What is the Polk Audio Signature E Series?
However, those looking to build a good multichannel system have some great models to choose from, including three floorstanding tower speakers in the shape of the S60e, S55e and S50e; two centre speakers in the form of the S35e and S30e; and three bookshelf speakers with the S20e, S15e and S10e. All the speakers in this range use the same high-resolution Terylene tweeter and proprietary Power Port technology, making the only difference the size of the midbass drivers.
For the purpose of this review, we’re testing a 5.1-channel system composed of the S50e (£599 a pair), the S35e (£299 each) and the S15e (£249 a pair), along with an HTS 12 subwoofer (£499 each) to handle all the bass duties. The combined cost of this system is £1,600, which is very reasonable when you consider all you get. If the Signature E Series sounds good as well, this could be a definite bargain.
Related: Best Home AV Products 2019 – Editor's Choice Awards
Polk Audio S50e Floorstander SpeakerThe Polk Audio S50e is the smallest floorstander in the Signature E Series but, like the majority of the speakers in the range, it uses 5.25-inch midbass drivers with mica-reinforced Polypropylene cones. In the case of the S50e, there are two midbass drivers and a 1-inch Terylene tweeter in a fairly typical layout, and it looks surprisingly normal for a speaker manufactured by Polk.
The S50e benefits from better-performing linear drive units, a new crossover topology, improved crossover components and refined bass tuning. The floorstander also uses Polk’s patented Dynamic Balance driver design, which integrates carefully selected materials to create a more efficient geometry.
The S50e includes Polk’s exclusive Power Port technology, which delivers 3dB more bass response output than a traditional port. There’s a downward-firing vented bass port, with a pointed cone opposite that smooths airflow and extends the overall surface area, helping to eliminate turbulence and distortion.
The speaker uses magnetic anti-diffraction fabric grilles, and there are gold-plated five-way binding posts at the rear, with the option for bi-wiring and bi-amping. The S50e sits on large supportive feet, and the build quality is excellent, with curved edges and gilded accents around the drivers. There’s a choice of Black Washed Walnut or Winter White finishes.
The S50e has a claimed sensitivity of 88dB and a claimed frequency response of 42Hz-40kHz. Each speaker measures 260 x 950 x 279mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 14.5kg.
Polk Audio S35e Centre SpeakerThe Polk Audio S35e is a dedicated centre speaker and, in terms of its look, it’s much more how you would imagine a speaker designed by this particular company. The S35e uses six 3-inch midbass drivers with mica-reinforced Polypropylene cones and the same 1-inch Terylene tweeter as the S50e.
The reason for all the drivers is to allow for a slimmer cabinet that fits into spaces under a TV, but the trade-off is it uses different midbass drivers to the rest of the system, which might affect the tonal balance. If you think that might be an issue, Polk also makes the larger S30e, which does use the same 5.25-inch drivers.
As with the S50e, the S35e uses the Dynamic Balance driver design, and a rearwards-firing vented bass ports. There are the same magnetic anti-diffraction fabric grilles and gold-plated five-way binding posts at the rear. The build quality is also excellent, and there’s a choice of Black Washed Walnut or Winter White finishes.
The S35e has a claimed sensitivity of 89dB and a claimed frequency response of 70Hz-40kHz. It measures 620 x 105 x 155mm (WxHxD), and weighs in at 6.4kg. The low-end extension of this speaker has been sacrificed in favour of a height of just 105mm, which should make installation easier.
Polk Audio S15e Standmount SpeakerThe Polk Audio S15e is a standmount speaker, and has the same 5.25-inch midbass driver with mica-reinforced Polypropylene cone, and 1-inch Terylene tweeter as the S50e. It also has the Dynamic Balance driver design, and a rearwards-firing vented bass port.
At the front are the same magnetic anti-diffraction fabric grilles, and at the rear you’ll find gold-plated five-way binding posts. The build quality remains impressive, and there’s the same choice of Black Washed Walnut or Winter White finishes.
The S15e has a claimed sensitivity of 87dB and a claimed frequency response of 48Hz-40kHz. It measures 191 x 305 x 259mm (WxHxD) and weighs in at 5.9kg.
Polk Audio HTS 12 SubwooferThe Polk Audio HTS 12 is the larger of the company’s current subwoofers, and is designed to complement the Signature E range. It has a matching curved cabinet and the same Black Washed Walnut or Winter White finishes. There’s a 12-inch front-firing long-throw Polypropylene driver, which is vented at the bottom with a downward-firing port that also includes Power Port technology. There’s a claimed frequency response of 22-180Hz.
