Polk Audio, the American speaker firm identified for making hi-fi audio system at non-absurd costs, introduced the Reserve sequence again in March. Shortly thereafter critiques flooded the online singing the audio system’ praises, significantly their bang to your buck.

Naturally, I needed to get my arms on a pair myself to see what all of the hype was about — and put the speaker by the take a look at bench. I selected the Reserve R200, the $700/pair bookshelf mannequin with a 6.5-inch woofer. Whereas $700 might not sound all that low-cost to individuals who aren’t into audio system, it’s mainly a price range speaker when you think about many of the actually good choices retail for nearer to $2000.

As TNW’s resident audio nerd, I must see the info behind a speaker earlier than I’m assured making a suggestion. Should you’ve learn my publish on why speaker measurements matter, then you understand that listening impressions might be fickle issues, simply affected by biases and expectations. Having been an audiophile for a decade or so now, I do know that critiques are inclined to grow to be extra optimistic in proportion to a speaker’s worth. Sadly, sound high quality and worth barely have any correlation.

That’s why I’m at all times excited to see a speaker that punches properly above its worth class, and the R200 does simply that. The R200’s measured efficiency reveals glorious efficiency by virtually any normal, simply going head-to-head with audio system two or 3 times its worth.

It isn’t flawless — few audio system are — however the R200 is a primary instance of smart design choices to maximise sound high quality at an inexpensive worth. You gained’t discover loopy newfangled know-how or supplies right here, simply rigorously thought out engineering.

This isn’t going to be your typical speaker assessment. Somewhat than spending 10,000 phrases describing totally different sides of the sound — there are many reviewers extra eloquent than me on the market — I’m going to primarily concentrate on the info. Nonetheless, I ought to provide you with a abstract of my ideas earlier than we bounce in.

What does it sound like?

I spent a few week listening to the Reserve R200 earlier than I measured them, and my overwhelming impression was that they beautiful a lot disappeared — that they had been almost clear. It might be probably the most impartial 6.5-inch bookshelf speaker I’ve heard underneath $1,000.

Additionally they have a strong bass extension for his or her dimension, and their soundstage is fairly nice too. It’s not too slim, not too large— vocals snap to the middle however the speaker throws out a sizeable soundstage with out sounding too diffuse. Dynamics are glorious for a bookshelf speaker too, and the R200 can deal with volumes louder than I’m snug with with out a hitch.

It’s only a actually good speaker. The R200 isn’t simply competing towards different sub-$1000 bookshelf audio system; I believe its efficiency is absolutely similar to top-of-the-line $2,000-ish audio system just like the KEF R3 and JBL HDI-1600 — and it’s actually the higher worth. My benchmark for performance-per-dollar has lengthy been the $1000/€700 Focal Chora 806, however the R200 offers {that a} run for its cash too.

Sound apart, I additionally admire the understated, pretty minimalistic design. The matte black assessment unit I acquired is maybe slightly plain, however the white and wooden finishes look stylish and a bit extra fashionable. Take note the speaker is kind of deeper than it seems in images, about 14 inches.

What, that’s it?

Yep, that’s just about all you must know. Though we reviewers typically wish to bathe compliments on audio system we like, I’ve more and more discovered the perfect audio system aren’t those price probably the most reward, however slightly those which have the fewest flaws.

The R200 has only a few flaws that I may hear in my setup. However certain, I can nitpick a bit.

The R200 may sound slightly brilliant when you goal it proper at your ears, particularly when you’re younger and nonetheless have all of your listening to left. It additionally might be barely extra finicky about positioning than a few of the easiest audio system I’ve examined, because the sound can change pretty noticeably relying on how the speaker is angled. However goal the tweeter at ear top and barely away out of your listening place — about 10-20 levels off-axis, maybe pointing straight ahead — and also you’re good to go.

The speaker may also sound ever so barely ahead with some vocals, however I personally just like the impact on most tracks. And although it has a bit extra bass extension than common, it’s nothing such as you may discover on a DSP-enabled speaker just like the (far more costly however equally sized) Buchardt A500. As at all times, you might need to experiment with positioning to search out the perfect bass steadiness in your room, or higher but, use a subwoofer and Room EQ.

However once more, that’s all fairly nitpicky.

Alright, get to the graphs already. I do know you need to.

If you wish to make a speaker that can sound nice to most individuals, there are two issues you really want to optimize: frequency response and directivity. The frequency response tells us the fundamental tonal steadiness of a speaker earlier than the affect of reflections, and it ought to be largely flat. The directivity tells us how that frequency response adjustments in numerous instructions; the speaker ought to change easily as you progress off-axis.

The directivity is necessary as a result of the reflections off your partitions, ground, and ceiling all contribute to the ultimate sound you hear in your room. If you would like a speaker to sound actually good — to create that real looking soundstage that makes it really feel such as you’re watching a stay efficiency — then the reflections off your wall ought to be just like the direct sound.

We will determine all that stuff out by making a graph referred to as a spinorama. I seize the speaker’s response at 70 (not a typo) horizontal and vertical angles and mix all that data into one graph. Behold:

 

I clarify what all of this implies within the spinorama part of my measurements information, however we are able to concentrate on just a few key issues right here.

See the white and inexperienced strains above? These signify the frequency response of the ‘direct’ sound — earlier than reflections — with the inexperienced line being the ‘on-axis’ response and the white being the ‘listening window.’

The on-axis line reveals off what the speaker feels like when the speaker is aimed precisely at you (on this case, at tweeter top). The listening window offers us a small common of some horizontal and vertical angles to account for the truth that folks don’t sit completely centered in entrance of a speaker on a regular basis, and that you just may not goal the audio system instantly at your listening place. It’s normally the extra consultant curve for what you hear in a lounge setup, in order that’s what I are inclined to concentrate on.

