Polk Audio LSi9 Bookshelf Speakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Bookshelf/Monitor Loudspeakers
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Tuesday, 01 June 2004

Introduction
Polk. It’s one of those brands that almost anyone who has ever stepped foot into an electronics store chain to shop for new speakers has heard of. Their product line is immense and they make everything from micro-satellite systems for your computer to equipment racks to Earth shaking subs, floor standing loudspeakers and car audio products. Their top of the line LSi series features two floor-standing models, the LSi15 and LSi25, the LSiC center channel, LSiFX bi-pole/di-pole surrounds, the LSi subwoofer and two bookshelf models, the LSi7 and LSi9.

Cracking open the box of a pair of LSi9 bookshelf speakers, the first thing that I noticed about the speakers was their distinctive smooth black high-gloss finish on the top and rich cherry wood sculpted side panels. I’ve seen Polk speakers countless times in retail mega-stores, but it was usually smaller satellites or computer speakers. When I learned that I was going to be reviewing a pair of Polk bookshelf speakers, I was not expecting to receive such a large box at my front doorstep. Normally when you think of bookshelf speakers, the image that comes to mind is that of plain, square small boxes with cheap woofers and tweeters. However, Polk’s Lsi9s are not your typical bookshelf speaker. Packing technology and slick design elements into a pair of bookshelves that are more reminiscent of high-end bookshelves like Wilson’s dramatically more expensive CUB IIs or Revel’s Gems than those from Bose or Klipsch, these Polks can actually be the foundation of a surround system or a two-channel set-up, rather than just speakers that sit unassumingly on a shelf in someone’s office.

These are not small bookshelves by any means, measuring in at 14.875 inches tall, 8.625 inches wide and 15.25 inches deep. You’ll want beefy stands for them, as they weigh just a shade over 32 pounds each and could easily maim a pet or small child should one of them be knocked over. The density of the speakers is obvious, based on the size-to-weight ratio. Much of the speaker’s weight comes from the 1.5-inch-thick solid wood side panels. This keeps the speaker cabinets from coloring the sound with unwanted overtones. According the Polk, the LSi9s have a frequency response rating of 38Hz to 27kHz, –3dB.

On the back of the speaker is a black plastic plate that is about an inch away from the cabinet that has a foam pad on it. At first glance, I thought the purpose of this plastic bracket was to act as an isolator, should the speakers be mounted against a wall or on a shelf. However, I noticed that this bracket covers a bass port. Knowing this, I made a mental note to do some listening sans the subwoofer to see what kind of bass the LSi9s could produce. High-quality dual (bi-ampable) gold-plated five-way binding post inputs allow for an array of wiring options and have a solid feel that lets you know you are getting a good solid connection.

The LSi9s are also available with ebony side panels, for those who prefer the all-black look, priced on the Polk website at $519.95 each. Why would the speakers be priced individually, rather than as a pair? In some applications, a single LSi9 could be used as a center channel or as a rear center. However, most users will be purchasing then in pairs to use as either mains or surrounds in a surround speaker system, so the retail for the set comes in at $1,039.90. On the surface, $1,039.90 sounds pricey for a pair of small speakers, but I must emphasize the fact that these are much more advanced than your typical pair of bookshelves.

Each LSi9 features a pair of 5.25 inch Dynamic Balance drivers with Aerated Polypropylene cones with Cast aluminum driver baskets and a single Ring Radiator tweeter. The tweeters are offset a few inches to the side of the two woofers, so you should pay particular attention to be sure you place them as “mirrored pairs.” I experimented with placing the tweeter on the outside then flipped them upside down so the tweeter was offset to the inside. There were benefits and drawbacks with each set-up. I found the imaging and soundstage to be widest with the tweeters on the outside edges. The front of each cabinet has two small ports and the back features Polk’s rear-firing Power Port venting system. These small front ports are part of Polk’s patented Acoustic Resonance Control system that is designed to suppress internal cabinet resonance and provide clear and natural-sounding midrange. An internal Cascade tapered crossover also improves imaging focus and depth, according to Polk. There is a second order low-pass crossover at 200Hz and 2.4kHz and a third-order high-pass crossover at 2.4kHz.

