B&W DM302 loudspeaker With the Polk RT5
The $299/pair Polk isn't the only affordable option out there. B&W's DM302, at $250/pair, is even cheaper. Since Stereophile awarded the B&W an "Editor's Choice" award in 1997, it seemed incumbent upon me to compare the RT5 with the B&W in a level-matched joint audition. For the comparison, I used a system comprising the Mark Levinson No.39 CD player, the Conrad-Johnson ART preamp, and the Krell FPB 600 power amplifier. I connected everything with Kimber KCAG and Black Pearl speaker cable. Both pairs of speakers were Blu-Tacked to sturdy speaker stands spiked to the floor and leveled.
I enjoyed listening to both speakers enough that it was hard work to compare and contrast—I wanted to extend the listening window every time. We're lucky to have two such choices at the entry level. If I had to choose just one, I'd go with the B&W—it had greater inner detail, especially when reproducing solo instruments or voice. On the Ruth Laredo disc, for instance, I heard more of the sound of the piano reacting with Tarrytown's Music Hall—much more of the high notes bouncing off the wall.
On the other hand, the Polk gave the piano more weight and warmth—less accurate, perhaps, but certainly not to be scoffed at.
Listening to Emmylou Harris' Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town (Warner Bros. 3141-2), Harris sounded more controlled on the DM302—again, the Polk seemed to emphasize certain vocal notes more than others, which gave "Green Rolling Hills" a different delivery.
Yet, while the B&W may have been tonally more accurate, the Polk had its own truth to tell—Harris' voice sounded less waiflike through them and had more "throb"—by which I mean more pure country emotion. Yes, this could be considered editorializing, but the best editors do make the material sound even more like the author.
Over the course of comparing the two monitors, I felt the B&W was leaner and more revealing of low-level detail than the Polk—but not by so much as to embarrass the latter. Some listeners might chose the other way, preferring the Polk's warmth and musical amiability—qualities rare at any price, but who suspected they were available for $300?—Wes Phillips