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.
The L100 veered mildly to the cooler side of the sonic thermometer, but not to the extent of having a detached or clinical character. On the track “Take the A Train” from Ray Brown’s Soular Energy, for example, piano reproduction was clear and crisp, a little chilly on top for my taste, but with a warm, weighty midrange, reasonable bloom, and little dynamic constriction. More significantly the Polk didn’t white-out or narrow focus in the treble. While keyboard action in the bass clef only hinted at the weighty energy of a real concert grand soundboard, it didn’t make me crave a subwoofer either.
That it was a quick-response speaker was not a surprise, but I found the L100’s transient attack and micro-dynamic resolution to be naturalistic and balanced rather than hyper and etchy. Clearly, there was nothing pokey about this Polk. It started toes tapping from the opening bar of “Autumn Leaves” [The Manhattan Jazz Quintet], leading off with Soloff’s fast, tight, electrifying trumpet solo, which blasted freely without taking my ear with it. During the theme from the movie The Cowboys [John Williams at The Movies, Reference Recordings] I noted the timbre of trombones and doublebass was wide-ranging and expressive with the weight and heft associated with the real thing.
In terms of output and dynamics the L100 faced the transient and tactile challenges of high-octane percussion during Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” head-on without growing wobbly or ducking for cover. In the pop-music vein, Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” [Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy] is built on a mix that combines gradually intensifying output and layered arrangements with an emphasis on shimmering ride cymbals, huge snare slaps, and backing vocals. By the end of the cut, a seemingly endless number of tracks have been piled onto one another, which can overwhelm a common compact monitor. Belying its small size, the L100 was uncommonly composed, navigating the complex onslaught of this mix with intelligibility and relative ease.
I had no gripes about the L100 enclosure and PowerPort technology, either. At no time did it seem to be holding any music back. It navigated bass solos with acrobatic ease and with no obvious windage effects. There was little to no sense of tempos slowing or images being smeared or swallowed up; they just seemed to fly unbound into the soundspace. Nor were there obvious hallmarks of overcooked port tuning, which sacrifices timbre specificity for a lower-octave throb.
Most two-way compacts remind you of their bass restrictions and output limitations. They either roll-off steeply and/or compress in a way that brings the energy of the performance to a stop. But the L100 somehow mostly avoided that trap. Midbass and dynamics had a solid tight-fisted drive and energy that lent weight and definition to low percussion, tympani, bass drums, and the like. While the Polk couldn’t fully represent the unbridled slam of an orchestra at full tilt, the compression that did occur was not akin to suddenly shutting off a tap or choking off response.
The Polk Audio L100 is nothing less than one classy little two-way. As the smallest member of the Legend Series it delivered a level of execution, balance, musicality, and outright thrills that placed it among the top of its class.
Even if your audio budget is little tighter now (and whose isn’t?), the L100 is one of those rare instances where stretching that budget a little further is more than worth it. And befitting the series from which it is named, this otherwise modest compact might very well prove to be a legend in the making.
Specs & Pricing
Design: Two-way, bass-reflex stand-mount
Drivers: 1″ ring radiator-type, 5.25″ turbine cone woofer
Frequency response: 57Hz–38kHz (–3dB)
Nominal impedance: 4 ohms (3 ohms min)
Finishes: Oak, black ash wood veneers
Dimensions: 7.78″ x 13.64″ x 11.29″
Weight: 16.9 lbs.
Read Next From ReviewSee all
Audio Research Corporation Reference 160S Stereo Power Amplifier
The Audio Research Corporation needs no introduction. Its foundational contribution […]
- by Kirk Midtskog
- Jan 15th, 2021
Shunyata Research Everest 8000 AC Power Conditioner and Omega XC Power Cord
As a long-time user of various Shunyata Research AC power […]
- by Robert Harley
- Jan 11th, 2021