In the world of home electronics, the lifestyle moniker refers to products that emphasize style and design. Taking a cue from the likes of Bose and Sony's Dream Systems, more and more manufacturers are touting their eye-catching design, but--especially on the home-audio side--high style often means low performance, Fortunately, you can have your cake and eat it too: if you're on the lookout for a really small, lifestyle speaker system but still want something that sounds good, Polk Audio's RM6800 delivers on both counts. Better yet, this six-piece system is equally adept with both CDs and DVDs. Priced at $849, it ranks as one of Polk's more affordable packages. The Polk Audio RM6800's extruded aluminum satellites' curvaceous, sharply angled design not only looks neat, but the shape strengthens the speaker's body and breaks up internal standing waves for enhanced sound quality. 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 buy a set of fully articulating wall brackets from OmniMount or other aftermarket suppliers. In any case, the sleek satellites will look sharp gracing the wall next to your plasma, LCD, or DLP TV.
The front and rear satellites are pretty small, just a hair over 7 inches tall, and the 12.5-inch-wide center speaker is one of the smallest woofer/tweeter/woofer center speakers we've ever seen. It 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. Polk sells extra satellites for use in 6.1- or 7.1-channel systems.
The subwoofer is a lot bigger, and its 23.6-inch depth might be cause for concern if it wasn't a mere 8 inches wide. The narrow but deep shape presents a less imposing presence than conventional cube designs. It's also worth mentioning that while the sub's unadorned matte-silver vinyl wrap finish is unobtrusive, it looks a little cheesy.
Polk also offers a very similar package, the RM10, that comes with a cube sub and also retails for $849. Its RM6800-style satellites are finished in a darker, pewter finish with charcoal-gray grilles. Polk offers a grand total of 12 RM-series speaker packages, ranging from $599 to $2599. The front and rear satellites of the Polk Audio RM6800 feature 3.5-inch, mineral-composite midrange drivers and a 0.75-inch, polymer-treated fabric dome tweeter. The center speaker relies on the same drivers but uses two woofers. The satellites feature Power Port Bass Vents to extend their lower midrange, creating a more seamless blend with the subwoofer. All of the sats are fitted with five-way binding posts.
The subwoofer's side-mounted 10-inch driver is mated to a 65-watt amplifier. Don't let that low power rating throw you; the subwoofer sounds as powerful as most 100-watt subs we've tested. However, it doesn't have an adjustable crossover control; the crossover frequency is fixed to work with the 6800's sats.
The connectivity suite also takes a minimalist approach: you get stereo line-level inputs, along with stereo speaker-level inputs and outputs. Polk strongly recommends using the speaker-level connection scheme because it produces the smoothest blend between the satellites and the subwoofer. We also tried hooking up the subwoofer's direct line-level input, which sounded fine, but we preferred the sound with the speaker-level option. Maybe we just got lucky, but we had the Polk Audio RM6800 perfectly dialed in the time it took to play one song from quirky British pop legend Robyn Hitchcock. On "Demons & Friends," Hitch's vocals and fingersnaps sounded especially realistic, and his guitars' and fiddles' natural glow was intact. Satellites as small as the RM6800's rarely sound this naturally balanced on acoustic music.
In our smaller home-theater room, the RM6800 system wasn't afraid to get down and dirty with the White Stripes' Elephant CD. We can't claim that Jack White's raunchiest guitar thrashings wouldn't be better served by a set of mighty tower speakers, but Polk's baby sats certainly didn't embarrass themselves. This system will trounce any mini-HTIB speaker system we've heard.
Special-effects-laden DVDs such as The Matrix Reloaded fully exercised the subwoofer's 65 watts; the fight scenes' visceral punch was impressive. The Master and Commander DVD's naval battles and cannon blasts pushed the RM6800 to the max and never showed signs of strain or distortion. The compact center speaker's dialogue proficiency also deserves special mention; it avoided the classic pitfalls of sounding undernourished or muffled. Dialogue was reasonably warm and full sounding.
We've also reviewed the next model up in Polk's RM line, the , and while the more-expensive model sounded richer overall and had deeper bass, we still preferred the RM6800 because its bass definition and detail surpassed the larger subwoofer's--it's tighter and more musical.
Bouts with Aperion's $799 Compact Home Theater speaker package didn't produce a clear winner. We gave the nod to the RM6800 on music because CDs benefited from its sweeter overall tonal balance. On DVDs, the Aperion system's brighter treble, cleaner midrange, and punchier, more dynamic bass were more exciting. Still, we felt some buyers might prefer the RM6800's more laid-back sound. They're both excellent but differ in tonal balance and low-end oomph.
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