Review: Polk Audio R-30 Reference Loudspeaker Monitor
Every once in awhile a product appears in the audio scene that is so special that it outperforms everything and anything even remotely near its street price. Certainly the Acoustic Research AR Stereo Receiver of the 60's and 70's along with the Dynaco A-25 and Smaller Advent loudspeakers were such prime examples of well thought out basic simplistic designs that in turn...brought a level of sound reproduction into the abodes of many folks previously unheard of at their respective price levels.
This tradition was carried on through the 70's and 80's by companies like Nad, Harmon Kardon, Pioneer, Sherwood, Marantz, Yamaha, BIC, Allison Acoustics, Boston Acoustics, Rega and others. The engineering talent of folk like Edgar Vilchur, Winslow Burhoe, Roy Allison, Henry Kloss and Matthew Polk brought such a level of audio consumer satisfaction at price points not previously thought possible.
It seems that they all had one common goal...to bring real lifelike sound to the audiophile on a budget. Truth be told...this probably represents three quarters of the audio purchasing public.
The product up for review here today joins this elite group in the sense that it not only outperforms anything remotely near its street price but also far exceeds the aesthetic expentations for such! The Polk R-30 Loudspeaker or "Reference 30 Tower" as I like to call it...now joins this elite group of pocketbook saviours. With an MSRP of $400 per pair it must be considered a most worthy performer but at its actual street selling price of $78 to $200 per pair...you just ain't gonna find anything as good looking or sounding!
Downtown...Baltimore, Maryland USA now provides home for two of audio's premier speaker crafters...Definitive Technology and Polk Audio. Three Johns-Hopkins graduates...Matthew Polk along with classmates George Klopfer and Sandy Gross set out to begin crafting great sounding speakers and formed Polk Audio in 1972. This was precisely when I had just about completed putting together my first real serious audiophile system with an AR amplifier and Bose 901 speakers purchased from International Hi-Fi Distributors who coincidentally...just happened to also be located in Baltimore! Gross left Polk in 1988 to form Definitive Technology.
Matthew Polk has stated..."Right from the very beginning of the company, our mission was to put high-end sound into the homes of regular people. Although we enjoyed the high-end audio gear as much as any foaming-at-the-mouth audiophile, we really saw our mission in providing excellent sounding speakers at reasonable prices to regular people." This was certainly evidenced by Matthew's scientific approach to building their first line of speakers that included the top of the line RTA-12. "Real Time" technology was important to Polk as the co. made a study of how sound reaches our ears.
The Polk R-30 Tower Loudspeakers are about as majestic sounding as any 34" x 8" x 9" towers of their type have the right to be! The sound is never such that it imposes itself on the listener. Bass is extremely tight and deep enough for most! As a matter of fact...I cannot think of one negative sonic adjective to use in describing their sound. Believe me...I've tried as I am not so easy to please when listening to audio equipment! Once again...Matthew Polk proves to be a very kind-hearted genius.
What I cannot fathom is how he managed this accomplishment at the low price of $200 for the pair which simply sets a new standard that competing tower-like models from NHT, Bose, Energy, PSB, Paradigm and Advent cannot even begin to approach. The great but somewhat brilliant-sounding Sony SS-MB750H's and BIC DV-84's come to mind but I doubt that they equal the R-30's neutral coherent portrayal. In fact Matthew Polk and his research team have engineered something quite special that has shattered my perception of what truly great speakers at low prices should be able to accomplish!
Matt Polk states..."Dynamic Balance technology produces flat frequency response, sharp detail, transparency and an ability to play program material with wide dynamic range at life-like volume levels without a hint of strain. The sound is always clean, clear and effortless.
The drivers and tweeters used in Polk home speakers feature Dynamic Balance. As a result they all have the same sonic signature. This means that there is never a sense that different speakers are playing as the imagery shifts from speaker to speaker. The system creates a coherent, seamless sound stage that completely envelopes you in the action." After owning these towers for a yar and a half...I must fully concur.
