Saturday, 07 May 2022 18:11

REVIEW: Polk Signa S4 - The budget soundbar that aims above its rank Featured

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Polk has just launched an all-inclusive soundbar at a startlingly low price. It piqued my curiosity so much that I had to find out if the Signa S4 delivers

Just before Christmas, we published the news about Polk's new cheeky soundbar , which supports both Dolby Atmos and wireless subwoofer. And when this package costs only four and a half thousand NOK, it is an expression that Polk has really been stretching really far in relation to their goal of delivering as good sound as possible for the lowest possible amount.

But wait, now we anticipate the events a bit, because in the first place we only know that it is an impressive equipment package, and not how the Signa S4 sounds. Only the very positive impressions from my review of the R600 and R200 speakers in Polk's Reserve series provide fertile ground for bold optimism

 

The terrain

As we have already indicated, it is on the verge of unheard of that you can get a soundbar with dedicated Atmos speakers and wireless subwoofer for between four and five thousand NOK. Polk Signa S4 was the first model I have heard of under five thousand. In comparison, Sonos came last fall with a gen.2 of its smallest soundbar Beam, where one of the news is support for Dolby Atmos. And then we are only on the DSP version - if you want dedicated Atmos speakers, you have to be in the top model at double the price. And still subwoofer is not included. Now, of course, the top model Sonos ARC is in a completely different division than Signa S4, but Beam gen.2 may be interesting to get a review of to see how it stands against Polk Signa S4.

Not long after the Signa S4 was launched, Polk's cousin Denon introduced a soundbar for around four thousand NOK, and this model seems to be built around very much of the same load as the Signa S4. The Denon DHT-S517 is also a 3.1.2 system, where the soundbar itself appears to be quite identical, both externally and internally. We find the same driver setup, and the same tripartition of the sound chambers in the soundbar. Polk seems to have a slightly more extensive grill feature, and can therefore seem a bit more appealing, while Denon can tempt with a dedicated HDMI input in addition to the HDMI eARC that they both have.

And not long ago, Denon launched an even less expensive Atmos soundbar in the model DHT-S217. This does not have external wireless subwoofers or dedicated height speakers for Atmos. The 3D solution is with DSP-based virtual height speakers, and the bass is conveyed via integrated down-fired bass speakers. If you want deeper bass with the DHT-S217, there is an output for external subwoofer.

Design and finish

The soundbar has an attractive fabric feature in the front and top, and in combination with a careful rounding of corners, this gives a comfortable impression. The feeling of quality in the materials is not quite on a par with that found in the most expensive Sonos models and other soundbars in the Premium class, and that was not to be expected.

Under the cover in the front, we find 5 LED lights that provide visual feedback in various settings. This is a concept that is becoming more and more common, and is among other things an acquaintance from Google speakers. Actually, it is a fairly practical solution, when the desire for the least possible visual disturbance is to be combined with the need for information.

At the back of the top there is a control panel with five different control buttons. These provide an alternative to using the compact remote control that is also included.

The subwoofer also has a discreet design, with a cabinet in matt black vinyl cover gets its character of rounded corners in the front facade.

Remote 

A fairly compact and comfortable remote control has most of the features you need, and is powered by 2 AAA batteries. Here you may choose between three sources, and control the volume up or down. Another control regulates the amount of bass, and you get feedback via the previously mentioned LED lights in the front at which level is selected, in the form of a short flash. At this topic I could have wished for a little more information about the reference level - here we are left to tune the bass to taste by hearing.

Three different buttons allow you to select the listening mode. The "Movie mode" option delivers optimal surround mode depending on the format in the source, Night mode that limits dynamics, and Music mode. ALso in this topic, I could wish a little more information about what is going on, because I suspect that it is not a pure stereo rendering. On the other hand, it may seem as if this maybe is good news in this case on a soundbar with its natural limitations in e.g. stereo width. More about that under listening impressions.

And at the very bottom we find three different buttons for speech level. Of course also useful if you need to adjust the speech intelligibility of a movie or TV show.

