- Written by Tyler Stripko
- Published on 28 May 2013
The Polk LSiM Home Theater Speaker System In Use
With all the speakers positioned, I ran the LSiM system for about a week before doing any critical listening. Since I had already run through most of my standard test tracks during the setup period, I started my listening sessions with some newer 2-channel material to get a feel for the big 707 towers. Diana Krall's latest album, "Glad Rag Doll," hasn't been met with the same critical acclaim as her earlier works but I like it nonetheless. While a bit of a departure from her prior albums, I really dig the sultry jazz mixed with a bit of blues that she went for. Track 11, "Lonely Avenue" is probably my favorite on this disc. It's got a sweet bass groove, nice guitar work, and solid vocals. Unfortunately, this song is also one of the numerous tracks on the disc that was intentionally "aged" in an effort to make it sound like it was recorded 50 years ago. They added lots of hiss and grain in post-production which unfortunately added a layer of haze to many of the songs on this album. While I understand that this was an effort to fit in with the whole "rag" theme it's my biggest gripe with the CD and a huge detractor from what could have been some amazing sound quality. However, there are still some great sonic moments here.
Through the 707s, the bass line was incredibly easy to follow, with excellent definition between bass notes. Even with the bit of extra energy present in the bass, each individual drum hit was crisp and sharp, with great decay of every note. The slide guitar was clean and clear with the proper amount of "sadness" to each note. The overdriven electric guitar was perfectly sweet sounding and fit in well with Krall's silky-smooth voice. Overall, the midrange sounded just right: not too sweet but not too harsh. Krall's lyrics were crisp without any added sibilance or etch. On the tracks that were "aged" in the studio like "Lonely Avenue" the extra hiss, crackle, and distortion that was added in post-production was blatantly obvious.
As a huge ZZ Top fan, I naturally picked up their latest effort, "La Futura." I was particularly curious to see the impact Rick Rubin's production style would have on "that little old band from Texas." Style wise, this disc seems to combine a bit of ZZ's style from the late 1970's with their more modern blues/rock sound from recent albums like "XXX" and "Antenna." While some old riff lines have been recycled, almost every song on this disc is well crafted. The hook lines are catchy, the guitars are in-your-face-powerful, and Billy Gibbons' cigarette-raspy voice sounded great. The 707's were able to capture this visceral power while still allowing me to hear the subtlety of Gibbon's picking and Dusty Hill's bass lines through their overdriven Crate amps. Frank Beard's drum kit was deep, crisp, and very well controlled with cymbal crashes having a nice amount of sizzle and air. The clarity and dynamics of this disc really startled me, as I'm not used to hearing such a pristine rock recording. I hope Rick Rubin sticks with ZZ Top for their next project.
Melody Gardot's newest release, "The Absence," differs from her prior works in that it takes a decidedly Brazilian slant. I like the change and this disc sounds just as good as her more jazzy prior works. The bells and chimes during the introduction of "Lisboa" sounded absolutely stunning, sparkling across the soundstage. When Gardot's voice comes into play, the sound was truly wonderful. Each subtle nuance of her very expressive voice was easy to ascertain, and really shows a listener what a gifted vocalist she is. The 707s really let her voice shine, as they are very neutral throughout the midrange, with just a touch (and I mean a touch) of extra warmth to make most recordings sound even more musical. "Impossible Love" is my favorite cut on this disc and sounded absolutely fantastic. It has some very powerful dynamics, with Gardot's voice dancing through the track to the compliment of powerful strings, Spanish guitar, and assorted percussion instruments. The bass line had tremendous power, and combined with the stringed instruments just seemed to jump out at me from the speakers. In an age where every song seems to be redlined against the peak limiter, it is refreshing to hear music with such a wonderfully natural range.
With it now obvious that the 707 towers were excellent, it was time to hear the system as a whole. In went my cherished DVD-Audio disc of The Talking Heads "Speaking in Tongues." Track 11 is an alternate version of their hit "Burning Down the House" and is also one of the greatest examples of surround music that I've ever heard. Within about 30 seconds I knew that the Polk system was something special. The overall sense of space and ambience was excellent. The sound moved seamlessly from speaker to speaker, with absolutely no disparity of tone or timbre as sound moved from channel to channel. The big 706c center kept the vocals centered beautifully, but blended perfectly with the 707 towers when the sound moved out from the center channel, which happens frequently on this track. The 703 surrounds mated just as well with the rest of the system, which only further enhanced the immersive effect of the music. This is a particularly active surround mix, with the multi-layered effects bouncing from channel to channel. The LSiM system handled the rapid movement better than any system I've heard in my room. Bass was very deep with tremendous impact and I found myself inching the volume up higher and higher, reveling in the incredibly clarity of the high-resolution mix. What is even more amazing is that even at incredibly high volume levels (over 100dB), there was absolutely no distortion or sense of strain. All of the speakers remained smooth and clear, without the upper midrange/treble harshness that many other systems can exhibit when driven hard. I'll give some of the credit to my extremely powerful Wyred 4 Sound amp, but equal credit must be given to the Polks. Don't be afraid to match these speakers with a big amp, as they can clearly handle it.
"Britten's Orchestra" is another example of surround sound done right. The intro track, "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" is a fantastic test of any speaker system. This composition runs the gamut of just about every instrument used by a full orchestra and gives a bit of a spotlight to each orchestra section throughout the 17 minute 9 second runtime. I wound up sitting through the entire track, enjoying each passage immensely. The Polk system did so much right that it was hard to find fault. The bass was full, punchy, and accurate with each powerful tympani hit fluttering and decaying naturally into the background. Brass was appropriately bright, but never harsh or grating. The strings were beautifully clear, with a real sense of body to individual instruments. Woodwinds struck the proper tone to my ears, being light and airy without becoming screechy. The only minor chink in the Polk system's armor was in cymbals and bells. While these instruments sounded very good, they were lacking a bit of air and sense of reverberation compared the best speakers I've heard. Also, imaging and soundstaging were not reference level. While I could get a good sense of where the instruments were on the stage, I didn't get the pinpoint sense of imaging I've heard with other (all more expensive) speakers. The system seemed to present a decent sense of depth, but kept the sound compressed over a narrower width than I have heard on some higher-end systems.
