Polk Audio LSiM703 Speakers

Polk Audio has been making high-quality products since 1972.  Over the last few years, the company has been stepping up its game at the high end of its product line, beginning with the LSiM707 floorstanding speakers, which we reviewed back in issue 42.  The $1,500-per-pair LSiM703 bookshelf speakers reviewed here capitalize on the same technology and driver advances as the larger 707s, but do so in a smaller package.  And like the $4,000-per-pair 707s, the 703s perform well beyond what their modest price tag suggests.

The three-way LSiM703 employs a rear port and Polk’s Dynamic Sonic Engine design, which places the 3.25-inch midrange driver and 1-inch ring radiator tweeter in separate chambers within the speaker enclosure, further isolating the driver units from the acoustic vibrations produced by the woofer.  The midrange and woofer cones are constructed of polypropylene, which is injected with air to form a honeycomb structure that combines the benefit of low mass, stiffness and high damping.  The crossovers include both Mylar and polypropylene capacitors, as well as non-magnetic air-core inductors, which are less prone to electrical-signal disturbance and thus deliver improved transparency.  This construction provides a good balance between sensitivity and smooth frequency response, and is indicative of the speaker’s build quality in general—from the flush grilles, right down to the high-quality jumpers between the binding posts, which can be bi-wired.

Our review samples are finished in an attractive cherrywood veneer.  (Ebony is also an option.)  The speaker’s MDF-based enclosure is exceptionally inert, which a classic knuckle-rap test confirms.  I leave the grilles off for all listening sessions, though they will come in handy wherever prying fingers or noses lurk.  I find that the LSiM703’s bass response and imaging focus benefit from inert stands, and my 26-inch-tall Sound Anchors prove a perfect fit.

Engineering Excellence

The detail paid to the time alignment, transparency and coherency comes through the LSiM703s immediately, allowing the heart and soul of the music to shine, regardless of musical genre.  Malian vocal legend Salif Keita’s album Papa, with its modal melodies and deep grooves, is a magical experience through the compact Polks, which require proper toe-in to create a convincingly holographic presentation.  I suggest the classic equilateral triangle configuration for optimal results.

The Stranglers’ classic track “Golden Brown” is a great reference, combining a dry but well-recorded lead vocal and great melody with intricate interplay between bass and drums.  Lesser speakers homogenize these elements, but the Polks shine, keeping the pace and keeping the individual elements separate from one another.  I put this tune on repeat for more than a few plays.  On the title track of Lisa Hannigan’s Passenger album you can hear every breath and lip purse on her closely miked vocals—a tough accomplishment for a speaker in this price category.

While the LSiM703s are not an overly analytical or strident speaker, they are precise in the way that their realistic presentation draws you into the music, and then holds you there.  Music lovers will have a difficult time using them strictly for background music.  They start and stop transient musical events on a dime, with no overhang, confusion or timing issues.  The Polks sometimes even seem to have the authority and realistic weight in the bass region of floorstanders, with the bass guitar and bass drum having real impact and definition.  The only trade offs that become apparent after extended listening are the sudden falloff of the deepest bass notes and the last bit of midrange refinement that far costlier speakers offer.

To their credit, the LSiM703s always stay out of the way of the music, allowing the distinctions between different masterings of classic albums to come through with ease.  The speakers also spotlight newer recordings that fall victim to the “loudness wars,” and give recordings with excellent dynamic range plenty of breathing room.  In this regard, they remind me of my Thiel CS2.4 floorstanders; that’s pretty good company, considering that the Thiel’s cost four times what the Polks do.

The LSiM703s work equally well with solid-state or tube amplification, making them an easy fit for whatever you have on hand.  I fall smitten when pairing them with the Carver Black Magic 20 stereo tube amplifier I just finished reviewing; combining EL84 tubes and the smoothness of the Polks makes for a seductive, user-friendly system.

