Polk S15e Standmount Speaker Review
Here’s a good example of strong Transatlantic relations
What is the Polk S15e?The Polk S15e is a two way standmount speaker that is a member of the large Signature E Series of passive box speakers from Polk. The last time we looked at a Polk product, it was the Command Bar - a product of such category killing virtue, it pretty much ended our search for more affordable soundbars for this year at least. Beyond soundbars though, Polk has been making speakers for a very long time. Now operating as part of the Sound United Group, it has an enviable reputation.
At least, it does in its home market of the US. Back in Europe, not only do we have dozens of our own speaker brands to keep us entertained, we also seem to prefer a slightly different presentation and need our speakers to work in altogether smaller spaces. As a result, the S15 as it existed originally has gone to Europe to be tweaked to our palates. It still looks the same and costs the same but Polk feels we’re going to love it.
There’s plenty of rivals though and we already love plenty of those. Q Acoustics, Mission and Acoustic Energy have all made speakers at this price point that have delighted us, so can this tweaked American take them on and win us over to its charms?
Specification and DesignThe Polk is a two way standmount speaker - at £250 you should not really expect anything else. The drivers are made from materials that are entirely in keeping with Polk’s affordable offerings and consist of a 25mm soft dome ‘Terylene’ tweeter and a 133mm mid bass made from a combination of Mica and Polypropylene. There are some interesting details to both drivers though. The tweeter is apparently rated to 40kHz and the speaker features certification from the High Res Society as a result. The mid bass driver uses a butyl rubber surround and ceramic motor components. This is hardly the stuff of science fiction but it is a little more advanced than might normally be the case for a speaker at this price.
These two drivers are integrated via a system that Polk calls Dynamic Balance Technology. This is more than a fancy word for the crossover, it’s a considered attempt to ensure that the balance of the two drivers is kept optimal in relation to one another regardless of what one is being called upon to do at any one time. The crossover itself works at an unspecified point and seems to be of a fairly simple design and supports single wiring only. It does result in a sensitive speaker though with a quoted figure of 88dB/w which feels entirely achievable in the real world.
The most interesting aspect of the oily bits of the Polk isn’t in the cabinet proper. At the back is a plastic structure that Polk calls the Power Port. This sits directly opposite the rear bass port and has a tapered cone that serves to direct and control the airflow. Polk claims that this has the benefit of deeper, tighter bass which may or may not be achieved but on a practical level it does two other things. The first is that the back of the power port is the limit of the space that Polk feels is needed for the bass port which means that the S15e can be placed without too much concern as to what is happening behind it. The other is that if you want, you can wall mount the S15e via two keyhole mounts in the back of the power port which is something I don’t recall seeing in rival designs of late.
So far, absolutely everything I’ve described is pretty much as it was in the 'non-e’ prefix version of the S15. The changes that have been implemented to make the difference seem laughably small. The crossover has been slightly revised, the internal bracing has been altered and the power port is lengthened. The detail that might inspire a little more confidence in this process is who has made the changes. Polk has worked with Karl Heinz Fink to create the S15e and his track record is pretty impressive in this regard. As well as being previously involved with Q Acoustics (including the peerless Concept 500), he can also add the Mission LX-2 to the list of designs that have had his attention. It’s an imperfect comparison but he is to box speakers what Adrian Newey is to racing cars, so there’s a reasonable chance that these changes will be quite sufficient.
Rather less has been done to the exterior of the Polks and this does mean that this is not the prettiest speaker I’ve seen at the price. Some of the aesthetics of the Polk are governed by the functionality - it has the sizeable powerport on the back for the reasons described but if we take the Q Acoustics 3000i range and Acoustic Energy’s 100 Series to be good examples of pretty speakers, the Polk comes across as a bit more prosaic. There are some changes that have been made for European sensibilities - the baffle is matt rather than gloss black and the fixing screws that hold it in place are black rather than copper - but the S15e feels a little bit like an older design in terms of the aesthetics.
It’s not all bad news though. It is well made with the cabinet feeling weighty and solid and the fit and finish of the various components is more than up to the standard of the price point. There are some nice touches like magnetic speaker grilles and sturdy speaker terminals. This is also a speaker that breaks a habit of a lifetime and (for me at least) looks better in the white finish than it does in the black so this is another option for you if you want it. Finally, it’s also worth pointing out that the S15e is part of a very substantial range of speakers so if this is the starting point for you to create a multichannel system, it’s a very good one.
The most interesting aspect of the oily bits of the Polk isn’t in the cabinet proper.
