The TL1600 is a compact 5.1 speaker system that delivers surround sound without making huge demands on your space or wallet. Its £330 price tag looks like excellent value for money on paper, particularly for a system made by a respected American speaker brand like Polk. The dinky satellites are stuffed with nifty innovations, while the small 100W subwoofer adds oomph to those all-important action scenes.
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In the box are four identical TL1 satellites for the front and rear channels. Their 165mm height lets you place them discreetly on top of TV stands or sideboards, likewise the horizontally aligned TL1 centre speaker.
All of the satellites are styled in a glossy ‘Blackstone’ finish, which Polk describes as ‘automotive strength’. Indeed, it gleams in the light like something out of Fast and Furious, which is undeniably alluring.
What’s more, the curvy cabinets look more elegant than most speakers at this price and boast robust build quality, too. Even the speaker terminals on the back are gold-plated binding posts, not cheap springclips. On design alone the TL1600 has already justified the asking price.
The curves serve an acoustic purpose as well as an aesthetic one. The non-parallel surfaces strengthen the enclosure and help keep colouration at bay.
The front of each speaker is covered by a black cloth grille which can be removed to reveal the drivers. On the back is a built-in keyhole slot and threaded insert for wall mounting, plus an aperiodic-tuned bass port.
The cute subwoofer’s tasteful matte finish and curved corners make it easy on the eye and at 352mm high by 317mm deep it’s one of the more space-friendly subwoofers we’ve encountered.
On the back you’ll find a host of controls, including knobs to adjust volume and crossover frequency and switches for Phase and power options. Sockets include stereo line input plus speaker level input and output springclips.
Each front/rear satellite features a 2.5-inch mid-bass cone driver and a ½-inch silk polymer dome tweeter, while the centre uses two mid-range drivers and a tweeter.
These midrange drivers are tuned using Polk’s Dynamic Balance technology, designed to offer a smooth, flat frequency response and eliminate driver and system resonances.
Time Lens technology is another Polk innovation that aligns the acoustic centres of the tweeter and midrange driver to ensure accurate imaging, with an acoustic lens in the grille to smoothen frequency response.
The aperiodic-tuned bass port on the satellites controls air flow for a smooth blend with the sub and generates a ‘big bass response’. The subwoofer itself packs an 8in driver and 100W of amplification.
The TL1600 delivers a very impressive performance for the money, blasting out a bigger and louder sound than you’d expect from speakers of this size.
Credit for this should go to the speakers’ Extended Linear Motion motor structure, which allows the drivers’ moving parts to extend further than would normally be possible within the confines of such a small cabinet. As a result they can generate a big soundstage with movie soundtracks, despite their size.
Obviously they lack the absolute scale and authority of floorstanders, but they compare very favourably with other compact systems that cost twice as much.
This surprisingly potent sound is also helped by the sats’ impressive bass extension. The crossover between sats and sub is seamless – explosions are solid and cohesive, melding a deep rumble with a sharp midrange crunch, while drum beats are tight and deep voices sound weighty.
Also impressive is the speakers’ refusal to flap or strain when you crank up the volume. Even under the extreme duress of Guardians of the Galaxy’s battle scenes, the TL1600 stays calm and composed. There’s no harshness in the mids and highs, very little booming from the sub and no colouration. It maintains a good level of clarity with detail and dialogue. Once or twice we had to rein the subwoofer in a bit but otherwise it’s a hassle-free listening experience.
The system is also characterised by its crisp, precise treble. Every scene is peppered with detail, from nuances in human voices to the score’s piercing brass instruments. This lends a sense of openness and clarity missing from some budget speaker packages. Even better news is that you get this superb detail reproduction across the entire system thanks to the use of identical drivers, resulting in accurate, absorbing surround sound.
We’re really struggling to understand why this system only costs £330. The only real negative is that it’s not the most aggressive or commanding performer you’re likely to hear. The tone is rather laid back and polite, so if you want a more biting, brutal listen you might want to up your budget and check out some bigger speaker packages.
However, the system’s crisp detail, well-integrated bass and precise imaging results makes it a very musical system. We were as impressed by its delicate handling of Miles Davis’ Blue In Green as we were by its punchy, energetic rendition of Happy by Pharrell Williams.
If you’re after a 5.1-speaker system on a tight budget, Polk’s TL1600 is an excellent choice. It delivers sound quality well above what you’d expect for the money and size, especially in terms of scale and detail. These terrific satellites won’t have trouble filling most living rooms when allied to the punchy, agile subwoofer, resulting in a very entertaining sound. Add the sturdy construction and gorgeous Blackstone styling into the mix and the TL1600 is an absolute no-brainer.
Its smooth, laidback character might not get your adrenaline flowing quite as easily as some other compact systems, but that’s the only real drawback of this very impressive compact system.
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Polk’s living-room-friendly sub/sat system delivers a big, detailed sound, sleek design and decent build quality – all of which makes it superb value for money.