Polk's new $250 soundbar isn't as advanced as more expensive models, but it still delivers a huge improvement over most built-in TV speakers
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- The Polk Signa S3 soundbar with wireless subwoofer provides improved
audioperformance over most built-in TV speakers.
- Though the 2.1-channel soundbar can get quite loud, its physical size is small enough to fit under most displays.
- The S3 comes in at $250, which provides solid value for the audio performance and features you get, but the device is missing integrated digital assistant support and surround sound.
Though built-in speakers on TVs have improved somewhat over the last few years, most displays are still lacking in the audio department. This is usually a result of the thinness of modern TVs squeezing out the physical room that quality speakers need.
As a solution, companies like Polk offer a variety of soundbars, providing an external audio solution in a simplified package that takes up less space than a full speaker system. One of Polk's latest entries in the soundbar department is the Signa S3.
Debuting at $250, the compelling soundbar package includes a wireless subwoofer and built-in Chromecast functionality. Its sleek and minimal design fits a multitude of home decors and its sound is aimed at delivering a step up from built-in TV speakers.
I've been testing the Polk Signa S3 to see if this $250 soundbar offers satisfying performance while watching movies or listening to music. Is this a worthwhile upgrade to your TV's integrated speakers, or should you spend more for a higher end audio solution? Check out our full review below for all the details.
At just over two inches tall, the Signa S3 soundbar can definitely be called minimal. Its low profile, black and grey colors, and slightly curved front also make it attractive. There's nothing controversial about its design that will make it stand out, regardless of your home decor.
The Polk S3 soundbar unit and its matching subwoofer are perfectly subtle in their visual look. In fact, I would argue that the only downside to the system's styling is that it might look too bland or boring for some people. Personally, I like its dark, heathered front-facing look.
Beyond just the visual design, I'm also a fan of the materials used. Along the back is black plastic and the front is mesh fabric. Soundbars get dusty and sometimes using fabric on electronics can make them harder to clean. In this case, the Signa S3's fabric is taught and I find it easy to dust and wipe clean.
Another nice thing about its physical design are the buttons along the top. These are actual buttons, rather than touch-sensitive areas, and while it may be a cost-saving measure by Polk, I think they work well. In the back, the HDMI ARC and optical port are both placed at an angle so the soundbar can be pushed back flush against a wall or be mounted using the built-in hooks.
- Frequency response: 45 Hz - 20,000 Hz
- Front array driver: two 1.25" midrange and two 1" tweeters
- Remote type: Infrared (IR)
- Dimensions: 2.15" x 35.43" x 3.22"
- Audio inputs: HDMI (ARC), Toslink Optical, analog 3.5mm mini-jack (AUX)
- Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth, Chromecast
- Front array driver: 5.25"
- Dimensions: 13.4" x 6.72" x 12.2"
Despite the Signa S3's reasonable price, the soundbar still includes plenty of features that may help it win out over its competition. The biggest headlining feature is built-in Chromecast support. This allows you to cast (beam, transport, throw, or however else you want to describe it) audio from an app on your phone directly to the soundbar over Wi-Fi. This feature is easier to use than Bluetooth and is reminiscent of AirPlay functionality.
Chromecast technology is capable of sending audio and video, but in this case the S3 only utilizes the audio function. To use this feature you'll need to set it up inside the Google Home app on iOS or Android. Once that's done, Chromecast support will be available in the Home app or from an audio app with the cast symbol.
A good example of this feature is Spotify. Open the Spotify mobile app, tap on a song, and then in the lower left hand corner tap the speaker icon and select the Polk soundbar. Ultimately, streaming audio this way should provide better quality than Bluetooth, and using this method won't stop the music if another audio source comes up on your phone.
Of course, the soundbar also includes Bluetooth connectivity. This function works well and I haven't had any problems connecting to a smartphone or tablet after tapping the Bluetooth button on the soundbar.
