Review: Polk Audio Blackstone TL350 Page 2
The TL350 sets up just like any other compact sub/sat system. Plop the satellites and the center speaker on stands (or whatever) and connect the wires. Point ’em at your listening chair.
The DSWpro550wi is more complicated. I put it in my usual “subwoofer sweet spot” and chose the Mid-wall PRO setting. I could have used a line-level connection from my Denon receiver to the subwoofer, but instead used the optional $120 PWSK-1 wireless kit. The PWSK-1 comprises a transmitter that connects to your receiver or preamp/processor plus a little receiver that plugs into a special port on the back of the subwoofer. Polk says it has a range of up to 50 feet. In my system, it was totally plug-and-play — I hooked it up and it worked instantly.
The one task that required me to use my brain and ears was setting the subwoofer crossover frequency, which is critical for a compact sub/sat system. Polk rates the TL3 for a –3-dB bass response of 115 Hz, so I tried 100-, 110-, and 120-Hz crossover settings on my receiver. It didn’t make a big difference. At the 100-Hz setting, I could still crank the system up without encountering distortion. At the 120-Hz setting, I could barely hear voices coming from the subwoofer, but liked the little extra oomph in the lower harmonics of male voices. I took the TL350 system’s unfussiness as a good omen and settled on 100 Hz.
Eager for an all-around test, I pulled out the Blu-ray Disc of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Because Basterds features so many different actors with such a wide range of vocal tonalities, I knew that if the Polk system suffered from The Hole, at least a few voices would fall into it.
If The Hole exists with this system, I couldn’t find it. Actors from Brad Pitt to Christoph Waltz to Eli Roth all sounded natural and full, with no bloating from leakage into the subwoofer. In the basement bar scene in which American and British operatives first socialize with Nazi soldiers and then shoot it out with them, I encountered not a single audible clue that I was listening to such a small system. I worried that the satellites’ tiny woofers might choke on the loud gunfire that ends the scene, but they portrayed it with the explosive dynamics I’m used to hearing.
Later scenes let the TL350 system show off its fantastic soundstage; I got a captivating sense of the acoustic signatures of the various scene settings. The hubbub of the guests milling about the theater lobby before the Nazi propaganda film begins seemed especially realistic; I really got the feeling I was in the same space with the actors. I noticed the same sense of envelopment when I played music, especially with audiophile CDs such as Bucky Pizzarelli’s Swing Live, which was recorded live in a New York City jazz club.
During my “torture test” regimen, as I played the most dynamic scenes from action movies such as King Kong and Terminator: Salvation, I was amazed to hear that the system could play with my receiver set at 0-dB reference level (i.e., really friggin’ loud) without apparent distortion. Some credit goes to the satellites, but most goes to the DSWpro550wi, which proved far more dynamic and powerful than I had expected. Maybe some of those proprietary/patented technologies do make a difference!
The only area where the system’s low price shows is in the treble, which isn’t terribly refined. The satellites sounded sibilant with some female voices, such as the little girls talking in the schoolyard in the children’s movie Matilda.
Through the use of a really good little woofer, ported satellite speaker enclosures, and (I assume) careful tuning, Polk has finally filled The Hole. The combination of the TL350 satellite system and the DSWpro550wi subwoofer delivers potent sound without the annoying lack of upperbass energy that plagues so many compact sub/sat systems. If you want a small, kick-ass home theater speaker for a little more than $1,000 (and who doesn’t?), you really, really need to check this one out.