A Superb Value

The overall feel of the Polk LSiM703s is one of a more relaxed ease, mixed with high-quality construction; nothing screams budget in their sound or appearance.  That’s the advantage of going with speakers from a company with 40 years of engineering and manufacturing expertise.  Polk has hit the bull’s-eye with the LSiM703, proving that a big company can easily compete with (and even excel beyond) what a smaller artisan company can accomplish, and do so at a moderate price.  These speakers are on my suggestion list for friends on a reasonable budget in the market for quality bookshelf speakers.  We are happy to award the LSiM703s one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2013.

Additional Thoughts

By Jeff Dorgay

Visiting the Polk factory in 2010 and seeing a full complement of ARC REF components in the demo room, I knew the company was serious about “getting back into the audiophile market.”  Touring the factory and getting a chance to talk to the engineering staff, it’s clear that Polk really wants to make a mark with the LSiM series, which the company has done with great success.  On many levels, I’d even compare Polk to Hyundai in the sense that it is making a reasonably priced product that scores as high or higher than Lexus on the J.D. Power surveys.  Another great parallel is the KEF LS50 mini-monitor.  It’s amazing what big speaker companies can accomplish when they apply their design and manufacturing expertise to a real-world pricing structure.

Before shipping the LSiM703s off to Andre, I was anxious to see just how much of the 707 floorstanders sound was available here.  Because the 707, 705 and 703 all share the same components in their Dynamic Sound Engine driver design, you really only give up low-frequency weight and dynamics as u come down the range, so those listening in a smaller room aren’t really sacrificing much.  In my smaller (13-foot-by-16-foot) room, these speakers really rock the place, and a little bit of room gain goes a long way.

While these speakers can illustrate the differences between amplifiers incredibly well, I share Andre’s excitement for using them with tube amplifiers.  I have excellent results with the PrimaLuna ProLogue Premium integrated, as well as with my vintage Conrad Johnson MV50.  Combining the speakers with the Rega Brio-R integrated amp, a Rega DAC and a Mac mini makes for a smoking system for about $3,500—which is a perfect place to start your audiophile journey, or just stay there happily ever after.  There’s never been a better time to be a music lover and an audio enthusiast.

Polk Audio LSiM703 Speakers

MSRP: $1,500 per pair



Amplifier McIntosh MA6600 integrated amplifier
Digital Only C700R CD Player    Logitech Squeezebox Touch with Keces XPS   Rein Audio X3-DAC
Cables Transparent MusicWave MM2 speaker cable   Darwins Cables Silver interconnects    Kimber Kable Opt-1 TosLink

Polk Blackstone TL2 and PSW111 Speaker Combination

One of the biggest concerns facing the audio industry is how to lure new converts to the wacky world of gear. These days, the higher end of the high end will easily set you back six figures. That’s not only out of reach of Joe Six-Pack, it’s out of reach of most rational humans that don’t earn seven figures. At TONE, we continue to provide more coverage of entry-level and vintage gear for good reason; we all have to start somewhere. But it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can get satisfying sound on a tight budget, and the Polk Audio Blackstone TL2s will stretch your audio budget further than anything I’ve ever experienced.

Since its emergence in the mid-70s, Polk’s mantra to offer high-end sound without matching high-end pricing has remained the same. On a recent visit to its corporate headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, I saw and heard a number of its latest efforts, including a new flagship speaker in the $5,000 per pair range. But the most exciting thing I saw was the Blackstone TL2 speakers you see here.

For $99.99 each, you get a pair of tiny satellite speakers that use a 3 ¼-inch-long throw woofer and ½-inch silk dome tweeter in a tiny cabinet weighing only about 3 pounds that I guarantee will blow you out of your chair, ala the old Maxell cassette man, when they are mated with the matching PSW111 subwoofer ($299.99.) So, for $500, you can have a rocking set of speakers that won’t take up much space in your living area.  Add a great vintage 70s receiver for $200 to $300, and you still have enough money left from a $1,000 bill to grab a decent used turntable.

Five- and six-figure speakers are pretty normal in our world, so it’s incredibly cool when you hear something this amazing for $500. For the stylistically inclined, rest assured that these speakers look as great as they sound. Their curved cabinets should fit any decor, whether you use them with stands or mount them to the wall or ceiling.

