POLK SIGNATURE ELITE S60 Review

The new Elite version of Polk’s Signature floorstander proves a cohesive and efficient performer which delivers on the promise of Polk’s technologies.

POLK SIGNATURE ELITE S60 Review

When Polk decided to upgrade one of its best­selling models, it didn’t do anything by halves.

The new Signature Elite S60, which replaces the outgoing S60, has new bass/midrange drivers, a new crossover, re-vamped internal bracing and a whole new exterior. The only components it has kept in common with the older model are that unusual 25mm terylene dome tweeter, a cascading tapered crossover design and the fact that the cabinet is, despite its newly remodelled exterior, still a bass reflex floorstanding one.

Equipment

The Polk Signature Elite ES60 has the deepest and most extended bass of any of the models in the Polk Signature Elite range. It’s also the tallest and loudest model in the range. The other models are also floorstanders, but the Signature Elite ES50 has only two bass/midrange drivers, and they’re both smaller than the three in the ES60. As for the Signature Elite ES55, that has the same-sized bass/midrange drivers as the ES60, but again only two of them.

What all three models share is the same 25mm terylene dome tweeter, and what Polk refers to as its ‘Power Port’ bass reflex design. This is actually just a down-firing bass reflex port that fires into a diffuser that ensures the very lowest frequencies are distributed evenly around the cabinet, though it looks uncannily like one of Madonna’s stage bras. The design means that the Power Port will always work exactly as its designers intended, because the radiating area will remain the same no matter where the speakers are placed. Polk’s designers tell us that their Power Port design has “greater surface area and smoother air flow for more output and less distortion compared to conventional ported speakers.”

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As you can see from our photograph, the ES60 has three bass/midrange drivers. When we see this, we usually guess that the design is a true three-way, with one the top-most drivers exclusively handling the midrange sound and the two lowest drivers delivering the deepest bass. But in the case of the Polk Signature Elite ES60 we’d have guessed wrong, because despite the number of drivers on the front baffle, it’s a conventional two-way design, with all three coned drivers delivering frequencies below 2.5kHz, leaving the frequencies above this to be delivered by a single 25mm terylene dome.

However it arranges the delivery of the audio signal to each of these drivers in a rather unusual way, using a system it developed far back in 1974 for its Monitor 7, which was introduced just two years after the company was founded by Matthew Polk, George Klopfer and Sandy Gross, and it’s one of the reasons for that classic ‘Polk Sound’.

Polk’s rather unusual method is called a ‘cascading tapered crossover array’ and what happens is that only the top-most of the three drivers is actually ‘crossed over’ to the tweeter by the crossover network. The middle driver is not crossed over at all, but simply rolled off early, so its output does not affect the upper midrange. The bottom-most of the three drivers is rolled off even earlier again, so its output does not affect either the upper or lower midrange frequencies. You can see where the ‘cascading taper’ description fits!

The beauty of this design is that you achieve the efficiency of a two-way design because a two-way crossover requires fewer components than a three-way, so more amplifier power is transferred through to the drivers, while benefitting from the use of multiple drivers, about which more later.

As for those multiple drivers, they all have cones made from mica-reinforced polypropylene that are bonded to butyl rubber surrounds, driven by massive ceramic motor structures and large voice coils, the unwanted movement of which is controlled by high-temperature Conex fibre spiders, all of which, says Polk, “creates drivers of exceptionally high efficiency, for clean, clear bass, better linearity, lower distortion, and greater durability.”

Increasing the number of drivers available to deliver bass and midrange frequencies has many advantages, the most important being a handy increase in efficiency simply due to the use of multiple drivers, and gaining the benefit of creating a partial line array, which improves the ‘throw’ of the sound. You also get an increase in power-handling capability, because voice-coil area is increased, enabling better dissipation of amplifier power.

Polk rates each driver with a diameter of 165mm, but the important Thiele/ Small diameter (which is the distance from middle of the surround on one side of the cone to the opposite middle of the surround) is 135mm, which gives an effective cone area (Sd) of 144cm2. But because Polk is using three drivers we need to multiply by three in order to arrive at the total cone area available to deliver bass, which works out to 432cm2. This means that if Polk had used just a single bass driver to deliver the same driving area, it would have needed an overall diameter of around 270mm (10.6 inches). In other words, it would be twice the size of any one of the three drivers on the Signature Elite S60’s baffle.

The most obvious difference between the new drivers on the Signature Elite S60 and the ‘S60 Old’ is the central dustcap, which on the earlier version was a micapolypropelene dish, while on the SE S60 is a soft rubber dome.

We said in our introduction that the Polk Signature Elite S60’s tweeter was ‘unusual’ and this is primarily because it’s made from polyethylene terephthal­ate (terylene), a material that’s not commonly used for tweeter domes. In a way this is surprising since it’s a common thermoplastic polymer resin that’s used in its fibre form to make clothing and in manufacturing for thermoforming. It’s even used combination with glass fibre for engineering resins. Polk makes few claims as to why it uses this particular material other than to state that it “delivers crystalline highs (40kHz+) ideal for high resolution music from services like Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music HD, Qobuz and Spotify HiFi, along with the soundtracks of the latest Ultra HD movies.”

That previous paragraph should have given away that Polk didn’t only design the S60 for two-channel stereo use. If you explore other models in Polk’s new Signature Elite range you will find a dedicated centre-channel speaker (ES30), an LCR speaker (ES35), and a surround speaker (ES10), as well as a couple of bookshelf models (ES15 and ES20) that could be used as surround, height or other channels (or, indeed, across all three front channels).

All these models use exactly the same tweeter, the dome of which is recessed into a very shallow horn that is embossed not only with the Polk brand, but also with the words ‘EST 1972’ and ‘American HIFI’.

