Polk Audio Monitor Series 5.1 Speaker System 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Speaker Systems
Written by Bryan Southard   
Monday, 01 August 2005

In the world of affordable to moderately-priced speaker systems, there are dozens of major players, yet few have a more recognizable name and longstanding reputation for quality sound than does Polk Audio. The reason for this is simple. Polk has been producing great-sounding speakers for better than three decades. You will find Polk speakers in the largest retailers around the world, with a speaker in practically every price class they carry.

The review package consists of two Monitor 60s, a four-way floor-standing speaker that I used for the front left and right speaker positions, the Polk CS1 center channel speaker, a pair of Monitor 30s, two-way shelf or stand-mounted speakers that were positioned as surround monitors and the PSW10 subwoofer. This 5.1 package is available in either black or cherry wood grain finishes and sells for $1,330.

The Monitor 60 is a floor-standing speaker that measures 37.5 inches tall, seven inches wide, 13-and-one-quarter inches deep and weighs 31 pounds. The speaker complement consists of three five-and-one-quarter-inch diameter bi-laminate composite cone drivers that are magnetically shielded to avoid interference with your display device, and a one-inch diameter silk/polymer composite dome tweeter to handle the high frequencies. The Monitor 60s have a rated response of 38Hz to 25kHz and are 90 dB efficient, making them an easier than average load to power. This makes them candidates for even lower wattage surround receivers, depending on the overall volume you desire to achieve. As with each of the speakers in this package, they are available in either black or cherry vinyl wood grain finishes. The Polk Audio Monitor 60s retail for $650 per pair.

For surround speakers, I used the Polk Monitor 30 shelf-mounted speakers. Although this was a great choice for surround information, the Monitor 30s can also be used as front main loudspeakers if you are working with a smaller budget. The Monitor 30s measure 11 inches tall by seven inches wide and eight-and-three-eighths inches deep. Weighing a mere nine pounds each, the Monitor 30s have a single five-and-one-quarter-inch diameter bi-laminate composite cone driver and a one-inch diameter silk/polymer composite dome tweeter. The Monitor 30s have a rated response of 55Hz to 25kHz and are slightly less efficient than the Monitor 60s at 89 dB. The Monitor 30s retail for $240 per pair and are available in black or cherry finishes.

The Polk CS1 served up the center channel information for this system. The CS1 is three-way speaker with a rated response equal to the Monitor 30s. They have a pair of five-and-one-quarter-inch diameter bi-laminate composite cone drivers and a one-inch diameter silk/polymer composite dome tweeter. The CS1 measures seven inches in height, 18 inches wide and is nine-and-five-eighths inches deep. Shielded like the other speakers in this line, the CS1 can either sit atop your video set or be stand-mounted without interfering with your TV display. The CS1 sells for $200 and is available in either black or cherry wood grain finishes.

No system is complete without some low-frequency reinforcement. For this, we used the Polk PSW10 subwoofer. The PSW10 measures 14-and-three-eighths inches high by 14 inches wide by 13-and-one-quarter inches deep and weighs 26 pounds. It has a 10-inch bi-laminate composite cone driver and is powered by a 100W, 50W RMS amplifier. The PSW10 is rated down to 35 Hz, is available in both black and cherry finishes and sells for $240.

Unpacking the Polk system was a breeze. The speakers were manageable in size and weight and were packaged well. The speaker finishes were quite good for the price. Although the wood grain is a vinyl laminate rather than real wood, they looked and felt like wood. In fact, I needed to examine the Monitor 60s very closely to convince myself that they were not wood veneer. The review models were finished in cherry, which had a nice light wood look. I suspect that these finishes will be welcome alongside any home décor. Perhaps what stuck out the most, however, were the metallic silver faces (baffles) on all of the speakers in this package. These gave the speakers a modern race-like elegance. It kind of reminded me of a wood dash on an elegant sparkle-silver luxury car – a very nice touch. The grilles on this line are black and bowed outward. When the morning light shone through the grilles, you could see the silver faces, which looked cool. The Monitor 30s and 60s have spike-like feet for grounding to your floor or carpet. Although I question their ability to properly ground your speaker from vibration, they are much better than rubber feet and will stake their position in a carpeted floor. All of the speakers in this package are bi-wirable. This is a feature most often reserved for speakers costing much more and one that will provide better performance if you choose to run two sets of wires to each speaker. The five-way binding posts were very adequate for a good connection and were positioned so that it was not a chore to connect like other speakers.

Once the Polk speaker package was set up, I allowed them to break in for a couple of weeks before my critical evaluation. The Monitor 60s were placed on the floor at the front of my theater and the Monitor 30s on stands to the rear of my room. The CS1 was stand-mounted beneath my projection screen.

