Polk Audio RT25i loudspeaker Page 2

I am spending only so much ink on these two shortcomings because the RT25i's combination of strengths exceeded by a wide margin the performance of any speaker I've heard under $1000/pair, and are more likely to be found on speakers costing much more than that.

Listening: The Upside
Here, in a nutshell, is what the Polk RT25i did well: linear and organic low-level dynamic resolution, as in live music; superlative resolution of inner detail; on good recordings, a highly accurate depiction of room ambience; extremely flat but natural reproduction of transient articulation; and extraordinarily uncolored tonal balance from the midbass to infinity and beyond.

The RT25i's reproduction of vocals was to die for, due to the speaker's superlative timbral and dynamic performance and its resolution of detail in the all-critical midrange. I'd never heard Janis Ian (Breaking Silence, Analogue Productions CAPP 027) or Mighty Sam McClain sound more natural, and the angelic integration of Crosby, Stills & Nash's voices on "Guinnevere" (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Atlantic/Classic SD 8229) floated in three-dimensional space, each vocal line easy to follow individually. The dynamic and delicate articulation of well-recorded percussion instruments, from mallets to snares on both classical and jazz recordings (Miles Davis, Kind of Blue, Columbia/Classic CS 8163, 45rpm, and the Kohjiba and Crumb recordings), made the Polks seem to disappear entirely. Kind of Blue and Ian's "Some People's Lives" showcased the warm, rich, articulate reproduction of piano timbres as convincingly as I've heard from any speaker under $2000.

Soundstaging reproduction was beyond reproach, with the three-dimensional image of each instrument in Stravinsky's The Firebird (Mercury Living Presence/Classic SR 90226) reproduced on a wide, deep, ambient stage. In fact, the Polks' imaging specificity was so precise that, even with the speakers spread fairly far apart in my home theater, the central dialogue image was tightly focused on the screen. It made me wonder if, when these speakers are properly positioned, a center-channel speaker is even necessary.

Despite my Hole comments above, most rock'n'roll recordings boogied tunefully and dynamically through the Polks. The hard-driving "Rock and Roll," from Led Zeppelin's fourth album (Atlantic/Classic SD 7208), dug up my toe-tapping memories of the first time I saw this band perform the tune in concert, back in the Mesozoic era.

For me, the acid test of a speaker's realism is to play a minimally orchestrated piece of music, listen from the next room, and see if I can fool myself into thinking that there are actual musicians performing live in the first room. While working on my computer in the den, two rooms away from the listening room, I spun Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going" (Hits, Reprise 46326-2). The Polk passed the test with flying colors; I found the realism of Joni's voice and guitar accompaniment so distracting that it was difficult to concentrate at the computer keyboard.

Wipe that spittle off that lab coat and talk about the competition
I skipped the budget speakers and first compared the Polk RT25i to my $1000/pair reference, the Aln Petite. The Aln's high-frequency reproduction was more refined, detailed, and articulate than the Polk's, but the Polk's midrange reproduction, in terms of timbral accuracy and detail resolution, was damn close. The mid- and upper bass also bloomed more naturally in the Aln, and the more expensive speaker was superior in its subtle reproduction of low-level dynamic gradations.

The direct price comparison, the now-discontinued $300/pair Mission 731i—my entry-level reference—was darker and more opaque than the Polk, its bass reproduction a little warmer and looser but with more natural dynamic bloom. Although the Mission was balanced tonally, it shared the Polk's high-level dynamic constrictions and large-room/lower-bass definition limitations.

The Paradigm Reference/20 ($600/pair) was the only speaker in the group able to re-create realistic high-level dynamics and bass extension below 50Hz in my large room. Its high frequencies were a bit less natural than the Polk's and its midrange a little more laid-back. The Polk, however, seemed superior in the resolution of inner detail in the midrange. Finally, the Reference/20's lower-midrange/upper-bass region was the warmest of the group, and was most noticeable on piano recordings.

And my new entry-level reference speaker is...
The Polk RT25i has set a new benchmark for what an entry-level speaker can accomplish in many areas. Given its price and diminutive size, its few weaknesses are forgivable. It is far superior to any speaker I've heard for less than $500/pair, and has become my favorite speaker for under $1000/pair. I plan to purchase this pair for use as monitors in my home computer recording studio.

I recommend the Polk RT25i to anyone considering buying a speaker of moderate price and size. I recommend it even to audiophiles used to more expensive wares, just so they can see how much speaker 320 of today's bucks can buy. I've never been more impressed by an inexpensive loudspeaker.

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