Circa 1994, I fondly remember hearing Polk Audio loudspeakers in a long-gone Circuit City store as a burgeoning audiophile who dreamt of having the $400 in my pocket needed to actually own a pair. Jump forward to today and Polk Audio is celebrating its 50th Anniversary with a very special loudspeaker dubbed the Polk Reserve R200AE 50th Anniversary Edition. (buy at Amazon)
Polk has chosen to make only 1,000 pairs of the Anniversary Edition,which are modified for performance over the standard Reserve 200. It’s a somewhat bold move to introduce a limited-edition loudspeaker intended to represent the sum of 50 years of innovation, especially at a price this affordable. Can the Polk Reserve R200AEs live up to the hype of 50 years of innovative, affordable loudspeaker design? Let’s find out.
What Makes the Polk Audio Reserve R200AE Loudspeaker Special?
- Polk Audio embellished the Polk Audio R200AE (buy at Amazon) with the right mixture of style, and performance upgrades. You can get the speakers in a finely-finished cherry wood veneer. The serialized commemorative plaque with Matthew Polk’s signature is beautiful. On the performance side, the upgraded gold-plated binding posts and internal crossover electronics add just enough refinement to truly call the Polk Reserve R200AE a special edition.
- The bass response resulting from the marriage of the Polk Reserve R200AE’s 6.5-inch Turbine Cone woofer and X-Port technology is excellent. Here is where Polk’s five decades of innovation really shows. The Polk Reserve R200AE has some of the highest-quality bass I have heard come out of a bookshelf speaker with a 6.5-inch woofer.
- It is not uncommon for high-quality bookshelf loudspeakers with a 6.5-inch woofer to have bass response into the mid-30Hz range. Describing the bass as thunderous for its size from the Polk Reserve R200AEs is a bit of a misnomer. The speakers were able to sound full and three-dimensional even in my large listening space. The Polk Reserve R200AE has this controlled, deep presence paired with seamless integration into the mid-bass frequencies that is easy to love. Finally, the Polk Reserve R200AE possesses all the quality from the bottom of their range through the mid-bass and they do it with very little of the port coloration that is typical of a small, vented-box loudspeaker.
- Fantastic integration between the woofer and the Pinnacle Ring Radiator tweeter rises to the same quality level. The upper-midrange through the highest frequencies sound smooth, well detailed, and resolute.
Why Should You Care About the Polk Audio Reserve R200AE Loudspeaker?
The Polk Reserve R200AE is not just an excuse to jack up the price on an already well-decorated, well-regarded audiophile loudspeaker. It is a humble offering to music lovers from a company that understands how critical it is to make great audio affordable for everyone.
The Polk Reserve R200AE loudspeakers are a very strong value at $1,299 per pair, especially given its limited nature. It is a well-refined, high-performance loudspeaker that is reminiscent of great bookshelf loudspeakers of yore such as the ProAc Tablette. The R200AE’s well-engineered technologies bring its performance up to modern standards, though, and improve upon what made standout bookshelf loudspeakers so great throughout the years. The Polk Reserve R200AEs are the first affordable bookshelf loudspeakers I have heard in my system that represents classic greatness and modern refinement in the same package.
Some Things You Might Not Like About the Polk Audio Reserve R200AE Loudspeakers
- The Polk Reserve R200AE is still a bookshelf loudspeaker and that comes with some inherent issues tied to physics. While offering a great deal of bass extension for their size, copious amounts of deep bass is not on the plate for the Polk Reserve R200AE. However, paired with an affordable subwoofer of similar performance caliber to cover from 20Hz to 40Hz, like the SVS SB-1000 Pro, it is possible to have a truly full-range system without sacrificing a lot of space.
- The Polk Audio brand doesn’t carry as much weight as others in snobby audiophile circles. But it should. The brand has made tremendous strides over the years.
- The Polk Reserve R200AE has a slightly more laid-back vibe compared to other speakers in its class that can be more forward, edgy, and willing to grab your attention, especially on more aggressive music.
