Polk Audio RTi A3 loudspeaker
Back at home, I'd recently set up Polk Audio's RTi A3 loudspeakers ($399.95/pair), which, at 14.75" H by 8.58" W x 14" D, are by far the largest bookshelf models I've had in my listening room. Right out of the box, the RTi A3 impressed me with its fit and finish. In Polk's Damped Asymmetrical Hex Laminate Isolation (DAHLI) cabinet design, five layers of MDF are glued together to form a damping system, then topped by a real-wood veneer of black ash or, in the case of my review samples, an impeccable cherry. The gracefully curved cabinet narrows in width from 8.58" at the front to about 5" at the rear, and is said to create a stronger, more rigid, more acoustically inert enclosure. (Knocking on the speaker's side panels resulted in a hollow resonance.)
In addition, Polk boasts that the RTi A3's drive-unitsa 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 6.5" polymer-composite wooferare Klippel Optimized and Dynamically Balanced. According to Polk, the former means that the speaker should perform well at both high and low levels, while the latter means that the drive-units have been designed to avoid deleterious colorations. Finally, the RTi A3 uses Polk's Power Port, a system in which two portsone at the front and one at the rearwork together to reduce noise and distortion for clean, powerful bass (footnote 1).
But would all this fancy-sounding stuff make sense in my room? I was beginning to worry. I knew the Polks were bigwheeling them along Newark Avenue and carrying them up the two flights of stairs to my apartment had been more of a challenge than I'm used tobut I didn't fully appreciate their size until I placed them in my listening room. The Polks completely dwarfed my reference PSB Alpha B1s ($299.99/pair). Would they overwhelm my little (13' by 10' by 8') room? More important, would they look ridiculous? What would girls think?
I shouldn't have worried. Once I'd set the Polk RTi A3s on my speaker stands, they looked surprisingly good. In fact, they seemed right at home, blending in perfectly with my furnishings and lending the entire room a mature, sophisticated look. But what about the sound?
Over the first few days of listening, everything I playedfrom Pantha du Prince's wonderful Black Noise (LP, Rough Trade RTRAD LP544) to Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer's Re: ECM (CD, ECM 2211/12) to Tenniscoats' enchanting Papa's Ear (CD, HÑpna H.48)sounded unusually lively and present, with fast transients, lots of detail, and well-extended highs. While this sound was exhilarating, it could also be a bit too much to handle. Recordings that are already bold and forward, such as "Ni See Ay Ga Done," from Sidi Touré's excellent Koïma (CD, Thrill Jockey 301), sounded unnaturally fast and detailedthe Malian guitarist's bluesy riffs were granted extra measures of pluck and shine, but were stripped of all their soul. I could soften things up a bit by putting the speakers' grilles in place, but only at the expense of that beguiling presence. Just when I thought hope was lost, I saw the answer right in front of me, neatly coiled on my listening-room floor: AudioQuest's Rocket 33 speaker cable ($299/10' pair). Swapping Kimber's 8VS for the Rocket 33 finally resulted in the best balance of detail and body. I used the Rocket 33 for the rest of my listening.
From the very start, I had expected more bass from Polk's RTi A3, and it certainly gave it to mebut I noticed that increased bass only in direct comparisons with the smaller PSB Alpha B1. The Polk's overall sound was just as tonally correct and well balanced as the PSB's, with clean, clear mids and vibrant highs. What most impressed me about the Polk, however, was its presence and physicality. The larger speaker offered a muscularity, weight, and solidity that made listening to well-recorded rock an absolute, fist-pumping joy. "Road Dog," the second track of Dope Body's outstanding new album, Natural History (CD, Drag City DC513), opens with gently brushed chimes, some well-placed snare hits, and a slowly building tom-tom beat. As that beat grows in speed and intensity, two electric guitars, panned hard left and right, enter with quick raking sounds. The Polks presented each of these elements with startling jump factor and precision, easily turning my small listening room into a hot, crowded basement in the suburbs, with 50 or so sweaty teenagers jostling for a space in the mosh pit. The effect was extremely physical and compelling. The PSB Alpha B1 lacked the Polk's oomph and scale, and just couldn't infuse "Road Dog" with the same frightening presence and powera shame.
For years, I'd thought that a good minimonitor speaker with a 5.25" woofer was all I'd ever need to fully enjoy music in my small listening room. But after hearing the Polk RTi A3, with its 6.5" woofer and Power Port Plus and all that other stuff, I'm not sure I can go back.
Footnote 1: You can read more about Polk Audio's technologies in Robert J. Reina's review of the smaller RTi A1 here.