How Does Polk Do It?

Beginning with its RM 3000 system, Polk entered the world of small satellite main speakers with a powered subwoofer in the late 80s. The tiny speakers and their powered subwoofer listed for $700 and redefined what a sat/sub system could do.  They may not have invented the genre, but they certainly moved to the head of the class in short order.  More than 20 years later, Polk remains at the forefront, building a better system for $200 less. Of course, some of this is due to offshore manufacturing, but most of the credit goes to the experienced design team located in their Baltimore.

Employee turnover is very low at Polk, and a majority of the staff has been with the company for decades. Such depth of experience makes it a lot easier to build a substantial base of knowledge. Every aspect of Polk speakers is designed from the ground up, which also helps in a situation like this, because instead of trying to build a box around off-the-shelf components, Polk’s engineers designed everything to solve the specific problem of making a high-performance speaker fit in a small enclosure.

Just like Polk’s larger speakers, the TL2 uses a ring radiator tweeter that is similar to that used in its LSi floorstanding speaker systems. The company’s Time Lens system of aligning the woofer and mid bass on the same plane gives the speakers a high level of coherence, making them sound much like a single-driver speaker but with the performance advantages of a two-way system. (Read about the TL2’s other unique features here: http://www.polkaudio.com/homeaudio/blackstonetl/technology.php)

Set-up Options

Polk offers three different ways to use the TL2/PSW111 combination. No matter what your amplification situation, it’s a breeze to utilize. The system can be used with your speaker level outputs, line level outputs, or, if you have a multichannel home-theater system with an LFE input, that will also work.

The TL2 claims a low-frequency response spec of -3db at 125Hz, but you can take advantage of room gain by placing the speakers in the corner of the room or near the rear walls. They will even work well on a bookshelf, though imaging performance may suffer. The PSW111’s LF crossover setting is variable from 60Hz to 150Hz. A 60Hz setting is too low for the TL2s and leaves a hole in the upper-bass response, but start at that level so you can slowly bring up the subwoofer level and presence.

Should you lack sophisticated measurement tools, play a few bass-heavy tracks and fine-tune the level and frequency crossover controls until the speaker system has sufficient bass weight without the subwoofer sounding rough or boomy. You’ll know you’ve nailed it when you get full-bodied bass response from the tiny speakers and can’t really tell where the sub is located in the room. If you have access to test tones, you can get a great feel for where the satellites stop and the subwoofer takes over, making it easier to concentrate on overall system smoothness.

Mind-Blowing Sound

Any pre-conceived notions you may have about small speakers will vanish the minute you play music through the TL2s. Having heard more than my fair share of outright lousy inexpensive (under $1,000/pr.) speakers, the TL2s are a treat, even for those of you with champagne taste and budgets. Initially staying in the budget groove, I plugged in my used Pioneer SX-424 receiver that I picked up for $60 on eBay for last issue’s “Slummin” column. Using 50-cent-per-foot Radio Shack speaker wire and a used Denon 3910 universal disc player (also purchased on eBay for about $200) made for a highly impressive budget system, and a great place for any music lover to start their journey.

Even with 15 watts per channel, the little Polks played authoritatively. When listening Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies, I could crank “I Stay Away” to (small) room-rattling levels. A brief stint with favorite tracks that have a lot of LF energy will help you optimize the subwoofer to perfection and attain more musical enjoyment.

As much fun as the TL2/PSW111 combination is with a vintage receiver, I wasn’t ready for the big jump in sound quality I got when stepping up to better electronics.  First, I swapped the SX-424 for the Cambridge Audio 840P (a 90-watt-per-channel solid-state integrated amplifier) and then, for the Croft Series 7 tube preamplifier, and finally, the Micro 25 hybrid power amplifier. Each took the sound quality further than the preceding setup. Indeed, the TL2s are extremely revealing speakers.

