Polk Audio Legend Series L100 speakers review: Pure clarity
“Polk Audio’s return to audiophile form in the Legend L100 is a joy to behold.”
- Clear, rushing detail
- Vibrant dynamics
- Sharp, dimensional stereo imaging
- Compelling aesthetic
- Impressive build quality
- Tweeter spires are delicate
- Midrange a little light for TV and film
Solid sound for the money. Cool retro design. A great value.
These are statements you’re likely to see regarding Polk Audio products of late. What you haven’t heard much in recent years are reviewers extolling Polk speakers for their brilliant clarity, vibrant dynamics, or diamond-cut stereo imaging. Until now, that is.
With its new Legend Series, Polk is going back to its audiophile roots, crafting a high-end speaker lineup designed to compete with some of the best brands in Hi-Fi. Even the company’s most affordable effort, the Legend L100 bookshelves, are worthy of celebration. They’re a fun re-introduction to the Polk that was.
Gorgeous design, but watch your eyes
As mentioned, there’s no retro styling or nostalgic callbacks in the Legend L100’s design. Instead, you’ll find a futuristic aesthetic that makes its presence known even before you unwrap the speakers and find a warning that reads “Tweeter has a pointed tip and may cause injury.”
Boy, Polk wasn’t lying. The L100’s odd tweeters are another example of audacious design in today’s bookshelf speakers, continuing a trend set by the likes of KEF’s multi-finned LS50, Definitive Technology’s glossy D9, and many others. Both for the purpose of wave guidance and outright brashness, speakers have become more fun to look. I’m not upset about that.
“Tweeter has a pointed tip and may cause injury.”
The L100’s metallic spires draw in your eyes in all the right ways, so it’s a shame to cover them with the included acoustic fabric grills. However, their fragility makes them worthy of protecting in homes with rambunctious pets, curious toddlers, or a lot of foot traffic.
Behind each spike rests the base of Polk’s new 1-inch Pinnacle ring radiator tweeter, set above a 5.25-inch Turbine Cone driver. At the back of each speaker is Polk’s familiar Enhanced Power Port, which looks something like a spinning tornado spout, and is designed to draw extra bass response from the cabinet. It’s a holdover from the budget-priced Signature Series — but while the plastic parts on the Signature Series felt chintzy, they’re robust here.
The same goes for the stout cabinets, which are lacquered in a lovely piano gloss at the front and finished with real wood veneer around the sides and top, a combination that’s reminiscent of the satin lapels on a tux. You can also opt for a lovely walnut finish. Gold binding posts on the rear complete the package.
By the numbers
Polk’s L100 sport Japan’s sought after Hi-Res Audio badge, with the figures to back it up, including a frequency response of 43Hz-50kHz, and 57Hz-38kHz with lower and upper-class limits at -3dB.
The crossover between the tweeter and driver is set at 2.9kHz, and the speakers bear a nominal impedance range of 3-4 ohms, meaning they require some power to get the best results. Polk recommends 70 watts per channel (limited to 160 watts of peak power). I used Naim’s Uniti Atom stereo receiver to drive them, which lit the speakers up for clean and powerful sound.
Wow. Just wow.
I was blown away by how the L100 speakers sound out of the box. Dimensional instrumentation, expressive detail that digs deep into the wardrobe of your favorite mixes, and impressively accessible dynamics are all pillars on which the sound signature rests comfortably.
Astonishing clarity that’s well represented across a wide range of musical genres.
But perhaps the most notable element of the L100’s performance is their stereo imaging, which is among the best I’ve heard at this price class (and even above). It’s better even than KEF’s stalwart LS50 Wireless speakers, which have concentric tweeters for ultra-clear sound.
The L100’s imaging is brilliantly cut between the channels for a wide and dimensional soundstage, while the center image is so well-drawn it tricks your ears into believing there’s an invisible center-channel speaker. Even when I placed my head close between the speakers, center elements like vocals and bass seemed to appear right in front of my face. That’s an impressive trick.
The result is astonishing clarity that’s represented across a wide range of musical genres, from the smooth clicks of Jeff Tweedy’s acoustic guitar or Chris Thile’s mandolin, to silvery sweet horns and brass in everything from Snarky Puppy’s Go to Sinatra’s Luck Be a Lady.
There’s a bright color to the upper register that seems to sing when fed a great brass band or high percussion, leaning in nicely to lighter recordings with the pureness of a well-trained finger spinning around a crystal glass.
While that light touch works well for music, I occasionally wanted a bit more body and richness in the upper midrange which can sound a little tight — especially with TV and cinema content. On that note, while the speakers do well for their size, I wouldn’t mind a bit more punch in the bass, something bookshelves rarely do well. Those who crave a heavier sound may want to pair a subwoofer or move up to Polk’s L200.
That said, if you can get down with their lighter flavor up top, the L100 rewards you with the kind of sweet presence, expansive dimension, and palpable detail I’ve come to expect from only the finest examples at their $1,200 price point, or even above it.
Polk Audio offers a whopping five-year limited warranty on the L100, with an added five years on top after registration (neither of which are transferrable).
Polk Audio’s return to form in the L100 is a joy to behold, and you’ll need to work hard to find speakers that best them when it comes to audiophile performance at a still-approachable price point.
Is there a better alternative?
I hesitate to even answer this question as, when it comes to high-performance speakers, everyone has their favorite flavor. For my ears, a combination of the KEF LS50’s warmer midrange and added glide in the glisten up top keeps them as my bookshelves of choice. That said, Polk’s new L100 simply sound fantastic, with plenty to shine on about. For many listeners, they may well hit the sweet spot as brilliantly as their tight center image.
How long will it last?
With excellent build quality and up to 10 years warranty, I wouldn’t lose any sleep on this one. That said, as mentioned, you’ll want to treat those spires in the tweeters with caution.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re thinking of investing in a quality pair of bookshelves any time soon, you’ll want to put Polk’s L100 high on your list.