Polk Audio's sound has always been top-notch, but its speakers' bland styling left some buyers cold. That was then, this is now, and Polk's latest speakers' curved aluminum cabinets have convinced us that company's new RM series is making up for lost time. The six-piece Polk Audio RM6900, which retails for $1,149, sounds sweet on DVDs and CDs, though we expected a little more out of the package's skinny, 12-inch subwoofer. The Polk Audio RM6900 satellites' curvy, extruded aluminum enclosures not only seduce the eye, they enhance sound quality by reducing internal standing waves. The RM6900's grilles conform to the speakers' sharply angled tops and bottoms; the satellites' crisp look will complement plasma, LCD, and DLP TV displays.
The front left and right satellites and center speaker's rounded shape looks sleek, but the curves and angles won't let them stand on their own. No problem: Polk provides wall-mount brackets that allow as much as 15 degrees of lateral movement, so you can angle the speakers in toward the listening position--and they really do sound better that way. Or you can take advantage of the satellites' threaded inserts with a set of fully articulating brackets from OmniMount or other aftermarket suppliers.
Can't drill holes in your walls? Go ahead and use the matching table stands for the front satellites. The stylish stands conceal the speaker's wire but restrict the clearance around the binding posts to the point that you can't use banana jacks. However, stripped bare wire ends, pins, or spades are all welcome. The satellites also feature keyhole slots for easy mounting on Polk's Custom SA-2 stands.
The 12.5-inch-wide center speaker can be wall mounted or placed in the supplied cradle that permits the user to aim the speaker up or down toward the listening position. The 7.1-inch-tall surround speakers have flat bottoms so that you can plop them on a stand or go ahead and wall-mount 'em with the supplied brackets. Extra RM6900 satellites are available for 6.1- or 7.1-channel systems from your Polk dealer.
Polk's new slim-line subwoofer measures a whopping 23.6 inches deep, but since it's only 12 inches wide, it's a less imposing presence than a conventional cube sub. On the downside, we think its cheesy silver vinyl wrap finish makes it look like a refugee from an inexpensive home theater in a box. An $1,149 speaker package deserves better than this.
Polk's RM20 speaker package, which also retails for $1,149, forgoes the slimline sub but uses RM6900-style satellites finished in a darker pewter finish with charcoal-gray grilles. The matching sub conforms to the standard cube shape. Polk offers a grand total of 12 RM-series speaker packages, ranging from $599 to $2,599. The Polk Audio RM6900's front left, center, and right satellites feature dual 3.5-inch mineral-composite midrange drivers flanking a 0.75-inch polymer-treated fabric dome tweeter. The surround speakers rely on the same drivers but use just a single woofer. All of the sats are fitted with five-way binding posts.
The subwoofer's side-mounted 12-inch driver looks like it means business, and the sub features a 100-watt amplifier. Connectivity procedures are a little out of the ordinary. Yes, the sub offers stereo line-level inputs and a separate direct mono input, but Polk strongly recommends using the stereo speaker-level inputs and outputs to achieve the best possible sonic blend between the satellites and the subwoofer. We also tried hooking up the subwoofer's direct line-level input, which sounded fine, just not as smooth as the speaker-level option. We started our auditions with an inexpensive receiver and were disappointed with the Polk Audio RM6900's lifeless sound, so we upped the ante and tried a receiver. That did it--the RM6900's sound was transformed. The lesson learned: don't pinch pennies when picking out the receiver you'll use with the RM6900.
Legendary jazz pianist John Lewis's Evolution CD sounded especially convincing. The little speakers not only captured the majesty of the Lewis's grand piano, we heard the master ever so quietly singing and humming to himself. A lot of systems lose that sort of detail, but the RM6900's brought the music to life. Rufus Wainwright's heavily orchestrated Want Two CD showed off the RM6900's rich tonality, the honeyed strings swooning and swaying with the sort of conviction we expect from larger bookshelf speakers.
So far, so good; so we next tried something a little heavier: Metallica's St. Anger DVD. Uh-oh, Lars Ulrich's drums didn't rock our world the way they should, and Kirk Hammett's guitar flash was missing in action. Cranking the volume didn't help, as the sound was even more muted and the subwoofer's definition went south.
The RM6900's sonic frontiers opened up when we played The Incredibles DVD. The entire system's holographic soundfield filled our large home theater, dialogue was beautifully balanced, and the subwoofer provided a solid foundation for Mr. I's crime-fighting antics.
Summing up, we give the RM6900 high marks for its satellite and subwoofer blend--the system's disparate parts mesh together so well that the satellites seem to have the presence of large bookshelf speakers. But the 12-inch subwoofer doesn't feel particularly powerful in its lowest octaves; its deep bass extension is more in line with what we expect from a good 8- or 10-inch model. By comparison, the smaller subwoofer of offered better bass definition and detail, while the 6900 delivered deeper bass and sounded richer overall. We also noted the treble range of the 6900's satellites was restrained, especially when compared with more forward-sounding speakers from Aperion and Klipsch.