Product: Polk Audio RT 2000i - floorstanding loudspeakers
Manufacturer: Polk Audio - USA
MSRP price: 2.000 $/Euro (pair, visit your local dealer for details, YMMV)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu
Reviewed: April 2001
Polk Audio doesn't need any kind of introduction to the audiophile community, since it has been one of the leading loudspeakers Company during the last, say, 25 years.
We have already published a couple of articles about Polk Audio, namely a recent Inter.View with Matthew Polk and a listening test of one of the entry-level loudspeakers of their catalogue, the Polk Audio RT 15i.
If you are interested in learning more about the Company's philosophy I strongly suggest to read that interview and visit their cool and informative web site.
I was curious to test one of the "top of the line" models by Polk Audio, so I've asked for a pair of RT 2000i for reviewing purposes. Few weeks later the two large floorstanders were playing Music into my main system.
The RT 2000i is the second (from the top) loudspeaker of the RT series, a kind of summa tecnologica of all the Polk innovations in terms of loudspeaker technology, developed by the Polk R&D staff in collaboration with renowned US Universities (e.g. the John Hopkins University).
I won't even try to explain all the "tricks" included into this RT 2000i so let me suggest you again to visit the official RT 2000i pages and follow the links you're about to find reading this article.
The RT 2000i is a large floorstanding loudspeaker (116 cm H x 24 cm W x 43 cm D, 45-1/2" H x 9-1/2" W x 16-3/4" D for the non-metric people out there), pretty heavy (40 kgs/each - 90 lbs/each) and equipped with some quite uncommon features.
First of all, it is a two-way floorstander with built-in powered subwoofers. This means that the two-way mid-high range section of the speakers is driven, as usual, by your amplifier, though the two 8" (20 cm) woofers will be auto-powered by an internal power amp that receives the line level signal either from your preamp (if available) or from the subwoofer output of your Dolby decoder.
All you need to do is connect a line level output (controlled by a volume pot, TAPE OUT won't work!) to the line level RCA inputs of the speakers, exactly like you would do when connecting an active subwoofer.
Now, since the "subwoofer output" on many decoders is MONO all you have to do is: connect this to one speaker and then bring the line level signal to the other speaker via a second interconnect.
To cut a long story short, you have 3 possibilities:
The "passive" part of this loudspeaker makes use of a 16 cm (6.5") midwoofer and a 1" tri-laminated metallic dome tweeter. The two drivers share the proprietary "Dynamic Balance" tecnology. This particular building procedure, devepoled in collaboration with the John Hopkins University for laser interferometry analysis, should prevent membrane break-ups (more infos and cool mumbo-jumbo pictures of laser interferometry results available at the Polk Audio site).
The mid-woofer and the tweeter are mounted into an (ugly) anti-diffraction baffle.
Below you find the Polk Audio logo with a green led that indicates when the internal amps are on. Then the two 20 cm (8") woofers, with a large dustcap, loaded with the so-called Power Port.
Briefly, this kind of exponentially profiled port faces a cone (see pictures) that should transform the turbulent air motion into a laminar one, hence reducing noise and efficiency loss in the bass range.
All the drivers are magnetically shielded for Home Theater use, even close to TV sets.
The electronic built-in filter crosses the "passive" mid-high section with the subwoofers at 100 Hz (12 dB/oct), while an usual passive crossover network, centered at 2500 Hz (still at 12 dB/oct), divides the mid-woofer from the tweeter.
These are some of the most interesting and relevant tech specs:
Reviewing the loudspeaker that represents the summa summarum of the experience of one of the leading HiFi Companies is a hard task and a serious responsability. Furthermore, the loudspeaker itself is quite unusual as it offers different ways of use (conventional, active bass stereo, active bass mono...): a hard task for any reviewer. BUT!!! as soon as I hooked up the RT 2000 i to my main system, everything from the word go became clear! The task was going to be pleasant, not hard at all, actually.
