The Polk Magnifi Max SR soundbar is a 5.1 model which features a wireless subwoofer and satellite speakers and ensures compatibility with Dolby and DTS soundtracks. In addition to a compelling array of audio settings, this soundbar integrates a Google Chromecast Built-in streaming module to stream audio files from a NAS or from an online music service.
Polk Magnifi Max SR: 45 years of experience
Let’s begin with a little bit of history. Polk Audio is an American manufacturer founded in 1972, today a subsidiary of Denon and a specialist in the production of acoustic loudspeakers since its inception, from compact, floorstanding, and in-wall/in-ceiling models, to speakers designed for outdoor and marine applications. Suffice it to say that the brand, which designs exclusive drivers, has extensive knowledge in the field of acoustics. More recently, Polk has begun manufacturing headphones, as well as wireless speakers and soundbars. The Polk Magnifi Max SR is the brand’s high-end soundbar.
The Magnifi Max SR soundbar was designed to compete with a compact 5.1 multichannel system equipped with an AV receiver. It offers some serious advantages over a home theater system, since the three front channels (left, center and right), in addition to the amplifier and the streaming module, are all installed in a compact and discreet soundbar. To compete with a classic 5.1 installation, Polk chose to offer a separate, wireless soundbar and wireless speakers which can be positioned freely. Consequently, this isn’t a virtual surround system, but a true 5.1 audio system.
The Polk Magnifi Max SR soundbar is fitted with four 3” x 1” midbass drivers (equivalent to 2.35” drivers). Two are positioned on either end of the soundbar, where each is paired with a .75” plastic dome tweeter. The other two drivers are installed on either side of a 1” tweeter located in the center of the soundbar. Each wireless satellite speaker features a 3.15 wideband driver. The subwoofer is fitted with an 8” down-firing bass reflex driver.
The soundbar is equipped with 3 mono amplifiers for a maximum peak power of 180 Watts, the subwoofer with one mono amplifier (160 Watts peak power), and each satellite speaker with its own amplifier (60 Watts peak power). Together, the system boasts a frequency response of 35 Hz to 20 kHz.
The soundbar is the only component to feature inputs and outputs. Its three HDMI inputs comply with the HDMI 2.0a standard (HDCP 2.2) and can receive signals from a set-top box or a 2160p UltraHD Blu-ray player, while the optical audio input can handle a digital audio stream from a TV, and the analog line-in input can be used to connect a DAP, for example. The HDMI output responds to CEC commands (the TV’s remote control may be used to power the soundbar on and off as well as adjust its volume level) and handles Audio Return Channel from the TV.
The Polk Magnifi Max SR is equipped with a Bluetooth receiver to stream music directly from a smartphone to the soundbar, for example. Even better, it integrates a network controller (Ethernet and WiFi) to enable lossless streaming of music from a NAS or an online music service such as Deezer, Google Play Music, Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz. Adding another point in its favor, the WiFi controller is compatible with 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands.
Design and build quality
The soundbar is over 3.28 ft (1 m) long and only 2” high (5 cm). Its structure combines steel and plastic, and the majority of its surface is covered with acoustic cloth. Objectively speaking, it’s an attractive object which benefits from an elegant and refined design. Although the subwoofer also boasts an alluring form, its plastic finish is less enticing.
What’s more, this wireless Polk subwoofer isn’t very heavy, which was enough to worry us, since we wondered if it would vibrate as a result, or collapse as soon as the first lightsaber was drawn in a Star Wars movie. We had the same mixed impression with the satellite speakers and their small switched-mode power supplies: all of this seems very light and there’s certainly a lot of plastic.
As for the remote control… a pleasant surprise, as although it’s very compact, the quality is very good, with different depth levels for the various control buttons.
Our expectations prior to testing
On paper, the Polk Magnifi Max SR is well thought-out: a slim soundbar, wireless subwoofer, wireless satellite speakers, an HDMI controller compatible with 4K resolution at 60fps, Voice Adjust Technology, and the possibility to listen to music via Bluetooth transmission, and above all via the Chromecast Built-in module. Chromecast, the nirvana of streaming technology, doesn’t oblige the user to turn to a proprietary app but is instead integrated into all the noteworthy apps for Android and iOS, as well as the Chrome web browser. For example, simply tapping the Chromecast icon in Deezer will prompt the soundbar to begin audio playback.
SDA Surround Technology modes
The Polk soundbar offers three surround sound modes, all of which are only activated when the incoming signal is in stereo format. When the incoming signal is in Dolby Digital or DTS 5.1 format, the soundtrack is restituted without post-processing. The three modes are Movie, Sports and Music, and all may be activated with the remote control. Activating the Movie mode with a stereo signal will send dialogue to the soundbar’s center drivers and the wider audio signals to the satellite speakers. The Sports mode functions in the same manner, albeit with more presence on the satellite speakers.
Lastly, the Music mode offers two options: a first where only the soundbar (L+C+R) and subwoofer deliver the sound, and a second where the satellite speakers join in as well.
Note that in this case, the front right and front left channels play the same track. To extract separate signals from a stereo signal and send them to the satellite speakers, the Movie mode must be activated (which means you’ll be listening to music in Movie mode).
