Top critical review
31 people found this helpful
Outstanding speaker with quality control issues
on March 2, 2009
I bought my first loudspeakers a dozen years ago, and after listening to countless models I selected Polk RT's. I suppose "Reference Theater" is just marketing. And I don't even see the term spelled out in the literature for my latest acquisition, a pair of Polk Audio RTi A5's. That's probably because the movie studios don't *really* use Polks when they're mixing the soundtrack, but it does give you an idea of the lineage of these speakers and their intended use. They are made for the movies, and if you're passionate about cinema (as I am), then I think you'll be pleased by the A5's.
You might be more pleased by the A7's or A9's. I might have been too, but the jump up from a pair of bookshelf speakers to a set of towers costing just under a grand was something of a quantum leap for me. And I was not disappointed--mostly.
Speakers are like a pair of comfortable shoes. They're great when they're new and you love them so much that you maybe don't notice over time that they are wearing out. Then one day they just fall apart. That's what happened to my original speakers, and one of the downsides of the A5's is that they immediately highlighted another weakness in my 5.1 setup--the center channel. All it took was one trip to the launch pad of Apollo 13, and the difference between the old and the new was obvious. So if you're serious enough about cinema sound to want to own a pair of quality speakers like these, be prepared to spend some more on upgrades to your center and surrounds. And of course you'll want a powered subwoofer to accompany the A5's.
When it comes to cinema, these speakers are so capable and so sonically amazing. I haven't noticed any flaws in movie soundtracks at all, and I've watched about a half dozen "test" scenes and a half dozen movies. Even at very loud volumes, the sound remains flawless. The A5's do everything a speaker should do. They thunder. They rage. They whisper. They weep. Most of all, they satisfy--in abundance.
So what about music? I did some critical listening with all the effect turned off, routing CD stereo to just left and right. I tried out some hard rock and some jazz. The jazz in particular really shines. The instruments are so clear. It seems like they are in the room. At reasonable volume levels everything sounded great. When pushed as loud as I could stand (which is pretty darn loud), both the rock and the jazz sounded just a bit harsh in the mid-ranges. To be fair, I'm not sure if it was a speaker issue, my receiver (a Yamaha RX-V2095, which is pretty good, but could be better), or just the fact that I was hurting my own ears.
In the disappointment department, I'm very surprised that I have not read about quality issues with Polk Audio speakers in other reviews. Years ago when I bought my first Polks, I had problems with them. I don't recall all the details, but I remember needing to replace both the surrounds and the center channel. Now a dozen years later, I've purchased a pair of RTi A5's and a CSi A4, and ALL THREE have had problems.
The A5's have a forward firing bass port, and there's a tube that attaches to the port orifice that was dislodged in both of mine. Fortunately the tech support at Polk said that I could remove the orifice and re-insert the tube myself without voiding the warranty. So at least I didn't have to ship them back, but at 450 bucks apiece I think it's inexcusable to expect a customer to have to perform this repair on a brand new speaker. (The guy on the phone mentioned this was a common problem by the way.)
The A4 center channel had two screws protruding from the retaining ring on one of the drivers. I had the appropriate allen wrench handy, having just used it to repair the A5's, but the holes in the A4 were stripped out and could not be tightened.
The cherry cabinetry of the A4 and A5's was flawless and beautiful in all cases, and I really want to love these speakers, but the quality control issues are just inexcusable, costing this review 2 stars from what are otherwise 5 star loudspeakers. The Polk Audio RTi series will definitely sooth your home theater beast, but if you decide to go with them I'd recommend either purchasing them at a local store where you can inspect the merchandise before taking delivery (or at least save shipping costs when taking them back), or be prepared to send them back or repair them yourself. Unfortunate in what is otherwise a stellar example of audio reproduction technology.
UPDATE: A month in, and I am loving these speakers more and more each time I hear them. Just discovered Super Audio CD. Wow! I don't know all the terminology, but there is a clarity and sonic dimension to these speakers that makes you WANT to listen to them. It reminds me of the first time I ever heard a symphony perform live. The live performance has a depth and a presence that no CD can reproduce. Or have I just never had the right speakers? My classical (what little I have) is on MP3 and while I wouldn't say I've been unhappy with it, when you push the volume (something else these speakers make you want to do) the quality gets a bit dodgy. So now I'm looking for a good classical SACD so I can push the limits on these babies even further!
On the quality front, got my replacement center channel (CSi A4). It was fine. Except the screws holding in the drivers are rusty! Come on Polk, what is the deal?