As I said in my first impressions post, I first came across this combo at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 2019. It was the public reveal of Polk Audio’s Legend Series, a new speaker line developed to put Polk back in the specialty hi-fi game.
It’s been about ten years since they’ve had new products to compete at this level, and their demos at RMAF had a warm reception.
The massive L800 floorstanding speaker drew the most attention with its impressive SDA arrangement, but I was taken by the L100 bookshelf/PMA-1600NE integrated demo in the back room.
I was so taken in fact, that I requested review samples of both to check out in my listening room. Thanks to Sound United for allowing me to evaluate these products.
Disclaimer: The L100 and PMA-1600NE were sent to me by the manufacturer for an honest evaluation. That is what follows. Both will be returned at the end of the review period.
The Polk L100 Bookshelf Speaker is the smallest offering in the Legend line, going for $1200 a pair. That puts it in direct competition with the Kef LS50, long considered to be king at that price range. I knew from day one I was going to make a comparison of the two, and I did. I’ll talk more about that later.
The PMA-1600NE Integrated Amplifier from Polk’s sister company DENON sells for $1599. While it has a handsome retro look (reminiscent of the DENON gear I sold in the 90s), it’s still quite modern under the hood.
PMA-1600NE Integrated Build/Features:
The PMA-1600NE is equipped with a rear USB input that supports high-resolution files up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM or 11.2 MHz DSD coming from a laptop. There’s also a trio of digital inputs (1 Coax, 2 Optical) for hooking up a streamer to the internal 32-bit DAC. I was surprised to see such robust DSD support in an integrated. It’s not common.
The four digital inputs are rounded out with 3 RCA line inputs, one RCA line out, and a single phono input, which is compatible with both Moving Magnet and Moving Coil cartridges (there’s a switch on the back).
Its high-current push-pull amp section does 70 watts x 2 channels into 8 ohms (20-20,000 Hz) or 140 watts x 2 channels into 4 ohms (20-20,000 Hz). The last spec works well with the L100 since Polk recommends high-current amps of at least 70 watts for its 4-ohm load. It will drive a good range of speakers, both floorstanding and bookshelf.
There’s a small front display that tells you what input you are using and the sample rate of your music when you play music through the internal DAC.
The 1600NE also has some tricks up its sleeve, like an Analog mode that switches off all digital inputs along with the dedicated digital power supply (and front display) to keep the signal pure as possible when using line sources.
It’s also built like a tank. I almost threw my back out trying to pick the box up from the porch. The thick metal faceplate and robust chassis are built to isolate the internal components from vibration and interference.
L100 Bookshelf Speaker Build/Features:
As soon as you pull the L100 from the carton, you can see this isn’t your run of the mill standmount speaker. At its core, it’s basically a box bass-reflex design with a furniture-grade wood veneer, but several futuristic type elements set it apart from other speakers.
One is the sizeable PowerPort assembly on the rear of each cabinet. It looks similar to the heat sinks you see on some powered speakers, but here it’s merely a plastic assembly. On the inside of the assembly, there’s a cone that sits at the mouth of the bass reflex port.
The cone is there to dissipate turbulence coming out of the cabinet, cutting port noise, and allowing for deeper, more musical bass. Polk has used this technology on select speakers since I sold Polk in the 90s, improving it along the way. While they have used it on bookshelf speakers in the past, this enhanced PowerPort unit is the biggest I’ve seen relative to the speaker’s size.
Along with the enhanced PowerPort, the L100 has a new 1″ high-definition Pinnacle Ring Radiator tweeter. This, too, is an enhancement of past technology developed by Polk Audio.
Like the PowerPort, it was previously used on Polk’s previous flagship bookshelf, the LSiM703, except this time there’s a pointy metal phase plug in the center and a slightly deeper waveguide. This is intended to widen the sweet spot and provide crisp highs.
A revolutionary component that is distinct to the Legend series is the 5.25-inch “Turbine Cone” fashioned from a proprietary foam core. It has a radial pattern molded into the cone, which is meant to increase the stiffness of the cone without adding mass. That should help prevent cone breakup, thus leading to smoother mids and more articulate bass.
