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Polk T50 review: Low-priced, big-sounding speaker a towering value

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For buyers seeking a bona fide 5.1-channel home theater experience, the T Series also includes the T30 center-channel speaker, and the T15 bookshelf/surround channel speakers. Polk also offers a number of compatible subwoofers; the PSW10 and PSW111 would be worth checking out.

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Performance

The T50 makes a good first impression right from the get-go with its bright and clear sound and commendably tight and defined bass.

Watching the "Mad Max: Fury Road" Blu-ray in stereo with just the T50s flanking our display, we didn't miss surround sound or even a subwoofer. The T50s on their own summoned up hard-hitting dynamics from the film's never ending parade of muscle cars roaring across a post-apocalyptic landscape, and the score's pounding drums were immensely satisfying, fully exercising the T50's three bass drivers. The T50s survived our heavy-handed auditions without straining or producing audible distortion.

Happy with the T50s home theater skills, we settled down and checked out a few high-res files from Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" album. The T50s' immediacy highlighted Davis' horn, the sound was exciting, and the band's grooves felt lively. Paul Chambers' stand-up bass definition was spot-on.

At that point we switched over to a set of Pioneer SP-FS52 towers , which are almost the same size as the T50s, and the two speakers are exactly the same price. They didn't sound the same, however. The Pioneer's won the listening comparison in most areas.

The SP-FS52 has three, smaller 5.25-inch woofers, yet they produced a richer and fuller tonal balance, so it sounds like a bigger speaker than the T50. The Pioneers' soundstage was bigger and deeper, while the Polks' image had less depth and dimensionality.

On Jack White's "Lazaretto" album, the vocals and guitars had greater presence on the T50s, and bass definition was better; meanwhile, the SP-FS52s opened up the sound more, and we preferred its smoother bass-midrange-treble balance. The SP-FS52s also did a better job rocking out with Queens of the Stone Age's "Lullabies to Paralyze" album.

Conclusion

No doubt, the Polk T50 is a great speaker for the money, but the Pioneer SP-FS52 tower for the same dollars would be our preferred option. That Pioneer's fuller balance and its bigger, and deeper soundstage were more to our liking. Others might prefer the T50 for its more immediate sound signature.

Keep in mind that the tweeters on these entry level speakers can't provide the last word in clarity; both speakers have a tendency to exacerbate sibilance and grit in movies and music. To be fair, these tweeter shortcomings are only apparent when compared with more expensive speakers like the SVS Prime Tower and the Wharfedale Diamond 230.

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