- Created on Wednesday, 01 August 2012 05:00
- Written by Ron Doering
Starter home. Starter wife. Starter husband. Starter friends. How about a little starter salad? More starters are listed in Urbandictionary.com. Look ’em up -- it’s a hoot. You can pretty much have a starter anything, but keep in mind the subtle difference between, say, one’s first set of speakers and a starter pair. To speak of the former is to wax nostalgic over the experience, when all was new and interesting. One may even wish to have that first pair back again, and perhaps regret ever having gotten rid of them. You may no longer still have your "firsts," but you may not have planned it that way. On the other hand, the whole point of a pair of starter speakers is that, as soon as you can, you’ll trade up to better ones and never look back. You knew this when you bought them. There is never true pride to be taken in acquiring or owning a "starter." The starter is there to serve only until life gets rosier. When it does, one begins dating the hot young thing half one’s age.
I always felt Polk Audio’s speakers were starters. Whether it was because of the prices, the build quality, the sound quality, or the fact that they were sold through Crutchfield, I knew there was better out there -- but hey, for the money, they really weren’t too bad. And as soon as you got a better job (or any job), the Polks would be history. Then, in the early 1990s, came Polk’s Signature Reference Theater (SRT) system, which, though perhaps a bit clunky in execution, was certainly impressive: no fewer than 35 active drivers in seven enclosures, and really no clunkier than a recent McIntosh system. It was huge, powerful, full range, and, at ten grand, definitely not starter material. Better still for music lovers was the appearance, more than a decade ago, of Polk’s LSi line, updated models of which were still in production until just recently. With the LSi series, I think Polk made a tremendous stride toward making "keeper," even "aspirational" speakers. With full-range sound, good power handling, good looks, and built-in powered woofers, the LSi models were serious even if their prices suggested otherwise.
Until recently the LSi25 ($1499.95 USD each) was considered by Polk to be their flagship speaker, but it's been replaced by the entirely passive speaker reviewed here, the LSiM705 ($1499.95 each), which in turn is less expensive than its big brother, the LSiM707 ($1999.95 each), currently Polk’s most expensive speaker.
I see the LSiM705 -- designed and engineered in Baltimore, lovingly assembled in mainland China, and costing $2999.90 for a pair -- as a perfect example of the high level of value now achievable in some audio categories that was unimaginable even just a few years ago. Check these things out in person. The real-wood veneer (my samples were in Mt. Vernon Cherry; they’re also available in Midnight Mahogany) was almost unworldly in execution. Covering four sides of the tightly radiused and sublimely curved cabinet, I could not find the slightest evidence of a seam or discontinuity. It was as if the wood had been painted onto the MDF (1"-thick on the sides, .75" on the back and bottom, 1.25" on the front baffle). This exquisite craftsmanship extended to all aspects of these speakers. Nothing on or in them buzzed or worked loose throughout four months of nearly constant play in my home, and their fit'n'finish was perhaps the most perfect of any product I’ve ever experienced.
And no engineering goofs. Two pairs of well-insulated yet highly functional five-way binding posts came connected by short lengths of cable that could have come from Con Edison. The removable, magnetically attached grilles comprise hefty metal frames covered with black fabric, and both protected the drivers and smoothed the speaker’s response curve. The provided floor spikes have removable rubber boots, to protect finished floors. Leveling the LSiM705 was supremely simple, doable with one hand: Use the included Allen key to turn the threaded spikes from above the base plate.
The LSiM705 is a four-way design, with what Polk refers to as Orth crossovers linking the 1" tweeter, 3.25" midrange, 5.25" midbass, and two 5" x 7" Cassini oval-shaped woofers. The cabinet is divided into three separate chambers, two of which are sealed; the lowest one, containing the woofers, has two downfiring PowerPorts. The split at the binding-post pairs appears to separate the tweeter and midrange drivers from the midbass and woofers. The speaker’s dimensions are not unreasonable: 46.6"H x 8.2"W x 14.2"D.
The LSiM705’s published specifications are unsurprisingly good: a frequency response of 42Hz-30kHz, -3dB; recommended amplification of 20-250Wpc; a sensitivity of 88dB/2.83V/1m; an impedance "compatible with 8-ohm outputs." Much more impressive was the very good in-room response I observed using test tones and my RadioShack sound pressure meter: 32Hz-10kHz, +/-2.5dB with the grilles on, which was slightly better than with them off.
Only very small nits to pick: The LSiM705 is substantial at 78 pounds, and its center of gravity is fairly high; this, combined with its narrow base, made it a bit tippy. And if you fall behind on your housecleaning at all, the top of the speaker’s shiny black base will remind you -- it proved to be a fairly efficient dust magnet.
Setup and listening
Polk recommends that the listener and two LSiM705s describe an equilateral triangle, with the speakers slightly toed-in to suit. This worked well, but really, the LSiM705s were remarkably forgiving in placement. My samples ended up 12" from the front wall and 42" from the sidewalls. One dramatic difference from nearly all other speakers I’ve had here was the absolute absence of a dip at 50Hz, the usual artifact of a speaker’s interaction with my listening room.