The finish and the feeling of quality on the remote control is good, but without impressing with a premium feeling in line with e.g. Samsung's TV remote controls in metal. On the other hand, you can easily program a TV or AppleTV remote control to take over the volume control command. All in all the Remote is a pleasant acquaintance

Inputs

At the back we find four different physical inputs. An HDMI eARC, an optical digital and an analog 3.5mm TRS input. Polk has not fallen for the same temptation as Denon, supplementing the HDMI eaRC with a regular HDMI-input. There is also a USB-A input on the back, which can be used to streaming music from a USB-drive.

Bluetooth is also present in the form of a 5.0 version, and the codec SBC is supported.

Construction of the soundbar

Despite the fact that the soundbar appears as a homogeneous unit from front and top, it is divided into three separate chambers, separated by a deep "V" which provides space for various connections on each side of the middle chamber. A practical grip, which also provides an acoustic separation of the three channels.

In the center chamber we find the center speaker, along with the motherboard and all controlunits. The control panel at the rear edge of the top is also in this section, and the same applies to a switchmode power supply. The center speaker is a 25mm driver, defined as a full tone element.

The contents of the right and left chambers are mirror-inverted identical, starting on the outer flank with a 25mm treble element. These side channels also have dedicated midrange elements, with the dimensions 120 x 40 mm. In addition, there are upward-firing atmospheric elements, which are also full-tone elements with a diameter of 66mm, which provide a natural delimitation at the bottom.

Subwoofers

The subwoofer differs significantly from the subwoofer in the Denon DHT-S517, although the external dimensions are quite similar. Where Denon has opted for a 5.25-inch in front, Polk has equipped its subwoofer with a downward-firing 150mm driver. This is made possible by the fact that the subwoofer has short feet that provide a small distance to the floor, and thus the bass sport has also found its place next to the driver.

The subwoofer has a wireless connection - you only need to add power via the mains cable.

Location of the soundbar

Signa S4 is intended for placement both on a bench under the TV and on the wall. If you choose the latter, it is important to be aware that a slight vertical distance to the TV is required. Depending on the depth of the screen, this should be from 50 to 192mm, and the reason is that the TV should not shield the up-fired Atmos speakers.

During the review, the Signa S4 was placed on a bench under the TV.

Test track Polk Signa S4

Playback setup:

  • AppleTV 4k
  • Philips TV 75PUS6754
  • Polk Signa S4, connected to TV via HDMI-ARC

We're not getting away from my standard test track this time either. But since Signa S4 is not primarily a music communicator, I have cut down the length of the test track a bit. And then it must be admitted that the expectations of a soundbar system for four and a half thousand NOK as a music communicator in stereo were not overwhelming in advance, and the comments under each track must be read in light of both this, and in light of the fact that it is compared to pure stereo setups that can often cost (very) many times the price of the Signa S4.

Tap the image to stream the playlist
Tap the image to stream the playlist

  1. Odin Staveland. Parade - Sillajass
    Surprisingly large soundscape with a width that extends far beyond the width of the bar. I notices a hint of resonance in the middle bass. Not the same precision and nude sound image as on a good stereo system.

  2. Erik Friedlander. Bohemia After Dark - Oscalypso
    Again a surprisingly large soundscape. A bit woolly and occasionally clear resonance in the bass, but the depth is better than expected. Slightly lacking in microdynamics compared to good stereo setups.

  3. Arild Andersen. Patch of Light - Hyperborean
    Surprisingly nice warmth in the sound. And once again a great soundscape.

  4. Arild Andersen. Hyperborean - Hyperborean
    Good perceived depth in Arild Andersen's bass, actually better than some bookshelf-speakers I have tested. But the precision is still often better on these bookshelf-speakers. The resonance in the bass is noticeable, but in no way prevails. Otherwise a pleasant sound balance.