First of all, just let me put this straight: Polk Audio production has moved towards Home Theater stuff, so I was afraid to get the kind of sound that impresses brainless consumers at HT demos: boomy bass and unbearable highs. Gosh, they really think this is the way a Home Theater system should sound!
No, I'm not saying HT-addcits love this kind of sound, no! I'm just thinking of the regular man-of-the-street, always impressed by explosions, heartquakes and bullets perforating his ears.
And I was wrong. Yes, the Polk Audio RT 2000i are neutrally balanced and very easy on the listener's ears. They won't assault you like a hungry Tirannosaurus Rex, they won't strangle your ears with shrieking highs, they won't explode like TNT :-)
NO! These are very fine performers, a bit dry in the mid-high range but capable of extracting ANY (I mean, any!) little information buried into the most complex musical pattern.
They are even sweet at the same time, as the performance on voices and acoustic guitars reveals with no doubt. You can distinctly hear the fingers picking the strings, feel the metallic pitch of an acoustic guitar but it will not "ring" into your ears, as many hyper-detailed speakers do. This excellent performance is undoubtedly due to the tweeter, one of the best sounding metallic dome units I've ever heard.
This unit is totally free from those metallic "ringings" and resonancies so common on other similar tweeters. Plus its frequency response is well extended and its ability to retrieve tiny musical informations is just amazing.
For example, listen to the way it reproduces a difficult instrument like the cymbal: it appears as realistic as it can be and you can distinctly hear the sharp attack when the stick strucks it together with the following long harmonic decay.
In few words, this unit is transparent and introspective, sweet and silky at the same time.
Another reason for such a good performance in the mid-high range is certainly the quality of the crossover that links the midwoofer and the tweeter so smoothly as they were a single wideband unit. The mid-woofer appears sometimes a bit shy and, perhaps, being quite big (16 cm, with an extra-soft suspension) it fails to match the excellent performance of the tweeter near the crossover frequency (2500 Hz).
Anyway, its sound gives you a smooth and fluid mid range with very low overall distortion and a high level of introspection.
For example, you can distinctly hear the noise of the spring that loads the pedal of the kick drum (e.g. Sheffield Labs, Drum & Track Record).
Together with the tweeter, it reproduces a large amount of echoes and ambiental informations, for example the whispers of the musicians during live recordings.
Another atout of the RT 2000i is its ability to distinguish between different transient sounds. For example, when the kick drum and the tom are struck at the very same time, you can distinguish the two attacks sounding different even if simultaneous.
Ha! Then you have the bass range. Thanks to the fact it is active, i.e. self-powered by the internal amps, you can decide what it should do or sound like. Do you want more bass? Adjust the "pre-set" pots accordingly. Are you in for a drier performance? Turn down the "pre-sets".
As for quality, you won't be disappointed: the RT 2000i can make some excellently deep bass notes (32 Hz @ -3dB!), considering the size of the loudspeaker and the price tag. If you want a comparison, let's consider the recently reviewed Klipsch RF-3. These deliver a faster and more violent bass but the RT 2000i extension is way better. Earth-shaking if you wish, and still linear, clean and articulated till its deepest end...this is, in few words, the bass delivered by these floorstanders. If you're a pipe organ fan (like yours truly), be sure your listening room is ready to tolerate the amount of sheer energy these woofers can deliver.
Take the Telarc test record, for example (1st track, pipe organ): not only you can hear the pedals in full "bloom" but you can feel the long decay of the bass note inside the recording hall.
Into my listening room (the main one) I've set the subwoofer levels perfectly centered (12 o'clock) for an optimal bass/mid-high range balance. You may need to lower the level if your listening room is too resonant (or viceversa).
The "link" between the two woofers and the mid-high range section (active, @ 100 Hz) is seamless and, thanks to the Dynamic Balance technology, attacks and decays are simultaneous.
