If you dig audio at all, if you’ve ever looked at the even the second-to-highest shelf in the home audio department, you know how quickly audio goes from in-your-wallet to in-your-dreams. And that’s even before you get to the hilarious overpromises of audiophile-grade gear, like a $485 wooden knob. It serves to reason then, that you have to spend a lot of money to get acceptable audio, right? Not at all. You can get some pretty solid hardware to improve on a basic audio setup without having to make a Fiverr account. One example of this is Polk’s Signa S1 soundbar, a stereo 2.1 soundbar meant to give your games and movies the souped-up sound they deserve without making things complicated.
Design and Setup
The Signa S1 is a pretty simple piece of hardware with a similarly simple look. Setup is similarly breezy. The design is very much that of a straightforward sound bar:
The subwoofer is big enough to get the job done (more on that later) and the soundbar is a full-length job that supports keyhole mounting to a wall or soundbar mount. Everything about it is matte black except the multicolored LEDs that make up what little visual feedback the set offers.
To set the S1 up, you’ll simply plug in via your TV’s optical (S/PDIF) port and into the back of the bar itself, switch your TV to use the optical port. You’re done. The subwoofer is synced up with the bar wirelessly out of the box, though buttons on the back will let you re-sync it if for some reason that sync failed.
The bar also features options for connecting a 3.5mm auxiliary source or connection via Bluetooth, but Polk has forgone the HDMI connection in this more basic device – to its benefit. The HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is a neat idea, but I’ve had issues with ARC-connected devices retaining their connections, and prefer to go without it.
The feature set is one of the big selling points for the S1. At the pricetag Polk has stuck to the S1 box, you’re getting a fully-featured device.
In addition to easy switching between the main optical input and the two extra inputs, the bar as music, movie, and night modes, separate bass and volume adjustments, and three levels of VoiceAdjust.
A few of these settings appeal to me especially as an apartment dweller. Being able to adjust the bass is useful of course, but that night mode is a huge help, too. When it gets late, if I’m not keen on headphones I can drop the bass – in the boring way, not the fun way – with the touch of a button.
The VoiceAdjust has been a boon this summer, too. We’ve had some really hot days and my air conditioner happens to be just a few feet away from my TV. Cranking the VoiceAdjust to maximum makes it easy to hear most of what’s going on without also having to turn my AC down or turn the subtitles on. The difference is immediately noticeable, and anyone who picks up the S1 should be checking out this feature, even if you’re not losing your hearing or trying to watch TV next to an industrial compressor.
One feature I’m not a fan of is the 15-minute timeout that shuts the soundbar down when there’s no sound going through it. If you’re using a smart remote of any kind, whether it’s Samsung’s smart remote or Logitech’s Harmony line, you will likely find your setup getting out of sync, and there’s no way to disable this. It’s really one of the few downsides, and if you use the remote the comes with the soundbar as many will, it shouldn’t be a problem.
If you know what you’re getting into with the S1, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck. If you don’t ask it to do really heavy lifting, it’ll serve you well.
The subwoofer provides substantial bass that adds a lot to whatever picture you’re watching, and even the bar on its own adds a lot to the equation. If you have a TV that pumps out better sound than what this bar can provide, your TV is probably already connected to a far more expensive audio system, because it’s probably a really expensive display.
Because it’s a full-length soundbar – compared to the much-shorter Magnifi Mini I checked out before – it provides a comfortable soundscape that feels as wide as I want from a soundbar like this.
The S1 handles music surprisingly well. The drums on Metallica’s ‘Of Wolf and Man’ have all the punch you’d hope for, and it does an admirable job of handling the bass in tracks like ‘Roundabout’ by Yes and ‘Blue in Green’ by Miles Davis has plenty of oomph, while elements like brush drums in the latter song come through surprisingly well. I’d say it’s a little vocal-forward, but not overtly so. Make sure to hit that “music” button on the remote if you do plan to play music on this thing. It makes a noticeable difference.
Movies sound great, too. You’re never going to equal a 500-plus watt system with this thing, but again, if we’re talking an apartment or a bedroom, you’re going to get more sound than you can handle in the best possible way. The opening act of Blade Runner has everything from quiet sound effects to loud explosions, clear and messy dialogue, and even a variety of music, all of which the S1 handles without blinking.
The S1 can process Dolby Digital signals but, like many other soundbars, the surround sound aspect isn’t terribly convincing. I don’t really expect that with soundbars though – if you want surround, get a 5.1 system.
The S1 is, simply put, ridiculously good. It has a simple feature set, but it’s an effective one. I’d put it up against soundbars twice as expensive soundwise. If you’re going to spend much more, it should be because of a feature this soundbar is missing. You can’t spend much less than this and get a worthy piece of hardware, and you can spend a whole lot more and this will still compare favorably.
Disclaimer: We received the soundbar from Polk and spent a month with it before writing this review.
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