  5. Frank Zappa. Rubber Shirt - Sheik Yerbouti
    Just before the start of Rubber Shirt on the album, Bobby Brown thanks with the subtle comment «… .yes, I knew you`d be surprised». This comment was probably aimed at something completely different, but it still fits perfectly with the rendering of the Rubber Shirt on the Polk Signa S4. An incredibly large sound image and a deep- and in fact not very imprecise bass, which is only colored a bit by the previously mentioned resonance

  6. David and Susanna Wallumrød. Chelsea Hotel - Chelsea Hotel (Live)
    Nice vocals, which are completely free of sibilants, in contrast to the rendering on some other setups. But the coloring in the bass we do not get away with, even though this one appears to be quite moderate.

  7. Helene Grimaud. Silvestrov: Bagatelles I - XIII: Bagatelle I - Memory
    The room is rendered large and beautiful, but the sound of the grand piano is not quite high. Emphasizes that this is not a setup primarily intended for classical music. And this was the weakest stage in the test track so far.

  8. Kleive, Reiersrud, Dissing. Chimes In Bells - The Signed Day
    Magnificent rendering of the church room in Odense Cathedral. But the middle bass resounds well in the casts. Usable with air around Reiersrud's fret noise. The crescendo in the last verse is handled surprisingly well

  9. Reiersrud, Kleive. Track 12 - Skyship
    Surprisingly good and airy, and with great breadth in sound.

  10. Jan Garbarek. Mission: To Be Where I Am - It`s OK To Listen TO The Gray Voice
    A sound balance that works well, perhaps the best stage so far. But it lacks a bit of precision and resolution in relation to a good stereo setup - everything else would really be a bit spooky.
  11. John Abercrombie. Red And Orange -
    Jan Hammer's Timeless Synth Bass works beyond all expectations. The highlight of the test course with Signa S4

  12. Joni Mitchell. Overture / Cotton Avenue - Don Juan`s Reckless Daughter
    The whole intro on Overture is a single long tension on the bass beat of Jaco Pastorius approx. one and a half minutes into the song. And it does not disappoint - the fretless is surprisingly well reproduced. And deep. Across Cotton Avenue, both Joni's vocals and guitar work without getting too sharp, as on some other setups.

  13. Kari Bremnes. Maybe - What We Have
    This is reproduced well, and the resonance in the bass is very moderate, although it strikes a little clear sometimes

  14. Kari Bremnes. Just before the day goes down - And then came the rest of life.
    The sound balance is good, but it lacks quite a bit of sophistication in midrange and treble compared to good stereo setups. Width and size otherwise on the sound image is good.

  15. Kari Bremnes. Children Of Blue Jar - Blue Jar
    This stage was clear above average on Signa S4. But a little coarse-grained

  16. Kari Bremnes. A Lover In Berlin - Norwegian Moods
    This is surprisingly good for getting from a soundbar with sub to four and a half thousand.

  17. Kari Bremnes. You Have Seen Them - Moonstone
    This track also works surprisingly well. Kari's vocals are more balanced than on some tripod speakers at 50% higher price.

  18. Keith Jarrett. For Miles - Bye Bye Blackbird
    It sounds good in the opening, although it is not as refined as in good stereo setups. And Jack DeJohnette's dark drums sit like a shot. So does Gary Peacock's double bass. And even Keit Jarrett's piano sounds pretty good - a little better than Helene Grimeaud's on the DG recording of Ukrainian Silvestrov. But still the situation is that the piano is not the favorite instrument of the Polk Signa S4, and it was not strictly stated on the order form either.

  19. Sigmund Groven, Knut Buen. The Sound of Telemark - Myllargutens Bruremarsj
    And then I am no longer surprised that the huge hall in Rjukan is rendered with a formidable size also with Signa S4. The sound balance also works well on this track.

  20. Ketil Bjørnstad. Land - Odyssey
    On this track, I would argue that the Signa S4 struggles a bit to keep order in the ranks.

  21. Ketil Bjørnstad. Sylvelines Hus - Berget Det Blå
    This classic from the early 70's works fine on Signa S4. and the slightly demanding sound balance in the recording is slightly neutralized by the S4.

