Polk Audio LC265i
Home theater has changed all the
December 1, 2004
Ten years ago, everyone knew that receivers were,
umm, not serious. Serviceable, yes. Affordable, yes. High-end? Heaven forefend! Yet
todays A/V receiver is a technological marvel that contains not only multiple
channels of beefy power, but near-state-of-the-art digital-to-analog converters and
multichannel processing devices.
Then there are DVD players. The first model I auditioned
cost several thousand dollars and output S-video. Today I can go to Costco and buy a
player that equals the performance of that unit -- and outputs progressive video! -- for
under $100. It might not last five years, but it performs well now.
There is one area, however, where peoples
expectations havent changed: in-wall loudspeakers. When I told fellow reviewers that
Id obtained samples of Polks LC265i ($649 USD each) for review, they
all expressed sympathy.
My friend Tony saw things differently. "Really?"
he said. "I heard those at Home Entertainment 2004, and they sounded so good I put
them on my short list. Can I come over and hear them?"
I asked him why he was interested -- he can afford to live
in Manhattan, so I knew he couldnt be interested in them simply because of the
price. I was wrong about that.
"I want to install a 7.1-channel system, so of course
cost is a consideration," said Tony. "But I want to romp with my kids without
worrying about knocking over loudspeakers. I want to mount my LCD monitor on the wall for
the same reason -- and it would be silly to have an on-wall display and have a bunch of
speakers pulled a few feet into the room. But most of all, I think it would be cool."
In-wall speakers? Cool? Home theater has
Existence precedes and rules essence
I came to that conclusion back in 2003, when Polk announced
that it would introduce a completely new line of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. The
drivers were impressive, and the crossovers looked top-drawer -- at least as far as
I could tell from a silent display in a hotel ballroom.
Later, I spotted Matthew Polk
at a reception and told him how impressive the new line looked. "Yes, I had incentive
to make them sound really good," he confessed. "Were building a new house,
and my wife wont let me put speakers in certain rooms."
Incentive? I guess so!
The LC265i is the top speaker in Polks in-wall
line. Analogous to Polks LSi9 stand-mounted monitor ($1039.95/pair), it
sports two 6.5" cone midrange-woofers (the upper one is aerated polypropylene and the
lower one is mineral-filled polypropylene) and a 1" ring-radiator tweeter in a swivel
mount. Also like the LSi9, the 265i incorporates Polks Power Port
bass-reflex technology, which gives it surprising bass response -- its rated down to
43Hz (-3dB). However, the in-wall speaker offers additional control options; you can tune
the speakers sound to its location.
Thanks to its swivel mount, the tweeter can be aimed; you
can also attenuate its output by 3dB if you need to mount the 265is in a hard room
or near a window. The LC265i also boasts a wall-distance toggle to compensate for
the midbass bump caused by sidewalls less than 2 away.
Mounting the LC265i is pretty simple, thanks to its
rotating cam locks. All you have to do is use the supplied template to cut the
appropriately sized hole in the wall, drop your speaker wires in, attach them to the
speaker, then mount the baffle flush to the drywall. Turn the mounting screws on the
baffle and spring-loaded locking cams rotate into position behind the drywall and allow
you to cinch the speaker tightly in place. Of course, if youre building a new house
or room, you can install a mounting ring between the studs and even use cross-braced
firebreaks to create a 0.03-cubic-meter enclosure, which will be more rigid and
But as long as you dont have the walls up yet, or if
youre willing to go the extra mile to rip out your existing drywall and re-rock it
later, why not go all the way? Polk offers Performance Enclosures made of MDF for the
ultimate in vibration control and tuned volume. The performance enclosures for the 265is
are 14" wide by 3 3/8" deep by 55 5/8" tall -- just wide enough
and shallow enough to fit between 16"-on-center studs. The enclosures were dense and
well-damped. Retail is $249/each.
Not choice, but habit rules the unreflecting herd
I mounted the LC265i enclosures on either side of my
wall-mounted Stewart GreyHawk screen, in what I assume would be a real-world scenario.
