Polk Signature S60 Speaker System Review Page 2

The S60 towers’ vocal delivery was very fine as well. My usual rotation of male voices revealed a sound that was natural and even, though slightly warm or weighty. Warm/weighty perhaps, but without any narrow-band aberrations in the upper-bass octaves that might have induced the colorations I call chestiness or “hoo.” And overall, the S60s provided a pleasingly neutral midrange, whether from voices, strings, or woodwinds. On a track like “A Sign of the Ages,” the richly expressive baritone of the largely forgotten but highly influential Gil Scott-Heron sounded liquid and full, with just that touch of characteristic nasality. (Anyone else ever notice how much he and Boz Scaggs sounded alike?)

As far as I could find, Polk’s only statement regarding the S60s’ range is “Total Frequency Response: 26 hertz to 40 kHz”—just so, with no qualifications of level or anything else. This is not terribly helpful—the same could be said of nearly any speaker 4 inches or larger—but it certainly elicits hope of a certain bass ability, which the towers more than fulfilled. In my studio, the S60s produced ample output to at least 35 Hz, as plumbed by my extensive dubstep library (about six tracks, all of which sound pretty much alike to me, except for delivering slightly different deep-bass drones, which is exactly their function). A low C at 32 Hz sounded very little attenuated if at all, relative to my everyday system (complete with imposing SVS PC12-Plus subwoofer), which is damned impressive. And the frequent bass-diving downward sweeps encountered in such music generated some real, gut-fluttering infra-bass.


The Polks were quite happy playing loud—toward the upper range of my 150-watt-per-channel amplifier—but dense textures like big-band horns could get a touch strident. Stereo imaging was defined and stable, but without unusual depth or that last degree of “hang-in-space” believability I hear from the very best speakers.

One of the better-sounding recordings I own is a version of the instrumental suite from Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera, which I have in 96/24 via a pirated transfer from a 30-inch-per-second two-track master (shhhh!). It’s goose-bumpingly natural, and the S60s did a fine job preserving elements like delicate suspended-cymbal mallet strokes and plinking piano/banjo unisons (a brilliant Weill innovation in orchestration), while the solo trumpet calls had the round, resonant brass character I want to hear. Listening to the same tracks via my everyday speakers for a quick reference revealed no big distinctions: The Polks were a shade warmer, and they went a tad lower with a bit heavier and slightly looser 40-to-100-Hz balance, but the overall timbral balance was ostensibly the same—which in my book means excellent. Only in direct, level-matched comparisons could I discern another difference, which wasn’t so much in any one quality as in a “quantity of clarity.” Switching to my long-discontinued Energy speakers struck me as if a single, very thin layer of acoustically broadband cheesecloth had been removed, making things neither brighter nor duller but somehow, just barely there-er. And by no means do I intend this as a criticism: In a comparison with Energy speakers that would, if made today, surely cost four or perhaps five times as much, this is in fact strong praise.


Given the completely different configuration of the S35 center, I had to wonder if it would sound, well, completely different, but it didn’t. Comparing center-speaker mono with two-main-speaker mono showed a surprisingly close match, with no glaring colorations or contrasts. The very low-profile center was clear and articulate, and in fact on some male voices it displayed a small but audible increase in low-midrange emphasis. This was clearly less evident on most female voices, from which I conclude a modest but relatively broad-banded rise (or, conceivably, adjacent dip) somewhere in the 300-Hz-ish region. This is also the upper end of the range most affected by boundary gain from neighboring room surfaces.

Equally surprising, the S35’s off-axis consistency was very good. Surprising, because a line of small, identical drivers covering the same range—and as far as I could tell, Polk’s skinny center is a simple two-way construct—will display substantial response “lobing” along its long axis (horizontal, in this case) unless measures are taken to lessen this in the crossover. With its six woofers spaced a bit less than 4 inches on center, you could expect peaks and dips around 300 Hz (and 600 and 150) at certain angles, but when I compared on-axis sound with off-axis, I heard little difference other than the expected loss of brightness (from moving off the tweeter axis). Perhaps the “cascading” of the drivers described earlier helps mitigate the off-axis effects. On the other hand, the fact that this matches the range at which I heard the S35’s very slight lower-midrange shift seems suggestive. Either way, the S35 proved an eminently competent center unit, and its slim form-factor is sure to be a big sales-floor draw.


I cued up the Blu-ray of Passengers, rather a talky movie—for a sci-fi spectacular, anyway—but one with lots of spatial and dynamic cues. The Polk suite did a fine job throughout, keeping dialogue (of all three, count ’em, three characters) firmly onscreen and solidly intelligible, while producing a seamless surround bubble at the listening position. The S20 two-ways may be large for a lot of surround positions, but they worked just fine at the primary listening spot. For a listener seated to one side or the other, discrete effects tended to pull toward the closer speaker, which I found problematic—but this is generally the case with any directradiating close-in surrounds, so no knock on the Polks. I briefly auditioned the S20s as full-range stereo speakers (the real reason we’d selected these big boys over the smaller dedicated surrounds), and they made an impressive match to the S60s; fact, they sounded remarkably good from soup to nuts. This was an admittedly limited experience, but I’d wager that a system with four S20s (and the S35 and PSW125), at a savings of $450, would be no great hardship at all but the highest volume levels.


Even though it’s a big 12-inch model, the PSW125 subwoofer felt like a bit of an afterthought in this system—and indeed it was, as there is no Signature Series subwoofer offered to date, and Polk sent this $350 model as a fairly priced match. It’s very plainly finished, with cheap push-terminal speaker-level ins and outs (which you’ll likely never use) and a very basic control set; there’s no crossover-defeat LFE switch, just a continuously variable Low Pass knob, which you’re instructed to set at its max for LFE use. I went back and replayed the big action scenes from Passengers, as well as a handful of my favorite big-bass sequences from movies and music alike. While the sub clearly added a degree of extension, and a similarly modest dose of deep-bass level, the towers on their own could come quite close. Seems to me, there are subs for just a couple hundred bucks more that might provide a more powerful bottom octave—Polk’s own upgrade might be the DSW PRO 660i (I’ve no experience with it), while the usual go-to web brands-—SVS, Hsu Research, Power Sound Audio—also spring to mind. That said, I’ve no qualms whatsoever in suggesting a subwoofer-less, S60-based system; the towers have plenty of extension and oomph to yield a solidly cinematic, if not quite referencebandwidth, experience.

Overall, Polk’s newest family certainly deserves your attention. In the past couple of years, we’ve watched aggressively priced, extraordinarily well-performing midtowers with surround companion models march in from brands based in Germany, Japan, and Canada (all manufactured in Asia, of course) to recalculate the U.S. market’s value/performance quotient. Now, Polk’s distinctly American Signature series joins the fray, fully equipped to match up with the invaders.

Polk Audio
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