In my theater, the speakers need to be mounted close to the television set, so thankfully the LSi9s are magnetically shielded. For my audition, I focused primarily on the speakers as a stereo pair, but I did also give them a spin as the front right and front left speaker in a full Polk 5.1 system (similar to the system recently reviewed by Matt Evert). After setting up a pair of 27-inch-tall speaker stands about seven-and-a-half feet apart and three-and-a-half feet away from the back wall, connecting the speakers to my Adcom GFA-7505 and breaking in the LSi9s and the rest of the Polk speakers that came along with them for a few days, it was time to get to some listening to find out if a pair of bookshelves could hold their own as both a two-channel system and as the heart of a small home theater set-up.

Choose among a variety of front bookshelf speakers that can go along with your center channel  speaker and subwoofer.



Music and Movies
Having just reviewed the DVD-Audio mix of Seal’s IV (Warner Music Group) using my Energy Connoisseur 5.1 system, I thought I’d give it a try on the Polks. There is almost always an adjustment period when trying a new pair of speakers, but the LSi9s, with their smooth, even sound, were a natural fit for my medium-sized living room. This recording is one of the better-sounding DVD-Audio discs that I have heard in recent memory. Cuing up the disc, some party sounds such as people mingling and drinking glasses clinking together precede the first track, “Let Me Roll,” and I was struck at the realism of the sound. This was a good sign. As the tightly mixed pop sounds poured from the speakers and the funky bass line of the opening track began, I was surprised to hear the clarity in the midrange and the detail in the high end, thanks to the Radiator Tweeter. Seal’s distinct raspy voice blended well with the Polks and although much of the vocal is handled by the center channel, the LSi9s, acting as the front left and right speakers, provided for a wide soundstage and the backing vocals had body and musical tone that I would have never expect from a pair of bookshelf speakers. As the speakers approached the bottom end of their frequency response, the detail was lost a little but with proper blending of the subwoofer, this problem was minimized. I asked a lot of a small speaker and was getting everything I could have wanted out of it.

Reprise records has begun releasing many of Neil Young’s albums as stereo DVD-Audio discs so I decided to listen to Hawks & Doves (Reprise/WMG), one of his more acoustically focused albums. Young may be worshipped by many as the Godfather of Grunge, but he also has a country side to him and it really shows on the organic sound on this 192kHz/24-bit stereo DVD-Audio disc. The track “Stayin’ Power” features a violin part and some honky-tonk piano that the Polk LSi9s were able to replicate with beautiful detail. The album is very organic and of course features some of Young’s signature harmonica work. The complex overtones of the harmonica were easily audible and sonically believable on the Lsi9s. Young’s voice still sounded like an alley cat in heat, but even the most expensive speakers in the world can’t change that.

Moving on to regular 16-bit stereo CD, I pulled the Madonna album The Immaculate Collection out of my dusty CD shelf. As I went through the tracks to find a good song to audition, it quickly became apparent to me where the Polk Lsi9s really shine. With the 5.25 inch drivers, they are not able to go earthshakingly low, so you’ll want a sub to round out the deep end, but on tight, well-produced pop songs that play well on car audio speakers, the LSi9s take the music to a new level with their quick drivers. It was as though every single song on the Madonna Greatest Hits collection just shone on the LSi9s. After listening to the first 20 seconds of each track, “La Isla Bonita” with its electronic synth in the intro really caught my ear as it sparkled through the tweeters as it panned back and forth, creating an ultra-wide soundstage. The sounds on the song are all very ‘80s and a little cheesy, but this hit came to life again with this set-up. Madonna’s voice on this song has a lot of reverb and the LSi9s had a little trouble keeping the image locked in the center, but the accompanying music was highly detailed and every instrument was easy to focus on, each providing a distinct timbre. Good pop songs tend to be heavy on the high-frequency detail, with cymbals and other percussion elements adding sonic accoutrements, along with a low, thumping bass line that moves the song along. Flicking the subwoofer off for a bit to see what the speakers could do on their own as far as bass response, the rear ports do a respectable job of helping the speakers “create” low end that a speaker with drivers this size has no business being able to reproduce. Ultimately, you will want a sub with them to round out the sound, but in a pinch, just a pair of LSi9s will surprise you with their ability to get down and dirty with the low end.