How was the S15e tested?The Polk has been used with a variety of equipment including a Naim Supernait 2, Naim Uniti Nova and the Tangent Ampster BTII. The sources have varied too but have included a Naim ND5 XS, and ND5 XS2, Chord Hugo2, Google Chromecast Audio and an LG 55B7 OLED TV all connected to an IsoTek Evo3 Aquarius mains conditioner. Material used has included FLAC, AIFF, ALAC and DSD files , Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer together with broadcast and on demand TV content from Netflix, Amazon and Now TV.
Sound QualityThe amount of time I spent listening to any of the original 'non-e’ versions of the S Series speakers has to count as bordering on non-existent. As such, this section has to be seen as concentrating purely on this version and focusing less on the changes that have been made in the process. Here’s the important part of this though - it doesn’t really matter if the S15 was any good or not before these changes were made because the result afterwards is exceptional.
The manner in which it demonstrates this is not a case of a single attribute invoking a sense of shock and awe. I feel it is because the performance as a whole genuinely warrants that description. With the Polk running connected to the Naim Supernait 2, the most singular achievement it manages is that at no stage are you really conscious of there being the substantial price difference between electronics and speakers that there is here. Instead, listening to Marina’s Hope and Fear, the Polk delivers a deeply impressive performance.
When I listen to a piece of test equipment, I generally throw some notes together - some subjective thoughts on sound quality, music used and other general comments. The highest compliment these notes can display is not when there are copious amounts of them but when there’s nothing at all. All it means is that I listened and was sufficiently engrossed to what I heard that the business of returning to the real world to pay attention to write things seemed a bit much. The Polk has done this a few times. It does a truly fine job of making you focus on the music rather than the machinery.
The reasons it can do this are cumulative. The first is that the top end of the S15e is extremely good. Listening to Love + Fear by Marina, the presentation is rich and vivid, balancing the energy it needs to be convincing with a level of refinement that ensures that even less than stellar material never comes over as harsh or forward. The integration between the two drivers is utterly seamless and this same ‘energetic warmth’ is present through the midrange too. Marina Diamandis is a realised person rather than a disembodied voice and this is something that is never a given with a small and relatively affordable speaker.
The bass response of the Polk is not seismic and it has to give ground to the Acoustic Energy AE100 in particular which feels punchier and more exciting than the S15e but the Polk holds its own. When you introduce a little bit of real world thinking into this, the Polk starts to eke out on advantage. When I say that the Acoustic Energy has better bass, I mean this in optimal conditions. Placed on a stand with acceptable distance to the rear wall, the Polk loses out. Place the AE100, or any other speaker with a standard rear port, as close to a rear wall as you can the Polk and their advantages are nullified. The PowerPort isn’t pretty but it gives the Polk an unfussiness about placement that’s beyond almost any ported speaker I’ve tested.
These already commendable virtues are further enhanced by a truly outstanding stereo image. The S15e delivers a spacious, coherent and consistently believable presentation that extends beyond the speakers but never leaves any gap in the centre. This, like any compact two way speaker, probably wouldn’t be my weapon of choice for the 1812 Overture but it’s still able to sound spacious and convincing when you need it too. This is also something that the Polk does very well with TV material too. A quick run through the first episode of Chernobyl sees it perform admirably across the large scale and small scale.
Two final attributes lift the Polk further. The first that if you don’t happen to have a £3,000 integrated amplifier to hand, the Polk is still very entertaining. Running on the end of the Tangent Ampster BTII, the S15e has most of the qualities that it demonstrated on the more expensive hardware - indeed this has to be seen as a usefully source agnostic device. And then, perhaps most importantly, it manages to sound fun too. Listening to the Polk cheerfully thunder its way through Warrior’s Dance by the Prodigy probably isn’t Hi-Fi but it is definitely entertaining.
It does a truly fine job of making you focus on the music rather than the machinery.
- Engaging, detailed and refined sound
- Unfussy about placement
- Easy to drive
- Not pretty
- Limits to outright bass extension
- Limited choice of finishes
Polk S15e Standmount Speaker ReviewThe resources that companies have directed towards entry level speakers is truly impressive. What once seemed like a moribund category has become one where some genuinely excellent examples of engineering and acoustics are available. Truly, we’re spoiled for choice.
The Polk arrives in this category looking a little bit ungainly but still bringing some excellent new attributes to the class. The S15e sounds truly outstanding and just as importantly, it does so on a huge variety of partnering equipment and when placed in locations that would significantly impede the performance of many of its rivals. The S15e doesn’t complete the demolition job on this category that the Command Bar does to its own but it is still a fantastic speaker that comes Highly Recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £249.00
Ease of Use9
Value for Money9
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