This is not easy to achieve, especially using separate active subwoofers, as very often the "speed" of the drivers is very different. Normally, one can hear the subwoofer following the main speakers after a fraction of second.
In few words, these RT 2000i are neutrally balanced, very precise and detailed, with a slight dry note in the mid-high range. The tweeter does an excellent job, the mid-woofer is an overall good-sounding unit and the woofers do exactly what you want from them (I'd call it "bass on demand" :-)).
Since the bass section uses its own amplifiers the task for your amp is easier than usual as it does not have to drive the woofers below 100 Hz where, normally, quite large amounts of current are required.
Then consider the quite good sensitivity of the RT 2000i (at 90 dB/w/m) and you can get the whole picture: these speakers are an easy load for any amplifier and you don't need huge and powerful amps to drive them. Even the owner's manual states clear that a 20 watt integrated amp will get the job done. I can't agree more as I've tried to drive the RT 2000i with a little audiophile integrated amp (a Rotel) with interesting results.
This means that the overall dynamic performance of these speakers is always excellent, even with small amplifiers and it gets better as the quality of the amplifier increases.
In other words, having tested the speakers with several different amps, even with some of the hi-power hi-current kind, I can say the dynamic performance is limited only by the quality of the amp that drives them.
Have I tried to make these speakers play loud? You bet! No dynamic compression to speak of, seriously. The overall distortion is always very low, even at very high listening levels, both in the mid-high and in the bass. Take, for example, the HeartBeat Drummers of Japan disc (Sheffield Labs), namely the tracks where the enormous O-Daiko drum is played. If you want a killer disc for testing dynamics in the bass range, this is a must.
The RT 2000i have passed the test like it was an easy one, while other loudspeakers encountered more than a problem.
It is not just the amount of pure energy the woofers have to handle but also the ability to follow the thunderous decay of this extremely large drum. No matter how hard I've tried....the bass was always clean and undistorted. Kudos to Polk!
The "pace" isn't exactly lightening fast, it seems like a big tiger, moving gently and slowly, preparing for the attack. In the mid range, especially with some aggressive music (Prodigy, Morcheeba, Massive Attack), one could require a quicker pace.
The RT 2000i can help debunking another well-established audiophile myth: "large floorstanders need to play loud!". This may be true in some case, not with the RT 2000i. Turn the volume down, take your favourite Martini and enjoy the perfect tonal balance even at low listening levels. The precision is still there, exactly like when playing loud. If you want sound pressure, just turn the volume up, if want to gently chat with you relevant second other...turn the volume down.
These are large loudspeakers so it should be "teorically" difficult to make them disappear, or so the minimonitors lovers say. Well, I don't know if the "Dynamic Balance" or the anti-diffraction baffle have something to do with this, but I can assure you these large floorstanders are able to disappear, leaving room for a large soundstage exactly like a small minimoitor would do.
Width and depth are excellent as is the ability to create several vertical planes between you and the rear wall. The soundstage extends behind and in front of the speakers' vertical plane, the focus is excellent and the quantity of ambiental information simply amazing.
Two words about the height of the soundstage. Being quite tall, the RT 2000i are able to create a realistic sense of "height" of the scene, especially with recordings of pipe organs into big churches (e.g. Proprius "Cantate Domino"). Also, there's always a sense of "air" surrounding the instruments.
Craftsmanship and finish. When you deal with a top speaker from a leading HiFi Company it is very hard to find faults and defects. The quality of the craftsmanship and finish is simply flawless, everything is exactly how it should be, even the wood veneer is perfect.
No, you won't have the sexy rounded edges of some Italian loudspeaker (Opera, Sonus Faber, Aliante etc.) but, considering the whole package and the prige tag, it is hard to ask for more.
The hi-tech-ish plastic molded baffle may appear a bit out of place especially if you choose the maple or cherry wood finish, but if you don't like the effect, it is sufficient to leave the grilles on. Otherwise, choose the black oak finish.