POLK SIGNATURE ELITE S60 Review

Around the rear of the speaker we find that Polk has economised on the speaker terminals, which although they will accommodate multiple connections (bare wire, bananas, etc) and allow bi-wiring, have very small, lightweight coloured plastic knobs that are difficult to tighten — a task is made the more difficult by the close spacing of the terminals, which are on 19mm centres to permit the use of dual Pomona banana speaker from the opener Formwela 1, but there’s more bass and piano sound on Formwela 6, and it was stunning!

But since Esperanza is an acquired taste, we’d recommend you examine the bass performance by listening to Kacey Musgrave’s ‘Star-Crossed’ album, even though much of the deep bass is synthesised. Synth or no, listen to it kick on the title track, then be even more impressed when acoustic bass chimes in, such as on good wife. In the quieter connectors. Around the back we also find that despite the legend on the tweeter, the speakers are ‘Designed and Engineered in the USA’, but ‘Made in China’.

The speaker cabinets themselves are very tall, and despite the small utilitarian outrigger feet (which once were metal but are now made from plastic) that are attached to improve sideways stability, are moderately easy to topple, so should be positioned having regard to their centre of gravity. Two of the three available cabinet finishes — black and walnut — are both synthetic, with a very slightly ‘grained’ appearance. (A gloss white finish is also available.) A black plastic-framed grille magnetically attaches to and covers the entire front baffle, thankfully also obscuring the ‘Madonna’s bra’ that is an integral part of the ‘Power Port’ but looks rather strange.

Listening sessions

Polk’s ‘Power Port’ design means the speakers will be easy to position, because you don’t have to worry about impeding the output from the port. Indeed you can push the speakers all the way back against a wall if you wish, though this will tend to increase the level of the bass, and we found that to be perfectly balanced for our tastes, the speakers were around 200mm out from a rear wall.

As for the quality of the bass, it’s astoundingly good — bright, bouncy, highly dynamic and certainly extended. We played Esperanza Spalding’s ‘Songwright’s Apothecary Lab’, and the quality of the bass was obvious right moments of this track you will be able to admire the clarity of the midrange delivery from the Polk SE S60s and then, when the soundscape fills out, how punchy and dynamic they sound. Very exciting!

POLK SIGNATURE ELITE S60 Review

This exciting sound is reprised in the lovely justified (despite the subject matter of the lyric), but stick around to hear how well the Polks can do airy and delicate on the following track, angel, with its fragile acoustic guitar, multi-tracked vocal and angelic high frequencies. You’ll also hear these same virtues if you listen to the fantastic album ‘The Marfa Tapes’ (Miranda Lambert), a bare-bones recording made out in the US desert.

To see how SE60s handled heavy rock we headed for Turnstiles’ new album, ‘Glow On’. You don’t really need to hear more than the opener, Mystery, with its machine-gun drumming and driving bass guitar, to know you’re hearing quality bass. We’re not sure the band’s new collabora­tion with producer Mike Elizondo really works — we think the album’s not quite as ‘hard’ as the previous two as a result — but if you listen to Blackout or Don’t Play, you might disagree.

Piano is an excellent speaker-tester, and we used the piano sound on Lana Del Ray’s album ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’, and passed over White Dress to start with the beautiful title track. The evocative and rather melancholy feel of this work was gorgeously reproduced by the Polk Signature Elite S60s. Listen particularly to the sounds of the mellotron and the 12-string acoustic, plus the cymbals that close out the track.

Del Ray’s version of the Joni Mitchell classic For Free on ‘Chemtrails…’ has a lovely vocal from her, some superb piano from Mikey Freedom Hart (though he sticks a bit too closely to Joni’s own arrangement) and some flowery and totally unnecessary harmonies from Zella Day. Despite all this, the Polk S60s have more than sufficient accuracy to make it obvious that you should stick to the original! (Though don’t miss David Crosby’s version with Sarah Jarosz.)

We have to admit that something by Adele is always on the play list chez Best Buys, and at the moment it’s ‘30’, which of course has been made even the more famous by Aussie journo (but not music critic!) Matt Doran, whose faux pas was immortalised by David Mitchell’s brilliant ‘White Lie’ column in The Guardian. By royal command we listen in track order, though this is hard for us to avoid since we have it on LP, or two LPs, to be precise (and at $ the black vinyl set… ouch!).

Immediately obvious is the air around the high frequencies, which we thought were very slightly forward in the pre­sentation (listen particularly at around two minutes in). But Strangers By Nature is just the natural intro to Easy On Me with its haunting piano and Adele’s voice sounding at its very best (musically at least; she could have paid a little more attention to her enunciation). You’ll also hear the prominent air on My Little Love, which follows, along with a spoken aside to her son Angelo that we found rather surprising: “Mommy doesn’t like anyone else like I like you.” Like? Really?

Conclusion

By the time you read this, Polk Audio will have been building speakers for almost exactly half a century, which means it knows what people like to hear when they’re shopping for loudspeakers, both in terms of sound quality and when they ask for a price. These new Signature Elite S60s deliver in spades on both counts.

POLK SIGNATURE ELITE S60

•    Solid cohesive sound

•    Very efficient (aka loud!)

•    Sonic presentation

•    Bit tippy

•    Outrigger feet

•    Madonna’s bra

Type: Floorstanding, bass reflex, four-driver, two-way

Frequency Range:36Hz-40kHz Sensitivity: 90dBSPL

Crossover Frequency: 2.5kHz

Tweeter: 25mm terylene dome

Bass/Mid: 3x165mm mica-fortified polypropylene

Dimensions (WHD): 216 x 1130 x 400mm Weight: 23.6kg

Contact: Sound United

Telephone: 03 8542 1111

Web: au.polkaudio.com

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