It seems like an eternity ago that I attended the annual Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver. But if someone had told me last September that a pandemic would sweep the globe just a few months later and RMAF would be the last show I’d be at in the foreseeable future, I would have dismissed the notion as nonsense. And yet…here we are. Still, looking back, one of the bright spots of that show was the debut of Polk Audio’s Legend Series. This flagship line comprises six models—a pair of bookshelf speakers, a center channel, an Atmos height module, and two tower speakers. Anchoring the series is the stately L800 “True Stereo” floorstander, which features Polk’s latest generation Stereo Dimensional Array (SDA-Pro) technology (strikingly identifiable by its double tweeter/midrange arrays and discretely angled baffles)—the point of which, in Polk’s words, is “to maintain full stereo separation from the source” to the listener. Indeed, Polk’s demo was impressive for this full-ranger, and its pinpoint and unwavering imaging seemed to go a long way to ward proving the Polk team’s case.
However, also quite impressive was the most diminutive entry in the Legend line, the L100, which I listened to at length in a smaller adjacent room. Compared with the cutting-edge L800 it’s a more conventional rear-ported two-way. (It’s also a near spitting image of the slightly beefier L200, which opts for a larger woofer and provides greater power handling.) The L100 sports a one-inch Polk-designed “Pinnacle” ring-radiator tweeter, inset within a waveguide to aid dispersion of high frequencies, broaden the sweet spot, and dispel beaming. The crossover point is a straightforward 2.9kHz. Midrange and bass duties are handled by the 5.25" “Turbine” cone transducer designed specifically for the Legend Series. It combines Polk’s proprietary foam core membrane and molded-diaphragm geometry (raised striations across the cone surface increase stiffness and damping without adding mass).
Polk sees port design a little differently than most. Its solution for a few years now is PowerPort, a molded plate that piggybacks on the back panel, aligned over the mouth of the port to redirect exiting air from the back wall to the sides and upward. Polk reports that it promotes laminar (or smooth) airflow and reduces air turbulence in emulation of a longer flared port. Quelling turbulence preserves power, which leads to more efficient bass response.
The L100 cabinet has also been enhanced in bracing and structure. Take it from me, there’s no need for the knuckle-rap test; this is one formidable enclosure. The L100 is equipped with an anti-diffraction magnetic grille and robust single-wire speaker terminals. Overall, finish and detail appeared first-rate.
Turning to sonics, I think it’s fair to say that once you breach the thousand-dollar level much is expected of even an unpretentious two-way compact. Flaws that were forgivable at $500 are flat out disqualifying at a grand. With larger budgets come fewer compromises, better engineering, and greater latitude in parts selection, assembly, finish, and cabinet construction. Such designs should have a higher level of tonal neutrality, firmly lock onto image shapes, and develop greater grip and rhythmic precision.
Taken in this light, Polk’s L100 more than had its act together. Its personality was one of forthrightness and effortless musicality—with an ability to convey rich midrange tonal color, complex textures, and three-dimensionality. The Polk has an earthy sound and is well-grounded, normally a rarity in this class of stand-mounted monitors. It conveyed midrange image weight with substance and dynamics with little compression. Bass response dipped into the mid-50Hz range, pretty much as advertised, and was quite linear and nicely weighted. Inter-driver coherence was good, making it a virtual walk in the park for the L100 to concisely track images at all but extreme listening levels. Complementing its precise imaging capability was a wide and convincing soundstage. Although it can’t quite generate the layered and deeply reverberant stage of a full-range speaker, it goes a long way toward suggesting that illusion. It put power into the room quite evenly, had a relatively wide sweet spot, and avoided the beaminess that leaves the off-axis listener feeling left out of the action.
The treble range was open with good speed and extension. There was also a lively presence range that never grew coarse or aggressive. The L100 turned out to be a superior voice speaker, sensitive to the finer nuances of vocal stylings, shadings, and dynamics. Vocals tended to be more forward with nicely scaled images, virtues that were apparent on Alison Krauss’ smooth and sonorous performance of “When You Say Nothing at All” and Mary Travers’ darker burnished solo on PP&M’s “All My Trials” [Warner]. Further, during the soprano performance from Sept Du Parles [Fidelio], the L100 managed a remarkable disappearing act. Even at a time when compacts tend to pull this trick off with regularity, the Polk was exceptional. Only, at levels that pushed the tweeter’s envelope did upper-octave frequencies seem a bit peaky and bleached.