Polk Signa S1 review

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The Good: The Signa S1 offers excellent music replay for the money and decent intelligibility in movies. The provision of a separate subwoofer means it can go lower than some competitors that lack subs.

The Bad: Less clarity and dynamic punch with action-packed movies compared to some rivals. No HDMI.

The Bottom Line: For a budget-priced sound bar system, the Polk Signa S1 sounds a lot bigger than it really is.

“You get what you pay for” still has meaning, but some companies are now working to attract the entry-level home theater shopper with cheap products that actually sound good too.

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We were impressed by the performance of the Yamaha YAS-106, a $200 (or around £160 or AU$260) sound bar without a sub, and were keen to see the appearance of the Polk Signa S1. Here was an even cheaper $180 sound bar with a sub!

The Polk Signa 1 isn’t the world’s best sound bar, it’s true, but for the money it does pretty much everything you need a speaker to do. It will make movies sound like movies, not the ham radio broadcast you’re used to from your TV’s speaker, and as a bonus it sounds really good with music too.

Of course spending more money for the step-up Polk MagniFi Mini will get you better performance, but both of these models demonstrate that the sweet spot is coming down in price. With the Polk Signa S1 you don’t have to sacrifice much performance or style to meet a tight budget.

Design and Features

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While brands like Samsung and Vizio have offered $200 sound bars with separate subs for some time, this is the first time for Polk. By looking at it, you wouldn’t even guess that this is a cheap speaker set. The subwoofer is 13.41 high, 6.72 inches wide and 12.29 deep. It houses a 5.25-inch woofer and the company claims it will go down to 45 Hz.

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Meanwhile the 35-inch wide sound bar is 2 inches high which means it shouldn’t block the infrared port on your TV. If it does, there is also an option to wall-mount the bar as it includes keyhole mounts. The bar is covered in black fabric which hides two 4.4-inch drivers and two 1-inch tweeters. The unit’s top panel includes controls such as a Bluetooth pairing button, input selection and volume.

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The remote that comes in the box is a step above most credit-card style clickers and includes an ergonomic design and easy access to all of the inputs and features.

As an entry level speaker the Polk’s feature count is modest yet still helpful. Apart from the added sub the Signa includes Bluetooth streaming, a 3.5 mm input and an optical input with support for Dolby Digital (though like most sound bars, not DTS). Sadly, unlike its Yamaha rival it does lack HDMI.

If you find yourself constantly adjusting the volume on your TV because you can’t hear the voices, the Polk’s VoiceAdjust Technology should come in handy, offering dialogue adjustment on the fly.

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Performance

You don’t have to be an audiophile to hear what’s good about the Polk Signa S1’s sound. The tonal balance is unusually rich, dialogue is full-bodied, and music sounds natural. All of this from a $180 sound bar system, it’s hard not to like the Signa S1, and it sure as hell sounds a lot better than the speakers built into most TVs!

We were so impressed with the Signa S1 we listened first to music, which is definitely a challenge for any sound bar system, even ones selling for four or five times the S1. Acoustic music, rock, pop, jazz, or even classical were all well served. Music had body and substance, thanks in part to the way the subwoofer melded seamlessly with the sound bar.

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When we moved onto home theater with “The Revenant,” the Signa S1’s subwoofer pummeled us with the sounds of the American Indians battling the fur traders. Dialogue clarity held up, but the blasts of gunfire were blunted. We turned up the volume to get more excitement but the Signa S1 didn’t cooperate, and treble detail was sorely lacking when the onscreen action heated up.

We brought out a similarly-priced Yamaha YAS-106 for a comparison. Despite lacking a sub the YAS-106 sounded much clearer, livelier and projected a larger and deeper soundstage with “The Revenant.” This film’s sound mix is loaded with texture, the sounds of the wilderness, waterfalls, rain in the forest, etc., and the YAS-106 did a better job putting us inside the movie.

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They’re very different sounding ‘bars. The Polk Signa 1, thanks to its sub and overall design, sounds weightier but is a less clear sounding system than the YAS-106. On the other hand the Polk clobbered the YAS-106 with music, so there’s no clear-cut winner between these two ‘bars.

With less demanding fare like the psychological drama “The Girl on the Train,” the Signa 1 succeeded by not calling attention to itself. Dialogue was natural and the film’s subtle music score sounded well balanced. The “VH1 Storytellers: Dixie Chicks” DVD sounded terrific, the country/bluegrass band’s acoustic guitars, fiddle, banjo and vocals were all well served by the Signa 1.

The sound bar’s “Night” mode is moderately effective at reducing soft-to-loud volume changes. But we were disappointed to find the VoiceAdjust feature, which is supposed to boost dialogue volume level, didn’t make much of a change.

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Final thoughts

We were delighted with the Polk Signa 1 sound with music, even though the stereo spread was nowhere as spacious as what we heard from the YAS-106. With movies, Signa 1’s shortfalls in dynamic punch and detail were more problematic, though only when onscreen action heated up. The Signa 1 is a very competent performer overall, especially at this price.

(cnet.com, https://goo.gl/XoMmLa)

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