To be completely honest, there's one thing I hated since day one: the green led on the front baffle that indicates the internal amps are on. Why? Because those leds catch your attention and help locating the speakers position into the listening room, especially if you, like many audiophiles, like to listen to Music in almost complete darkness. Anyway, a small piece of black self-adhesive tape will cover the green spots easily.
And now for some serious complaint :-)
Actually, the RT 2000i aren't conventional speakers and the multiple operating possibilities may confuse the average customer, used to hook up just a pair of cables from the amp to the speakers. With the RT 2000i, in order to get the full advantage of the complex design, you need either a preamp - power amp combo or a Dolby receiver with adjustable subwoofer output.
Furthermore, even if you have a preamp, you need to use a pair of long interconnects and, of course, two long AC cords to connect the speakers to the mains. Now, if you place the speakers quite far from the walls and the system, the WAF will immediately go down because of the extra cables which will be quite impossible to hide.
This is the price to pay for a speaker design that allows you to save money and space on active subwoofers (not needed, as these are already built-in) and satisfy any customer needs, from the serious die-hard 2-channels audiophile to the 7.1 HT maniac.
Sound. Back again to my wishes list: a more violent mid range when playing aggressive kind of Music, both in terms of mere "presence" and overall dynamics. Summarizing, more punch in the mids.
Also, a warmer lower-mid performance. With certain extra-dry recordings, this would be strongly welcomed.
Anyway, for 2,000 $/pair these speakers will let you forget your previous "audiophile" shoe-boxes :-)
First things first: don't let the apparent complexity fool you. Relax, drink a glass of your favourite Italian wine read the detailed and fool-proof manual, sit down and enjoy your Music.
When using them in plain "stereo" 2-channels mode, be sure to connect both the L and R channels from your preamp to the speakers. Yeah, I know under-100 Hz frequencies are mostly monophonic...but...one never knows.
Cables. The quality of the interconnects that will bring the line level signal to the subwoofers isn't crucial, considering the sub-100 Hz limitation. Anyway, since these will be quite long, be sure they are of the shielded kind, at least. If you are willing to save fuel, pay a visit to our DIY cables department.
As for speaker cables: choose something of good quality, since the RT 2000i will reveal any fault of the system that feeds them. Choose cheap, stranded 1 mmq cables and you're in for trouble.
Placement. These speakers are big, hence some extra trial & error session is strongly neeeded. Follow the owner's manual or start placing them far from the walls and toe-in them a little (10 degrees) for better imaging.
The speakers are heavy but, thanks Polk Audio!, they come with soft rubber feet so moving them into the listening room in search for the perfect "position" isn't all that difficult. Once you've found the sweet spot, use the spikes hidden inside the rubber feet...unless your floor is fragile! The speakers are heavy and the spikes are sharp!
Amps. As already pointed out, you don't need hi-current power surges to conveniently drive these speakers, even a modest audiophile 20 watt integrated can easily make them dance. Obviously enough, it is not a matter of "quantity", rather of quality. If you really want to hear these babies singing, don't save money on amps.
This has been a long and unusual listening test. Was it funny? You bet! Despite the various "playing modes", the extra cabling, the size and weight of these Polk Audio RT 2000i floorstanders, it has been an intriguing experience.
First of all, you have to listen without prejudice...these are really "audiophile" speakers, not boom-boxes for the HT crowd.
At the same price of a snobbish tiny bookshelf you buy a large, wood finished, subwoofer-equipped, good sounding floorstander that will give you all the bass your minimonitors always let you dream of. And no, you won't lose quality in the mid-high range, as these are fine, detailed and transparent performers with ANY kind of Music.
Not enough? Then please add the warranty only a big Company can give you (5 years for the loudspeaker, 3 years for the amps, parts and labour) and the worldwide availability of parts and distributors.
The Polk Audio site claims to offer "Wood at vinyl prices".
No way, dudes, this is True audiophile sound at consumer prices.
© Copyright 2001 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com