No speaker review, even for a pair of bookshelf speakers, is complete without a movie evaluation or two, so I decided to watch a modern horror film with killer sound effects and a dialogue-driven goofball comedy. “Freddy Vs. Jason” (New Line Home Entertainment) may be dreadfully cheesy as a movie, but provides a superb workout for your home theater system both visually and aurally. The sound effect of Freddy’s patented razor-knife fingers as he sharpens them during the movie’s intro is spine-tingling. The low thud of Jason’s machete sticking into a table at the mental institution later in the film is absolutely earthshaking. The explosion of the compressed air tanks on the dock at Camp Crystal Lake was so loud it made my dogs go into a barking frenzy. Through all of this mayhem, the Lsi9s were able to handle it with ease and the LSiW Sub went down and rumbled in all the right places where the bookshelves couldn’t go.

The Farrelly Brothers latest film, “Stuck On You” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) features some of the most unexpected casting for a goofball comedy with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear starring as Siamese twins who appear more attached at the shirt than the hip. As the brothers go through their routines, some pretty hilarious comedy ensues, as the duo tell each other about things they have each done, and girls they have each dates, as if the other wasn’t there to see it for themselves. Although the movie fires on all cylinders the whole time, the soundtrack and dialogue are accurately reproduced by the Polk system. The drivers in the LSi9s and the accompanying LSiC are very responsive and don’t have the lag that I often hear in speakers with larger drivers when playing dialogue through them. Their immediacy is evident as the rapid-fire insults, one-liners and jokes fly during the film.

The Downside
Large bookshelf speakers are not for everyone. Having to put them on stands in front of your room, or on the sides of your couch if you want to use them as large surround sound speakers, can be an awkward installation for some rooms. They are heavy, and while this can give them stability, you’ll really want to be careful that they don’t get knocked over. Mounting them on a wall could prove difficulty with their shape and weight, so the ideal location for them other than on well-anchored stands would be in or on a very deep entertainment center. You may want to consider floor-standing speakers such as the Polk LSi15 for a few hundred dollars more per speaker for the added stability and bass response. Although there are bookshelves that cost much more than the LSi9s, over $1,000 is a fairly substantial but not unreasonable investment. Again, I can’t stress enough that you are getting much higher build quality and technology in this bookshelf pair than most, but you’ll want to make sure that you have the right space and stands for these should you want to put them in your room.

Performance-wise, the biggest limitation of the LSi9 is it ability to reproduce deep, rich bass. Because of the size of the drivers and the cabinets, they simply can only go so low. The bass they do produce is clean and detailed, but a lot is lost below the bottom of their frequency range. The rear bass ports help a little, but there is almost no chance you could get away without a subwoofer in a modern multi-channel music or home theater system unless these speakers are used as side or rear channels..

Conclusion
I was pleasantly surprised with the level of build quality and smooth, well- rounded versatile sound of the LSi9s. They are well built and the level of value is substantial when you factor in the technology, build quality and five-year warranty. Polk may compete with companies like Bose, Klipsch and Boston Acoustics in the mass market, mega-chain electronics world, but they have a real value-priced high-end line with the LSi Series. The LSi9s and the rest of the LSi series are absolutely worth checking out at a Polk dealer near you.

Manufacturer Polk Audio
Model LSi9 Bookshelf Speakers
Reviewer Bryan Dailey





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