Polk AMR 150 Review

Author: Austin Bailey
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Thursday, March 1st, 2001
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/polkamr150/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Introduction

Last time we took a look at the Polk AMR90 and found it to be an able budget 4.1 set that fell somewhat short of expectations with muffled upper end performance. Now Polk Audio, ever the perfectionists, have released their latest 4.1 speakers, the AMR150, which promises to deliver all the goods at the still comfy price of $149.99. Basically Polk looked at some of the lower points on the AMR90 set, addressed some of the issues that reviewers and Polk’s own engineers had raised, and literally tackled those problems to eliminate the flaws while keeping all the qualities of the previous systems. So how did they do? One heck of a job.

AMR 150 Box Shot & Box Contents

The AMR150 have taken over as the flagship multimedia speakers from Polk, and they look and perform just as a flagship product should. When we opened up the box we were greeted with a very stylish set of speakers with a pretty cool silver-grey finish. The subwoofer retains its basic design, size and shape from the rest of the AMR series, but sports completely different electronics and a revamped rear port. The satellites are completely different – larger, more aesthetically engaging, and designed to impress (both aurally and visually). Just look at those sexy front satellites in our pics, they positively scream style, and their swooping arched design doesn’t just make them pretty, it gives them an edge in the sound quality department too.

As far as the satellites go, Polk took the route that I expect many others will soon adopt: the front satellites each house both a 3” midrange AND a 1 ½” tweeter, while the rear satellites only have a single 3” fullrange driver each. This emphasis on the front speakers results in extra clarity and a richer performance where it counts, while still keeping the costs relatively low. The result is sound quality that leaves behind nearly any other 4.1 surround speaker set using the 4x2.5" and 4x3” paradigm (eg: 4 identical satellites each housing a single 2.5” or 3” fullrange driver).

Did I mention that the speakers are also “digital capable”? Indeed, you can connect the speakers using analog connectors, or, if your sound card allows, you can connect the speakers digitally. The package comes with everything you need to set up the speakers with any number of sound cards. All analog sound cards are automatically supported. Sound cards with digital outputs either in the form of the SBLive’s DIN type output or coaxial type outputs can both connect to the speakers using supplied adapters. I was impressed with the versatility of the installation options. I paired the AMR150s with our Santa Cruz card, which can be set to push out digital output in its VersaJack, and used the supplied Y-splitter to connect digitally to the speakers.

The AMR150 Does Music

As usual, a good chunk of my testing involves using a wide array of music – on a computer, I spend more time listening to music then I do playing games and watching movies, so this is perhaps the most important aspect to someone like myself. The AMR150s did not disappoint. In fact, they gave a performance that far surpassed my expectations, given their price range.

For starters, the speakers produce music with clear highs and very supportive mids. The muffled sound that plagues most 4.1 speakers is deliciously absent. The soundstage is solid and smooth straight across, and the subwoofer, when set properly, merges excellently with the rest of the audio. Stereo separation is fairly good, though perhaps less clean and precise than the Boston Acoustics BA4800 and definitely not as distinct as the Klipsch speakers. Because of this, in some songs with heavy vocal emphasis you might get a mild sense of detachment from the material where you can lose that special illusion of “being there”.

AMR 150 Set & A closeup of the Sub's Jacks

If you follow my reviews, you will probably have noticed I always complain about the subwoofer lacking presence or the satellites lacking upper end clarity. The AMR150 manages to avoid the brunt of such complaints, because it is a very well balanced system. But it doesn’t escape completely unscathed. The bass was smooth and natural, as long as you keep the bass controls at a modest level (roughly the 1/3 to ½ mark). Crank it too high and you’re going to be treated to bass that I would term a little “dirty”. On some of the more merciless tracks, turning the bass too high results in some pretty noticeable distortion. This isn’t to say that the subwoofer wasn’t giving up a pretty impressive and LOUD bass reproduction. On the contrary, I could get very loud thumps outta this baby when needed, and some pretty smooth rollin’ tones too, when needed. On instrumentals where subtle bass is most important, the subwoofer manages to come through with a smooth bass noticeably lacking in bloat or exaggeration. Songs which require rich bass undertones in the underlying beat were also reproduced very nicely, though not as tightly as I was hoping to hear. Songs that rely heavily on bass and bass effects still managed to sound good most of the time, although I did find some techno/trance and R&B tracks that the subwoofer simply could not reproduce properly – subwoofers of this price range, even those of high caliber, simply are not designed to provide that type of ultra low end extension. Even with these quibbles, the subwoofer rates superbly and can produce some damned impressive bass.

