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Polk Uses New Design For Streaming Tabletop Speaker

LAS VEGAS – Polk Audio’s first streaming tabletop speaker will be the first of about eight personal audio products planned in 2013 to incorporate a new “retro-futurist” design aesthetic whose craftsmanship will convey the company’s heritage in component speakers without looking old, company executives said.

The new aesthetic, developed by the new Global Design Center at Polk parent DEI Holdings, features warm tones and a “mid-century modern” look to create a sense of nostalgia with a “wink” toward modern technology, said Michael DiTullo, DEI’s chief design officer.

The design shift is part of an effort to establish Polk in 2013 as an iconic American brand like Jeep and Fender, he said. What Jeep and Fender are to vehicles and guitars, “Polk is that for music,” he said.

The aesthetic changes will appear this year in about eight tabletop and portable audio products and headphones, starting with the Woodbourne streaming tabletop stereo speaker, which ships in the second quarter at a suggested $599. It’s the company’s first AirPlay speaker and first product with embedded Wi-Fi. It also features stereo Bluetooth with Apt-X codec streaming.

The Woodbourne is designed with a furniture look and soundbar-like dimensions of 7 inches by 24 inches by 7. 9 inches. It features mahogany-veneer top, curved front baffle to widen the stereo image, and warm-tone fabric that wraps around the front and back. Like other new personal audio products to come, the Woodbourne is named after neighborhoods in Baltimore, where Polk is based.

Also at International CES, Polk is launching a completely redesigned opening-price series of component speakers, which adopt the curved styling cues of the company’s new design aesthetic and offer improved bass and high-frequency response, greater dynamic range and improved imaging, the company said. The TSx series replaces the TSi series, launched in 2008, and ranges from $199/pair for bookshelf speakers to $999/ pair for tower speakers.

For tabletop use, the Woodbourne will connect to multiple audio sources besides AirPlay-connected and Bluetooth-connected mobile devices and PCs. It will also feature optical and analog inputs for connection to TVs and iPod/iPhone/iPad-certified USB port to charge Apple’s devices and reproduced music from them. The speaker accepts Dolby Digital 5.1 through its optical input and down-mixes the content to 2.0.

The five input types provide “near-universal connection compatibility,” the company said

The product will appeal in part to urban dwellers who love music and design, want high-quality audio reproduction, but have no room for a component audio system, DiTullo said. The streaming speaker’s performance is strong enough to operate as that person’s primary music system, he said.

Another key customer is the traditional Polk customer who owns a component system in the main listening or home-theater room but wants a compact high-quality secondary-room option “that looks like it belongs in the room,” DiTullo said.

The two-way biamplified speaker packs two 5.25-inch mid-woofers and two 1-inch silk-dome tweeters, active crossovers, 180-watts of RMS amplification, and bass response to 42Hz thanks to a sealed enclosure and long-throw woofers.

The speaker uses a 150-MIPS digital signal processor to widen frequency response and widen the soundfield, but “we don’t overuse DSP so we maintain flat frequency response,” said product line manager Al Baron.

The 17.5-pound speaker enclosure is built from half-inch MDF, and an IR sensor on each side of the curved baffle lets consumers control the system from the supplied cosmetically matched IR remote from anywhere in the room.

The number of front-panel controls was minimized to reduce clutter, DiTullo said. The controls are source selection, volume and power.

The speaker will be sold through Polk’s current CE channels, including installers, who have embraced product categories that they didn’t offer before, Baron said. In the future, Polk will look beyond traditional CE stores to lifestyle-oriented stores to reach “a class of customer who wants better sound but isn’t likely to go to a CE store,” Baron said.

For Polk’s traditional retail base, the company plans February shipments of its new TSx series of openingprice component speakers, which replace the TSi range and offers deeper bass, improved high-frequency response, and new organic curved styling instead of hard angles at similar or identical price points as their predecessors.

The lineup, available in black oak or cherry finish, consists of three tower speakers priced at $499, $699 and $999/pair; two bookshelf speakers at $199 and $299/pair; and two center channels at $199 and $299 each.

In one tower, two woofers in each cabinet grow to 8 inches from 6.5 inches in the model it replaces. A second model’s three woofers go to 6.5 inches each from the predecessor’s three 5.25-inch woofers, and in a third tower, two 5.25-inch woofers go to 6.5 inches.

Bass output in the series is also enhanced by the use of fibrous bilaminate substrate cones made of pulp infused with polymer compounds to improve stiffness without adding mass, the company said.

The lineup tops out with the $999/pair TSx 550T three-way tower with two 8-inch drivers, two 5.25-inch midbass/midrange drivers, 1-inch tweeter and 3-inch front-firing flared port. The $699/pair TSx 440T tower features the same tweeter, three 6.5-inch midrange drivers, and 3-inch front flared port. The $499/pair TSx 330T tower features 1-inch tweeter, two 6.5-inch woofers and the front port.

The bookshelf speakers are the $299/pair two-way TSx 220B with 1-inch tweeter and 6.5-inch woofer and the $199/pair two-way TSx 110B with 1-inch tweeter and 5.25-inch woofer. The center-channel models are also two-way, both with 1-inch tweeters. The more expensive model features 6.5-inch woofer compared to the lower priced model’s 5.25-inch woofer. Both have 2-inch rear-firing flared port.