Recently I started the search for the ultimate set of bookshelf speakers, that I can afford that is. Speakers are one thing that is very hard to research on the internet. Unlike some other electronics products you can't simply look at a list of features and specs and reputation and make a purchase. Well, you can but you may be disappointed. To really make the right decision for you, you need to go listen to them. Unfortunately, places where you can go demo speakers seldom have the best price. Well, I ended up breaking my own rule and buying a set I had never listened to, the Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers.
Recommend this product?
Before setting out to go demo speakers, I had decided to spend within $250 on a pair. After hitting my first high end audio store I was already considering pairs at $250, $350, and $400. At this point Boston Acoustics was the front runner, but I wasn't convinced to the point that I felt comfortable enough to go ahead and pull the trigger. So while mulling it over I made it a point to ask everyone I know with a stereo for a recommendation and I kept hearing "Polk Audio" back. The only store around me that carries Polk Audio is Circuit City, which I make it a point to avoid. Nevertheless I looked up a few pairs on the internet and determined to go have a demo. The salesman was as uninformed and not helpful as ever. Essentially they only had the entry level speakers hooked up for line I wanted to hear. After listening to the Monitor 30's he also went on to tell me that they sound the same as the Monitor 40's (Polk you may want to reconsider your choice to sell through Circuit City). It took me a while to shake loose that salesman but what I did get out of the experience was an overall favorable impression of Polk Audio and specifically I thought they compared very well to their Boston Acoustics counterparts on a dollar for dollar basis. So why did I buy a set I had never listened to? I found a set of the Monitor 40's brand new on Ebay for $187 shipped. They retail for $350 and the best price I found otherwise was $300 plus shipping. Given that I had listened to their smaller siblings, I opted to take a small gamble, save a bundle, and I am certainly glad I did.
The Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers are on the large end of what I would consider a bookshelf model. They don't fit on MY bookshelves and they barely fit on my mantle. They actually hang off the front a bit. They measure 15 3/4 inches high by 7 inches wide by 12 inches deep. These speakers weigh 8 pounds each. The speaker cabinets are made from non resonant MDF with 3/4 inch baffles. Non resonant is good. You want all the resonance to come from the speakers. The tweeter is 1 inch and is made from a fabric polymer composite. The Polk Audio Monitor 40's offer two 5 1/4 inch drivers. These are made from Bi-Laminate Composite. I am not sure I understand the theory of two drivers that are the same size but to quote Polk they "are lightweight and stiff with good damping for high efficiency, excellent bass and lower distortion. Multiple small-diameter driver design delivers wide dispersion, better mid-range, and more detailed bass response for an open, "box-less," three-dimensional sound." The Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers sport dual 5 way binding post connectors and come pre configured for bi-wiring. Bi-wiring was a new term for me and so I researched it on the internet. What a can of worms! Apparently there is a huge debate among the electrical engineers and so forth as to whether bi-wiring can make any difference. In practice bi-wiring means that you run to wires out of a single output on the amplifier and connect them to two different posts on the speakers. So, two reds come out of your single red output and are input to two different reds on the speakers. I am not qualified to weigh in on the theory, but Polk is of the opinion that it makes a noticeable audible difference. For that reason I will probably try it. The last thing I need is yet more wires to run and try to hide or paint. There are speaker wires made specifically for bi-wiring. They have a single end on the receiver side and then are split again at the speakers end. These are a fortune, maybe as much as the speakers when it is all said and done, but I will probably go with these after I determine the final position for my speakers. The Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers are magnetically shielded for use near video equipment, in case you want them as the main speakers for your home theater. The cabinets come in a black or cherry finish.
I don't understand all of these numbers but here are the more technical specs. The overall frequency response is 47Hz to 25 kHz. The lower 3dB limit is 57Hz and the upper 3dB limit is 24kHz. The recommended amplifier power is 20 to 125 watts per channel. Normal impedance 8 ohms, which is standard for home speakers.
My Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers are hooked up to my Denon AVR-1500 70 watt per channel receiver with and 10 inch Advent subwoofer. They are wired with a good heavy gauge monster cable, but not yet bi-wired. I use them for stereo only, no home theater. They are replacing the tiny (in size and sound) Advent B2R bookshelf speakers. My first impression was that they were carrying way too much of the base. I think this may be a result of what I was used to with the Advents not having any base response. I have been adjusting the crossover on my sub, but I want to be sure to let them break in before I make any drastic adjustments. I normally listen to Rock, Classical, and a little Jazz. Given the time of year they have been almost exclusively for Christmas music with a touch of jazz. My overall impression of the Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers? Thrilled! Especially with the jazz. I don't think all the much of my sub (so be looking for a review on a new one of those one of these days) but the Polk Audio Monitor 40 Bookshelf speakers have filled in a whole new dimension that was totally missing with those little Advents. The Polks even sound good at low volume levels and that was my biggest knock on the Advents. Yeah they sounded better when you crank them but I have a children and I can't be booming music very often. So even at lower volumes the Polks offer full, rich sound. I have only had them for 6 days, so I have not determined their final configuration, but I can say with certainty that I am well pleased, especially for $187 delivered. My one real regret is the size. I set out to buy a pair of speakers I could hide and now I am looking to maybe mount them on the walls. I have a touch of buyer's remorse since I also thought highly of the RTi6's which are more expensive, but also smaller.
The Missing Base Dilemma
If you start researching bookshelf speakers you will see the same comments posted about every one of them. Oh people word them differently but essentially they all complain about missing base. Well, bookshelf speakers are small. The low end will not be there to some degree, period. For good hard hitting base, you need to move air. As technology improves companies are getting better about getting more base out of smaller cones, but ultimately they aren't really that close. If you really want good base you are probably looking at a 12 inch cone or more. I have heard some 8 inch subs that get in the neighborhood, and plenty of 10 inch subs aren't too bad. I am only saying this because I want you to have the proper expectations before you go shopping. Don't expect big base out of a something that measures 5 by 8 by 4. It doesn't exist. Plan on filling that in with a sub, or buy a bigger speaker.
I am thrilled with my purchase, I could not be happier with the sound quality or the value. Part of me wishes I had gone a touch smaller but then if I had I may well be complaining about the sound. If the size of the speakers is right for you then I think you will be pleased with the sound quality. I recommend them.
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Amount Paid (US$): 187