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Polk Signature Series review

When you need big sound on a tight budget, Polk's Signature Series deliver

Polk Signature Series review
Polk Signature Series
MSRP $1,500.00
“Offering plenty of warmth, presence, and detail, Polk’s Signature Series speakers make an impressive bid to land in your home theater.”
Pros
  • Clear and present sound signature
  • Impressive detail, especially in dialogue
  • Rich, solid bass response
  • Seamless surround sound
  • Very affordable
Cons
  • Acoustic instruments can sound synthetic
  • Vinyl and plastic components feel a little cheap
  • S35 center speaker can be boom-y

For decades, Polk has been churning out affordable speakers that hit the sweet spot when it comes to balancing performance, style, and value. And while the company underwent many iterations before being purchased by the Sound United Group (which also recently snatched up both Denon and Marantz), the brand has shown it holds tighter than ever to its roots. In our Polk Signature Series speaker review, we take Polk’s latest and greatest for a spin, discovering some impressive sound at a price that just about any budget can shoulder.

Out of the box

For this review, Polk sent out its top-level components under the Signature Series umbrella, including two statuesque S60 tower speakers, the slim S35 center channel, and a pair of beefy S20 bookshelves.

As the biggest of the bunch, the S60 towers easily make the most dramatic first impression. Standing 44.5-inches tall and nearly 16 inches deep, the speakers immediately make their presence known in your listening room. Pulling them from their cardboard sarcophagi reveals sleek, curvy frames atop stout aluminum feet, cloaked in a walnut vinyl veneer. While we’d obviously prefer a real wood veneer, the speakers look hearty from a short distance, and removing the magnetic screens reveals a splash of golden-pearl finish along the triplet of woofers for style points.

Only slightly less striking is the slim center speaker, which almost resembles a soundbar thanks to its cut-down height of just four inches. Under its own magnetic grill, the S35 harbors a total of six drivers flanking a single tweeter at the center, while plastic molds along the backside dive into the bass ports like tornadoes to create Polk’s “Power Port Bass Enhancing technology.”

It’s the plastic covering that same Power Port bass tech at the backside of the S20 bookshelves that make the speakers look a bit, well, cheap upon first glance. That said, no one will likely be eyeing the backsides of your surround speakers (or front-side bookshelves, if that’s your preferred configuration), and beyond that hunk of plastic the S20s look a lot like miniaturized versions of the towers, showcasing vinyl wrapping around gently curved frames that stand nearly 15-inches tall.

Features and design

Polk is quick to feature its Dynamic Balance Acoustic Array on the Signature Series speaker homepage which, the brand claims, helped to select design components and sniff out acoustic anomalies before the speakers ever hit the showroom floor.

Removing the magnetic screens reveals a splash of golden-pearl finish along the woofers for style points.

But it’s the new 1-inch Terylene-dome tweeter that seems to be the real ringer for the Signature Series, designed to exhibit lower resonance and improved dispersion in the midrange for a wider sweet spot, as well as offering an impressive frequency extension that reaches a claimed 40kHz. As you might expect, there’s one in each of the three speaker models.

Along with the new tweeter, each S60 tower harbors three 6.5-inch polypropylene midbass cones with four-layer voice coils, and, at the base of the tower, a bass reflex system boasting the same Power Port technology mentioned above for improved bass response. The total claimed frequency response is 26Hz-40kHz. For those with an extra amplifier on hand, dual 5-way, gold-plated binding posts at the back allow the S60 to be bi-amped or bi-wired.

The S20 shares both the 1-inch Terylene dome tweeter and a single 6.5-inch polypropylene cone found in the S60. Frequency response for the S20 is a claimed 39Hz-40kHz, and we’ll tell you right now that we’re pretty impressed by just how low they go.

The S35’s center channel’s six-pack of polypropylene drivers each stretch 3-inches in diameter, surrounding its own 1-inch Terylene dome tweeter. As with the towers, both the bookshelf and center speakers tote anti-diffraction magnetic grills and 5-way, gold-plated binding posts.

Performance

Cinema

It’s no surprise that movie time is where the Signature Series speakers really shine, offering pinpoint detail in the whistling treble region, a warm and rich lower register, and striking presence in the upper midrange.

We began our evaluation by plugging into our Anthem MRX 1120 receiver and dialing up Guardians of the Galaxy Volume II, where our little 5.1 setup made its presence known right from the get-go. (Note: While Polk included a companion subwoofer, the PSW 125, since it isn’t part of the Signature Series we preferred to swap it out with our SVS SB16 Ultra-Series sub instead, which definitely adds some shock and awe to the equation. Polk recently announced two HTS Series subs which do match this system.)