The sub boasts Class D amplification that can deliver 200W of continuous power, with 400W peaks. At the rear is a basic set of controls with volume, low-pass frequency settings, and a 0-180˚ phase switch. In terms of the connections, there's a choice of stereo line level and mono LFE inputs (both RCA), along with a 12V trigger and an auto-standby feature. The HTS 12 measures 435 x 470 x 460mm (WxHxD) and weighs 22.6kg.
How was the system tested?
Testing used a mixture of material ranging from Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-rays, CDs, DVD-Audio discs, SACDs and music streaming services. The primary source was the Oppo UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player, and amplification was provided by the reference Arcam AVR850 AV receiver in a 5.1-channel configuration.
Keeping the musical theme going, I then popped on Bohemian Rhapsody and watched Queen’s triumphant Live Aid set at the climax of the film. The system does a great job of building a big enough soundstage to make you think you’re in the crowd at Wembley. As Freddie breaks into the anthemic We Will Rock You, the sound of 70,000 people stamping and clapping in unison creates a sonic wave that crashes over you.
This system is hugely enjoyable, with an ability to handle plenty of power, tight transients and a wide dynamic range. You can drive these speakers hard, but they also perform well at lower volumes which is probably more realistic. They’re also surprisingly sensitive, with an impressive ability to retrieve the smallest details from a soundtrack. As a result, these speakers not only sound great with music but are also able to build a cohesive and balanced surround system.
What better way to test the Polk’s multichannel capabilities than with one of the first films to have stereo surrounds – Apocalypse Now. The film’s soundtrack remains a masterclass in sound design, with Martin Sheen’s voice over clear and precise throughout. The sounds of the jungle surround you with noises, and the sub gets to strut its stuff during the ‘rolling thunder’ scene, as a B52 strike rumbles off-camera.
However, it’s the film’s famous ‘Ride of the Valkyrie’ sequence that remains the stand-out acoustic moment, with a sonic assault that perfectly complements the helicopter attack on the Vietnamese village. The music builds to a crescendo as a barrage of missiles and heavy machine-gun fire rip through the soundstage. Explosions hit with a percussive thump, radio chatter fills the airwaves, and helicopters swarm around your head with a seamless precision.
The Signature E’s sense of scale is perfectly displayed in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, as the titular beast slugs it out with all the other titanic kaiju. This is a huge soundtrack that takes no prisoners, and while the system does a great job of giving the sonic fisticuffs an epic sense of size, it also reveals certain limitations. There are plenty of effects emanating from all the channels, but the S35e with its smaller drivers sometimes struggles to handle the depth of Godzilla’s roar.
You might find that the larger S30e centre speaker with its larger driver makes a better match for the other speakers, and better handles the lower frequencies being used in the centre channel. The soundtrack’s reliance on massive bass pushes the system to its limits. The entire soundstage is frequently energised with effects emanating from every channel – from the sound of a collapsing building to massive volcanic explosions, and the roar of jet fighters banking through the room.
The soundtrack often digs really deep at the lower end of the frequency range, and it’s here that the subwoofer in particulate starts to struggle. Godzilla’s room-shaking footsteps are handled reasonably well, but the HTS 12 begins to run out of steam as the bass dips below 20Hz. It’s a perfectly decent subwoofer, but it’s also the weak link in this system, and there are better alternatives available for a similar price.
- Responsive and dynamic sound
- Detailed, clear and easy to drive
- Centre speaker will fit into smaller spaces
- Nice design and well made
- Sub could be deeper
Polk Signature E 5.1 Speaker Package Review
The Polk Audio Signature E Series is a cracking range of speakers that will work just as well whether they're part of a Hi-Fi or home cinema setup. The system itself looks charming, offers excellent value and delivers an undeniably enjoyable sonic performance.
The speakers are dynamic and responsive, quickly reacting to transients, while remaining very easy to drive. As a result, they retain plenty of detail and clarity, even at lower volumes. Thanks to the inclusion of bass ports, they are also capable of more low-end impact than you might imagine.
The only real weak link is HTS 12 subwoofer, which doesn’t go deep enough to fully support the rest of the system. However, if you pair these speakers with the BK Electronics P12-300SB-PR, you’d have a superb budget to midrange setup that would deliver a fantastic multichannel performance.
What are my alternatives?
If you're looking for something with real class that sits just above the Polk Audio Signature E Series in terms of price, then take a look at the Bowers & Wilkins 600 Series. These gorgeous speakers boast the company's usual attractive cabinets and superior build quality, but also sport its new Continuum driver. The result is a transparent and hugely entertaining performance from these well-designed speakers, and a system that's cohesive and tonally balanced. There's also deep bass and a dynamic delivery, making this a refined multichannel system that comes highly recommended.
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