Polk Monitor XT20 Review: These Budget Audiophile Bookshelf Speakers Are Spellbinding!

Polk Monitor XT20 Bookshelf Speakers

$299.00
Polk Monitor XT20 Bookshelf Speakers
7

Build

7.0/10

Features

7.0/10

Sound

7.0/10

What We Dig

  • Solid Build Quality
  • Nice Tonal Balance
  • Breathtaking Natural Sound

What To Think About

  • Slight Midrange Coloration
  • Dynamics Can Be A Little Soft At Times

TL;DR

They may not be the prettiest speaker, but the Polk Monitor XT20 provides a solid build and engaging sound quality for a bargain price.

Intro

There’s no shortage of reviews and evaluations when a super-expensive flagship speaker comes out. But when a $299/pair speaker comes out, you always have to look hard for any opinion online. That’s one reason I started this website back in 2018, to give some insight into the more affordable end of the hi-fi market.

A case in point is the Polk Audio Monitor XT20, a $299/pr. Bookshelf speaker that was released last August. A quick Google search reveals only a couple of reviews as of this writing. In addition to this, I heard some good things from users in the forums, which really piqued my interest.

For this reason, I picked a pair up to try them out, and I have to say I was surprised at what I found. I discovered a pair of speakers that did many good things considering its meager cost.

So would I recommend them to folks trying to set up a decent 2-ch hi-fi system on the cheap? Well, read on, and I’ll give you the scoop!

Disclaimer: The Polk Monitor XT20 speakers were purchased by Hifitrends to write this review.

Specs

  • 6-1/2″ paper cone woofer
  • 1″ Terylene dome tweeter
  • power handling up to 200 watts
  • impedance: 8 ohms
  • frequency response: 38-40,000 Hz
  • sensitivity: 87 dB
  • 5-way binding posts

Build/Features

Polk’s relatively new Monitor XT series of speakers is marketed as an upgrade to their Monitor series of speakers, which has been kicking around online and traditional retailers for some time now.

The Polk Audio Monitor XT Line

There are seven XT models, including two sets of bookshelf speakers, two tower models, two center channel speakers, a subwoofer, and a pair of Dolby Atmos height modules. They’re all high-res certified, for what that’s worth.

The Monitor XT20 we’re looking at today is the larger of the two bookshelf models, but it’s pretty compact for a speaker with a larger than 6-inch woofer.

Overall, It’s a rather plain-looking speaker covered in a basic matte black vinyl wrap. Both the 1″ Terylene (polyester fabric) Tweeter and 6.5″ paper cone woofer are fastened to the MDF enclosure with exposed screws; in actuality, the front of the woofer is entirely exposed.

Neither the front nor back of the speaker are adorned in any way; the most decoration you’ll find is branding on the tweeter waveguide, silver paint on the woofer, and a Polk logo at the bottom of the baffle.

However, the charcoal grill is quite attractive with its tweed-like covering, and it does dress the speakers up a bit when in place. This is probably the only speaker that looks better to me with the grills on instead of off.

While it’s not the prettiest speaker to look at, the Monitor XT20 does seem solidly built, with all components fitting tightly together. Also, the rap test doesn’t elicit as much noise as other speakers at this price point, showing there was decent effort put into its construction.

Around the back, the utilitarian theme continues with a smallish and non-descript rear port plus some basic-looking 5-way binding posts. Again, while not fancy, the binding posts are stable and functional.

Sound

Regarding placement, the manual recommends putting the speakers in an equilateral triangle with the listening spot at the apex. In my case, this meant the speakers were about 10 feet away from my seat and 10 feet apart from each other, which is my standard placement for most speakers.

In addition, I toed the speakers in, pointing directly towards the listening position as per manufacturer recommendation, and pulled them out about three and a half feet from the rear wall.

I hooked them up to the Audiolab 6000A Play amplifier and played a bunch of music via the built-in Play-Fi streamer and the matching Audiolab 6000CDT CD Transport.

As soon as I played them, I was impressed by their laid-back perspective and tonal balance, as they didn’t assault you with music but instead allowed it to wash over you in a balanced way.

They were tilted a little bit warm, but not boomy like some budget speakers, which I liked. The treble was sweet and not overly grainy, suitable for a sub $300 speaker. Detail and air were so-so, but there was enough to keep things enjoyable.

The midrange was where these speakers shined. While there was a fair amount of low-frequency coloration (to be expected at this level), there was still an open and genuine quality to the mids that made these speakers highly engaging.

Listening to Daft Punk’s “Beyond,” the strings sounded grand, plus the cymbals were detailed and realistic, sounding shimmery and metallic in a good way. The bassline was full and rhythmic. There was a tad bit of boxiness there, but it’s wasn’t overly distracting.

Conversely, I found the dynamics to be a little soft at times. While they could play deep bass, I found the punch and slam a little constrained when playing fast and complex passages.

On the other hand, I liked their imaging, as they did a great job of placing the various elements in the mix.

Listening to Eric Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven,” I was amazed at how the song unfolded in front of me. It sounded very live and natural. The soundstage width was average, just pushing out beyond the speakers.

Another thing worth mentioning was the off-axis response of these speakers. I have to say these speakers had a rather large sweet spot, which was remarkable for a speaker of this level.

The Wrap Up

With the Monitor XT20, Polk Audio has proven that it can make an enjoyable hi-fi speaker at any price point. While its looks are plain, the overall build quality is solid, and the compact size will fit many applications.

When these Monitor XT line came out, Polk promised speakers with clarity, high output, and effortless bass, and I think they delivered that for the most part.

They kind of run out of steam when you play extraordinarily fast and loud music, but for most tracks, they provide a wide-open sound with natural midrange and deep bass. I think they’re a great all-around speaker for those building an entry-level hi-fi system, especially if you listen to a lot of Jazz and Acoustic music. If you can catch these speakers on sale, don’t hesitate to grab em!


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