The R-30's feature a 6 1/2" composite woofer and a 3/4" dome tweeter. The Crossover is of highest quality build featuring a 2nd Order High Pass/1st Order Low PassFilter@2.8 KHz. H.D. 5-Way Binding Posts are used for terminals. Banana plugs can be used by popping off the caps on the red and black binding posts.
The R-30's cherry finished cabinetry is outstanding and sexy looking! Although the speakers are now only available in black...it is my feeling that the "cherry" finish adds a very "high end" appearance to the transducers but the popular black finish is gorgeous also. It's just that my eyes aren't quite what they used to be and I definitely prefer not only the superior sound but the brighter aesthetics of vintage components. Call me old and set in my ways if you will!
The very lightweight transparent black grills form an arch at the bottom of each R-30 freeing up the well designed port allowing for tremendous air speeds to travel through it. By placing the "Polk Audio" nameplate below it, the aesthetics are wonderful! Most important is the fact that the grills do not under any circumstances get in the way of the transparent sound that pours forth out of these speakers. I realize that many audiophiles have the need to remove the grills but I prefer not to...at least in the case of the R-30's.
The Frequency Response is an astounding 45Hz - 24KHz overall and 55Hz - 20KHz plus or minus 3db! Power Handling is such that the R-30's are recommended for use with amplifiers rated at 20 - 100 watts per channel @ 8 ohms. Efficiency is rated at 89db @1w 1m. The Shipping Weight of each speaker is 32 lbs.
When setting up the Polks...pay close attention to the well written accompanying instruction sheet. There is a nicely demonstrated procedure for using the supplied Carpet Spikes or "tip toes" as we old-timers used to call them. They effectively isolate these first-rate towers from the carpeted floor of one's listening room.
The speakers arrive pre-assembled with the tiny hard round feet for those of you with wooden floors minus the carpet. They are sturdy enough for support but will not scratch wooden floors. I am impressed that Matt Polk offers this option as there is much of a buzz these days amongst audiophiles who claim that placing coins under loudspeakers improve their sound quality. The small feet simply represent this approach and can be removed with a little force only to reveal the pre-drilled holes for the tip-toes. In thumb tack style they can be re-installed later if one wishes.
How My Speaker Purchase Began:
Now I had no intention of purchasing these units nor had I any inclination to review them! As a matter of fact...I fully intended to purchase a pair of Axiom M3Ti Bookshelf monitors for the blem price of under $250 for the pair as I am a small speaker lover. I thought the Axioms to be perfect for my small 8' x 12' listening room. Of course I would have to get pedestals for them also. This would have raised the overall investment by another $50 to $100!!
As I was checking out various internet sales, I encountered something I could not believe! This one particular California overstock seller was offering a pair of Polk R-30's finished in "Cherry" brand new in pictured factory sealed boxes complete with Owner's Manual and Warranty Cards for a ridiculously low price of $111.00 w/s+h. For a grand total considerably less than I planned on spending for the Axioms, my new Polk R-30 Cherries were on their way to New Jersey via DHL!
The speakers arrived in their factory sealed cartons in great shape although I would have preferred Matt Polk pack them a bit tighter with heat expansion foam in the future as some movement could be felt by shaking the cartons side to side. The Owner's Manual which is fairly well written needs to devote itself strictly to the R-30's rather than to the "R" series in general but at this price point...I guess the R-30 is just not going to receive that type of dedicated individual attention. The warranty cards and other info were all there. One can go online to Polk Audio for registration of the speakers also.
By the way...the seller was wonderfully helpful and just a downright plain nice person to deal with. In all honesty...you should not expect to get the R-30's for the price I woundup paying but even if you pay $200 to $300 for the pair...it remains an outstanding bargain!
It is extremely important to follow "Break-In Period" rules when first hooking up your newly purchased speakers. Use moderate listening levels for the first two months as this practice will reap superior listenability from your Polks. The drivers will properly seat themselves including the wonderfully crafted Dome Tweeter. By the way...use first-rate quality amplification and not the ear-piercing muddy sounding garbage that is available in over-abundance today. If you are looking here for me to recommend a good modern receiver...well...I simply cannot.