This meant that one LC265i was in the middle of the front wall, the other fairly
close to a sidewall. When I played music and DVDs through them before adjusting the
tweeter position or wall-distance switch, I could clearly hear a difference between the
left and right speakers. The sidewall smeared the sound emanating from the speaker
adjacent to it; the sound from that speaker was spitchy.
I aimed both tweeters slightly toward the middle (be
careful to use the mounting ring when you do this, not the suspension) and the
spitchiness disappeared, creating an extremely solid center image. This made it obvious
that I was getting more chestiness from the near-wall speaker than the other one, so I
activated the proximity cut, which greatly reduced it. The fact is that nothing beats
ideal speaker placement, but Polks adjustments go a long way toward leveling the
playing field. I doubt I could have gotten better results from a pair of stand-mounted LSi9s.
I used the Linn Classik Movie Di and the T+A M system for
both audio and A/V duties. The Magnepan MMG C and MMG W speakers served as my center and
effects speakers. The speakers were connected to the amps with Kimber KWIK 12 in-wall
cables. My SIM2 HT200 DMF put the picture on the screen.
Where love rules, there is no will to power
Despite my fellow reviewers misgivings, when it comes
to performance, in-wall designs have one thing going for them -- the speaker designer knows
where at least one boundary will be. That guarantees decent bass, but the problem with
in-walls usually lies higher up in the spectrum. Most in-walls lack air and depth -- and
quite a few have quite a bit of honk to boot. Think about it -- standalone speakers have
gotten ever narrower over the years, and designers have gone to extremes to eliminate flat
panels and sharp-edged contours around the tweeter; an in-wall speaker places the tweeter
in one of the broadest, flattest surfaces in the room. So dont ask me to explain how
the 265is sounded so open and flat. They did, though.
I began by listening to Cantuss . . . Against the
Dying of the Light [CD, Cantus CTS 1202], a recording that suffers if its reproduction
stints on soundstaging -- talk about a torture test! However, the Polks were up to it. The
265is gave me the deep crescent that the 11 male singers assumed between the
microphones when the disc was recorded in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at Shattuck St.
Marys School in Faribault, Minnesota. I was stunned to hear depth behind the
singers, as well as the acoustic bloom -- and ring -- of the tiny stone chapel that
contained them. And I was gobsmacked by the solidity and stability of Cantus basses Alan
Dunbar, Erick Lichte, and Timothy Takach. Them boys was there -- well, somewhere
behind the wall, where I couldnt see em.
I moved on to Michelangelis recording of Ravels
Piano Concerto in G [CD, EMI 67258]. I wondered if the Polks could present the piano as
solidly as they did the 11-voice chorus, speculating that delivering a large solo voice
would prove a lot harder than even a group of human-sized ones.
Maybe it is harder, but the 265is handled it
with ease. The vigorous Allegramente set the stage with its athletic jumps and
sprints -- well, thats all in the music; the piano itself was stable and solid and
centered. Then came the magic of the Adagio assai, which flows as gently as water
kissing the stones of a mountain brook. Michelangeli owns this movement, and the
Polks did what any music lover would do: paid homage to its beauty by being faithful to
The strenuous Allegramente that begins the concerto
and the merry Presto that concludes it offer dynamic swings and tuttis that,
while taxing to any music system, also offer hiding places for infelicities. The music is
so fast-moving and rambunctious that the ear can miss a lot. The Adagio, on the
other hand, is music-making at its most naked; I think it was somewhere around the time
the oboe joined the pianos noble, resigned melodic line that I fell head over heels
in love with the LC265i. It wasnt the perfection of the notes so much as the
purity of the emotion. Lots of speakers can deliver the notes; the Polk delivered the
A reviewer and an in-wall loudspeaker -- talk about a mixed
Obtruding false rules pranked in reasons garb
Usually, music is hard and home theater is easy. The party
line (at least among audiophiles) is that visual processing uses so much of your
brains computing power that youre less fastidious about what youre
hearing. I suspect that may have the teensiest measure of truth in it; I also suspect that
the real reason were so forgiving of so many movie soundtracks in surround is that
they have so little relationship to aural reality as we know it.