We hosted a dinner party for my wife's family one evening and as always, the men wanted to see what type of goodies I had in for review. In went the DVD-Audio disc of the Beatles "Love." What was supposed to be a 5-minute demo turned into a screening of the entire disc, with all of our guests (including the ladies) taking a seat to listen. My audience was completely mesmerized for well over an hour. Four of these guests had actually seen the Beatles live in the 60's and early 70's so I was particularly interested in what they thought. "It sounds like Paul is right in the room" was probably my favorite comment. While the LSiM system couldn't do much to tame a few of the harsher tracks on this disc, it really shined on the better ones like "Blackbird/Yesterday" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which actually drew applause from my crowd. My wife's uncle was in attendance that night and he owns a full surround system based around Polk's original LSi15 towers (as well as a dedicated 2-channel system with B+W Nautilus 802s). Most likely, he will be upgrading his theater room to an LSiM system soon.
After such a great experience with music, I fully expected to enjoy the LSiM system for movie watching. I was not disappointed. Knowing that the LSiM system was capable of delivering some big sound, I started out by watching "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." While one can debate the quality of the plot, there is no debate on the quality of the audio. The 7.1 Dolby TrueHD was incredible, from the opening credits through the final end battle. I could hear all of the mechanical "transforming" effects as each robot went from its alternate mode to robot form in perfect clarity. Vocals rang true from the 706c center channel and the surround channels carried ambient effects with perfectly matching timbre and tone.
While the LSiM system could clearly deliver the biggest of soundtracks, it was its prowess with more subtle fare that really impressed me. The introductory scene of "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" is a study in the effective use of surround sound. The creaks and pops of the ship below decks, the wind passing through rigging and sail, and the lapping of the waves against the hull resonated through every speaker with absolute believability. When the peace and quiet ends with the first fight against the Acheron, the sounds of battle envelops you. Cannon shots splinter the wood of the Surprise and zing through the surround channels. Bass from the cannons was deep and forceful, while remaining tight and crisp. The sounds of the wounded sailors emanate from the surround channels with haunting effect. It all makes for one heck of an audio experience.
I finally got around to watching my Blu-ray copy of "Star Wars: Return of the Jedi" while I had the LSiM system in my possession. While I have heard the old Dolby Digital mix from the DVD dozens (if not hundreds) of times, the new DTS-HD Master Audio track was a revelation. The clarity and smoothness of the lossless audio is in a whole different league from the DVD's compressed signal. The 706c center channel continued to impress me with its perfectly matched performance with the 707 towers. Dialogue was much clearer than I remember, without sounding over-boosted. Background noises in Jabba's palace that I never heard before were now apparent. Ambient effects in the forests of Endor experienced a similar increase in clarity. However, what impressed me the most was how stunning the score sounded. A prime example was the Ewok theme that plays during the end credits. The theme uses what sounds like a xylophone in parts. Those notes rang with a clarity that I've never before experienced and decayed ever so naturally into the background.
I received my copy of Metallica's latest concert Blu-ray, "Quebec Magnetic" right as I was preparing to pack up the LSiM system. While I loved the last Blu-ray concert from the band, "Orgullo, Pasion, y Gloria" for its incredible energy and performance, I have always harbored the feeling that they applied a bit too much post-processing to the sound on that disc. "Quebec Magnetic" is noticeably closer to what you would hear at a live Metallica show. James Hetfield's vocals were raw and off-key. The guitars of Hetfield and Kirk Hammett had increased clarity and a bit more bite to their initial attack, just like in real life. I was able to hear their fingers sliding from note to note, which is pretty impressive on a live mix. Bass guitar from Robert Trujillo and the drums of Lars Ulrich were viscerally powerful yet not over-boosted as is typical on most concert discs. I've seen this band perform 8 times now, and "Quebec Magnetic" is the closest thing I've heard to a live show. The set list was one of the best as well, with a few songs not typically performed live turning up. I broke 110dB on the LSiM system when playing this back and not once did the Polks lose their composure. While my ears couldn't handle that kind of volume for long, it sounded like the LSiM system could have taken the punishment all day long.
Earlier, I noted that I had received both the LSiM 703 bookshelf speakers and the 702F/X speakers to use as surround channels. I've found that I typically prefer direct radiating speakers for surround use and in the case of the 703s versus the 702F/Xs that held true once again. Although their frequency response is similar, the 703s were a richer sounding speaker, with more extended bass and to my ears a sweeter midrange and treble presentation. Their sound seemed to mate better with the 707 towers and 706c center channel which helped to create a more seamless surround field. This was particularly noticeable with surround music. I will admit that the 702F/Xs, with their slimmer wall mounted silhouette, could blend in better from an aesthetic perspective. However, make sure that you can place them in a position where the tweeters will be firing directly towards your listening position or you will suffer from increased treble roll off. I'd also like to point out that that the 703s are fantastic speakers in their own right. I spent some time using them in my 2-channel family room system and was thoroughly impressed. Everything I wrote about the 707 towers applies to the 703s, except for the deepest bass. While they are large for a bookshelf speaker, the 703s can play extremely loud and have enough bass to make a subwoofer optional. If you are looking for a high-end bookshelf in this price range, it would be a sin not to audition the 703s.