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Polk Audio LC65i In-Wall Speakers

February, 2005

Piero Gabucci

 

Specifications:

● One 1" Ring Tweeter, One 6.5" Woofer

● MFR: 45 Hz - 26 kHz - 3 dB

● Sensitivity: 90 dB

● Recommended Power: 10-125 Watts

● Nominal Impedance: 4 Ohms

● Dimensions: 14.4" H x 8.5" W x 2.5" D

● Shipping Weight: 11 Pounds
● MSRP: $799.99/Pair USA

 

Polk Audio

www.polkaudio.com
 

Introduction

I think that we are all skeptics by nature, and I’m no exception. However, having a passion for a hobby (I’m sure some would argue a lifestyle more than a hobby), it would behoove us to be open minded to innovations and improvements and to blur those preconceptions. That is the position I took when I considered reviewing in-wall speakers for a complete surround sound setup.

Manufacturers tell us that one of the hottest markets these days is custom install, with in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. Consumers really love the idea of having zero footprints in their home theater speakers. So, speaker companies are adding in-wall and in-ceiling products, and putting the high performance technology from their conventional speakers (with enclosures)  into the designs.

Polk's new LCi series fits that description.

In the new housing market that has boomed for the last few years, more and more people have the opportunity to plan their own homes, either from scratch or through substantial remodeling. With some form of home theater now becoming an integral part of our lifestyles, A/V planning is no longer an afterthought relegated to the security/phone guy or the electrician. Thinking also beyond just home-theater, families are looking for total house sound options from kitchen and bedrooms to bathrooms and home offices.

Additionally, more homeowners are consulting interior designers and decorators, and with few exceptions, most would prefer to see their mid-century American antiqued living rooms sans robust gunmetal gray, or lacquered monolith speakers dominating the interior scenery. After all, this doesn’t quite photograph well for next months Architectural Digest layout.

In-wall or recessed ceiling speakers have in the past fit the bill, leaving a customized look while leaving the sound solutions stealthy. In fact, it’s not unusual to see multiple pairs of ceiling and in-wall speakers installed in the average 2,500 sq. ft. home nowadays.

Predicting performance is one of the main reason audiophiles resist in-walls; the enclosure of studs and insulation, exterior sheathing and siding, the sheet rock wall, things near the speaker on the wall such as paintings or other wall hangings, all have a dramatic effect on the end result, and we don't really know how it will sound until the holes are cut and the speakers are installed. If you don't like it, you have a big hole to patch up.

Polk Audio has been around a long time, and a history of the company is probably unnecessary. But, if by the time you finish this review and you want to consider buying in-walls, take a look at their very extensive website.

Stepping back, if you haven’t asked yourself already, how is it possible to review in-wall speakers without tearing up your walls (in my case circa 1952 plaster walls)? After all, this is not a DIY article for installing speakers. It's a review of a product that I will be returning to the manufacturer after the review. The answer is to simply build temporary walls for the speakers. Ok, that requires some explanation too.

Here is where the spousal approval factor works into my review. Upon agreeing to receive temporary walls from Paul DiComo, Marketing Director for Polk Audio, the shipment, and I do mean shipment arrived on a double-wide palette, and with the help of “Wille O” the delivery guy (yes that’s really his name), we managed to fill my garage with five freestanding monoliths, some 8 feet tall. I knew immediately my wife would have an issue with this one, enough said.

The Design

Although I did not actually do the installation, the speaker is solidly built and attaches to the wall firmly. Without the grille, the LC65i is actually a very attractive design. The grille has a white felt backing obscuring the image coming through of the drivers behind. And for those decorators out there, the screen can also be painted to camouflage it further.

There is a tremendous amount of engineering that went into the design of the LC65i speaker priced at just under $800/pair, originally designed for their LSi loudspeakers (these have conventional enclosures). Firstly, this is a two-way design. The Mid/Base driver is a 6 1/2” aerated polypropylene cone with rubber suspension. “Aerated” or “foamed” with air, the driver is lighter “suppressing cone resonance without adding mass” as Polk writes, referring to it as Dynamic Balance technology. The intent is for clean reproduction with low distortion.

The LC65i is designed with a patented “Power Port”, and are the only available vented in-walls on the market. As the driver moves air rapidly, Polk Audio argues turbulence created will result in a 3 dB loss in bass. Through use of a “cone” design located behind the front baffle, proper airflow increases bass efficiency.