No matter how great a soundbar may look or how many features it packs in for its price, the value of adding one to your TV really comes down to how it sounds. To that end, right up front, the Polk Signa S3 sounds pretty good.
The midrange soundbar doesn't sound as detailed and rich as the more expensive Sonos Arc, but it does sound pretty amazing compared to the tiny speaker systems that you'll find stuffed into very thin TV sets.
The soundbar itself contains four drivers, each around one inch in size, which power the system's forward firing sound. As you might expect, if using the soundbar without the included subwoofer, the device's playback can sound a bit hollow. The sub, with its five-inch driver, provides a well-rounded low-end to lift the soundbar to an acceptable level.
Using the included remote, you're able to adjust the volume of the soundbar and the subwoofer independently. Overall, this option is a nice inclusion, but it does mean that it can be quite easy for things to get out of whack as you experiment with finding just the right balance between the two.
One of the main reasons you might want a soundbar is to improve the way dialogue sounds in movies and TV shows. If you're needing to raise the volume to a loud level to hear people speaking, you're a good candidate to add a soundbar to your home theater setup. To that point, a highlight of the S3 is its preset equalizer (EQ) settings designed to help with dialogue.
On the remote, there are six buttons dedicated to different sound settings. Three of the settings are for enhancing voice and boosting the frequency range for speaking. The others include modes for nighttime, movies, and music.
The voice settings are great for their intended purpose. Of course, in order to enhance dialogue there's always a trade-off in overall performance. When you use one of the voice settings, the soundbar removes bass in order to highlight the frequency of human speech. As a result, you can hear dialogue better, but the overall sound quality is thinner than usual. The music and movie settings get closer to a well-rounded mix, each highlighting elements important to those experiences.
Beyond the independent volume settings for the soundbar and subwoofer, and the six preset EQ modes, the Signa S3 doesn't offer much in the way of sound adjustments — what you hear is what you get. For the average household picking up this soundbar, the amount of control should be sufficient. If you crave more tweaking options, however, there's a good chance you're a candidate for a higher end speaker set.
The volume can get quite loud on the Signa S3. Depending on the room size and other video factors, I doubt most people will ever need to go above the 50% volume level. Raising the level is also where you begin to hear some of the inadequacies of the small drivers. As the volume raises the separation of high and low frequencies becomes clearer, and the upper frequencies begin to distort. At normal volume levels, however, this isn't really a notable issue.
The bottom line
Now that you can find decent 50-inch TVs for just $400, throwing a $250 soundbar into the mix can seem like a pricey addition. Still, I guarantee that the sound quality improvements you'll get with the Signa S3 will dramatically improve your overall entertainment experience.
Now, there are other soundbars you should consider for pairing with high-end TVs, especially if you're looking for surround sound and Dolby Atmos support, but for pairing with TVs under $1,000, the Polk Signa S3 is a great way to enhance the shows and movies you're watching.
What are your alternatives?
If $250 for a soundbar and subwoofer is just a little too much for your budget when picking up a sub $400 TV set, consider the Vizio SB362An-F6. It incorporates 2.1 audio into a single unit, but most importantly, shouldn't cost you more than $100.
On the other side of the coin, if price isn't necessarily the issue, but you want something a little smarter, the Sonos Beam is a compact unit with voice control and built-in access to nearly every audio service imaginable. It features Wi-Fi connectivity, a Night Mode, speech enhancement, AirPlay 2, and Alexa or Google Assistant integration for around $400. On the downside, the Sonos Beam does not include Bluetooth support.
Of course, it should be noted that the Vizio and Sonos soundbars don't include separate subwoofers. If you're looking for an alternative with a subwoofer, the Yamaha YAS-209 soundbar incorporates a dedicated subwoofer and features Alexa voice control for around $350. This model is Insider
For more soundbar recommendations, be sure to read our full guide to the best soundbars.
Pros: Good sound for price, Chromecast and Bluetooth, sleek and minimal design
Cons: EQ settings are limited, controlling soundbar and subwoofer volumes independently can be tricky
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