Suffice to say that, when mated to the $2,500 Croft setup, the Polk combination more than held its own. Connecting it to world-class electronics revealed imaging performance and reproduction of spatial cues that I expect from speakers costing much more. Granted, with the dCS Paganini stack driving the system, you could now easily hear the speakers’ limitations, yet they still made no missteps. The only errors were those of omission. But if you don’t listen to music with huge dynamic and frequency extremes, you may never miss a thing. Once properly setup, bass from the three-speaker system boasted excellent detail; this was not a case of hearing just one-note bass thump away. I was particularly excited listening to Marcus Miller’s new A Night In Monte Carlo, which contains several great bass solos.

The mids are natural and open, neither squawking nor beaming. Fans of vocal music will be thrilled with the large helpings of coherence. Listening to Anja Garbarek’s “Big Mouth” on her Smiling and Waving proved a joyful experience. The shifts in her timbral character as she goes from a highly processed background vocalist to a cleaner, main vocalist were easy to track with the speakers, as they never lost control of the electronic instrumentation in the background. Ani DiFranco’s live version of “Amazing Grace” from Living in Clip was another fun song that the TL2s aced. DiFranco’s complex vocal stylings fall flat and lose natural resonance on unresolving speakers. But the Polks sailed right through, delivering a rich performance. And if you are sick and tired of Nils Lofgren’s “Keith Don’t Go” (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) but hooked on plucky acoustic guitar music to serve as test material, try DiFranco’s “Gravel”–you may have a new favorite test track.

And if it’s power you want, it’s power you’ve got. I was consistently impressed with how loud these little speakers played without breakup. Though many of us believe that you can only get “big sound from big speakers,” the TL2/PSW111 combination renders such thinking obsolete. Even when spinning some of my favorite heavy tracks from Led Zeppelin, UFO, and Deep Purple, I was able to push these speakers extremely hard before distortion started to set in. And yes, I dialed up the volume up to levels that would certainly cause the average apartment or dorm dweller to get angry looks from neighbors.

Finally, the Polks do something that almost no budget speaker does well: They offer up a liberal share of resolution at low volumes. And in tackling this challenge, they do an even better job with tube amplification than solid-state. Even at quiet conversation levels, it was easy to discern the differences between Robert Plant and his backing vocalists on the recent Band of Joy. This degree of dynamics and contrast reveals a high level of linearity that I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing at this price.

Oh, and for those looking for the ultimate computer system, the TL2s perform incredibly well when used nearfield on a desktop. With the subwoofer under your desk, the TL2s throw a huge soundstage. Matching them with the latest MiniWatt three-watt amplifier served as a perfect choice, as it coupled tube warmth with the speakers.

You Know You Want ‘Em!

I’ve rarely heard a pair of $1,000 speakers, let alone a $500 set, which possesses this level of balance. You need the subwoofer to make them sing, but it’s worth the extra money. The $600/pair Silverline Minuets are also excellent, but don’t have the TL2/PSW111’s bass grunt or cheaper price. The Polks win the day.

If I were starting my hi-fi journey today, these would be the speakers I would buy. The Polk TL2/PSW111 combination offers everything a music lover could want: Great imaging, weighty LF performance, tonal accuracy, and the ability to play loud when required. And they are solid enough that, should you join the ranks of dedicated audiophiles, you will be able to go through a few rounds of electronics upgrades before you start thinking about a better pair of speakers. The TL2s are that good; they may just stay in your family forever.

Polk Audio’s claim of “Big Speaker Sound Without the Big Speakers” is spot-on.  TONE is eager to award the TL2/PSW111 speaker combination one of our Exceptional Value Awards for 2011, and they will be the speaker to beat for one of our Product of the Year Awards this December. Enthusiastically recommended.

