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Polk's New Flagship, Legend Series Speaker: Reintroduces upgraded SDA Technology

TitaniumTroy

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#1
http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/polk-audio-introduces-new-flagship-speaker-line/

Leading the flagship loudspeaker line is the company’s L800 “True Stereo” floor-standing speaker featuring next generation Stereo Dimensional Array (SDA-PRO) technology, the first SDA speaker introduced in over 20 years and the only speakers in the world to maintain full stereo separation from the source to the listener’s ears. The result is the most lifelike imaging, smooth spectral response and deep, tight bass normally found in speakers several times the cost.

I never really got the full effect of the SDA back in the day for some reason, guess I will have to try a Magnolia Design Center at a Best Buy in Chicago. To see if this new version works any for better for me.
 

anmpr1

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#2
Polk is an interesting company, historically. They began as a value proposition in the 'high-end'. Polk distributed the Formula 4 silicone damped unipivot low mass tonearm, some fancy speaker cables (before everyone was worked up over fancy cables), and were going to market a device called the Oasis 'fluid drive' turntable, in which (I believe) the platter was coupled to 'float' on a bed of water, or something. Very tweako.

Time alignment was their thing. I remember auditioning their RTA-12 speaker (not to be confused with Polk dual driver SDA technology) against the Dahlquist DQ-10, and found the Polk superior.

I haven't listened to a Polk speaker in almost a lifetime, so I don't know how they are, today. I was sort of under the impression that the old Polk SDA thing (remember Matt Polk in a labcoat?) was sort of similar to what Bob Carver was doing electronically with his 'Sonic Holography'.
 

GGroch

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#4
I sold Polk back in their heyday, and owned both Monitor 10a's (which was their first huge selling speaker) and some SDA CRS Compacts. The SDA technology is described well at this link.

The Monitor 10s were one of the first mainstream speakers to utilize a passive radiator. They also had a very nice Peerless silk dome tweeter and well designed crossovers. Very sweet sounding speaker that for me, out-performed most in its price range. They demoed very well and we sold lots.

The original SDA was conceptually simple, a cable connects the left and right speakers. It sent an out-of-phase signal from the left speaker to the outside drivers of the right speaker, and from the right to the outside drivers on the left. I am pretty sure the deep bass was uneffected. The goal was to prevent each ear hearing the opposite speaker (and its room reflections). The effect was instantaneously noticeable, greatly increasing the size of the left/right spread to well beyond the room walls. If I remember correctly, Polk provided us with a demo switch that allowed us to turn the SDA on and off. They sold quite well initially. Polk used the same basic drivers in different configurations for many of their models. The CRS compacts used Peerless tweeters (2 of them each side), very similar mid-bass drivers to the Monitor 10a, with a passive radiator on the back.

Of course, recordings were not mastered with SDA speakers in mind, so they were probably not accurate. I owned and loved the 10as for quite a while. The SDA CRS I sold after about 6 months...the SDA effect being to strange in my room.

I was surprised to see the revival of the technology, if only in the top of the line model. I would be interested to hear them..but the prices no longer seem to represent a value proposition. The LSiM series they replace appear to be more expensively constructed, and are available highly discounted at the moment.
 
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peanuts

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#5
i dont buy it. wouldnt they need 3 drivers and bi-amplification? this seems like a nonsense gimmick with lots of induced lobing as a result
 

digicidal

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#6
I'm just happy that because of this the LSiM's are available at such nice prices finally. The LSiM3's I grabbed for my office sound much nicer than a $700/pr ought to IMO. Totally subjective of course, but they are objectively pretty good as well:
fr_listeningwindow.gif

especially after you trim that ~12kHz-16kHz off a little. I'm old enough I can't hear most of that sizzle anyway so it's not a big deal either way IMO.

Although the new flagship does seem a bit "gimmicky" to me as well... considering how much I like these... I'll await measurements before I completely write them off.
 

napilopez

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#7
So this new series came into my radar recently as something I might be able to review, and I find the L800 fascinating.