It seems as though there are more than a few complaints as evidenced on the Polk website about the speakers sounding thin or harsh with not enough bass. Now I realize that speaker evaluation is so very subjective but I must confess that I seriously have to wonder what these fine people are looking for in a loudspeaker. Are they searching for a transducer that will amplify phony bass and midrange presence...in other words...pseudo coloration/reproduction?
If so, then I guess that they indeed would not like the R-30's. As for myself...I embrace natural reproduction with clean crisp characteristics and have found them to be in abundance with this model.
Perhaps it's the crappy modern receivers these audiophiles are using that are making the so-called "crappy" sound they are hearing. All I know is that my classic Pioneer SX-990 stereo receiver is pushing these speakers wonderfully and I cannot imagine better performance with anything else! Matthew Polk remains a genius and is very under-appreciated and under-rated by many folks. My "cherry" R-30's continue to sound glorious regardless of the source...even at very loud levels. I am most satisfied with this purchase and stand by my earlier remarks. I can only liken these Polks to the popular Dynaco A-25 loudspeakers of yesteryear! The Polks are even better with truly extended highs!
I crave for the sound of small speakers. In general I do not care for larger transducers that kill music with their overdone hyped-up bass. Give me something small that will portray the music's emotional quality yet not have its clarity muddied up with overly bassy sound. This circumstance will induce "Listener Fatigue" quicker than a duck on a June bug!
Thankfully, the Polk R30 speakers will have none of that. They are as neutral sounding speakers as you are ever likely to find anywhere. The sound is emotional and transparent with excellent transients that only serve to make the speakers disappear.
Mine are setup in my humble 8' x 12' computer room with the towers placed in the two corners of the 8' side and turned slightly inward. The speakers are driven by my quite modest vintage Yamaha R-500 Stereo Receiver. I have also used a Pioneer SA-500 Integrated amp that is rated a mere 10 watts p/ch rms from 20Hz to 40KHz and they sound awesome and can play quite loudly without amplifier clipping being present which can kill any speaker regardless of its rating. Also used is a Toshiba SD-K620KU DVD/CD Multi-media Player but the bulk of my listening is via a Pioneer PL-518 turntable fitted with an audio-technica "Red Ed"phono cartridge.
I also used nice warm vintage Pioneer SX-990 and SX-424 stereo receivers to drive the Polks with great success. Still...my reference Yamaha R-500 is best with its tone controls that feature a well placed narrower turnover frequency. Instead of the usual broadband 50-100Hz bass point, it uses a turnover frequency of around 300 Hz. The treble is turned over at about 8KHz as opposed to the more commonly found 10KHz one on the Pioneers and others.
The Polks are wonderful! Yes, they can shake the room when the source calls for it but amazingly...the sound is never overdone and Matthew Polk has managed to create a sound reproducer that somehow just makes itself disappear leaving you only with the music!
On Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" the bass was very detailed and deep without being overdone. All thirty plus instruments sounded wonderful with every pluck of a string reproduced with amazing crispness and clarity. You can even hear Mike breathing into the instruments at certain times during the famous recording. Vocals on various choral works such as Telarc's Shaw/Atlanta Symphony version of "Carmina Burana" sound clear, natural and majestic without the slightest hint of strain or masking!
I own a three record set of Stevie Wonder's "Looking Back" on vinyl that includes the artist's beautifully written and performed "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer". The detail of the string bass fiddle is extraordinary for a speaker in this price range. Every pluck and resonance can be heard to perfection...and felt!
Accuracy Of Musical Timbre proved to be no less a strong point for these Polks as my "Atmospheres-Celtic Voices" CD reveals all. On the final track, one gets to hear subtleties that will seduce you into a love affair with the Polks in an exemplary manner! The CD's rendition of Simon And Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair" will floor you with deep rich controlled bass. Highs sound so sweet and natural without imparting a harsh quality. The sound is effortless as if the R-30's are saying..."Give me your best...NO PROBLEM!"
