Polk AMR90 Review

Author: Austin Bailey
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Wednesday, January 17th, 2001
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/s/polkamr90/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Introduction

I’m somewhat of a fiend when it comes to speakers. I see a pair that looks interesting or that has attracted some buzz, and I want to test them out myself. A while ago Polk Audio introduced their first multimedia speaker systems, and these were really good looking systems that I wanted to try straight away. Well I never got a chance to try those speakers first hand, though now I have the chance to try one of the newest additions to Polk Audio’s lineup. The AMR90 is a brand new 4.1 surround system that costs just a hair above $100.

A Profile Shot of the AMR90 & A Closeup of the Surround Satellite

What drew me to the original Polk multimedia speakers was their amazingly fresh looking design. The subwoofer was a cylindrical affair that looked like a work of art – an aesthetically functional unit. With the AMR90, Polk aims more at maximizing sound quality and minimizing cost, so the speakers have lost some of their aesthetic edge.

The entire set is quite complete, even to the point of including brackets for wall mounting the rear speakers. Each of the 4 small satellites house a 2” driver, while a 4” woofer can be found in the relatively compact rear-ported subwoofer. You can see from the photos that the subwoofer design is altogether very “normal”, and doesn’t have the flair of the older Polk systems. The satellites also are of considerably different design. One of the cost savings measures is in the construction of the speakers… plastic enclosures abound. That means that the satellites are all in plastic enclosures, though at least the majority of the subwoofer is made with MDF (medium density fibre) wood. While purists will always prefer wood enclosures (especially for the subwoofer), speakers have in the past achieved excellence with plastic materials, and Polk aims to do so as well.

An interesting design feature of the satellites is the minuscule rear facing ports. In my experience, most multimedia satellites do not use any sort of porting design. In fact, only larger speakers usually make use of a port to deepen and solidify their lower frequency response. These ports at the back of the AMR satellites are pretty cool in that they actually ARE exhausting a significant amount of air when the speakers are in use. When I tried some basic AB comparisons with the satellite ports plugged and unplugged, it was fairly obvious that the ports did actually change the frequency response of the entire speaker set. The midrange did indeed have a fair amount of added boost.

How they sound

The AMR90 is not an audiophile level speaker set like the Klipsch ProMedia V2-400, but they do hold their own in their price class. Sound quality was not phenomenal or above what one would expect from the specs. There was a noticeably more aggressive bass in the upper bass frequencies, so that upbeat songs like those hip-hop and trance/dance tended to sound more impressive than they had a right to be. I did notice that the subwoofer tended to bottom out and distort if you turned the bass knob up to the max – however, when I turn that knob down to the ½ to 2/3 mark, it cranks out pretty smooth bass even when the overall system volume is pushed to extremes.

Front & Rear View of the Subwoofer

For casual listening, there’s little to fault in the sound quality that the smallish system dishes out. I found myself easily enjoying everything from electronica/trance to mellow R&B with little complaint. I’m a pretty critical listener though, and found that though the sound was even and the soundstage was stable, there was a weakness in the upper frequencies that gave the speakers a blunt personality. Even while testing I found myself wishing there was a way to tweak the treble and fine-tune the upper frequencies to remove that sense of having a blanket muffle some of the key upper-frequencies. This reduced clarity hurt the final impression that the speakers gave, but it was subtle in songs that don’t have a more delicate background. Songs with a very busy choral element tended to escape the blanket effect, while material which depended on clear distinction between background music and foreground effects and vocalists suffered the most.

The volume level on the speakers is only just above average. This is the only system I have tested in a while with which I could sit at my regular listening position and crank the volume to the max without having to cover my ears. That probably means this system won’t be filling up your room with earth shattering sound, but it also means that the system isn’t set up to push itself beyond it’s physical capabilities. This is a “Good Thing” in my books, because it means you won’t get to push the system to the point where it damages itself or where the quality starts to degrade to untolerable levels.

The volume limitations became more important when testing movies. I tend to like to show off movies to some friends, and this system just didn’t have the volume to really rock the house. It does manage to deliver a very satisfying personal performance though, with great imaging, and a surprisingly robust representation of effects like explosions and exciting car chase scenes. The slight muffled quality of sound didn’t detract from movies, but it did make itself known in scenes where clarity is of key importance – movies like The Ninth Gate, which depend on a lot of ambient effects, come to mind. Thankfully, the speakers had strong stereo separation, so the virtual center is fairly well defined.

The true strength of this system is its ability to exceed expectations, given its amazingly reasonable $109 MSRP. The system quite ably plays music, but the real treat is the fact that the low price is one of the lowest cost of entry contenders for quadraphonic audio in movies and games. This is a neutral sounding system that engages the listener, provided that listener isn’t expecting the guttural energy of a much more powerful system (like the Klipsch), or the high-end frequency reproduction from systems like the Monsoon MM-1000.

Overall Score: 79%

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