Movies and Music
Queen’s 1975 release, A Night at the Opera, clearly helped shape the glamorous face of rock and roll. This fourth album from a band with no fear of taking creative chances turned out to be their signature record that sold more than four million copies worldwide. Opting for some updated resolution, I loaded up the multi-channel DVD-Audio version form DTS Entertainment. In the pop classic “You’re My Best Friend,” the harmony vocals served as a good test of the upper ranges. The Monitor 60s did a good job and sounded very resolute. They had a good amount of detail without becoming overbearing and forward. At lower volumes, the upper midrange and highs were actually quite sweet and enjoyable. I cranked up the volume as Brian May’s lead cut loose. Through his vintage VOX tube amp, May has perhaps the most distinct guitar sound of the era and the Monitor 60s rocked it well. The lower bass frequencies were solid up to moderate volumes and only displayed fatigue when cranked to 11.

At its time of release, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was more than just a song; it was an anthem to the many who worshipped its message. This song has tremendous dynamic range and can either make or break a speaker during a critical evaluation. The harmonies in the intro were very spacious and provided a good surround mix. This package was voice-matched well, so there was little tonal difference as the music changed in location. Arguably the hardest instrument to reproduce is the piano, and the Monitor 60s controlled the piano in this track quite well. They provided a nice percussive strike without becoming compressed, even at higher volumes. I did notice that the bass struggled some during the louder parts, yet performed remarkably for their price. Overall, the highs were a joy to listen to without forward signs of grain or annoying artifacts. The CS1 performed well, but I felt it was at its best at moderate volumes. Some highs could lean towards the brittle side at extreme volumes. This is a very typical scenario for center channel speakers in this price range. If you are a lover of loud action movies, you may want to consider the CS2 at $350. This looks to be a clear path to center channel nirvana.

Drops of Jupiter, Train’s second CD (Sony Entertainment) is well recorded, which makes it a good auditioning tool. In the title track, the piano intro again reminded me of how well these speakers were performing for their price. The vocals were surprisingly clear and produced a real soundstage. Arguably, the Monitor 60s are the best-sounding speakers that I have auditioned in their price class. At $650, they are a true value. Bass in this cut was not hugely abundant without the use of a sub, yet it was controlled and consistent.

Off to the movies we go with “Collateral” (Universal), Michael Mann’s recent action thriller. I’m admittedly not a Tom Cruise fan – I mean, how many more roles can they create for the same character? However, Mann has a flow to his movies that make them riveting for me. In the scene where the thugs try to lift the briefcase of Vincent (Cruise) and he makes them pay the ultimate price, the gunshots rang clear and had a real impact. I watched this scene a couple of times and the Polks never failed to excite me. Details such as the acceleration of the getaway car were presented well, with good balance. The PSW10 held together well, the only exception being when the movie was played at extreme volumes, when there was some minor breakup.

The Downside
Although Polk did some thoughtful engineering when designing the spikes for the Monitor Series speakers, I feel they limit your options for best performance. These plastic feet are not removable and, although they seemed to perform well enough, they fell short of the benefits you would receive from metal spikes and were less friendly to hard surfaces than the screw-in optional rubber feet that many manufacturers provide.

The PSW10 is a great budget subwoofer, capable of supplying lots of low-frequency extension for this system, yet I found it to distort slightly at extremely high volumes. It also lacked some modern-day features for best performance. It provides only line level speaker inputs and has no LFE capabilities. Budget permitting, I would recommend you audition the bigger and more expensive Polk PSW12 at $400. It has better connectivity and will supply more air movement and better control for just a little more money.

Speakers have more effect on the sound of your system than other components in your system. When you walk into your local retail chain, you are never quite sure if the advice the salesman is giving is best for your needs. Like always, it would be best if you could try them in your home first, but this is highly impractical. My best advice is to stick with the best-known brands and there are few if any that are more known than Polk Audio. They have been doing this for a long time and this audition showed me why. Their longevity is undoubtedly due to customer loyalty developed over many years of quality products and value. The speakers in this package are solidly constructed, have a good look and perform above their price class. Their sound is one that I would characterize as clear and quite precise for their price point. The Monitor 30s and Monitor 60s don’t produce overwhelming bass, but they do produce controlled bass, which is always the desire over poor quality abundance. I would recommend the upgrade to the CS2 center channel speaker and PSW12 subwoofer for the best system balance. Although this raises the overall cost of the package by a few hundred dollars, it will be a speaker set-up that you will enjoy for many years to come. I highly recommend this speaker package to anyone who is looking for quality sound in this price range. It a set-up that will instantly transform your living room into a big time theater for a relatively small amount of money.
Manufacturer Polk Audio
Model Monitor Series 5.1 Speaker System
Reviewer Bryan Southard

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