The Polk Audio TL2 speakers and PSW111 subwoofer

MSRP: $99.99 ea (speakers), $299.99 (subwoofer)



Digital Source Denon 3910    dCS Paganini stack
Analog Source Dual 1219/Grado Red    Rega P3-24/Denon 103
Amplification Pioneer SX-424    Cambridge Audio 840P integrated amplifier    Croft Series 7 preamplifier/Micro 25 power amplifier
Cable Audio Art IC-3, SC-5    Radio Shack speaker cable

Polk Audio LSiM707 Loudspeaker

“I’m a stat guy at heart. I wanted that midrange openness and neutrality,” remarks Mark Suskind, Polk Audio’s VP of Product Line Management, as we listen to the nuances in Ginger Baker’s drumming through Polk’s latest creation, the LSiM707 speakers.

Incredibly, the $3,999 pair of floorstanders is right at home in a six-figure reference system, throwing out a wide soundstage that both extends well beyond the speaker boundaries and claims three-dimensionality—each member of Cream takes up a distinct space in the listening room—that paints a vivid picture of a seemingly in-progress live event. Wait: Polk Audio and a six-figure reference system? What gives? Is this a Fringe episode where in an alternate universe Polk Audio rules the world of high-end speakers and Walter Bishop blasts Cream in his laboratory while he investigates the unknown? Nope. Just another instance of TONEAudio exploring exciting possibilities.

In the early 70s, Polk Audio grabbed the audiophile world’s attention with its legendary SDA-SRS speaker system and has since counted a number of significant milestones. The LSiM707 brings the history full circle by leaning on nearly 40 years of speaker-production knowledge. Yes, these are handsome speakers, available in a Mount Vernon Cherry medium wood finish or Midnight Mahogany a black ash wood finish. Slim, magnetic grilles keep fingers, noses, and prying guests away from the drivers, or you can use the speakers bare and showcase the gorgeous gloss-black front panel.

A Serious Audiophile Speaker in Every Way

When introduced in 2001, the LSi series garnered rave international reviews, proving Polk a solid contender in the audiophile speaker market. And you won’t find a more loyal group of speaker owners; take a cursory look at the Polk Audio Owners Group on the Web.

The LSiM707 constitutes a four-way system with many new features, some of which break new ground and some that refine past processes. A cutaway view highlights the attention paid to every facet of the design—from the Dynamic Sonic Engine that incorporates Polk’s latest ring radiator tweeter and Extended Motion midrange driver to the meticulously assembled crossover network, featuring premium capacitors and inductors. And, there are a few things the naked eye cannot see, such as the aerated polypropylene woofer cones and rigid internal cabinet bracing. For in-depth tech explanations of these aspects, visit the Polk Web site at http://www.polkaudio.com/homeaudio/lsim/index.php.

To ensure the speakers would perform at the top level, Polk made substantial upgrades to its in-house listening room. Visiting the company’s Baltimore office reveals a full complement of Audio Research Reference electronics—amplifier, preamplifier, CD player. No surprise, then, that the LSiM707 yields excellent results when plugged into my ARC REF 5 preamplifier and REF 150 power amplifier.


Placing the speakers five feet from the rear wall, with the tweeters nine feet apart— combined with five degrees of toe-in and a slight rearward rake—proves optimum in my room. The LSiM707s sound good without critical placement, but taking the time to make adjustments to rake angle results in superior imaging. Sure, the process requires a few minutes per speaker, but it’s made even easier with the iLevel Pro app for the iPhone. Or you can go old-school with a traditional level. Just have both speakers raked back at the identical amount and use the supplied wrench.

I utilized three distinctly diverse systems to audition the LSiM707s. The ARC REF gear and dCS Paganini CD player highlight how the speakers perform in very high-end systems. My recently rebuilt (fresh power supplies and full CJD Teflon cap upgrades for both units) Conrad Johnson MV-50 amplifier and PV-12 preamplifier, along with a BelCanto CD player, makes for a great setup that won’t break the piggy bank yet still renders highly satisfying performances. For budget-conscious music lovers that might make the LSiM707s a foundation on which to build, a vintage Pioneer SX-434 receiver and 563 universal disc player only add $200 to the cost of the Polk speakers.