Voice Adjust Technology and Night modes
As its name suggests, the Voice Adjust mode allows you to adjust the volume of the soundbar’s center channel (in mode 5.1) and to emphasize or deemphasize dialogues from a stereo source. The remote control may be used to fine-tune the presence of dialogues within a wide scope of possibilities.
The Night mode enhances clarity at low volume and minimizes disturbances to those around you. The volume of lows is reduced, and the volume of dialogues is increased.
All of this truly works very well, and the coherence of the soundstage is not compromised.
What’s more, the volume of dialogues can be manually adjusted to the point of hearing hardly anything else. Great flexibility.
Audio formats handled
The Polk Magnifi Max SR soundbar does not handle 24-bit HD digital audio signals. Honestly, this isn’t a problem as 24-bit / 192 kHz, with all their micro-details, are best reserved for hi-fi speakers. As for 24-bit Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master soundtracks, their 16-bit / 48 kHz Dolby Digital and DTS core are handled. In other words, no Blu-ray disc or VOD service will pose a problem for this soundbar.
Polk Audio provides a number of accessories. These include three power supplies (satellite speakers, soundbar), a remote control, an optical cable, an HDMI cable, a 3.5 mm mini-jack cable and two wall mounts.
We paired the Polk Audio Magnifi Max SR with our 65” LG OLED TV via an ARC HDMI connection. Our video source was a Xiaomi Mi Box running Android TV on which the Plex app was installed to enable the viewing of films and TV series in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. When we powered it up (automatic with the TV), we noticed that the wireless subwoofer and wireless satellite speakers were automatically synchronized (green LED lit up).
Anyone wishing to stream music should download the Google Home app on a smartphone or tablet. The app automatically detects the speaker, even before the latter is connected to the local network (by an Ethernet cable or a WiFi connection).
The app sends the WiFi connection settings to the soundbar, which is then updated over the course of several minutes. And there you have it.
The results were truly impressive, and our doubts about the plastic components of the subwoofer and surround speakers were quickly laid to rest. To be clear, the Polk Magnifi Max SR is perfectly executed, and its performance surprised us, even when its default settings were activated. It isn’t “max” only by its name.
With the Plex app for Android TV, we watched several film excerpts: Blade Runner 2049 and Star Wars: Episode VII in order to push the speakers and amplifier to the max.
The soundbar itself offers such a neutral restitution that we asked ourselves if the tweeters were working. It’s surprising, but this contributed to the depth of the soundstage and did not add any unnecessary coloration in the highs. The fact that the soundbar features a bass-reflex enclosure enables it to offer a satisfying mid and upper bass register, without needing the subwoofer’s support. Voices are well restituted and the soundstage is wide, even without using the satellite speakers.
The tonal balance of the satellite speakers is clearer and brighter than that of the soundbar. However, this difference between the front of the soundstage and the surround sound in terms of tonality is not a shortcoming but a strength. Everything works well together and the rear sound effects are clear. These little wireless speakers are packing a lot of punch.
As for the subwoofer, we shouldn’t have judged a book by its cover. What a feat! Quite simply, we pushed the master volume to the max, and the subwoofer showed no sign of weakness, nor did it generate unwanted vibrations. Our couch shook as it rarely had before. Blade Runner 2049, Star Wars: Episode VII, and the opening credits of Kingsman: The Golden Circle were splendid.
The Polk Magnifi Max SR compared to…
The B&W Panorama 2: the Bowers & Wilkins soundbar is smooth and serene, and it adopts a different philosophy. Its surround sound settings are less effective since there are no rear surround speakers. Polk takes the lead for an immersive soundstage and couch-shaking bass at high volume.
The Philips Fidelio B8: the comparison is almost unfair. Although the Fidelio B8 definitely has its strong points, it is surpassed in all categories. Voices are restituted with less skill, there is sharpness at high volume levels, the subwoofer is less energetic, and there is no audio streaming function…
The Focal Sib Evo 5.1 + Yamaha RX-A870: the Focal speakers offer superior uniformity, and the satellite speakers are two-way models with a tweeter (one wideband driver for the Polk speaker), which gives them a certain advantage. However, the Focal subwoofer is a notch below the Polk subwoofer in terms of energy. As for the Yamaha RX-A870, although it is an excellent model, it can’t compete with a soundbar’s straightforward settings.
What do compact speaker systems and AV receivers have left to offer? Their more immersive center speaker, perhaps. Yet, the Polk Magnifi Max SR is clearly a direct competitor for many compact speaker systems integrating a subwoofer and an AV receiver. Its overall neutrality, outstanding subwoofer and Chromecast streaming functions make it a highly competitive all-one-solution. The price is also a pleasant surprise.
What we liked:
- The excellent restitution of vocals (without help from the subwoofer)
- The subwoofer which shook our couch and never faltered
- The wireless satellite speakers’ clear and energetic restitution
- The efficient Surround and Night modes
- The Chromecast Built-in functionality (clearly the best streaming solution on the market)
- The well-designed remote control
- The compatibility with 4K HDMI (60fps)
- The impeccable synchronization of images and sound despite wireless transmission
What we would have liked:
- Less plastic for the subwoofer… that being said, it is highly efficient.