  22. Leonard Cohen. Happens To The Heart - Thanks For The Dance
    I get a little shocked when I hear the voice of Leonard Cohen on this track, reproduced on Polk Signa S4. This is almost the magic of an upper budget class soundbar.

  23. Lynni Treekrem. Jealous Type - Storm
    This works well, and with good microdynamics for which it is probably the recording that must get the majority of the credit.

  24. Lynni Treekrem. Veslemøy - Haugtussa
    Nice warmth in Lynni's vocals. But of course it lacks some sophistication and detail compared to good clean stereo setups.

  25. Mari Boine. Chasing Myself Into Reality - See The Woman
    This track simply does not very well on Signa S4

  26. Marianne Baudouin Lie. Many Thousands Gone - Atlantis, Utopia And Wolf Dreams
    Marianne's cello has a very good body and warmth. And this is relatively simple music, so the whole also works well.

  27. Mats Eilertsen. Signal - Reveries and Revelations
    The perspective is surprising, and lots of details are taken care of on Signa S4.

  28. Siri Svale Band. Don`t Explain - The Blackbird
    Bass in the intro is magnificently rendered. The vocals of Siri Gelein are great as always, and no annoying sibilants.

  29. Beyoncè. DONT HURT YOURSELF - LEMONADE
    A rather formidable breadth in the soundscape, is not significantly marred by sound or other HiFi rarities

  30. Øyvind Kristiansen, Jonas Kilmork Vemøy. Forsaken - Hymns of Compassion
    This will simply be a great musical experience. And the bass goes surprisingly deep.

  31. Radka Toneff. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Fairyytailes
    Okay, this legendary track deserves something more than an upper budget soundbar. But after all it is passable.

  32. Angermanlandsmorgon - Past Present Future
    A track that in contrast to the previous track with Radka works very well. Only a few resonances in bass break through in some places.

  33. Maria Joao - Mario laginha. Horn Please - Cor.
    This moodboard from the morning rush hour in Lisbon or thereabouts is beautifully rendered with a large soundscape.

  34. Maria Joao. We`ll Be Just Begining - Undercovers.
    This track sounds hard and strained in the choruses regardless of setup. And neither can Signa S4 do anything about it. But the music and lyrics are magical!

  35. Marc Johnson. Jazz Freedom Dance - Overpass
    Impressive rendition of Signa S4 - all things considered.

  36. Billie Eilish. Your Power - Happier Than Ever
    A bit intrusive in the intro, but the vocals are well reproduced.

  37. Jeff Reily and Peter Anthony Togni. Ave Verum - Blackwood
    This is a recording with enormous depth, width and dynamics. And it's all impressively rendered on the S4.

  38. Chiaroscuro Quartet. String Quartet No. 1 - Beethover: String Quartets
    This is not the setup where you can expect to get absolutely all of the details. But the overall picture is nice, and with a large room.

You may stream the test track for Signa S4 on TIDAL here .

Streaming video

First a small product declaration. Since the connected TV does not support eARC, only ARC I assume that movies in Dolby Atmos were not rendered in real Atmos, but in an upmixed version. In addition, my listening room with a sloping ceiling and a room height of 2.7 - 3.35 meters in the area above the TV setup is expectingly not a very ideal setting for Atmos speakers based on reflection in the ceiling. For stereo music and Atmos setups with height-placed Atmos speakers, on the other hand, it works excellently. We return to the result after a report from a small batch of test material.

Top Boy (Netflix)

This Netflix series is an engaging and well-created series with location in a demanding environment in the Hackney district north-east of London. Good acting performances from some of the actors and a characteristic accent originating in Jamaica make the series worth seeing.

The series has good sound, with a somewhat typical English sound ideal. Signa S4 handles this well, and gives good width to the sound image combined with a nice reproduction of the atmosphere. The previously mentioned emphasis in the middle bass also applies here from time to time, but without it becoming a nuisance.

Slow Horses (Apple TV +)

A fascinating series based on a department in MI5 called Slough House. An important ingredient is the sparkling acting of it across the unsympathetic head of the department, played by Gary Oldman. The series is primarily drama-dominated, but also contains a good number of action-packed scenes, including the opening scene in the opening track.

