Sound Advice: Polk makes great speakers with fine wood

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 13, 2012 - 3:00 PM

Q I'm looking for audiophile-quality tower speakers for about $1,000. I have a powerful amplifier, and my top priority is great sound, but my wife wants a high-quality wood finish. Any recommendations?

A You can certainly get great tower speakers for $1,000, but most of the brands that provide high sound quality on a budget, such as Arx, put all the money into the speaker parts and house them in simple cabinets with a black or simulated wood finish. But an exceptional value is waiting for anyone looking for speakers with high-end sound and a premium wood finish to go with it.

Polk Audio has traditionally been regarded as a high-quality, but mass-market brand. Years ago, Polk decided to develop speakers with the looks and sound to compete with high-end speakers but at much more affordable prices.

The result was its LSi series, which played to universal critical acclaim. The speakers have an attractive finish with gloss piano black surfaces contrasted with beautiful ebony or cherry wood side panels. Most important, they have a sweet, detailed sound.

Years ago, a friend who doesn't work in the industry accompanied me to an audio show. We heard a demo of the Polk LSi9s and then heard a demonstration in another room. When we left the second demo, he said he much preferred the Polks. He didn't know that the LSi9 speakers were $999 a pair and that the speakers he had just heard were $20,000 a pair. It shows how good the LSi speakers are -- and that not everything with a high price tag is worth the money.

The LSi series is being replaced by the LSiM series, which is also getting rave reviews but is more expensive. There is still a lot of LSi inventory available, and at current prices they are a steal. A Polk Audio spokesman said that when they are gone, they are gone, so don't wait too long.

The Polk LSi9 has long been a favorite. It's best considered a stand-mounted speaker, because not only does it perform best on stands, but it also is large for any bookshelf and weighs 39 pounds. The LSi9s retailed for $999 and were worth every penny. I have seen them selling for $599 per pair online, although they are getting scarce.

The LSi15 is a tower speaker with side-firing woofers. The LSi15 towers list for $1,700 a pair but are selling for $900 to $1,000 a pair, right where you want to be. The king-of-the-hill LSi25 is larger than the Lsi15 and has built-in powered subwoofers. Listing for $2,799 a pair, they are now available for $1,300 a pair. Finally, those looking for something small can get the LSi7 bookshelf speakers for less than $375 a pair, reduced from $799 a pair.

Anyone considering Polk LSi speakers should note that they are a 4-ohm speaker and require a high-quality, powerful amplifier. You said you have that already, so you should be all set.

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