Polk Audio RT5 loudspeaker Page 3

Of course, like any reasonably high-resolution component, the RT5 must be used correctly. Despite the convenience of its wall-mounting bracket, it didn't sound good against the wall, but sounded congested and woofy. In fact, I found it benefited from coming well out into the room—as much as 40" from the wall behind it in my room. I was able to space the RT5s about 6' apart before the soundstage began to have a hole in the middle—this was good, but far from the best performance I've obtained from small monitors in my listening space. (The $2100/pair ProAc Response One SCs, for example, gave me an even bigger soundstage with an 8' spread.) The RT5 sounded best on-axis, pointed directly at my listening position.

Sturdy stands should not be considered optional with this speaker (or any small monitor). I used 24" concrete-filled Cliff Stone Foundation stands spiked firmly to my ceramic tile floor, and Blu-Tack to solidly couple the speakers to the stands. Am I just tweaky? Well, yeah, but late in the audition process, when I was comparing the Polks to the B&W DM302s, I skipped the Blu-Tack in the process of switching speakers and wondered why the RT5s lost some fine definition. Retracing my steps, I found the eight little blue balls of putty and replaced them—with audible results.

One more point about stands: Don't use high ones with the RT5. If the tweeter is above ear level, the speaker sounds quite hollow.

First off, the Polk sounded open and spacious. Music had room to breathe. When I played Ruth Laredo's recent Beethoven Piano Sonatas CD (Connoisseur Society CD-4210), I was stunned at how little speaker I heard—I was listening to a piano in a big room (not mine). Bass response seemed generous for such a small box. I doubt that there's a lot happening below 60Hz, but, given its size, the RT5s did a wonderful job of portraying both the size and the power of a Yamaha CF III.

More important, the RT5 did a superb job of preserving Laredo's long, long melodic lines. What strikes me most about this disc is the way Laredo links together the phrases that constitute the grand architecture of sonatas like the "Appassionata," the "Tempest," and "Les Adieux." The RT5, which was articulate in terms of conveying dynamic change, preserved both phrase and line, keeping the power of Laredo's masterful readings.

Sor's Sonata in C for guitar, as performed by Eduardo Fernández (London 425 821-2), also benefited from the RT5's ability to convey power and sensitivity to dynamic change. What a rip-snorting performance—full of grandeur and delicacy. The RT5 did well by the grandeur, but I felt it added warmth to the delicacy; and that warmth, in turn, seemed to blunt some of the guitar's sparkling harmonic overtones.

Fact is, the RT5 was a warm-sounding loudspeaker. And this wasn't, I think, caused merely by midbass emphasis—Acoustic Resonance Control or no, the RT5 seemed quite generous around 60Hz. I won't say its HF response was down, but it did seem to lack the air and sparkle that the (much more expensive) ProAc Response One SC has, for example.

However, as flaws go, I'll take a polite inexpensive speaker over a shrill one any day of the week. The RT5's tendency toward warmth rarely intruded on my enjoyment of music in any substantial way, and it may be exactly what some listeners are looking for to tame the raucous top ends of associated components.

The RT5 had good but not spectacularly even tonal presentation. It never sounded flat-out wrong, but, when listening to complex melodic lines such as Coltrane's monstrously aggressive soloing on "Chasin' the Trane" (Impressions, MCA MCAD-5887, CD), I became aware that certain notes within the flurries and clusters of that 16-minute tour-de-force were given an emphasis that I assume was not intended by Coltrane. Well, that piece is a heavy workout for any speaker, no matter the pricetag, but potential purchasers should determine for themselves whether this uneven response is a problem. I found it noticeable because of my familiarity with the material, but it didn't keep me from enjoying or understanding the piece.

Mr. Polk, are you trying to seduce me?
When paired with tube gear, the RT5 became downright seductive—especially with single-ended gear of limited output, such as the Cary 300SEI. What a voluptuous combination! I wallowed in it shamelessly. There are times, of course, when "flat" could be considered an overrated concept, and listening to the Polks with the Cary was definitely one of them. The soundstage was sooo deep and solid. The timbre was so luscious. In one part of my brain I could hear myself objecting, "But Fernández's guitar sounds crisper than that!" But it sounded so damn beautiful, I couldn't resist.

And despite the 300SEI's low output, I could listen to large-scale orchestral works, such as Kurt Masur/NYP's Háry János Suite (Teldec 77547-2) at full-scale levels. If you have an older tube integrated lying around, or if you've wondered about the SE triode thang, the RT5 is an inexpensive solution to your speaker problems.

Against the Editors' Choice
But it 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?

A panegyric untainted by poppy
The Polk RT5 is a lot of speaker for the money. It never sounded bad—the slight tendency toward warmth and slight loss of HF sparkle were certainly not offensive traits, and could even work in the speaker's favor when it's teamed with inexpensive electronics. Such errors of omission I find far less egregious than such sins of commission as peaky, aggressive sound. Some listeners will be less forgiving than I was of the Polk's slight unevenness in tonal response, but I consider this to be a relatively minor problem, considering how musically engaging the speaker was otherwise.

The entry level of high-end speaker sound has never been more accessible—B&W, PSB, and many other companies are raising the bar while lowering the price. Add the Polk RT5 to the list.

Polk Audio
5601 Metro Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215
(410) 358-3600

tmsorosk's picture

Interesting review Wes . And it's nice to hear Larry A is still around and active in audio . It makes my day to hear such things . Regards Tim

Stephen Mejias's picture
This review was published in 1998.