The 1” Ring Radiator tweeter used in the LC65i may be adjusted and angled up to 15 degrees thereby aiming the high frequencies towards the sitting area of the room.

With a 90 dB efficiency, this 4 Ohm speaker’s frequency response is between 30 Hz - 27 kHz, and weighs about 8 pounds.

There are two adjustments on the speaker. As the placement of in-walls may also not be in a prime location, the LC65i has a toggle feature if it’s placed closer than 2 ft to a perpendicular wall. With a potential bump between 50 Hz and 200 Hz, the crossover adjusts to remove any anticipated boominess. The second toggle is a Tweeter Attenuation; the concern is that the speaker is placed within proximity of another reflective surface causing a “brighter” sound and image distortion. By setting the toggle switch to “Low” a band-pass filter removes the potential of the reflective surface using, leaving detailed clearer sound.

Polk Audio has also designed an optional “performance enclosure” for their LCi in-wall speakers meant to house the speaker in a conventional stud framed wall. Designed to fit between typical stud wall framing at 16” on center, the enclosure measures 14” wide x 55” tall and 3 ½” deep. Unable to accurately predict the performance of their speakers, especially from a bass standpoint, Polk decided to help the homeowner by engineering the “perfect audio cabinet for bass performance”. Constructed of MDF (used extensively in loudspeaker construction), the enclosure ensures the best possible performance from the speaker. The enclosure is not a requirement as there are other methods of creating “cabinets” recessed into your wall.

An in-wall subwoofer was not included in this review, as Polk does not have an in-wall subwoofer yet, but I imagine they are on the way.

Setup

I arranged the 8' frames around my 12’ x 16’ x 8’ living room, a la Stonehenge. I attempted to keep the units as close to the walls in the room as possible, simulating a true in-wall setup. I aligned the tweeters, and I also made adjustments with the toggle settings previously described. Using a 100WPC receiver, I was set to go.

Listening

As curious as I was to evaluate two-channel music, for the purposes of this review I limited my listening to multi-channel audio and DVDs. I can tell you I did spend much time listening to CDs, and I was not disappointed, but my intention from the beginning was to consider the idea of an in-wall surround sound configuration.

My preconceptions were such that I expecting a thinness to the sound, but to my surprise, it was quite the opposite, my first revelation. My immediate impression was how airy the sound was, spatial and full. It was not extremely large, but I was pleasantly surprised that these speakers filled the room. Although not deep, bass was adequate. Here, as in any speaker system, a subwoofer would take care of the lowest octave easily. Polk has conventional subs for this purpose.

I especially liked the LC65i for a center channel, it surprised me in fact, how intelligible and perfectly natural voices sounded. Usually I'm straining to hear detail from the center channel at lower volume levels (in consideration of other people at home). Not so with the Polk, the unit was excellent at low volume.

At higher volumes, the LCi was especially crisp. Although a subtle coarseness became evident at extreme volumes, I couldn’t imagine anyone listening at such levels. I found music and movie sound reproduction tight and accurate. Movie soundtracks nicely surrounded the display.

Although the system needs a subwoofer, the LCis really shine in the midrange. They have clean rich tones, and a wonderful layering of instruments and sounds. Moving around the room, I noticed very little directional differences (off-axis)

The review units had Performance Enclosures, because they were mounted on a sheet rock frame. They would not have performed well, obviously, if they were not enclosed, since the frames were not actually part of my room walls. So, I don't know how they would have performed without enclosures, and simply mounted between studs in a wall, using the space between the studs as their "enclosure". I suspect there would have been a bit more bass, as the enclosure space would have been larger. The fact that bass was adequate even with the built-in enclosures is revealing.

When I wanted to let Paul know of my satisfaction with what I was hearing, I e-mailed him and his response was a confident, “I knew you would”.

Conclusions

Prepare yourself, because the in-wall revolution is upon us, whether you’re looking for wall mounted units for your plasma screen, or further going the route of completely recessing your entire set of surround sound speakers. Don’t believe me? Go to any Hi-Fi show, and you will see that all the major manufacturers are designing and producing these units. This is not merely an “Me too” attitude. When I approached one about the market, he said, “It’s huge”.

As an architect, I’d be the first to appreciate the clean look of flush mounted speakers, painted to match their surroundings. The next time a home owner suggests in-wall speakers for a project, I won’t wince as I usually might. Polk Audio made that happen. As I plan my own home theater/family room, I’d like to give in-walls some consideration. Polk has forced me to take seriously in-wall designs as true high performance speakers.


- Piero Gabucci -

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