By Don Lindich
Week 28, 2018
Q. We are moving to a new home and want to make changes to our audio system. We currently have a surround system with a Marantz AV receiver, small Klipsch speakers and a subwoofer. The new music room is about 20×20 feet and we will use the Marantz receiver in it, with new speakers, but just stereo this time. We have about a $500 budget that can be flexed to $700 if you think it will make a big difference in the sound. Right now we are looking at the $120/pair Sony Core bookshelf speakers, leaving around $380 for a sub. Do you think we are going in the right direction, or is there something else you would recommend? We are open to suggestions.
-C.W., Minneapolis, MN
A. With your budget and the size of your room I think you can do much better. My first observation is you have too much of your budget devoted to the sub and not the main speakers. That’s another story, though, and I am recommending you not get a subwoofer at all.
Automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the term, “there is no substitute for cubic inches.” It means a 300 cubic inch engine will always feel more powerful and perform more effortlessly than a 200 cubic inch engine. It’s an old term that is perhaps not very relevant in current times, given technologies such as turbocharging and direct fuel injection which enable small engines to produce power comparable to larger engines of the past. But even today, all things being equal, a bigger engine will perform better than a smaller one.
This old adage can also apply to speakers and sound systems. While bookshelf speakers combined with a sub can reproduce the range of frequencies of a larger tower speaker, there is still nothing like the effortlessness and dynamic range a tower speaker provides. For music, a good tower speaker will give you all the bass you need without a subwoofer, which is mostly needed for movie sound effects. It is also not necessary to fuss with subwoofer adjustments to try and get the correct balance between the subwoofer and the bookshelf speakers. You can just hook up the towers and go.
Earlier this year I wrote about the Polk Signature S20 bookshelf speakers. They are now my top recommendation in the $300 range, by virtue of their great looks and dynamite sound that lives up to their tagline, “American HiFi.” The very best speakers come from North America, and their sonic signature is cut from the same cloth as the expensive, high-end brands.
There are larger models in the Polk Signature series, and that is what I am recommending to you. The Polk Signature Series S50 tower speakers can be purchased for under $500 per pair. I have been testing them recently as part of a home theater setup that includes other Signature Series speakers, and have been thoroughly impressed. Better yet, bump your budget just a bit more and get the Polk Signature S55 towers. I have not heard them, but by all accounts they are even better than the S50 towers and make more bass, which you will appreciate in your large room. The S55 towers can be purchased for under $650 on sale.
When you set up your system, be sure to go into the Marantz receiver’s speaker setup menus and set the subwoofer, center and surround speakers to “off” the front speakers to “large.” I usually prefer a simple stereo receiver to an AV receiver for a system like yours, but that is the subject for another column.