The Sound of Style Page 7

Music Performance An initial stereo listen to Frisell's "Outlaws" on the RM30 system indicated wide imaging, full-range sound, and smooth integration between the PSW404 sub and the sats. The system handled loud volumes well: when I cranked things up during a passage where the guitarist lets loose with distortion and the drums and bass get all frenetic, the sound remained clear and well-defined. Compared with the previous two systems, though, cymbals sounded overly crisp. The system's bright voicing was readily apparent in The Shins' "Pink Bullets": vocals had an edgy, sibilant quality, and the normally smooth keyboards sounded somewhat grainy.

Moving on to Rammstein's cyber-metal in 5.1-channel surround, I found much less to be fussy about. Actually, I was impressed: the kick drum and bass were low-reaching and solid, the snare-drum slam sounded decent, and the singer's voice was clear as it emanated from the center speaker. The surround speakers conveyed a palpable sense of concert ambience, and the circular pans from the keyboard sounded smooth as they arced around.

Movie Performance The RM30 system's admirable handling of concert DVDs carried over to movies. The tunnel chase in I, Robot turned out to be a thrilling ride, with directional sound effects coming across with pinpoint accuracy. In a scene where the crushed remains of a large vehicle are unexpectedly hurtled toward Detective Spooner, the sonic trajectory as it launched from the front of my room and landed behind me was startlingly realistic. The subwoofer also cleanly and tightly rendered the thunderous bass accompanying the mayhem. Finally, the subsequent chat between the errant robot and Dr. Susan Calvin in her lab sounded clear, even from off-center seats.

Bottom Line Polk Audio's RM30 system has what it takes to deliver surround sound excitement with movies and concert DVDs. Overall, I found its sound too bright for my tastes during stereo listening with jazz and folk-influenced acoustic music, but I liked its deep, clean bass and wide imaging. While its build quality and style paled a bit compared with the other systems, it's more than $300 cheaper, and Polk's versatile installation options also help even the score.