As for the mids...just listen to Curtis Mayfield's "Pusher Man" and you will experience rapid-fire lightning fast reproduction of the percussive sounds while being able to hear distinct changes in tone of the bongos! The same can be said for a kick-drum. This is a very good indication of a transducer having "Monitor" status and capability. Have fun listening to Rhino's "Rock Instrumental Classics - Vol. 3...The 70's" CD and "Jungle Fever". And you just have not heard snare drums until you've experienced them through the Polks! Midbass is smooth and powerful! Everything is so-ooo-ooo coherent!
Male and Female Voices are reproduced with utter accuracy and more so than any other speaker I've ever auditioned or owned! Just listen to the Original Broadway Cast CD's of "Cats", "The Sound Of Music" and others to see if the sound doesn't tickle your spine! Even the old soundtrack to Leonard Bernstein's classic "West Side Story" sounds awesome! Yes, I see you smiling while listening to your R-30's...just like I do.
Many audiophiles feel that the female voice represents the ultimate challenge to a loudspeaker's ability to reproduce natural non-fatiguing sound. Listen to the R-30's handle legendary folksinger Judy Collins as she belts out the story of how "Sweet Polly" was murdered and see if all her emotion doesn't shake your very soul on "Someday Soon"...both from the Elektra "Who Knows Where The Time Goes" album. And what about that "Country" guitar subtley picking its way for the backbeat on the latter track??? I never noticed that before..."subtlety"..."emotion"..."involving"...it's quite cool! Steven Stills's bass guitar sounds so rock solid. Sweet Judy blue eyes never sounded this good through a cheap set of speakers!
If you are a big Carpenters fan like I am...well, you just haven't heard Karen aqnd Richard until you've heard them through the Polks! The late and great Karen Carpenter will make you cry and then smile as her fantastic voice comes through with amazing detail on "The Carpenters-The Singles...1969 - 1973". Richard Carpenter's arrangements will thrill the listener as the Polks display extraordinary coherency and crispness. Just listen to "Ticket To Ride" and "Superstar". You'll swear that you can hear Karen's wonderful heart beating like "Yesterday Once More"!...And is that Herb Alpert playing the awesome trumpet on "Close To You"? Karen's drums sound pretty cool too!
Jazz works are gonna sound awesome! Just checkout the "Peanuts/Charlie Brown-20th Anniversary" CD that pictures Snoopy on the front cover while also featuring many famous Jazz musicians on the album itself. Detail...Detail...Detail!!
Many will be tempteed to use this speaker system in a "Home Theater" configuration with a sub. As for me good old fashioned stereo without a subwoofer is just fine as adding a sub would just plain be overkill. These Polks are able to reproduce a satisfyingly deep detailed tight thump quite authoritatively on their own! As the "break-in" period progresses, the R-30's seem to go deeper with noticeably better detail.
Also, the speakers seem to give you an incredibly generous soundstage with unusually good height! Mine seem to extend right up to the ceiling! They sound so much bigger than their physical dimensions would dictate.
Now all that I have stated in this review would be a tall order for any speaker at any price but at this price level...it is absolutely unheard of. You receive the benefits of small speaker design with extended well-defined bass without having to spend extra on pedestals or a subwoofer. The superbly designed front firing ports also mean that one doesn't have to pull the speakers out from the rear wall as much as one would have to like one of the popular Canadian brand speakers with their rear facing ports would require.
Now, quite honestly I usually like to set the bass and treble controls to the 3 o'clock position but with the Polks they are set at 2 o'clock! This seems to give me the perfect ruler flat response for my little room that also suits my tastes for most recordings. Yes, imagine that!....I actually give a little nudge to my tone controls! Guess I am not the perfect audio purist after all.
I dare say that there are more of us out there but I absolutely loathe the commonly found "Loudness" button of other receivers. Thankfully, the Yamaha features a different type of compensation for this purpose that allows for stepped subtle changes. Like the classic AR Reciver and Amplifier...Yamaha seems to feel that the Fletcher-Munson equalization curves are more accurate. However...I never feel the need to use it as there is very little if any sonic dropout at lower listening levels with the Polks.