Right here the R200 shines: it’s ridiculously flat. The listening window is likely one of the flattest I’ve measured, particularly for a speaker with none form of DSP processing to assist it out.

It’s the kind of efficiency you’d count on from a high-end studio monitor, not a $700 pair of audio system from a reasonably mainstream audio firm. The rise within the final little bit of the on-axis does inform us that the R200 might sound slightly brilliant when listened to head-on, however you’ll be able to merely level the audio system barely away from you — about 10-20 levels appears optimum — to steadiness out the sound.

Subsequent, we are able to take a look at the purple line. That is the ‘predicted in-room response.’ It applies totally different weights to every of the 70 angles measured to estimate what the speaker’s response shall be like in a typical lounge (sure, dwelling rooms fluctuate so much, however it’s nonetheless a surprisingly good metric).

We wish this line to be flattish too, besides with a downward tilt:

 

Right here the R200 additionally reveals excellent efficiency. There’s a little bit of a dip across the 3 kHz crossover —the place the woofer arms off the sound to the tweeter — however that is widespread amongst audio system with separate woofers and tweeters. The R200 performs virtually nearly as good as any speaker I’ve measured on this metric as properly.

With simply these two strains, we all know the R200 could be very doubtless going to have a impartial, largely balanced tonality in most rooms. It’s good things.

The underside crimson (directivity index or DI) and blue (early reflections directivity index or ERDI) curves summarize the speaker’s directivity. These would ideally be a easy rising line, so they don’t seem to be precisely nice on the R200.

Nonetheless, they contemplate each a speaker’s vertical and horizontal response. Whereas the R200 has a flawed vertical response (once more, like most audio system), it has horizontal response, which is way extra necessary for creating soundstage. The yellow line above isolates simply the horizontal portion of the ERDI, and we are able to see this line is far smoother. That tells us that the speaker will doubtless have soundstage regardless that its vertical response could also be finicky.

This spinorama additionally tells us that the R200 seems to be largely freed from main resonances that shade the sound; this could present up as a bump that stands out in every of the highest curves, and may contribute to a speaker sounding boomy or having a grating sound at particular frequencies. Understanding for certain would require an anechoic chamber or superior instruments I don’t have entry to, however throughout the decision of my system, the R200 performs admirably.

For comparability, right here’s how the $1,800 JBL HDI-1600 performs:

Whereas the JBL has a bit higher total directivity, its response can also be much less linear than the R200’s.

The spinorama offers us the large image, however we are able to get a bit extra granular utilizing. For instance, we are able to additional break down the horizontal response by trying out what the reflections off the partitions in entrance, to the edges, and behind the speaker may seem like:

There’s slightly bunching round 3-5kHz for the sidewall reflections, which can be why I discovered vocals to sound a tad ahead, however you’ll be able to see the full horizontal reflections steadiness out properly to a linear response within the dotted yellow line.

Breaking issues down additional, we are able to see how the R200’s response adjustments in 10-degree increments horizontally:

On this graph, you’ll be able to see how by 10-20 levels off-axis, that little little bit of brightness on the prime of the speaker’s response has largely flatted out; if you would like the flattest response, it’s best to in all probability hear about 15 levels off-axis. You may also see that above 6kHz, the tweeter’s response drops off steeply, which can be why the speaker could be a bit delicate about positioning. Then again, it additionally means you’ll be able to ‘tune’ the speaker’s brightness to your style with positioning.

This isn’t the cleanest horizontal directivity I’ve ever seen, however the overwhelming majority of the audio system that carry out higher have a narrower soundstage. There’s normally a trade-off between soundstage width and precision, and the R200 toes the road expertly. Amongst wider directivity audio system I’ve examined, solely the Focal Chora 806 performs higher.

Now we flip to the largest flaw on the R200 (and most different audio system): its vertical response. First, we are able to see that the speaker is kind of delicate to being on the good ear top.

Ideally, the tweeter ought to be at nearly ear top, inside ±5 levels. Being 10 levels above or under the tweeter might noticeably alter the sound. That shouldn’t be a problem for many setups, however it’s price noting when you can’t set your audio system up at ear top or when you take heed to the audio system from lower than 2m or 6 toes.

Subsequent we are able to take a look at the estimated vertical reflections.

We will see some vertical dips, as is typical for audio system with separate tweeters and woofers. That is the portion that messes up the speaker’s response probably the most. Fortunately, the vertical response doesn’t have a serious impact on the soundstage, and regardless of these outcomes, the tip outcome remains to be very balanced, as proven with the anticipated in-room response, so I wouldn’t fear about these anomalies an excessive amount of.

That stated, it does imply that the R200’s sound may fluctuate slightly extra from room to room than audio system with better-controlled verticals. Whhile hear the presence bump as ahead vocals, you may hear a recession the place the response dips. Polk may’ve been in a position to enhance the vertical response by utilizing a bigger waveguide that may enable for a smoother transition between the woofer and tweeter, however that may’ve had the generally adverse impact of narrowing the soundstage too. Whereas the vertical response is a notable flaw, it’s unlikely to be a serious difficulty in most setups.

All these phrases are simply to reiterate the headline; the Polk Reserve R200 is not only a unbelievable deal — it’s a extremely strong speaker at virtually any worth. Although nobody can assure you’ll like a speaker, I can at the least inform you that you just’re getting greater than your cash’s price with the R200. Its refreshing to see such considerate engineering on a speaker on this worth vary.

And sure, I’d wager that you just in all probability will prefer it. Lots. It has my fullest suggestion — particularly contemplating it in all probability gained’t burn a gap in your pockets.

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By Rana

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