POSITIVE FEEDBACK ONLINE - ISSUE 34
polymer audio research
Polymer Logic Loudspeakers
as reviewed by Jim Olson
There are a few loudspeakers in high-end audio that can get an audiophile's heart racing. A few examples of such iconic designs are Von Schweikert VR-9 SE, Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria X-2, Kharma Exquisite Reference 1B, Avalon Osiris, or the MBL 101D. All of these products offer a level of sonic reproduction that provides an intensely involving experience, one that engages the listener both intellectually and emotionally. The latest assault on the state-of-the-art in music reproduction comes from Polymer Audio Research that will dazzle audiophiles with diamonds, in fact so much diamond that the Polymer Logic loudspeaker packs more carats than some of the world's most expensive jewelry.
But this extraordinary excess comes in at a cost that is certainly not outrageous given the pricing of today's high-end audio products and could possibly present a serious concern to competitor's products, something that Polymer Audio Research hopes to capitalize on. Daniel Khesin also claims that the diamond midrange will allow audiophiles to hear, perhaps for the first time ever, the true information that is supplied by the audio system, as only diamond can move precisely in tandem with the movements of the voice coil.
The Polymer Logic contains a number of compelling technologies that may cause serious enthusiasts to literally drool in tense anticipation, at least I did. The use of a diamond cone to reproduce midrange frequencies makes for a theoretically ideal transducer, one that can achieve something no other loudspeaker technology can and that is to operate like a perfect piston over its entire operational range. Unlike all other cone materials, the diamond cone will not flex and will therefore reproduce the exact excitation of the electro-magnetic system. Polymer Research claims that the only other commercially available system that uses this diamond driver is the Marten Design Coltrane Supreme, a highly regarded loudspeaker that is only available to a select lucky few at a price tag of $250,000 a pair. Daniel Khesin, CEO of Polymer Audio Research, also claims that on some performance parameters the Polymer Logic will be superior to the Coltrane Supreme because it operates the diamond cone over a wider frequency range, pushing the cross-over frequency lower to where the ear is less sensitive. Considering all this and the seemingly impossible business model, the Polymer Logic is one of the best loudspeaker deals in all of high-end audio.
The tweeter in the Polymer Logic is an unusual model from Supravox better known for their high efficiency electro-magnet drivers and horn compression drivers. This tweeter has a dome that is a sandwich of titanium and 24K gold. The two materials have asymmetrical resonance frequencies and cancel each other out. This supposedly creates an extremely detailed sound but one without harshness or glare typically associated with metal domes.
Another impressive aspect of the loudspeaker is the absolute over the top cross-over network that alone probably costs more than some high-end loudspeakers. Every capacitor in the circuit is a film and foil type, whether it is in or out of the signal path. In addition, every capacitor is created in stacks and then by-passed. So a typical 10uf capacitor may be a stack of 2.5uf + 2.5uf + 2.5uf + 2.5uf + 0.1uf each one made with very high voltage film of at least 200V. Daniel Khesin claims that this type of stacking dramatically reduces noise floor, creates a blacker background, and eliminates other distortions. All the inductors in the circuit are wound with 10 awg laboratory grade copper and the resistors are Caddock metal oxide types that are usually used in critical high-end applications and are too costly to use in loudspeakers. These resistors also require stacking because on its own, one such resistor will not have a high enough power handling to handle large voltage signals. The cross-over circuitry in each speaker weighs 60lbs due to the massive parts used.
The Polymer Logic arrived at my door in two large wooden crates. Removing them from the crate and positioning them in the listening room requires two very strong people, despite their relatively small size for a floorstanding speaker they are extremely heavy weighing in at over 300 lbs. each. The cabinets have a very elegant yet industrial appearance that is almost businesslike. I thought that the over-all finish quality was outstanding, however, it is a notch inferior to the level of a Wilson or a Verity Audio product that simply takes cabinet finish to absolute perfection. The combination of piano lacquer with thick aluminum pieces may also not be everyone's cup of tea, but with the grill on the Polymer Logic looked stunning like a purposely sculpted monolith, although they sounded better with the grill off.
I ended up positioning the speakers 30 inches from the rear wall and 45 inches from the side walls. This is closer than I normally place my Wilson Watt Puppy 7 but this did not create any room interaction problems that were audible while extending the bass down to where deep organ pedal notes shook the room with tremendous authority. Experimenting with toe in took several days of trial and error as this would dramatically change the soundstage, where it would go from being huge to melting the walls of the room. Ultimately I settled on enough tilt to where you could no longer see the side walls from the listening position which allows direct sound radiation from the drivers to reach the ear before the first boundary reflection. This way I knew that my ears were massaged by those diamond cones before those reflections. In addition, the listening position had to be at least 2 feet farther back than where I normally sit listening to my Watt Puppies. Clearly the Polymer Logic is not for near-field listening and you should make sure that your room has ample space. I thought that sitting about 10 - 12 feet away is the minimum distance needed.
The first challenge was figuring out which components and cables to use. Probably due to the speakers extraordinary resolution, suddenly every component in the reproduction chain began to matter more with subtle changes making for a dramatic and audible difference. The choice of interconnects and even AC power cords (of which I previously only thought of as audiophile placebo) were making significant changes to the sound. Using my long time reference Nordost QuatroFil cables the sound had a tightly stretched soundstage with sharp images combined with hyper detail, this combination was a little too much of a good thing. Switching to the Nirvana SL Series interconnects and speaker cables was a totally different portrayal of reality with a sound that was ultra-luxurious, relaxed, with rounder images and a lot more "flesh on the bones" on vocal recordings but all this with explosive dynamics. The Nirvana was a better match for my ears, but for sure I never heard such a dramatic difference between two types of cable and this experience was revelatory for me.