I’ll Take Polk Audio For $4000, Please

The LSiM707s’ slight out-of-the-box stiffness vanishes after about 50 hours of playing time, unveiling speakers much more sophisticated than what’s intimated by their price. A few snooty local audiophile associates experienced the LSiM707s (albeit with the Polk logos hidden from view) in my full ARC system. When asked to guess the cost of the mystery component, they estimated between $10-$20k, a conclusion spurred on by my spinning of well-known audiophile favorites. After the guinea pigs became convinced they were listening to $20k speakers, I finally dropped the bomb by informing them the Polks fetch $3,995 for the pair. Consider the so-called experts successfully duped.

While listening to a $20k pair of speakers reveals the areas in which the LSiM707s fall short, this review isn’t meant as a shootout. Big bucks gear possesses extra resolution and refinement—and that’s how it should be. Comparing the LSiM707s to speaker favorites in the $4,000-$5,500 bracket is more useful and interesting.

The $4k Penaudio Cenya and the $5k B&W 805D both present more upper-range resolution, but only solidly go down to 50Hz. Also, each requires a pair of expensive stands to achieve maximum bass performance. Meanwhile, the $5,500 Magnepan 3.7s color a more grandiose aural picture but don’t really rock. Plus, to be all they can be, they necessitate a $10k high-current, solid-state power amplifier.

A Serious Music Lover’s Speaker

The 50 watts per channel that the CJ amp provides is great for most listening, but the configuration particularly excels at vocals and mellower music, as illustrated by Mobile Fidelity’s 24K CD of Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever. The album’s multiple layers stay intact, with not only the woodblock in “Face in a Crowd” anchored in space but its timbre and scale sounding exactly right. They seem minor, yet these minute details allow you to forget about the system and concentrate on the music. Gram Parsons’ Grievous Angel and CSN’s Déjà vu supply similar experiences. The LSiM707s unfailingly render subtle shadings without missing the larger dynamic swings.

Swapping the CJ gear for the C500 preamplifier and the 450Wpc MC452 power amplifier, I effortlessly buried the big, blue power meters courtesy of albums from Van Halen, Slayer, and Nine Inch Nails. Todd Martens’ column (on page 88) inspired a maximum-volume romp through The Downward Spiral that left me invigorated and convinced that the LSi707s play at high levels without instilling listener fatigue.

Jazz and classical listeners should be equally enthralled with the Polks. It’s one trick to play really loud, but these speakers possess the necessary finesse to capture the essence of acoustic instruments. With a recent listening session to the mastering of Music Matters’ analog edition of Herbie Hancock’s Empyrean Isles burned in my memory, I eagerly played a test pressing of the LP via the LSiM707s. They did not disappoint. Hancock’s piano and Freddie Hubbard’s coronet blast from between the speakers with great dynamics and zero overhang. Cymbals are natural, and bass is pregnant with texture—no one-note bass here.

Man Up and Grab a Pair

The LSiM707s’ greatest virtue owes to their overall performance level; they have no shortcomings. Honestly. The speakers offer major bass grunt—Polk claims 22Hz-40kHz, with a -3db point at 42Hz. However, when listening to test tones, the 30Hz band remains very solid. Moreover, the smooth high-end is grain-free and the mid-band extremely natural. The well-designed crossover network also provides a top-to-bottom coherence that’s rare at this price.

It would be easy to say that these speakers’ only errors are those of omission, but such a statement sells them short. When used with the ARC REF gear, the LSiM707s easily resolved the differences between the $12k dCS Debussy, $30k TAD 600, and $55k dCS Paganini. Most sub-$10k speakers fail this challenge.

Most importantly, for music lovers on a budget, the LSiM707s still deliver a very musical performance when paired with a garage-sale receiver. No matter with what they’re mated, they put forward such substantial resolution that it will feel as if you acquire a whole new system any time you upgrade your amplification and/or source components. This experience translates to unending fun—and a TONEAudio Exceptional Value Award.

Revealingly, on our way to the airport, Suskind commented that Polk “wants the LSiM707 to be a gateway to the high end on a reasonable budget.” The company accomplished this feat—and much, much more.