The soundbar market can be a confusing place.
Why do I need one? Is it going to block my TV sensor? How much do I need to spend on one? Thankfully, for the entry level of the market, The Polk Signa S1 is here, aiming to make life much simpler.
With the advent of everybody wanting a TV as thin as possible, this has left manufacturers with very few places left to put decent speakers. This results in a sound that is tinny at best, but quiet and difficult to distinguish at worst.
Soundbars and soundbases are the happy mid-ground between suffering with poor TV audio and buying multiple components for some form of home cinema solution. However, with a wealth of choice at around the £150 – £250 entry mark, it can be tricky to know the best choice. We take the Polk Signa S1 into the demo room to see if it can cut through the confusion.
On first impression, straight out of the box, the unit feels svelte and sleek. It’s only two inches high so the chances of it having any impact on your TV remote functioning are pretty much nil. The grille covering the four-inch drivers and one-inch tweeters is a fabric covering, meaning that whilst it won’t attract dust like a gloss plastic, it makes getting whatever dust DOES get onto it, harder to remove.
Included in the price is a wireless (excluding its need for a power supply, of course), front-ported subwoofer so that the bass frequencies aren’t lost by leaving it all to the slimline bar. Overall the unit looks and feels discrete in the room, although on build quality in a slimline form, the Cambridge TVB2 has it beaten with its metal grille and easier to position subwoofer.
Getting the unit connected up is simple, it’s an optical cable from the rear of your TV, directly into the Polk Signa S1. It does lack an HDMI input for higher quality sound and remote learning, found on units such as the Q Acoustics M3, but it does allow for Dolby Digital decoding for a ‘simulated surround sound’ experience.
We test the unit out with a simple run on the news to break it in (and because it’s well-suited to the morning coffee). From the get-go, the unit is clear and accurate to the source with no issues on speech. This clarity on vocals can be further enhanced by three buttons at the base of the units remote – part of Polk’s Voice Adjust feature.
With vocals being the key part of what is lost in translation on the basic TV speakers, the Signa S1 has three different levels of vocal enhancement to make sure you keep up with the dialogue, the levels were notably different watching the news, however the test truly comes whilst testing out the ‘surround sound’ with dialogue still running.
We opted to test this out with The Wolverine, one of Hugh Jackman’s outings in the Marvel Universe. The film has plenty of chaotic scenes, but mainly because we hear from our customers that American films and TV shows tend to have less clear dialogue. Jumping straight forward to the train fight scene, filled with the roaring bullet train, gunfire and rushing air alongside dialogue, this seems a good place to test the mettle.
The Polk does an admirable job of clarifying the dialogue, meaning that despite the action, the speech is mostly audible even on the lowest setting (Voice Adjust Level 1). However, by setting level 3, the simulated surround sound is less present as the bar focusses on dialogue and leaves little else to play with. If clarity AND surround are both priorities, it would be worth looking to dip your feet into the AV Receiver market with something like Denon’s well-placed AVRX540BT with a set of Denon SYS2020 speakers; they make a lovely pair to start your home cinema experience.
Musically, the Polk, like many competitors has the ability to play music via a Bluetooth stream, meaning it’s easy to use as a sound solution musically as well. The bar certainly gets the job done with the sub picking up a beat and the bar keeping the sound clear and crisp, albeit a little clinical. If music is a priority, you may wish to consider a Cambridge One Mini System with Cambridge Minx XL speaker package, the unit has an optical input to take a feed from your TV, Bluetooth for streaming and a superior DAC to allow the system to outstrip many soundbars if your space allows.
Overall, at the entry level to the market, the Polk is certainly one to look out for, it performs admirably as a discrete, all-round improvement to your TV’s natural sound and certainly makes for a more engaging experience.
If you’d like to hear this unit for yourself, why not drop into your local Richer Sounds branch to have a listen?
Author: Steve, Chiswick Store