Coincidentally I'd just been doing some studying up into how interaural crosstalk(IAC) affects sound for us folks who like to listen to stereo while seated in the allegedly perfect sweet spot (many an audiophile, I suspect). I'd just pointed out this figure from Toole's book summarizing the issue in the JBL L100 thread.

I'd never heard of SDA before until now, but I find the concept really interesting, especially now that it factors in the HRTF somehow. If it can effectively diminish IAC and still perform well otherwise, this looks like a really appealing speaker. Certainly one of the more unique and seemingly useful developments from a mainstream hifi brand I've seen.

Unfortunately I don't think I can bring myself to review another pair of big speakers anytime soon (I'd be testing the L200 probably), but I'm hoping to audition the L800 at some point.
 

anmpr1

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#9
Interesting review. The SDA 'effect' is variable, good on some, questionable on other material. Placement critical. Speakers 6 feet apart? Five feet in from the side wall?

...the guitar leads extended out much further than I'm used to hearing with my regular speakers, and the horns in particular came across as notably tall and wide...

Needs beefy amp. $6000.00, plus an additional six hundred for the optional Atmos speaker module.

Seems like a pretty small potential market Polk is going after. Definitely requires an extended home demo prior to purchase. Will Polk send their sound engineer, like they did for the reviewer, in order to 'help' with the setup? With a list of 'special recordings' that highlight the effect?

Forgive me if I'm not taking this too seriously. Now, which closet did I put those Bose 901s and Carver Sonic Hologram preamp?
 

GGroch

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#10
......The SDA 'effect' is variable, good on some, questionable on other material. Placement critical. Speakers 6 feet apart? Five feet in from the side wall?
.....Needs beefy amp. $6000.00, plus an additional six hundred for the optional Atmos speaker module.
Seems like a pretty small potential market Polk is going after.
I agree that the market is small...which is perhaps OK for the flagship model. My guess is the marketing plan for the SDA flagship was to get a hook that would put this line and curious customers into higher end audio outlets. They succeeded in Denver where Listen-Up is showing them. I am pretty sure they were not previously Polk dealers.

I don't think the review says 6 foot placement with 5 feet from the wall is critical. It says 6-8 feet and 6 feet is where they ended up in his room. I have a lot of experience with the original Polk SDA (which appears to be very similar with additional crossover tweaks on the new ones) and they were not particularly picky on placement. To experience the full SDA effect you do want what is considered standard 2 channel placement for good imaging. How far apart they go like any 2 channel system was based on how far back you sit. Placed with a side right up against a wall is not a good idea for any 2 channel setup (except perhaps Klipschorns). The set I owned was spaced about 6 feet apart but the side walls were much closer than 5 feet. The SDA cancels most sidewall reflections and clearly made the stereo image extend beyond the room walls. The effect is not subtle.

$600 (300 each) for a pair of optional Atmos modules seems quite cheap to me to match a $6000 speaker system.
 

anmpr1

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#11
I don't think the review says 6 foot placement with 5 feet from the wall is critical.
$600 (300 each) for a pair of optional Atmos modules seems quite cheap to me to match a $6000 speaker system.
1) That was optimal placement in his room. In another room? Who knows?

2) $300.00 for a 4" cone and a one inch tweeter on a small baffle? But you are right, in the context of a $6000.00 speaker, it is not much to pay. If it was Wilson Audio, the add on would be the cost of the main speaker.
 

napilopez

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#12
Interesting review. The SDA 'effect' is variable, good on some, questionable on other material. Placement critical. Speakers 6 feet apart? Five feet in from the side wall?

...the guitar leads extended out much further than I'm used to hearing with my regular speakers, and the horns in particular came across as notably tall and wide...

Needs beefy amp. $6000.00, plus an additional six hundred for the optional Atmos speaker module.

Seems like a pretty small potential market Polk is going after. Definitely requires an extended home demo prior to purchase. Will Polk send their sound engineer, like they did for the reviewer, in order to 'help' with the setup? With a list of 'special recordings' that highlight the effect?