As you would imagine, I approached listening the Polymer Logic with a fair amount of anxiety feeling a bit like a kid in a candy store. What could these speakers accomplish loaded with 10 carats of diamond per pair? I wondered if I was about to have an intensely spiritual auditory experience. Unfortunately for me, my imagination could not prepare me for what the Polymer Logic delivered.
Every recording that I played was a jaw-dropping revelation. Detail levels increased across the entire musical spectrum without adding any clinical edge to the sound while simultaneously delivering an uncanny analogue smoothness. Vocal definition was frighteningly realistic; it was like going from a good CD player to a very good analog set-up, last time I experienced this level of vocal reproduction was during some very brief encounters with the Rockport Technologies Sirius System 3 turntable. Instruments were presented with a beguiling liquidity and organic presence. Music would explode against a backdrop of deep, dark silence. The noise floor does not exist with this speaker. Musical lines and instrumentals stand forth with exceptional clarity and a wealth of inner detail. I was sitting spellbound in disbelief at the magic that was happening in my home, with the Polymer Logic completely transcending the boundaries of believability. On several occasions, as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I actually had to get up and dance.
On Odetta Sings the Blues (CD, Riverside 3007), I was immediately surrounded by an immense soundstage that projected into my room an acoustic bass, piano, and drums with absolutely no clue as to the location of the loudspeakers. Odetta's huge voice came through with such a visceral presence standing there right before me that I could swear that a real human being was in the room. With this first recording to whet my appetite it became necessary to re-discover my entire music collection. John Lennon's Imagine (2000 Remaster) left me absolutely gob smacked, as though John Lennon rose from the dead with a physicality I have never heard before.
The Polymer Logic revealed itself to be stunningly transparent, with simply extraordinary resolution, transient speed, and decay as well as the most supple and correctly controlled midbass I've ever heard, with no overhang or bloat. I could hear much farther into the soundstage and the speakers would never run out of ambient detail. I heard only the recording venue with nothing to indicate that the sound was emanating from two boxes at the center of my listening room. This showed itself as an amazing versatility with the speakers having seemingly no character of their own and stepping out of the way of the music. Listening to Mozart Serenade in D, Fields (CD, Philips 289 464 022-2) revealed instruments with a captivating lightness and a sweetness. While the first track on Wynton Marsalis Trio Jeepy exploded in the room with raw power that startled me in a way that I never experience before. Next, Patricia Barber's Pygmalion, holly Jesus she is in my room, who needs to leave the house when you can hear it like this at home?
But all this was just the beginning. Beyond the superlatives used by reviewers to describe equipment and beyond the usual audiophile chills and thrills, there was something truly captivating about the sound of the Polymer Logic that for almost a month I barely slept. This could very well be due to physical properties of diamond. What I experienced was an astonishing purity and total transparency that were beyond anything in my prior experience. This purity felt like multiple veils have suddenly been lifted, as if all prior loudspeakers I had in my system were stifled and blunt. The harmonic complexity of a violin, for example, reproduced by the Polymer Logic was a borderline religious experience. I can hear, see, and feel the performers. It is the kind of purity that I lack the audio vocabulary to express. The Polymer Logic is all about refinement, subtlety, and nuance.
Two years ago I was frothing at the mouth about the DK Design Group X-Dream (designed by the same people who build the Polymer Logic), a loudspeaker which due to its complexity did not stay in production when the company was sold to LSA Group. I now have to eat my words and re-asses my position on what is the world's best speaker. The problem is that there really can only be one "best" and overuse of the term makes it devoid of meaning. The Polymer Logic is a product that breaks through to a new level of playback realism, but there are some things that give me pause. For example, as far as dynamic capability the Polymer Logic is no match for speaker like Wilson Audio's Alexandria X-2 which can literally blow the doors off a room; it is clearly optimized for top-class performance at normal listening levels and it is not the head bangers loudspeaker. However, I doubt this is the reason most music lovers purchase a high-end audio component. The Polymer Logic is like a finely tuned sports car, designed for tight handling and refinement. There is certainly no loudspeaker in my experience that can provide the type of resolution, purity, visceral presence, mirco and macro-dynamic authority, and liquidity all the while being completely relaxed and simply disappearing with 3D images floating in the room. This is goose bump city and absolutely jaw dropping territory. So is this the best over-all loudspeaker I have heard? I have to say that despite its dynamic limitation (i.e. ability to play at extremely loud, tenant eviction levels without compression), the over-all performance of this speaker is tops and the very best in my experience. Pop open a nice bottle of Chateau Margaux, sit back, and enjoy the world's best midrange performance.
At the beginning of this review I mentioned that ultimately this was an unfortunate undertaking because now I have no choice other than to figure out how to fork over $24,990 to keep these speakers. I am putting my money where my mouth is and buying the review pair. And there is no reviewers' discount; Polymer Logic operates on margins that are razor thin. However, it is impossible not to see the amazing bang for the buck this loudspeaker offers. I did the calculations and what the Polymer Logic claims is true—if you try to build a pair yourself, you will spend more money on the parts than the asking price of this masterpiece of audio engineering.
I very strongly urge all audiophiles shopping for speakers that exceed the $10,000/pr price tag to seek out and audition a pair of the Polymer Logic speakers. You might be really kicking yourself later if you don't. Jim Olson
Polymer Audio Research