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Polk Keeps Up Pace Of Product Rollouts

8/16/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern
Baltimore - Polk Audio, which will ship more than 80 new products before the year is out, will continue the momentum early next year when it delivers a stepped-up flagship line of in-room home speakers and two new passive SurroundBar systems.

The Polk Audio team with the top tower speaker in the planned flagship LSi M series (from left): product line management VP Mark Suskind, senior systems engineer Scott Orth, engineering VP Stu Lumsden, product line manager Al Baron, marketing and customer experience VP Al Ballard, senior sales and marketing VP Ben Newhall, and COO Joseph Tristani.
 Polk's eight generation of small satellites includes the planned Blackstone TL3.
Those products, to be introduced at January's International CES, will follow the shipment of a new satellite-speaker series, three active subwoofers with a wireless option, a single-chassis behind-the-couch virtual-surround speaker system, and in-ceiling Vanishing Series three-way speakers, which feature small footprints, narrow bezels, and low-profile micro-perf grilles to significantly reduce their visibility.

In 2008, said senior sales and marketing VP Ben Newhall, Polk "made a conscious effort not to cut product development but to put the pedal to the metal" to gain share and "do the things we really wanted to do." Other factors expected to contribute to increased share include the current rollout of Polk custom speakers, priced at $200-$250/pair, into Best Buy's main selling floor for the first time. The rollout follows Polk's recent car audio entry into Best Buy for the first time. The DXi car audio series, available for now on an exclusive basis to Best Buy, consists of speakers and amplifiers that represent Polk's entry level but will offer Best Buy customers a step-up option, marketing VP Al Ballard told TWICE.

"Last year was a good year for us, and this year will be better," Newhall said. "The future is bright for a speaker company that pays attention to many different categories," including outdoor speakers and wireless speakers.

  As part of its share-boosting effort, the company is redesigning its near-10-year-old flagship LSi series of in-room speakers from the ground up to step up the series' performance and price points. The new series, called the LSi M series, is promoted as offering the most advanced speaker technology in the company's near-40-year history and positioned as an affordable option for serious listeners. The line "sets a new high-performance standard with real value for higher end customers," said Newhall.

  The series, targeted to ship in January, tops out with a four-way floorstanding tower at a tentative $4,000/pair, up from the LSI series' current top-end $2,500/pair. The series will also include a second four-way floorstanding towers targeted at $3,000/pair, two three-way center-channel speakers, a three-way bookshelf speaker, a three-way bipole surround, and a subwoofer.

Engineering VP Stu Lumsden cited multiple reasons for the ground-up redesign, including the improved quality of prerecorded source material, demand from existing LSi owners, the availability of new engineering tools to step up performance, and a desire to offer a "gateway" for consumers into the high end.

The development effort, added product management VP Mark Suskind, will deliver speakers that perform like models at twice the price.

To achieve that goal, Polk incorporated multiple new elements, including flat-diaphragm racetrack (or Cassini oval) subwoofer drivers in the four-way towers to boost bass performance while delivering a narrow-cabinet design. Other enhancements include separate downfiring ports for each of the woofers, 1mm-thick zero-diffraction magnetic grilles, new crossover designs with as few components as possible to minimize sonic artifacts, and new cone material, called Super Cell Aerated polypropylene, to deliver higher stiffness with lower density and improved damping.

The LSi M series will be targeted to independent retailers and installers and some larger retailers capable of demonstrating and explaining the products, Newhall said. "It's not a national retailer type of products." Distribution might be more restrictive than current LSi series distribution, he added. The current series is available on some on-line sites.

For consumers with little room for a multispeaker surround system, Polk plans a CES introduction of two new passive SurroundBars, both capable of reproducing seven channels of surround sound through a single speaker enclosure. They will replace two current five-channel models and will be thinner than those models.

The new 49-inch 500CHT and 39-inch 400CHT will be displayed at the CEDIA Expo, but active demos will wait for their CES launch, said product manager Al Baron. Pricing of the models, both with black extruded-aluminum chassis, is set at a suggested $999 and $699, respectively.

The 500CHT will be only 1.5-inches-thick, thanks to an outboard module that incorporates the system's crossovers and proprietary passive SDA (Stereo Dimensional Array) technology to widen the sound stage and create an enveloping virtual surround field. The control module connects to a receiver's seven- or five-channel speaker outputs, and an included 15-foot cable connects to the speaker via a multipin connector.

The CHT400 chassis, with built-in crossovers and SDA technology, will be 2.5-inches-thick.

Before the SurroundBars and LSi M series debut early next year, Polk plans this year to ship all models in its eighth-generation of small two-way satellite speakers. Three satellite models in the Blackstone series will be sold singly, in five packs with a matching center channel, and in six packs with center channel and wireless-ready active subwoofer. The satellites and matching center channels will be available in gloss black or white finishes.

Compared to their predecessors, the new satellites and center channels feature a new curved-cabinet styling, an acoustic lens to smooth out the tweeters' lower frequencies, and proprietary bass ports to extend the 3dB rolloff point to 135Hz, 125Hz, and 115Hz in the respective TL1, TL2 and TL3 satellites. "Most satellites roll off at 150-200Hz," said Baron.

 The TL1, already shipping, retails for a suggested $79 each. The $99 TL2 ships in 30 days, and the TL3 will likely ship in November at anywhere from $150 to $200 each, Baron said. TL1-based five and six packs are also available.

  In adding its first wireless-ready subs, Polk has reconfigured three mid-line DSW Pro wired subwoofers to accept an optional wireless dongle that communicates with an optional wireless transceiver. The transceiver-and-dongle option is priced at $120. The company previously offered wired-only subwoofers and subwoofers with built-in wireless.

(See accompanying story for updates on shipments of previously announced products.)
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