Forgive me if I'm not taking this too seriously. Now, which closet did I put those Bose 901s and Carver Sonic Hologram preamp?
I'm definitely not reading this review the same way. $6,000 is not particularly expensive for a flagship tower with a claimed f3 of 32Hz, especially one that introduces newfangled technologies. It certainly seems to be trying to do something more interesting and potentially significant than other towers in the price range.

As for SDA, the reviewer seemed to say it sounded better on some tracks, but he didn't say it sounded bad on anything. It does make some intuitive sense that some tracks can highlight the technology more

I didn't get the sense that the technology only worked with specific placement either. Taking a gander at the L800's manual (page 6) they recommend a 6-8 foot distance for a seating position of 10-12 feet as 'a good place to start'. A minimum of 3 feet from the sidewalls, which is a pretty typical recommendation too. They say keeping the speaker's close is particularly good for live rooms, but you can treat the sidewalls if you want to have them closer to the walls. Considering the typical audiophile is already finnicky about positioning, having some manufacturer guidelines is actually a good thing in my book.

As for the Atmos module: For comparison, KEF's flagship module costs $1,400. Their budget module costs $600. That's about in line with the price of other decent Atmos modules I've seen. I'm not aware of any Atmos modules with anything larger than a 4 inch woofer either.

My impression from this review is that the L800 looks like a solid tower regardless of SDA, but that SDA is great when it does help. Will have to see what other reviews say... Or my own ears.
 
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anmpr1

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#13
1) $6,000 is not particularly expensive for a flagship tower

2) ...especially one that introduces newfangled technologies. It certainly seems to be trying to do something more interesting and potentially significant than other towers in the price range.

3) As for SDA, the reviewer seemed to say it sounded better on some tracks, but he didn't say it sounded bad on anything.

4) I didn't get the sense that the technology only worked with specific placement either.
1) I agree, at least in an absolute sense.

2) It is certainly trying to do something different than most other speakers. Significant? That's another question. For instance, could this be done better electrically? --I'm thinking the old Bob Carver sonic holography thing. Wasn't that a similar idea? At least with that you could turn it off if you didn't like it, or got tired of it. BTW, this 'newfangled' tech is an update of the oldfangled Polk SDA (remember Matt Polk in a lab coat?).

3) I didn't mean to imply that the reviewer said it sounded bad. Polk couldn't get away with a 'bad' sounding speaker at 6K. At least I don't think they could. Whether it sounds 'good' is another question. It will certainly sound different. What was reported was that the SDA effect was variable. Whether that variance is worth six large is, of course, up to the buyer.

4) The 'tech' will be present regardless of placement (unless there is a way to turn it off). That said, there is going to be an optimum placement, and from the review that placement was rather unusual. Six feet apart and five feet from the side walls is a bit unusual. Don't you think? But you are, of course, right in that all speakers are going to have certain placement criteria for optimum results in a given room.

As far as the review goes, I am sad to say that Sound and Vision is a hollow shell of the old Stereo Review. Folks criticized Julian Hirsch, but rereading his work puts most current reviews to shame. He measured speakers, and reported on their acoustic and electrical performance. Not to mention the excellent and groundbreaking work Richard Heyser did in Audio. This current review is risible given the historical context of what used to pass for mainstream reviewing. But that is not Polk's fault. I am not blaming them for the review. It's just an aside, in order to understand how pitiful mainstream reviewing is, these days.
 

napilopez

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#14
1) I agree, at least in an absolute sense.

2) It is certainly trying to do something different than most other speakers. Significant? That's another question. For instance, could this be done better electrically? --I'm thinking the old Bob Carver sonic holography thing. Wasn't that a similar idea? At least with that you could turn it off if you didn't like it, or got tired of it. BTW, this 'newfangled' tech is an update of the oldfangled Polk SDA (remember Matt Polk in a lab coat?).

3) I didn't mean to imply that the reviewer said it sounded bad. Polk couldn't get away with a 'bad' sounding speaker at 6K. At least I don't think they could. Whether it sounds 'good' is another question. It will certainly sound different. What was reported was that the SDA effect was variable. Whether that variance is worth six large is, of course, up to the buyer.

