|• OWM5 front left/right and center ($180 each) (2) 41∕2-in cone woofers, 1-in silk-dome tweeter; 16 x 41∕8 x 61∕2 in; 7 lb
• OWM3 surround ($200/pair) 41∕2-in cone woofer, 1-in silk-dome tweeter; 10 x 41∕8 x 61∕2 in; 4 lb
• PSWi225 subwoofer ($400) 8-in (nominal) cone woofer; 100-watt amplifier; includes separate wireless transmitter and (built-in) receiver; 13 x 13 x 121∕2 in (including feet, jacks, and controls); 201∕2 lb
For its first half-century, the speaker-design craft was nearly as demanding of the skills of fine woodworking as it was of the science of electro-acoustical engineering. But those days are rapidly receding (a fact little lamented by many speaker designers) as new-age cabinet structures of metals and manmade composites - a polite term for "plastics" - have largely taken over, at least in the lower half of the market.
One most recent such creation is the new OWM series from Polk Audio, long a leader in more-for-less loudspeaker design. Like many of its competitors, Polk employs molded cabinets with each of its OWM models, and for good reason: Molded composites are vastly cheaper than the particleboard-and-veneer "wraps" that until recently formed nearly all speaker enclosures; they're enormously less prone to unit-to-unit variance in both dimensional tolerances and acoustical behaviors; and with a bit of forethought and some modern-day computer modeling, they can be made substantially more nonresonant. This last point is an important one to the designer, who wishes us to hear the performance of the drivers rather than the resonant signature of the box in which they're mounted. In truth, wood - even the dense "MDF" particleboard that underpins nearly all wooden speaker construction - isn't an ideal material for acoustical purposes: it's better for violins than for speakers.
Composite cabinet design also helps maximize internal volume for a given external dimension and enables a riot of shapes and curves that are impractical in wood. The folks down Baltimore way - Polk Audio's home - sent us a suite of delightfully compact and curvaceous OWM models: three OWM 5s up front, with a woofer-tweeter-woofer layout that allows both vertical and horizontal placement; OWM 3s (a single-woof variant) for the surrounds; and the compact PSWi225 subwoofer, which features wireless hookup complete with the requisite transmitter at no additional cost, and which lacks any conventional wired inputs.
The OWM3's slim, curvaceous cabinet permits multiple mounting options, including corner installation and both vertical and horizontal placement.
Both of Polk's OWM models include clever clipon plastic bases that make vertical stand or shelf placement a snap - literally. (The OWMs come with supplied brackets, also plastic, that make vertical or horizontal wall-mounting, or even 45° in-corner installation, almost as simple.) Horizontal placement on a shelf or stand, as I used for the center-channel OWM5, is a bit less sophisticated, depending on simple stickon rubber feet to hold the position and set the angle of the sharply tapered cabinets. I placed all of the speakers in my usual locations: fronts on suitable stands flanking my 52-inch Samsung LCD TV, surrounds on high shelves astride the listening position, and the sub in my well-worked-out location to the left of and behind the front-left speaker. Despite their compactness, and in contrast to some smaller and/or cheaper speakers, both OWMs incorporate heavy multiway binding posts, a boon for banana-plug addicts like myself.
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