The AMR150 Does Movies

Profile Shot of the AMR 150s
Nowadays people are doing a lot more on their computers, and the number of emails I get regarding personal theater on the PC is increasing steadily. It’s no wonder, my local Blockbuster video store has tons and tons of DVDs to rent, and even some mom & pop shops are offering DVD rentals. I threw my usual collection of test movies at the ARM150s and found them to be near perfect for home movies. I was particularly pleased with the effects that require extra aural detail, like some of the amazing scenes in Titan A.E. and the Ninth Gate. Titanic rang with some pretty amazing detail and effects. Dinosaurs roared to life – pay attention to the effects of the dinos walking and you can see that this type of performance requires good acoustic detail, and the AMR150 delivers. Explosions and bass heavy effects were likewise really good, more so than I would have expected given my experience with the music. I wasn’t at all surprised, however, by the smooth and immersive experience from movies that rely heavily on perfectly melding music with visual elements. Movies like The Skulls, Braveheart and The Jackal literally draw you straight in with the excellent musical reproduction of the speakers.

The one thing that does disappoint is the phantom center channel. I never liked phantom center channels, but you can actually tell the difference in phantom center channel quality from speaker set to speaker set, and though the AMR150s weren’t half bad, I felt the stereo separation wasn’t clear enough to throw the perfect center. This isn’t a really big problem though, since most 4.1 speakers tend to have problems in the phantom center. The BA4800s have great stereo separation and even they don’t produce a perfect center channel. Where movies suffer the most from this is dialogue. As I mentioned before, the speakers are excellent with music heavy movies, but here they also didn’t do most of the dialogue justice, so it is somewhat of a trade off.

The AMR150 Does Gaming

I did all the requisite game testing and came out a happy camper. All the traditional action game audio was aggressively and accurately reproduced. The higher frequency clarity, in particular, helped to create an increased sense of detail and crispness to many effects, such as bullet casings hitting the floor and even something as simple as the reloading of a gun clip. Games with ambient music (like Oni, and Giants: Citizen Kabuto) literally sang with energy (remember what these speakers did for movies?).

Explosions and bass effects were good, but lacked the guttural feel that you can achieve with larger woofers. What is interesting is that the subwoofer gave more than you would you would expect from just any regular 4" woofer. Polk did a great job designing the thing to maximize what output they could.

The rear speakers proved to be well tonally matched with the fronts, even though the two do not share the exact driver components. You don't get a disjointed surround soundstage, and the front-rear transitions were pretty smooth. This is most important in games where positional audio becomes an in game cue, as it often is in shooters and titles making heavy use of surround audio.

Conclusions

I rarely get to sit down to a pair of speakers that are as thoroughly impressive as the Polk AMR150, and I don’t think it will be soon enough before I get to test another set with sound quality of this caliber. Many of you will looking for the perfect 4.1 speaker solution at this price point will probably choose between the AMR150 and the Boston Acoustics BA4800. Both are superb, though each has its own character. The AMR150 does not get as loud as the BA4800, nor does it have as defined a center channel in music. On the flipside, the BA4800s aren’t as good generally in music (if you aren’t looking at perfect centering of vocalists), and they don’t quite have as wide a soundstage in music. Both are about the same price, though I would edge the BA48000 out just a hair ahead of the AMR150s because overall they offer a more compelling package for me, with stands and all. If you are looking at sheer value though, the AMR150s are digital, and they do have the advantage of a tweeter/midrange design for added high-end clarity.

In all honesty I wasn’t expecting to give such a positive review of the product, because my first experience with the AMR90 hadn’t been enough to put Polk on my “A” list. With the AMR150, Polk aimed to provide an all round winner that could satisfy the games lover and still grab the elusive music enthusiast market by the tail. All this while trying to appeal to the cash strapped student and the movie hobbyist as well. I think they succeeded, and now the Polk brand has made its way into the hallowed halls of multimedia speaker celebrity, and to my “A” list ;).

Overall Score: 90%

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