I have no idea what a Saturn V rocket or an M-16 rifle or
an F-14 jet really sounds like -- nor, I might add, does anyone know what a
dinosaurs footfall or the Batmobile resembles sonically. Do those things sound
convincing in big-budget movie soundtracks? Heck yes, but we have to keep in mind that
film directors and advertisers discovered years ago that real sounds sound less than
convincing when recorded with the acuity required by modern films and commercials.
As a result, no advertiser worth his salt would record soda
fizzing for a soft-drink commercial -- it wouldnt sound "real." If, in a
movie, you hear someone marching in the snow, odds are the Foley artists at the studio did
not record someone walking in snow. That very small detail may have taken the
better part of a day to convincingly simulate. That probably means that the sound of the
wind blowing through the trees, or of someone talking while walking from one room into
another, is no more "real" than those T. rex footfalls in Jurassic
Park -- but at least I know what the former are supposed to sound like.
So, while I watched Blade II -- its DTS soundtrack
is of demo quality -- what it really told me was that the Polk LC265i can play
really, really loud. It was great fun. And did I mention that it was also really -- I mean
really -- loud?
Im not sure that Master and Commander: The Far
Side of the World is any "realer" -- Ive never sailed on a ship of the
line in Nelsons navy -- but the soundtrack is a lot subtler, with the wind
susurrating through the hemp rigging and the HMS Surprise creaking and groaning all
around us as we sail the southern oceans.
Lost In Translation is another film that uses the
sounds of the familiar world (if not my usual stomping grounds, Tokyo is reassuringly
urban) to anchor its reality and to illustrate the isolation of its protagonists -- we buy
the premise because the soundscape is so believably mundane. In fact, the Polks were
better at delivering dialogue intelligibly than the Magnepan MMG C center speaker I was
using. Had I used a third LC265i (which would have been quite possible; its
centrally mounted tweeter would have allowed it to work just as well horizontally below my
screen), I might well have been tempted to retire so that I would never have to move
another freestanding loudspeaker into my home theater. I am contemplating
nominating the three-LC265i array to be my new standard reference HT setup.
The two golden rules for an orchestra are to start
together and to end together
From a purchase (or review) perspective, there are two
problems with in-wall speakers: They are difficult to audition, and they are almost
impossible to compare. I do have a pair of high-quality in-walls in my house: the Mirage
HDT-WM1 ($1250/each), which I reviewed for onhifi.com last January. But how do I move em from the
soffit of my kitchen to my downstairs home theater? I cant, and the Mirages
near-ceiling locations make even room/room evaluations extremely difficult.
That said, the Polk and Mirage are more similar than
different. Each features a range of adjustability that makes real-world in-wall placement
simpler than I ever would have thought possible. Each has superb bottom-end response,
although the HDT-WM1 sounds as if it goes about a third of an octave lower. (On the other
hand, the Mirages are closer to a second boundary, placed near the ceiling as they
The HDT-WM1s 1" MDF baffle is even more
substantial than the 265is, but it costs a lot more -- in fact, the 265is
with Performance Enclosures come in at a few hundred dollars less than the Mirages.
Although I cant completely discount it as a placement
issue, the one marked difference I heard was the extent to which the Polks delivered a
sense of soundstage depth and sonic holography. Perhaps it was the swiveling tweeter
mounting, perhaps it was the crossover. I dont have enough data to speculate
intelligently; all I can do is tell you what I heard.
The golden rule is that there is no rule
The one thing I am sure of is that my friend Tony
doesnt know the half of it: The Polk LC265i is cool. A pair of
em work like a dream flanking a video screen, and what they do with music is the
stuff of magic.
If youve got the floor space, you can probably get
better sound from similarly priced freestanding loudspeakers, but I wouldnt insist
that its a sure thing. In some spaces, the in-walls might actually offer better
sound, even if they arent the logistical winner.
And if performance like that doesnt establish
a new rule, I have no idea what will.
Polk Audio LC265i In-Wall Loudspeakers
Price: $649 USD each.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
5601 Metro Drive
Baltimore, MD 21215
Phone: (410) 358-3600