The Polk R-30 Tower Loudspeakers are now my reference speakers for smaller rooms. Those of you that lay claim to larger than average rooms will no doubt find the co's R-50 models to be the best! These have slightly higher output and will go a little deeper into the bass...at least so I have been told as I have yet to hear or even see an actual R-50 speaker. I can only imagine that the extra 6 1/2" driver would give more power handling and a bit more output but I cannot confirm this as of yet.
I love these cherry red R30's and I believe that these are the last set of speakers I'll ever own. They simply cover the entire full spectrum of sounds with effortlessness and authority! Some others in this price range sound too bright or too dull but Polk has it down to a science...the R30's sound just right!
The mating of my Polks to the classic Yamaha R-500 with 18 ga. OFC with gold-plated bananna terminated wire from Mirasonic.COM is simply a marriage made in hi-fi heaven or is it...haven?! A great alternative to the Mirasonic wire for higher output high current tube amplifiers would be Kimber Kable's 4PR thick braided wire sold at the finest of high end stores like John Rutan's "Audio Connection" of Verona, NJ. Please make sure you use this particular excellent cabling in a well temperature controlled environment so as to not cause the first-rate high power handling wire to become brittle over a lengthy period of time.
Checkout the customer reviews on the Polk website of this speaker and they are indeed very favorable...and with good reason. However, one person did remark that the speakers were of cheap low-fi quality. I do not know where this notion came from as they sound and look exceedingly first-rate! The Polk 6 1/2" drivers are constructed well with rubber surrounds that should never rot. The fact that Polk also uses well designed really cool-looking bases with the added "Tip-Toe" benefit of carpet spikes is a real plus adding also to the cabinet's first rate aesthetics.
Checkout the higher priced Definitive Technologies BP-6 speakers that cost three times the price of the Polks and see or should I say...HEAR just how well the R-30's compare. Compare them to the pricey Bose floorstanders...501, 601 and 701 or even the Sony SS-MB 650H. Well, I used to be a big Bose and Boston Acoustics fan but now I am a full fledged Polk man and fan for sure! Yes, Matthew Polk...you are a genius and have won my heart with these fantastic R-30's! Now...the lowly common poor soul such as myself has a reference tower within the grasp of his...or her budget to be sure.
The R-30's beat the competition and others costing considerably more hands down! As a matter of fact...they even compare quite favorably to one of my all-time favorites...the Vandersteen 1C speakers that cost upward of $800 per pair!!! Even the legendary Paradigm Phantoms can't quite equal the Polks.
The R-30's are easily worth much more than what I paid for them and with that in mind...I do not think I am going to treat speaker systems costing over $800 too kindly in the future. Suddenly fantastic transducers like the Bose 901's or the Vandersteen 2Ce's and even some B&W "Nautilus" models seem way over-priced! Polk has shattered my idea of what a good sounding low priced tower should be with these R-30's!! They are of true monitor or..."reference" calibre...if you will. No...they will not satisfy larger-than-life listening rooms and budgets like a pair of Martin/Logan electrostatics. Would you expect them to?
In the confines of a limited budget and listening area...the R-30 remains a speaker system that all speakers selling for less than the price of a new pair of Vandersteen 1C's must be judged by. I guess for whatever the reason and by the grace of the powers that be...the Polk R-30 Reference Towers are just one of audio's best kept secrets. As Matt Polk is a firm believer in keeping well-designed models active in his line...in time...they are sure to become legends. I just have one major complaint...Why did Polk Audio remove the nice red heart that used to dot the "i" in "Polk Audio"??? 'Cause obviously much TLC went into the R30's creation!...Peter
Yamaha R-500 Stereo Receiver
Pioneer SA-500 Integrated Amplifier
Pioneer SX-990 Stereo Receiver
Pioneer SX-424 Stereo Receiver
Pioneer Pl-518 Direct Drive Turntable
Audio-Technica ESCMG29 MM Phono Cartridge
Hunt EDA MK.6 Record Cleaning Brush
Toshiba DVD/CD Player
Bose 601 Series II
Polk Monitor 10B
Polk Monitor 7B
Bose 301 Series II, IV & V
Bose 901 Series I, II, IV, V & VI
B&W Nautilus 802