Polk Audio engineers and designers know well that everybody wants the smallest possible speakers. Huge TVs and teensy speakers are hot right now, and Polk's RM95 home cinema five-pack comes with four tiny satellites and a very compact centre speaker for £660. You add your choice of subwoofer -- Polk's or otherwise -- to mix and match yourself up to a full 5.1 system.
It's one thing to design small satellites; making them sound big is something else. Faced with that challenge, the engineers developed a dual-driver design that significantly increases the satellites' dispersion to create a room-filling sound. The three-sided, triangular shape of the satellite speakers is key to meeting the design goal. One side has the usual midrange/woofer and tweeter, the next side has a single midrange/woofer, and the third is finished in a high-gloss paint finish. You set up the speakers with the tweeter/woofer side directly facing the listening position, while the woofer-only side faces the closest wall. The reflected sound increases apparent image size.
The satellites are 190mm by 108mm by 108mm, with the 63mm composite cone midrange/woofers and 19mm silk/polymer dome tweeters. Removeable cloth grilles cover the drivers -- one on each side. The sat cabinets are fabricated from moulded 'composite' material that we suppose is similar to that found on the Definitive Technology ProCinema 600 speakers (DefTech and Polk are sister companies), but the Polks felt less substantial. The individual speakers are available separately as the RM8, so you can get a second set if you need to expand to a 7.1 configuration.
The RM95's centre channel speaker is a conventional, front-mounted woofer-tweeter-woofer array -- it's available separately as the RM8 Centre. Viewed from the side, the centre carries over the sats' three-sided design. It's 83mm tall by 240mm wide by 97mm deep, one of the smallest we've seen outside of a home-cinema-in-a-box system. The RM95 is available in either high-gloss black or white finishes. The look and feel is fine, but it's not going to be confused with a high-end speaker system.
The satellites can be shelf mounted with the included tripod base or wall mounted with the supplied brackets. Polk offers an extra-cost floor stand, the SA3, that attaches to the threaded insert on the bottom of the Sat's. The centre speaker can rest in the supplied cradle/base or wall mount via its threaded insert. We were disappointed that Polk used spring-clip connectors on all of the RM95 speakers -- we would have preferred more secure banana jacks or binding posts.
The RM95 speakers are all too small to produce bass on their own so we used them with a Polk SSW PRO 400 sub for all of our listening tests. Achieving a smooth blend between the Sat's and sub took some doing, and we eventually settled on using a 120Hz crossover on our Tenon receiver's bass management/speaker setup menus. Still, the blend was less than perfect, so we were occasionally aware that all of the bass was coming from the SSW PRO 400. And when that happens, the RM95 sats sounded like the small speakers they are.
The Vantage Point Blu-ray was used to test the RM95's home cinema skills. The film covers an assassination of a US president in a public square in Spain. The RM95 sats did an excellent job of placing us in the midst of the action -- the Blu-ray's surround mix was above par and the spatial coherence between the front and rear speakers was excellent. But the assassin's gunshots and the terrorists' bomb blasts were dynamically reigned in by the speakers. Dialogue clarity was only average and sometimes sounded rather boxy.
In other words, the wee speakers have significant dynamic limitations compared with larger speakers. So, we weren't surprised to hear that the Nine Inch Nails concert Blu-ray, Beside You In Time, was viscerally scaled back by the RM95. This sort of music doesn't cut it over speakers with 63mm woofers. John Mayer's acoustic set on his Live at Radio City Blu-ray was a better fit. The quieter music sounded fine, and the concert surround experience was quite nice.
Listening to CDs in stereo, the left/right sats projected a large soundfield. But we were somewhat distracted when we noted that most of the bass was coming from the DSW PRO 400 subwoofer. The RM95 sats sounded puny on the Raconteurs first CD, Broken Boy Soldiers. Opening up the sound with Dolby Pro Logic IIx surround improved things, but we were happier with the RM95's sound for movies than music.
It's also worth noting that we found the dual-driver design gambit worked well, producing a sound that stretched the full width of the CNET listening room, even though the speakers were placed 1m from the side walls. The Definitive Technology ProCinema 600 was nowhere as spacious sounding.
Our complaints about the RM95's limitations notwithstanding, it may be ideal for very small rooms, and for buyers who listen at a fairly quiet volume most of the time. If that doesn't jibe with your needs, the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 satellite/subwoofer system may be a better choice -- but it's considerably more expensive.
Additional editing by Cristina Psomadakis