4) The 'tech' will be present regardless of placement (unless there is a way to turn it off). That said, there is going to be an optimum placement, and from the review that placement was rather unusual. Six feet apart and five feet from the side walls is a bit unusual. Don't you think? But you are, of course, right in that all speakers are going to have certain placement criteria for optimum results in a given room.

As far as the review goes, I am sad to say that Sound and Vision is a hollow shell of the old Stereo Review. Folks criticized Julian Hirsch, but rereading his work puts most current reviews to shame. He measured speakers, and reported on their acoustic and electrical performance. Not to mention the excellent and groundbreaking work Richard Heyser did in Audio. This current review is risible given the historical context of what used to pass for mainstream reviewing. But that is not Polk's fault. I am not blaming them for the review. It's just an aside, in order to understand how pitiful mainstream reviewing is, these days.
Fair points!

On 2) I'd still call it newfangled since it's an update to a system they haven't used in over 20 years. Moreover, the system now includes a passive HRTF/head shadowing filter to make it more accurate/realistic, plus Polk developed new drivers for this lineup. I was thinking of it more in terms of recouping R&D costs.

It doesn't seem you can turn SDA off, but I'd argue that if it's supposed to be the speaker's headlining feature, you should be confident enough in the tech to not need to make it optional. Of course, the proof is in the pudding and we only have one review so far, although Audioholics' impressions are also encouraging. Can't comment on the Bob Carver and Matt Polk in a lab coat stuff as that was before my time =]

3) Gotcha, I misunderstood your earlier post. If the L800 is a dud, I guess we'll have to see how the bookshelves and non-SDA tower perform. I plan to add the L200 to my review backlog, so I'm looking forward to checking them out.

4) I don't think that's such unusual placement. JBL actually recommends 6-8 feet for the L100 in its manual. I might be biased as my speakers are 7 feet away and my seat about 9 feet, so it's very convenient.

As for your last point... well, it's a good thing there are sites like ASR around to help make up some of the difference =]
 

anmpr1

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#15
Without hearing it (which I doubt I ever will) and making any first hand judgements about its sonic benefits, I think we can wrap it by saying that this speaker is a highly specialized solution to a very specific issue, requiring a unique set up (including a very large listening room with a lot of open space for optimum placement). If the problem it solves is a problem you have, and if your room and amplification requirements fit the speaker, then this is no doubt what you are looking for. It's not like there are many (or any) other options out there that address what this speaker is attempting to address.
 

napilopez

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#16
Without hearing it (which I doubt I ever will) and making any first hand judgements about its sonic benefits, I think we can wrap it by saying that this speaker is a highly specialized solution to a very specific issue, requiring a unique set up (including a very large listening room with a lot of open space for optimum placement). If the problem it solves is a problem you have, and if your room and amplification requirements fit the speaker, then this is no doubt what you are looking for. It's not like there are many (or any) other options out there that address what this speaker is attempting to address.
Well, IAC is a problem *every* stereo speaker setup has, which is why I find it fascinating and hope it works. But yeah, well, we'll have to see!
 

MSNWatch

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#17
I have heard this pair at RMAF in Denver earlier this year. Expansive sound stage with some sacrifice to imaging precision. I liked the sound but not sure if I would like them more or less after more extended listening with proper room correction. For what it is worth I preferred the Revel f226be speakers.
 

Hypnotoad

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#19
I had a pair of SDA 1C's which were supposed to be one of the most desirable SDA's back in the day, they needed a good distance between them and the side walls, the further away and the bigger the room the better. They soaked up power like you wouldn't believe, I had them connected to a Yamaha M2 power amp with 240 wpc and only then they really opened up, tried them with a Luxman integrated with 105 wpc and they were lacking. The effect as some have said varied depending on the source material, you either loved them or hated them, and you didn't realize how loud they were until you tried to talk to someone. Would I buy another pair, hmmm only if they were really cheap, the effect is nice but its an effect, not how I would like to listen all the time.

 
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