The nearly ruler-flat frequency response I’d measured remained an unmistakable characteristic of the LSiM705 when I played music. In previous reviews I’ve described some speakers as being "forgiving" or "polite" in the handling of some recordings. The LSiM705 was not that sort of speaker. "Polyphonic Song," from Anonymous 4’s An English Ladymass (CD, Harmonia Mundi HMU 907080), had that upper-midrange hardness and edge that I’ve heard before, from less editorializing speakers. The imaging was quite good -- Ruth Cunningham, Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, and Johanna Rose were evenly arrayed across the soundstage, each occupying a well-defined and fully formed space.
The Polks nicely served up really good recordings, such as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s Ella and Louis (24/96 FLAC, Verve/HDtracks). Whether or not you feel that the LSiM705 is priced high or low or just right, be forewarned: They demanded and reveled in the best recordings available. Although in its reproduction of detail the LSiM705 wasn’t exactly a recording monitor -- such as Legacy Audio’s remarkable Studio HD -- the Polk definitely took a giant step in that direction. The result was that I couldn’t help but be drawn in -- not only into the artistry of the performance, but also the very apparent achievements and limitations of the recording techniques used in this 1956 session. Three voices are spotlighted here -- Ella’s, Pops’s, and, of course, his trumpet -- while firmly in the background is the always-swinging Oscar Peterson Quartet. The word here is intimacy. Phrasings, breathing patterns, and mouth noises, gross or not, are what Ella and Louis is all about -- as are the imperfections. Listening to Armstrong clearly flub the words in the refrain of "The Nearness of You" is such a lovely reminder of how far we’ve come in confusing digitally enhanced perfection with artistry.
When it comes to reproducing the sound of a full symphony orchestra in my 1440-cubic-foot listening room, I don’t expect miracles. George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra’s performance of Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture (CD, Sony Classical SBK 46330) was not as spacious as I’ve heard through other, similarly proportioned speakers, and I was a little too cognizant of some stridency in the violins in the louder passages. These strident violins were aspects not only of the Cleveland’s sound under Szell, but also of Columbia’s recording of them and everyone else in this era (this recording was made in 1966), which was notoriously bad in just this way. Also perhaps contributing to a lessened sense of the spaciousness of Severance Hall was an overdamped bass, which tended to mute the percussion in the final quotation of "Gaudeamus igitur." Similarly, when I played "One Way Out," from the Allman Brothers Band’s Eat a Peach (24/96 FLAC, Mercury/HDtracks), the stage of the Fillmore East wasn’t quite as wide or as deep as I’ve heard before. Yes, all the players are displayed across the stage, but because there was an overall diminution of the cues the ear/brain needs to establish a realistically sized drum kit, for example, the performance was less convincing overall. Gregg Allman’s voice had a bit more of an edge than I would have preferred. The signatures I heard in the upper midrange are not unlike those I’ve heard in other well-regarded speakers, and could well have been the result of a combination of the recordings I played, my sensitivity to this particular frequency region, and, in this case, an exceptionally flat frequency response.
The LSiM705 proved quite good at reproducing believable low bass when a more or less constant signal presented itself. The 32Hz organ-pedal opening of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra, in the recording by Giuseppe Sinopoli and the New York Philharmonic (CD, Deutsche Grammophon 423 576-2), came through loud and clear, though not unnaturally so, and was in balance with the brass. This appears to be in agreement with my frequency-response measurements, and doesn’t disagree with what I’ve noted concerning the reproduction of more percussive bass sounds; rather, it underscores how important it is to audition components with recordings of real music made by familiar, acoustic instruments.
The Polk LSiM705 is a very good loudspeaker that, at $2999.90/pair, is also a high-value bargain, especially in terms of craftsmanship, build quality, and pleasing visual design. I found it also to be, more often than not, a very good-sounding speaker that could conceivably benefit from more power and/or biamping, which I was unable to provide.
The LSiM705 should be auditioned either in a stereo pair or as part of one of Polk’s home-theater systems. Not only is it not a starter speaker -- the LSiM705 might be a final destination for the audiophile seeking a neutral-sounding floorstander of modest size whose looks match its fine sound.
. . . Ron Doering
- Speakers -- Snell EII, Gallo Acoustics Classico 2
- Integrated amplifier -- NAD C 325BEE
- Sources -- Dell Inspiron 530 computer running Microsoft Windows Vista and JRiver Media Center 15; Hegel Music Systems HD2 D/A converter; Rotel RDD-980 CD transport, Meridian 203 D/A converter; Thorens TD 309 turntable, Shure V15 V-MR cartridge, Bellari VP-129 phono preamplifier
- Interconnects -- Kimber Kable PBJ, Cardas Cross phono, Have Canare Digiflex Gold (75-ohm coax), Staples Gold USB
- Speaker cables -- Kimber Kable KWIK (12 gauge), RadioShack hookup wire
Polk Audio LSiM705 Loudspeakers
Price: $2999.90 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor (nontransferable).
5601 Metro Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215
Phone: (800) 377-7655
Fax: (410) 764-5470