Pros: smooth, dynamic sound; tight, deep bass; non-fatiguing trebles; rubber woofer surrounds
Cons: quite large; faux-wood vinyl enclosures
Polk Monitor 10s were among the first speakers manufactured by Polk Audio, a high quality mass-market speaker company that's still going strong. Introduced in the 1970s, the 10s continued in production into at least the mid-1980s in various incarnations including the Polk 10A and Polk 10B.
My Uncle had Polk 10s for many years, my brother and I both had Polk 10Bs back in the '80s, and I recently got to listen extensively to some Polk 10As, leading to this review.
Polk 10s are large two-way bookshelf-style loudspeakers featuring two 6 ½” bass/midrange drivers, a small dome tweeter, and a 10” passive radiator. Some versions of the Polk 10 apparently had Peerles tweeters, while others had similar tweeters made in-house by Polk.
The Polk 10s are large for bookshelf-style speakers, measuring 28” x 16” x 12” deep. Speaker wire connection is via banana plug connectors, similar to those used on Dynaco A-25s. The connectors also accept bare wire (unlike those on DCM Time Windows), and are recessed into the backs of the enclosures so you won't damage them should you lay a speaker on its back. An external fuse, protecting the 10's drivers, is mounted in the recessed area next to the terminals of each speaker.
Aesthetics and Use.
I find the Polk 10s to be very attractive. The two dark bass/midrange drivers, dome tweeter, and passive radiator are authoritative looking when you have the grilles off, and with the black grilles on, the speakers look understated and classy, in spite of their size. However, I've always been frustrated with the fact that all versions of the Polk 10 (at least all I've seen) are finished in faux-walnut vinyl, not the real wood veneer of most high quality speakers of the '70s (usually walnut) and '80s (usually oak, as walnut got too expensive). The vinyl on the Polk 10s I've seen has varied in terms of how "realistic" it looks, and it does have a tendency to peel after years of use. You can glue peeling faux-walnut vinyl veneer down, and even repair damaged corners and blend wood filler in with the stuff (if you're a decent woodworker), but it will never look a nice as real wood.
In terms of sound, I really like the Polk 10s (I don't know that I could tell the 10s, 10As, and 10Bs apart in a blind listening test, though some prefer the versions with Peerless tweeters). To me they sound like Polk 7Bs but with deeper and more authoritative bass, a greater sense of dynamics, a larger sounstage, and perhaps a touch less image specificity.
Back in the day, my uncle had a pair of the earliest Polk 10s driven by a high quality Japanese receiver. I remember being struck by both the smoothness and the dynamics of the classical music he listened to. In the late 1980s, my brother and I both bought Polk 10Bs, and my impression was the same with the rock and jazz music we listened to (Grateful Dead, Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, etc.). The bass was tight, deep, and authoritative, and the mids and trebles were smooth and non-fatiguing. I remember also being stuck by what I would later learn to be known as "microdynamics" of the Polk 10Bs. In the 'Dead's live version of Stella Blue, from Steal Your Face, there are some drum transients that can be really striking on a well-dialed-in system. I've never heard them sound better than through the Polk 10Bs. It's not just the bass impact of the drum hits; it's the leading edge, and the subtle sounds of the sticks on drum skins.
Just for comparison's sake, I've dug into my old vinyl and am listening to that very track on my vintage Marantz Imperial 6s driven by a Fisher X-100B tube integrated amplifier as I write. The turntable is an AR ES-1 with a Shure M97xE cartridge. With my M&K V-2B subwoofer going, the sound is good, and bass depth is there, but the transient attack of those drums hits isn't quite the same as it was with the Polk 10Bs.
More recently (January 2013), I got to test a pair of Polk 10As at the shop. They were driven by an inexpensive Japanese late '70s stereo receiver, and the sound was still as I remembered it. The bass was excellent, and bass dynamics are outstanding. The midrange was smooth and realistic, and the trebles were non-fatiguing. With classical music, the sound was well integtated, yet I could hear individual instruments if I chose to. With jazz, the sound was dynamic and involving, but not fatiguing.
Compared to the Polk 7Bs, the sound of the Polk 10As was more authoritative, with deeper bass and a "larger" overall sound. The 7Bs may have had a slightly more well-defined soundstage, due to their smaller front baffles, but I wasn't able to do an A-B comparison. Male vocals were a bit "chestier" with the 10As than with Polk 7Bs, but the chestiness did not intrude as it sometimes does with Large Advents or Acoustic Research AR-3as.
I've always liked Polk 10s, and my recent experince confirms the impression I've held for many years. If you find a pair of Polk 10s, 10As or 10Bs in good condition for a decent price, snap them up. They are excellent speakers, and I think they hold up well against many of today's mid- to high-end speakers. Compared to my bargain high-end reference DCM Time Windows, they are a bit more dynamic, and may have deeper, tighter bass, while the Time Windows have a certain "je ne sais quoi" that makes them special as well.
A really nice pair of Polk 10s can command maybe $250 on Craigslist or eBay, but a tired-looking but fully functional pair can probably be had for $100 to $175. Another plus is the fact that Polk used rubber surrounds on the woofers of all versions of the Polk 10, so foam rot should not be an issue. As with Dynaco A-25s, my small vintage reference speaker, if you buy a pair of working Polk 10, and treat them well, they should still be working years down the road.
I give the Polk 10s 4.5 stars overall, my deduction coming only because of the vinyl veneer. I think they are really good speakers.
Thanks to wsmunch for getting Polk 10s added to the Epinions database.