Excellent quality and value with Polk CS2 center speaker
Feb 15, 2010 (Updated Apr 21, 2010)
Review by deniscit
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Modern home theater systems usually employ 6 or 8 audio channels to project movie and music sound to the audience. These channels provide power to 2 main front speakers, 1 (or 2) center speaker(s), 1 subwoofer, and a pair (or two pairs) of rear surround sound speakers. This review is about a single speaker dedicated to handle the center channel only.
Recommend this product?
I bought the Polk CS2 through J&R Electronics, where they sold for $125 or something like that.
The speaker sports a hefty, quality wood case, which includes a ventilation port in the back and screw-down type binding posts for speaker wire with receptacles for banana plugs, should you choose to use them. The wire connectors are gold-plated, as you would expect on premium speakers. You can certainly gauge the quality in weight here, as this sucker is heavy (17 lbs), wide (21.25 in), and deep (11 and 1/8 in)!
The speaker has 3 drivers: 2 mid/woofers and 1 tweeter, the latter positioned in the center and the former on either side of the tweeter. The tweeter is 1 inch in diameter, magnetically shielded, with silk/polymer composite dome. The woofers are 6.5 inches in diameter, magnetically shielded, bi-laminate composite. The frequency range covered is 55 Hz to 25 kHz, and Polk recommends an amplifier with 20 to 175 Watts per channel to drive this speaker.
All of this translates into amazing sound.
Polk CS2 are very unbiased in how they reproduce the sound. In fact, them being called Monitor Series means that they are supposed to be flat across the range, delivering what was intended by an engineer who mixed and mastered the recording you're playing, without over-emphasizing any particular frequency. They succeed very convincingly in that regard.
I tried comparing Polk CS2 with my Paradigm front speakers, which are famous in their accurate, flat, detailed sound reproduction. Problem is, this is somewhat comparing apples and oranges because the Polk is specifically designed for the center channel, while the Paradigms are bookshelf type and are more versatile, able to stand by themselves. Nevertheless, I think the Polk CS2 is in the same league as the Paradigm speakers and is a worthy match as a component speaker.
I do not watch movies on my system - I only use it for music. Still, I've listened to a wide enough array of music to judge their quality fairly.
One conclusion I drew is that the Polk CS2 reproduces voices with delightful richness, depth, and clarity. BB King never sounded more life-like on King & Clapton's DVD Audio of "Riding with the King". Same goes for other blues belters like Son Seals, T-Bone Singleton, Robert Cray, and Albert King. Polk CS2 gives them the extra dimension of reality, truly being an ideal speaker to compliment vocal-intensive recordings.
Another conclusion I drew is that the center tweeter does a LOT of heavy lifting, while the outer mid/woofers fill in the environment somewhat more inconspicuously. The tweeter is absolutely pristine, clear as a summer water fall. This not only benefits the vocals but also brass instruments and, of course, drums. If you have a record that emphasizes snares and crashing cymbals, and they are recorded expertly to preserve their live sound, you will absolutely hear it on Polk CS2.
This does not mean that the other 2 drivers, the mid/woofers, should be forgotten. They provide the richness, the depth, and the environment to fill out the highs provided by the tweeter. I stated this in the passing above, and I want to emphasize this point: TRANSPARENCY. You will not be able to tell where the midrange/bass tones are coming from in Polk CS2 - the tones are everywhere. Somehow Polk did away with directionality of those frequencies to make them appear completely interlaced with the tweeter and spreading not only immediately forward of the speaker but also off to the sides.
Across the whole frequency range, Polk CS2 comes together into one quite seamlessly. Jazz is reproduced faithfully, without making the brass brighter than it would sound live, and without making the bass into mud. Gerald Wilson's big jazz band sounds alive, and Dave Holland's double bass on "Extensions" and his other recordings sounds like you're standing in the studio. You might be shocked if you put in a "Dark Side of the Moon" remaster by Piink Floyd. They use a huge number of sound effects, and they come alive with clarity, depth, and precision on CS2 - ticking of the clock, percussion, "cha-ching" in "Money" - I just had to laugh, actually. That's how good it sounded to me.
I realize there are many fans of classical music out there, but I do not own any CDs of classical music, so I cannot tell you what the performance is like for those. However, I feel that, sonically, classical would be reproduced similatrly to acoustic jazz, and that CS2 does with exceeding detail without overbrightening the midrange and with crisp, clear highs. Bass detail is remarkable for acoustic bass players, and you will hear all the notes they play with zero mud, the rest depending on the subwoofer you use to supplement, if any.
The bad news is that with speaker quality this high, you are limited in a couple ways.
One, you need high-quality equipment to drive the CS2, or the CS2 will not be fully realized. On the Yamaha DSP-E492 that I use to drive the speaker, I get a minimum 60W RMS power, with up to 110 W on tap if needed, low distortion, and broad frequency range. It sounds beautiful on this equipment and cranking up the volume seems to tighten up the sound and light up the speaker. Similar is true with my Paradigm speakers. So I wouldn't go lower in power than my set-up. Keep in mind that more power in the amplifier isn't necessarily there to make the speaker blast but more importantly to drive it to better, more "active" reproduction at lower volume levels as well.
Two, you will be limited by the quality of the recording you're playing. When I say quality, I don't necessarily mean the quality of sound as much as the quality of mix. If they decided to bury the snare drums and the crashing cymbals in the noise, CS2 can't help you. However, with artists that are highly discriminating and attentive to minute details, such as Pink Floyd, or Pat Metheny, or Dire Straits, or Dave Holland, or Elton John, the CS2 will bring out all the details that are there.
Ultimately, the choice will rest with the listener, and different people have different liking for different speakers. Many people seem to love these CS2's, while a handful seems to hate them. You kind of need to hear the speakers for yourself before you buy them. That being said, I feel that Polk did a terrific job with the CS2 speaker, providing both excellent quality and very good value with the reasonable pricing.
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Amount Paid (US$): 125
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