Polk Audio RT5 loudspeaker
The genesis of this review lies in a casual comment Larry Archibald made last summer. Larry travels a lot, and everywhere he goes, like the archetypical (archibaldical?) audiophile he is, he listens voraciously. After a trip to the east coast, he dropped by my office and laid a bomb on me.
"I heard a pair of inexpensive bookshelf speakers from Polk that really impressed me."
"Um-hum," I replied dubiously, waiting for the punchline.
Larry's no fool; he knew what I was thinking. "You're probably not the only audiophile who thinks that way. That means it would be newsworthy if true, right?"
Damn! Hoist by my own preconceptions again. Boy, do I hate when that happens.
It had been years since I'd heard any Polk loudspeaker other than the big SRT home-theater system they've been promoting at hi-fi shows (and one should never judge anything by the sound of a home-theater demo). I ceded Larry his point and set about obtaining a pair of RT5s.
Not just another guy with a table saw
Of course, when it comes to delivering the goods at an affordable price, huge companies have a distinct advantage over tiny onesmy experiences with B&W's superb $250/pair DM302 should have taught me that. The question remaining was, did Polk have enough fire in its corporate belly to want to deliver those goods?
This question was answered in the affirmative when I met Paul DiComo, a VP in charge of marketing. I wasn't surprised to learn that Paul was a likeable guyit goes with the territorybut I was to learn how serious he was about what he called Polk's "mission."
"I'm almost embarrassed by that word," he said, "but our goal has always been to get the best possible soundsound that approaches tweak audiophile soundout to the masses. The RT5 is a good example of that. It sells for a reasonable price and I think it's a really nifty speaker. It does the traditional Polk things very well."
And those would be...?
"Imagingthat's what put us on the map originally. We've always gotten nice, spacious imaging from box speakers that were easy to use and easy to afford. We've gone to some length to design the drivers and the box to have a nice, open, boxless type of sound.
"We also look for a sense of excitement. We have the resources to design speakers down to the point where we've eliminated every vestige of personality from thembut speakers like that don't sound 'flat,' they sound bland. They have no personality to them; they're less than exciting. We value things like dynamic contrast and believable balance and a credible harmonic balance. We think it's important to really get in touch with the music, to sit down to listen and have your heart beat faster because you're really enjoying it.
"We also value midrange clarity. If you go all the way back to our beginnings, we led the way to using smaller drivers. When most companies had accepted an 8" driver as standard in two-way systems, we began the trend toward the 6.5" platform. We found other ways to get bass response, but our focus was always on the quality of the midrange."
I was disarmed by Paul's enthusiasma contrast to the cynicism I encountered when I met a prominent European speaker designer back in the '70s. He was lamenting how sales of his new line had fallen when he'd tried to make his speakers more accurately reflect the signal they were fed. "You know," he lamented, "we should bring back the models from three years ago. They went pffft down here" (lightly punching me in the stomach) "and ssssft up here" (slapping my forehead), "but people rrrreally seemed to like them."