Polk Signature Series review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Before we could enjoy the show, however, we had to remove the center speaker from its cubby in our TV cabinet. A small box is never a great place for a speaker, but the S35 is especially boom-y when constrained by parallel surfaces, and even when freed, it still offers some occasional wonk in the upper-bass register.

Some slight boom aside, it wasn’t long into our evaluation before we found ourselves marveling at how gleamingly clear and present the Signature Series’ sound is, especially in the treble, and how easily the speakers unearth the minute facets of dialogue, pulling out subtle lip movements and tactile consonances with aplomb.

The full system works in concert beautifully as well, as that striking clarity at the top is matched by a rich underside in the mids, while surround sound effects are handed off between the front towers and side surrounds nearly seamlessly. Moments like the Guardians’ spaceship sliding out of hyperspace are nothing short of invigorating — especially at high volume — while the speakers disperse intricate effects like the darts that fly at the Ravagers as they approach the crash-site with remarkable accuracy.

We had similar experiences auditioning multiple action scenes, including the absolutely immersive slag storm that erupts at the beginning of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, where we could almost feel each pelting grain against our skin, and the contained chaos of Deadpool’s highway battle scene, where revving car engines, tortured screams, and a hurricane of machine gun fire swirled around our ears with impressive precision.

Music

Going back to Guardians Vol 2, it was during one of the film’s infamous slow-walk music numbers, this time to Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, where we first got a taste of our primary quibble with the system — namely a brittle touch of sibilance in the upper midrange that can saturate organic instruments like acoustic guitar and cymbals with a sharp and synthetic finish. To be fair, virtually any system in this price range (or even well above) can struggle with the spectacularly bright guitar that dominates the left channel for much of the track, but it was particularly tinny here.

Polk Signature Series review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

To investigate further, we broke the system down by auditioning the S60 towers and S20 bookshelves separately in stereo mode, connecting to our Peachtree Nova 220 SE. Starting with the towers, we turned to other acoustic favorites like Nickel Creek’s When You Come Back Down, where we heard more of that brittle attack in the upper mids, especially present in the click-y chuck of the mandolin strings at the intro, and the sparkling guitar solo in the middle section. The warmth of the Peachtree’s tube preamp stage gave a bit more warmth to our second audition of The Chain, but it was still brighter than we’d like. Interestingly, we actually enjoyed the S20 bookshelf speakers a bit more in such moments – they seem to have a less striking cut to the attack, though they also lose a bit of vibrancy along the way.

We found ourselves marveling at how gleamingly clear and present the Signature Series treble is.

Turning to other genres in our review catalog, however, the Signature Series fared much better, whether it was the frantic snare and tom rolls in Stanton More’s Lauren Z, or the shimmering melange of ELP’s Trilogy. On the latter track, the S60 towers even held their own respectably against the Aperion Verus II Grand, which cost double the price, though the Grand easily cut through with better dimension, more warmth, and a more organic touch to the attack.

We finished our week of testing with a brilliant ride through George Martin’s last great Beatles testament, the Love soundtrack in 5.1 via DVD. The Signature Series did a great job engulfing us in the album’s wide array of tonal flavors and colors, allowing each instrument its own space with little masking even when the bubbling horns and blaring organs worked into a fever pitch. Our favorite moment, though, was Eleanor Rigby, where the edgy violin and cello seemed to bear down from all sides with tortured bow scrapes across the strings.

Warranty information

Polk offers an ample five-year warranty for all passive home audio speakers, the Signature Series included. Find out more about the warranty at the company’s website.

Our Take

While acoustic music can sound a little tinny, Polk’s Signature Series otherwise offers striking detail and impressively immersive surround sound, all at a very approachable price.

Is there a better alternative?

At this price point, we’d recommend checking out SVS’ Prime series, which offer similar detail and a richer overall sound for music playback. Moving up in price, you can get a lot more dimension and detail when it comes to the towers alone with the Aperion Verus II Grand, or even the lower priced original Verus Grand if you can find them. We’d also recommend shopping the middle tier of Klipsch’s Reference series speakers

We also wouldn’t rule out replacing the S60 towers with all S20s, which will still provide plenty of punch and detail at a nice savings. Finally, if you just want some bookshelves, you can never go wrong with Elac’s Uni-fi UB5 or KEF’s Q150.

How long will it last?

The Polk Signature Series plastic and vinyl components feel solid. Based on our initial impression and Polk’s excellent reputation, the Signature Series should last for as long as you need them.

Should you buy it?

Yes, or at least you should consider them. While we recommend shopping around a bit to find the perfect match for your ears, those looking for excellent detail up top, warmth down low, and seamless surround sound immersion will want to put the Signature Series on their list.

Editors' Recommendations

Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
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