Polk Audio LSi7 loudspeaker Page 2

Modern classical chamber music was also a good match for the LSi7. With the 1995 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival performance of Kohjiba's Transmigration of the Soul (CD, Stereophile STPH007-2), the speakers "disappeared"—all of the subtle definition of harp, violins, and cello were palpable in the natural room sound. Similarly, the subtle percussion figures emerging from space on George Crumb's Quest (LP, Bridge 9069), combined with the delicate classical guitar technique, made me forget I was listening to a hi-fi system. With larger orchestral works, the Polk's superior high-frequency resolution rendered the piccolos in Messiaen's Turangal;cila Symphony (LP, EMI SLS 5117) and the massed violins in Stravinsky's The Firebird (LP, Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR90226) without a trace of coloration.

In terms of overall tonal balance, however, the LSi7 had a number of characteristics that, depending on the recording, could detract from the realism. On the plus side, the speaker's bass response was fairly extended—in both of my listening rooms, using the chromatic-scale track on Stereophile's Test CD 3, I heard response into the low 50Hz area. Bass drums and timpani, as well as bottom-register synthesized drums, were realistic and dramatic on all recordings.

However, there was a midbass thickness, the effect of which varied with the recording. These effects were subtle on electronic rock records with synthesized bass; the bass-synth blasts on Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop (CD, Epic OE 44313) and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's The Message (LP, Sugar Hill SH584) still managed to sound powerful, fast, and tuneful. On Dean Peer's solo electric bass outing, Ucross (LP, Jazz Planet/Classic JP5002-1), the lower-register notes were noticeably thickened but didn't detract from the performance. However, on Gary Wilson's highly figured bass lines on "When You Walk into My Dreams," from You Think You Really Know Me (CD, Motel MRCD007), the lower-register notes seemed boosted in volume. Finally, the string basses on most acoustic jazz recordings tended to sound fat and overly ripe.

This midbass thickness extended into the upper bass and lower midrange to give male vocals a thick, "chesty" quality (Mighty Sam McClain, Give It Up to Love, CD, JVC XRCD 0012-2). The same went for the lower registers of some female vocals (Madeline Peyroux, Dreamland, CD, Atlantic 82946-2). This was rarely noticeable on instruments, except for the occasional close-miked tenor sax playing in its lower register.

Further up in frequency, I noticed a forward resonant quality that tended to affect middle- to upper-register female vocals, the upper register of the tenor sax, and the middle registers of the trumpet, clarinet, and soprano sax. But again, the extent to which this character was bothersome depended on the recording. It was most noticeable in loud or highly modulated passages, or during the most energetic passages in instrumental solos. I heard it only in certain soprano-sax passages in the Crumb recording, but throughout Miles Davis' and Cannonball Adderley's solos on trumpet and alto sax, respectively, on Kind of Blue (LP, Columbia/Classic CS 8163). But the anomaly was missing altogether from "Some People's Lives," from Janis Ian's Breaking Silence (LP, Analogue Productions CAPP 027), as both vocal and piano tended to avoid the problematic frequency region.

Overall, the strengths and weaknesses of the LSi7 should be weighed in consideration of your listening biases, musical taste, and associated gear. There are always tradeoffs to consider when shopping for a speaker costing less than $1000.

I compared the Polk LSi7 to my usual suspects: the Paradigm Atom ($189/pair), the Polk RT25i ($319/pair), the NHT SB-3 ($600/pair), and the Alón Petite ($1000/pair).

The Paradigm Atom was not as detailed in the high frequencies as the Polk LSi7, but its midrange was more natural and more intimate. It was not as extended or detailed in the high frequencies and was not as airy, but it had a lower-midrange thickness similar to the Polk's. Bass extension and high-level dynamics were far inferior, however.

The Polk RT25i also had inferior bass extension and high-level dynamic performance, but its upper bass was cleaner, its midrange more neutral. High frequencies were not as detailed or extended as the LSi7's, however.

The NHT SB3 had a midbass thickness similar to the LSi7's, but this did not alter its upper-bass or lower-midrange timbres, and its midrange was more natural. The NHT's high-level dynamic capabilities were as impressive as the LSi7's, but the SB3's high frequencies and low-level dynamic resolution weren't as delicate or as detailed.

Finally, the Alón Petite was far inferior to the Polk LSi7 in bass extension and high-level dynamics, but had more natural mid- and upper bass, as well as a neutral, detailed midrange. Although the Petite's high-frequency performance was excellent, the LSi7's detail and delicacy were better still. The Polk LSi7 was the first of the dozen-odd affordable speakers I've reviewed whose HF performance bettered the Petite's. That's quite a feat. In fact, I've heard no other speaker costing less than $2000/pair whose HF performance approached that of the Polk LSi7.

Wrapping Up
Life is full of tradeoffs, especially among affordable speaker designs. In the areas of detail resolution, high-frequency performance, soundstaging, and wide-range dynamics, I doubt there's another affordable speaker that can approach the overall performance of the Polk LSi7. As for its other timbral characteristics, you should, as you would with any speaker, consider the LSi7's performance within the context of your listening biases, musical taste, and the rest of your system.

Polk Audio
5601 Metro Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215
(800) 377-7655