You might think that establishing design priorities for a sub/sat system is easy, but engineers must make some hard choices. People want itsy-bitsy satellites that can disappear in a room, but the sat-shrinking process is tricky; as speakers get smaller, it becomes harder to maintain maximum dynamics and still craft a smooth midrange for natural reproduction of music. Polk Audio's RM6005's coffee-cup-sized sats and trim sub took us most of the way toward musical bliss, but its performance with movies wasn't as impressive. The RM6005 includes four of the smallest speakers ever made by Polk Audio; the satellites are just more than five inches tall, a hair larger than the tiniest home-theater-in-a-box sats that we've seen. The center speaker is about the size of two of the satellites squished together. A matching sub, the PSW202, provides most of the system's thrust.
Polk's recommended setup particulars are a bit unusual. The front-left and -right speakers get hooked up directly to the sub, while the sub connects to your receiver's left- and right-speaker-level outputs--not to the line-level subwoofer output. We found that this arrangement gave the smoothest sub/sat blend for music, but it wasn't as effective with DVDs (see the Performance tab for more on this).
The PSW202 subwoofer is the standard mate with the satellites, but if you have a large room, Polk recommends moving up to the more powerful PSW404, which costs a few hundred dollars extra. The sats are available in black or titanium, but the sub comes only in black. Screw inserts on the backs of the speakers can be used in tandem with fully articulating mounting brackets from OmniMount. The RM6005 speaker package is a two-box affair, consisting of a five-pack of speakers and a separately packaged powered subwoofer. The cabinets housing the four satellites and the dedicated center are fabricated from a special, low-resonance polymer resin. The four sats each employ a 3-inch polymer/mineral composite midrange driver and a 0.5-inch, silk-dome tweeter. We also spotted the very same drivers in a woofer/tweeter/woofer array on the center speaker. Polk's audiophile-inclined engineers put a special capacitor in the crossover to improve the sats' high-frequency response.
The sub features a 50-watt amplifier and a front-mounted, 10-inch long-throw woofer. Like the sats, the sub is magnetically shielded so that it can be placed next to a TV.
Polk's push-tab speaker connectors are easy to use and are of reasonably high quality, but we would have preferred more secure binding posts. Otherwise, the sub's connectivity is somewhat better than standard fare; you get line- and speaker-level inputs as well as speaker-level outputs, so the PSW202 can accommodate any system.
Polk also offers the RM6000, a slightly less expensive speaker package with a smaller sub, as well as a number of pricier models. We've tested the RM6700, which sells for just a few hundred dollars more and has upgraded sats and a more musical subwoofer. We started our performance trials with a few DVD-Audio discs, but it was "A Man Needs a Maid" from Neil Young's new Harvest DVD that handily exceeded our expectations. This tune's lush orchestral accompaniment sounds congested, gritty, and harsh on most 5-inch-tall sats, but the RM6005's tweeters are clean and nicely detailed. The system's purity and naturalness blew us away. As a purveyor of soft rock and acoustic jazz, the little Polk system is in the first rank.
The DVD 13 Conversations About One Thing is quiet with a naturalistic soundtrack. Dialogue in this talky film was a tad thin and lacked warmth, so we experimented with the sat/sub setup. We went back into our receiver's speaker-setup menu and ran the sub from the line-level connection. With the sub now filling in the bottom octaves for the center speaker, the dialogue was more natural but still not as full-bodied as we like.
Men in Black II is an awful movie as far as we're concerned, but it quickly tested the mettle of the RM6005. Two scenes in particular--when a subway train gets chomped by a 600-foot alien worm and when Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones get flushed down a giant toilet--are sound-effects bonanzas. Bass went low but wasn't as controlled as that of Polk's RM6700.
In the final analysis, the RM6005's musical prowess is more impressive than its home-theater moxie. Maybe one of Polk's larger subs would help close the gap.