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Polk Signa S1 review: Low price doesn't mean a low 'bar

Performance

You don't have to be an audiophile to hear what's good about the Polk Signa S1's sound. The tonal balance is unusually rich, dialogue is full-bodied, and music sounds natural. All of this from a $180 sound bar system, it's hard not to like the Signa S1, and it sure as hell sounds a lot better than the speakers built into most TVs!

We were so impressed with the Signa S1 we listened first to music, which is definitely a challenge for any sound bar system, even ones selling for four or five times the S1. Acoustic music, rock, pop, jazz, or even classical were all well served. Music had body and substance, thanks in part to the way the subwoofer melded seamlessly with the sound bar.

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When we moved onto home theater with "The Revenant," the Signa S1's subwoofer pummeled us with the sounds of the American Indians battling the fur traders. Dialogue clarity held up, but the blasts of gunfire were blunted. We turned up the volume to get more excitement but the Signa S1 didn't cooperate, and treble detail was sorely lacking when the onscreen action heated up.

We brought out a similarly-priced Yamaha YAS-106 for a comparison. Despite lacking a sub the YAS-106 sounded much clearer, livelier and projected a larger and deeper soundstage with "The Revenant." This film's sound mix is loaded with texture, the sounds of the wilderness, waterfalls, rain in the forest, etc., and the YAS-106 did a better job putting us inside the movie.

They're very different sounding 'bars. The Polk Signa 1, thanks to its sub and overall design, sounds weightier but is a less clear sounding system than the YAS-106. On the other hand the Polk clobbered the YAS-106 with music, so there's no clear-cut winner between these two 'bars.

With less demanding fare like the psychological drama "The Girl on the Train," the Signa 1 succeeded by not calling attention to itself. Dialogue was natural and the film's subtle music score sounded well balanced. The "VH1 Storytellers: Dixie Chicks" DVD sounded terrific, the country/bluegrass band's acoustic guitars, fiddle, banjo and vocals were all well served by the Signa 1.

The sound bar's "Night" mode is moderately effective at reducing soft-to-loud volume changes. But we were disappointed to find the VoiceAdjust feature, which is supposed to boost dialogue volume level, didn't make much of a change.

Final thoughts

We were delighted with the Polk Signa 1 sound with music, even though the stereo spread was nowhere as spacious as what we heard from the YAS-106. With movies, Signa 1's shortfalls in dynamic punch and detail were more problematic, though only when onscreen action heated up. The Signa 1 is a very competent performer overall, especially at this price.

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