Signa S4 plays Slow Horses with good reproduction of both action sequences and the more drama-based parts. Width and height are well reproduced, and the most significant limitation is resonances in the middle bass.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout. iTunes Movies

By far the most action-dominated film in this three-leaf clover presented here, and also the production that has the most outspoken action sound. And there is no doubt that you may miss a more thoroughbred home theater setup with high-end Atmos speakers and a subwoofer or two of 10 inches or more.

But depending on whether you are a fan of half-empty or half-full glasses, it is at least obvious to focus on the fact that Signa S4 actually solves the task also with sound transmission of Mission Impossible 6. The commitment the soundbar gives is good, and it is perhaps only after the lights close down that you reflect on how good this could have been with a home cinema setup for  NOK 45,000, - not to mention NOK 450,000, -, and not a soundbar with Sub for NOK 4,500, -

Summary audio

It is quite clear in the detailed music playlist what are the special features of Signa S4, both for better and worse. If we start at the top of the frequency range, the Signa S4 has a treble that is quite comfortable, without protruding more than it should. One might comment that there are certainly more refined and better resolved treble available in good stereo speakers, anything different would be strange.

And also the midrange appears as good, with good warmth in the reproduction and nice connection to the treble.

It is in the bass area that the significant challenge arises. There is a clear emphasis in the area just below 100 Hz, and another emphasis around 130-150 Hz. These emphases are the only weaknesses in the sound reproduction, considering which product category Signa S4 belongs to. I do not have access to the crossover frequency between soundbar and Sub, so I can not say for sure if it is the soundbar or the Sub that causes these colorations. But I suspect the phenomenon lies in the soundbar. And there is an important message to be added - when you pass below thes areas, the bass goes surprisinglu deep.

The very pleasant opposite of the challenge in the middle bass can be found in the soundscape produced by Signa S4. For there is an almost astonishingly large width in the sound image that is produced, a width that far exceeds the physical width of the more than a meter of the sound board. I take it for granted that it is DSP processing of the signal (also pure stereo signal) that causes this.

And then of course you can have a philosophical consideration for whether this is positive or negative. Personally, I have no doubt for a moment that if you are going to listen to music in stereo on a soundbar, the time is ripe to put away whatever audiophile, purist primadonna jokes you have obtained, and rather try to eat he pudding to judge it. And I do not for a moment doubt that the result is above all expectations of what else you can get from a similar soundbar without DSP treatment. But having said that, I would like to have a little more info about what goes on in the centrally located motherboard. And maybe a Pure button similar to the one you find at cousin Denon DHL-S517 to toggle this effect on and off.

Although there is a weakness in the middle bass that I think Polk could have avoided, it does not prevent the total listening impression from exceeding the expectations for the sound of a soundbar costing NOK 4,500. And that applies to both surround and stereo.

Conclusion

With Signa S4, Polk has made a soundbar that gives a clearly better result than expected in relation to the price. A year ago, it was not possible to get a full Atmos package with dedicated height speakers and a wireless subwoofer for four and a half thousand NOK, and still only Polk and Denon can offer this on the market, as far as I know. And although I wish it was possible to choose wireless surround (rear) speakers from Polk's range as an option and thus extended a 3.1.2 setup to 5.1.2, I realize that this could easily increase the price tag as well for the basic 3.1.2-package.

In addition to an impressive package of equipment for the price, the Signa S4 also makes a good performance in sound reproduction. Admittedly, we have a bad- and a good newsin the form of emphasis in the bass and an almost spooky big sound image, respectively, and the good news certainly overshadows the bad one.

Well done once again by Polk!

 

Polk Signa S4 is sold in Norway by Power, and have a guide. price of kr. 4.498, -

Read more about Signa S4 at Power
Read more about Signa S4 at Polk

Read 630 times Last modified on Sunday, 08 May 2022 08:19
Karl Erik Sylthe

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