are rounded, and the design elements used are consistent across the series, for easy pairing. From my testing of various brands, the Signature Series styling remained my personal favorite.

Washed Black Walnut, Classic Brown Walnut, and White are the three colors on offer. I opted for the former, though the White was also a consideration, given my living room black and white design aesthetic.

Audio Performance

Right from the get-go, I was impressed with the S50’s, which are full-range, passive floor standing speakers; commonly referred to as front tower speakers. They were vibrant and lived up to the Hi-Res audio marketing. Supplied with high-bitrate FLAC audio, it made for a detailed audio listening experience, with every note and instrument being precise and audible.

The clarity of the sound was just phenomenal.

The sound stage created by the S50’s were astounding; on pure Stereo, seated in the right position while auditioning them, it felt like a wide sound-stage, versus sound coming from two speakers specifically. The sound enveloped me and filled the entire room.

Testing Notes:

  • Disturbed – The Sound of Silence: I fired-up Disturbed‘s rendition of the Sound of Silence, and the recreation of David Draiman’s tone is excellent, differentiating between the initial whisper-ish airy vocals, versus the more full-bodied deep hoarse notes later. Though the vocals and piano take center stage, the guitar strings are still clear and shrill in the background.
  • Imagine Dragons – Born to be Yours (with Kygo): Switching gears to something upbeat, the track goes through waves of vocal prominent sections with high notes, and deeper bass-heavy sections. The presentation was lively, providing the level of prominence to each portion of the track while managing the transitions seamlessly.
  • The Corrs – Runaway: Prepare to be mesmerized by the lovely vocals of Andrea Corr, and the pleasing sound of Sharon Corr’s violin. Every guitar note and hi-hat is perceptible, with the just a soft touch of bass, while the mids fill the room with sound.
  • Battleship – Finally for the movie test, I sampled an action sequence from 2012’s Battleship on Bluray, featuring a full-on battle at sea against aliens. The S50 was very competent, serving-up the sound-effects and ambiance of the environment splendidly.

While quality content makes a difference, even my older MP3s, and Youtube videos sounded great; so don’t be hard-pressed for FLAC or Bluray content.

Additionally, though the S50’s are competent in the bass department, adding a sub-woofer to the mix makes a worthwhile difference.

Other Speakers Tested:

To ensure a consistent baseline for the testing, the AV Receiver was set to Stereo (without a sub-woofer), and volume was adjusted while switching speakers to compensate for inherent volume variance.

  • Polk Audio S55 – Slightly better bass notes (when compared to the S50)
  • Polk Audio T50 – Crisp and clear, but leaning towards bright (not as dynamic as the Signature Series, and less wholesome mids)
  • Wharfedale D330 – Lovely warm sound, and was great for most music.
  • Wharfedale D230 – Similar to the D330, but not as clear.
  • B&W 684 S2 – Similar to the D330, better bass, but considerably more expensive.
  • Pioneer FS52 – Very similar to my outgoing Kenwood speakers.

The Wharfedale D230 and Pioneer FS52, in my opinion, occupied the lowest tier in this set; they were good speakers, when not auditioned back to back with others. With the Signature Series as a reference point, they were not in the same league when it came to fidelity.

If on a lower budget, I’d strongly recommend the Polk Audio T50; it offers an excellent value proposition, given the clarity and fidelity it affords.

The ones that made it to my shortlist were the Polk Audio S50, and the Wharfedale D330. I loved the warm sound of the D330, which sounded excellent, especially in vocal tracks. The S50 eventually sealed the deal owing to its clarity, and consistency across audio genres.

My auditioning experience was at The Listening Room in SM Megamall, assisted by Marky Generalao who was competent and very helpful in guiding me through my speaker testing. I also had the pleasure of interacting with Christine, who was very accommodating and ensured that I got to test all the speakers I was interested in, ordering specific ones for me, and also giving me the best deal possible. I would strongly recommend The Listening Room for your home entertainment needs.

Closing Words

If you’re in the market for a new pair of high-end speakers, you will be very pleased with the Polk Audio S50. The combination of their high fidelity, great sound imaging, and modern looks will make for a great addition to your living room. If you’re looking to get a complete Signature Series 5.1 home-theater expect to spend around P100,000 depending on the individual speakers selected.

Also expect that once your ears get used to this grade of sound, most other music on lesser equipment will fall flat. After setting up these speakers at home and listening to them every day, just about everything else I hear lacks clarity. So consider yourself warned!

  • Model: S50
  • Price: P29,990
  • Verdict: Satisfying high-fidelity front tower speakers for the audiophile in you


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