The cabinet itself is rather quiet, with a quick rap on the side eliciting a soft thunk. Polk says the L100, along with the rest of Legend series, is heavily braced to cut down on resonance. They also have rubber feet placed on the bottom of the cabinet for isolation when placed on a desktop or shelf. That’s a nice touch.
Listening to the L100 Bookshelf and PMA-1600NE Integrated
I set up the L100 Bookshelf speakers about two feet from the back and side walls in my listening room, and started with them pointed straight towards the back wall. They sounded good that way, but a slight toe-in towards the listening position enhanced midrange focus, so I left them there for the remainder of my evaluation time.
As a source, I used my HP Envy X360 laptop playing TIDAL through the PMA-1600NE’s USB input. Setup was easy, with my laptop recognizing the amplifier right away. I turned on the amp’s “Source Direct” option to disable the front tone controls.
The PMA-1600NE proved to be a quality match with the L100, providing the muscle necessary to push them to their full potential. When I first tried the speakers with my beloved Audiolab 6000A, an integrated with less gusto than the DENON, the bass was mushy, and the timing seemed to be off.
But when I hooked up the 1600NE, the L100 was ready to attack with lively dynamics and tighter bass. The sound opened up, and it was evident why Polk recommends amps with a minimum of 70w per channel for these little monsters.
Once settled in, the first thing I noticed about the L100 was their Tonal Balance. I found the bass, midrange, and treble to be well equalized. The overall presentation lacked any boominess or distracting brightness.
I was also impressed at how silky the treble was, adding life to the presentation without overdoing it. Clarity and detail were spectacular, but not in the surgically revealing way you get with a speaker like the Kef LS50.
When I compared the two, the Kef brought out more microdetails, allowing you to hear things like the sound of a finger on a string, or the sound of a singer’s breath more easily, but I liked the warmer, more organic way the L100 presented the same details. It reminded me almost of a tube vs. solid-state comparison with the L100 falling on the tube side.
The LS50 had a wider soundstage and more forward perspective, but it sounded thinner overall than the L100. That’s because the Polk beat it handily in the bass dynamics department, with a much weightier low-end that gave it more gravitas. The Legend speaker had a lot of impact and slam for its size.
That being said, don’t expect the L100 to provide the low-end performance of a full-range tower. With some bass-heavy music, they did seem to get bogged down and lose some punchiness, so if you are planning to have a dance party, you may need to enlist the help of a subwoofer.
The one part of the spectrum that I preferred on the LS50 opposed to the L100 was the midrange. On the Polk speakers, the mids seemed to have a little dip in the presence region, causing the perspective to be a bit more laid-back than I usually like. Vocals came across a tad bit monotone on L100, compared to the Kef.
That being said, there was no boxiness or coloration in the L100 midrange. Textures were also sufficiently liquid. When listening to instrumental tracks, I preferred the Polk’s lively, vivid sound to the colder sound of the Kef. Still, when listening to vocal tracks, the LS50 won me over with its masterful presentation of the singer’s emotion.
When I listened to one of my favorite recordings, “Father Stretch” by Kanye West’s Sunday Service Choir, I loved how big the L100’s played, even though the presentation was taller than it was wide. The imaging was very focused, allowing me to pick out various sections of the choir.
I also liked how the bass dynamics drove the rhythm home. These speakers can definitely get your head nodding. Again my only issue was the midrange. The lead vocals were a little farther away than I usually like.
The Polk L100/DENON PMA-1600NE is an entertaining combo. They play music in a lively, expert fashion. There are no artificially boosted highs, or out of control bass, even though it could use a tad bit more articulation. I also wish vocals were a little more fleshed out. However, this rig can provide enjoyment with all but the most bass-heavy music, and it’s warm, detailed nature masterfully reproduces instrumentals. You get big sound from a relatively small speaker.
Where To Buy:
Click Here To Buy: Crutchfield-Polk Audio Legend L100 Bookshelf Speaker ($1199)
Click Here To Buy: Amazon-DENON PMA-1600NE Stereo Integrated Amplifier | Up to 140W x 2 Channels | Built-In DAC and Phono Pre-Amp ($1599)