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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Strong, accurate bass
Flat sound signature
Only $200 a pair when on sale
Build quality could be better
Sound is not especially detailed
Could have used another driver instead of two passive radiators
For the audiophile on a tight budget, the Polk T50s offer an incredible value with performance well above their $200 asking price.
Good speakers can get very, very expensive—in fact, you could buy a new car for the cost of some tower speakers! However, Polk believes everyone should have access to good sound, and so the the Polk T50 tower speakers were born. For $300 ($150 per speaker), you can have big, booming sound that’s sure to bring movies and music to life. These speakers are beefy monsters, with two passive radiators below its crisp woofer. Together with the tweeter, the sound is punchy, clean, and accurate. These are the perfect tower speakers to get for someone who’s diving into the rich world of high-quality audio for the first time.
The Polk T50 is well-sized, measuring 36 inches tall and weighing about twenty pounds. It’s a little dull-looking, with a matte-black veneer and plastic coating, but it’s a mature looking speaker that will blend well into most rooms. The build quality’s not terrible for a $150 speaker, with thin MDF all-around and some nice solid woofers and tweeters. Unfortunately, the grille is a disaster; after two weeks of light use it’s starting to crack significantly, and two chunks of plastic have already come off. We advise you to not swap it in and out more than needed.
For the T50 to have such a neutral sound signature is really cool, since you usually have to hunt down studio monitors to get something with sound this flat.
That said, we want to stress this is the only part of the speaker that had any quality issues. The tweeter is pretty nice, with a standard one-inch silk dome design and a solid, reasonably deep parabolic waveguide. Below it is a 6.25 inch extended-throw polymer composite driver and two passive radiators. Basically, the top driver is a full-fledged woofer, while the other two are disconnected and act as springy diaphragms to extend its low-frequency range. It’s an interesting design choice, making the front flashier than it would have looked if Polk had used rear ports instead of passive radiators.
The Polk T50 is banana plug-compatible, but we installed them to our Emotiva A-100 (a great amp for sensitive speakers) using speaker wire. If you’ve never had a tower before: you need a speaker amplifier for passive speakers such as the Polk T50. Once you have a speaker amp you like, connect it to the speaker with speaker wire, making sure the wires connect positive to positive and negative to negative (black is negative). The Polk T50s are especially nice for beginners thanks to their relatively high 90dB/W sensitivity. Because of this, you can get away with a less powerful amplifier and save some big money on peripherals.
This is where the T50 really shines. We only got to test one in mono, so we won’t be able to speak to the stereo performance, but we think that it would do well based on our listening tests and analysis. Out of the box, it has a balanced, rich sound that does especially well with rock. For the T50 to have such a neutral sound signature is really cool, since you usually have to hunt down studio monitors to get something with sound this flat. Meanwhile, its step response is very clean, contributing to a tight and stable bass response. The same can be said for its impulse response, well damped with little to no ring, giving this speaker great separation and precision. Dialogue in film sounds clear and distinct from the rest of the soundtrack.
Subjectively, the speakers could do with a bit more crunch in the lower mids, but it’s not weak enough to undermine the ridiculously low distortion of the T50. At moderate volumes, there’s no point in its audible range where distortion ever climbs above one to two percent. It’s unusual to see speakers this cheap with such succinct bass and controlled treble, so we have to hand it to Polk for figuring out how to do this on a budget. It also has excellent instrument separation, which with a pair of speakers should produce a precise and lively sound stage.
If you’re looking for amazing sound on a budget, these are the tower speakers to get.
Where the Polk T50 falls flat is in its detailing. No matter how well-tuned they may be, it’s still a budget speaker. Their drivers simply aren’t capable of providing subtle touches like a guitarist sliding their hand across a fretboard, or a singer taking a breath, or (thankfully) when someone in the audience coughs during a live recording. Admittedly, these details are small, but they are the crux of what brings audio to life, and they’re core to what hi-fi is all about: feeling like you are in the same place as the sound.
You can, however, pick out notes and riffs and basslines just fine, and their detailing is on par with studio monitors at the same price point. If you want noticeably better sound quality from tower speakers, you’ll have to spend at least twice as much to get it.
The Polk T50 retails for $150 individually. Even at that price they’re a great value, but they’re often on sale for as little as $80. When they’re that cheap, it almost feels like stealing. Yes, Polk made the T50 sound good by skimping a bit on build quality, but the speakers are still decently solid, and given their popularity you can easily find replacement parts if they break down. If you’re looking for amazing sound on a budget, these are the tower speakers to get.
ELAC Debut 2.0 F5.2 Tower Speaker: The ELACs are a lot more expensive at about $500 a pair. Head to head, the ELACs are better speakers than the T50s, with a much better build quality and strictly better drivers. They obviously sound better, but by how much? You should only spend the extra money if you are desperate for the extra detailing that the Polk T50 lacks due to its drivers.
JBL LSR305 Bookshelf Speaker: The LSR305s are discontinued, but their successor the MK II lives on; they’re the same speaker with a different coating. They go for about $200 a pair, and they’re fantastic studio monitors that outperform their size. We feel that they’re about as good as the T50s sound-wise, but the JBLs can take a serious beating and chug right along. If you’re looking for a tower speaker, get the T50s, but if space is a concern for you, the LSR305s may be a better bet. As a bonus: the LSR305 is an active speaker, so you don’t need to buy an amplifier!
Overachieving for less.
So you want tower speakers but you don’t have over five hundred dollars to spend? The Polk T50 should be at the top of your list. You can often find them for $200 or less a pair, and they sound really good. They pack a lot of punch, so they’ll make anything you listen to a lot more fun.