Listening to the Polk Audio Reserve R200AE Loudspeakers…
I was first taken aback when I threw on the 2010 solo album Avalon by the multi-dimensional Sully Erna, who is best known for his work as the front man for the metal band Godsmack. Avalon (buy at Amazon) is a medium-paced album that contains all the angst-fueled grit that one would expect from a metal singer, but in a far more reflective and complex musical sphere. The track “Until Then” is driven by Sully’s haunting vocals, piano, and cello. It is a beautifully written and well-recorded track. The R200AE was in its zone reproducing this old reference recording of mine. Immediately from the piano introduction, the speakers sounded full-bodied, with rich but harmonically complex integration at all frequencies that really brought the piano to life in my room. The imaging extended far beyond the speakers in all directions. What came as a surprise, too, was that the piano was situated just behind the loudspeakers as if it were on stage and I was a few rows back.
I am going to stick with the piano theme for this next track, but switch to the album Still by Nine Inch Nails (buy at Amazon.com). Trent Reznor is an incredible musician and I feel it shows best when he slows down and softens his typical industrial rock sound a bit. On this album, he takes some of his more famous tracks and performs them in a far more melodic fashion. “Something I Can Never Have” is recorded in Reznor’s living room, and via the R200AEs, that space was well-rendered in my own living room. As with “Until Then,” the Polk Reserve R200AEs nail the acoustic space, which is a large part of what makes “Something I Can Never Have” sound so special.
At rock-and-roll listening levels, the Polk Reserve R200AEs held their composure and never sounded thin, especially with the lower octaves of the piano on the recording. The speakers preserved the weight and dynamics quite well. Little subtleties were presented with beautiful timbre, texture, and detail. The only sin of the R200AEs, which is expected at this price-point, was some rounding-off of the edges of the guitar plucks and the sharpest edges of the piano chords. It was a sin of omission, so certainly not sonically offensive for me.
We have beat the piano music to death now, so let’s move to something a little different. Walker Hayes exploded onto the country scene in 2017. In 2021, he teamed up with R&B star Ke$ha to write a country/R&B hybrid that should not work but does. This mash-up goes by the title “Fancy Like” (buy at Amazon on vinyl and other formats). Perhaps this song is a little reflective of my teenage years as he jovially but lyrically attacks the fun-loving aspects of a low maintenance partner. I love this compressed mess of twangy guitars and digital beats. What is impressive about the Polk Reserve R200AE is that it’s forgiving enough to make radio-friendly recordings palatable. The top end extension is resolving and airy and background elements fly through the soundstage without sounding congested. The bassline drops during the chorus, and the Polk reserve R200AE extends deep enough to capture it well. Even with the woofers pumping, the turbine cone was well composed through the mid-bass and midrange frequencies. The Polk Reserve R200AE is a characteristically warm loudspeaker, but does not yield anything musically noticeable to possess such a desirable character, including top-end extension. Warm always helps with tracks like “Fancy Like,”, when the music may not be a perfect audiophile-style recording, but you want to listen to it and need it to be listenable.
Does the Polk Audio R200 50th Anniversary Edition Loudspeaker Have Any Resale Value?
I believe the R200AE will hold its value very well, both now and over time, given its limited-edition nature and its exceptional performance. It’s that simple. Those interested in the R200AEs might want to get while the getting is good, because I don’t expect them to last long. We also wouldn’t be shocked to see them selling for retail (or higher) when the Polk’s inventories run dry.
Who Is the Competition for the Polk Audio R200AE Loudspeakers?
Not unlike a WWE Royal Rumble, the $1,299 per pair price point is jam-packed with contenders. The most notable heavyweights include a value rival and a performance rival.
The Sonus faber Lumina II is the large bookshelf speaker in the Lumina collection and comes in at $1,299 per pair. Sonus faber engineers some amazing loudspeakers. The Lumina series has a fantastic sounding tweeter and a house-made woofer backed by Sonus faber’s excellent and gorgeous cabinet work. They are definitely a worthy competitor to the Polk Reserve R200AE. Where the Polk Reserve R200AE lacks a little in overall refinement, the Sonus faber don’t dig quite as deep at the bottom end, so choose your speakers carefully for what works most synergistically with the rest of your system. Also don’t be scared of subwoofers as they are easier to blend into an audiophile system and not too expensive these days. That goes for any of the speakers that we are talking about here.
Priced at $2,200 per pair, the Bowers & Wilkins 706 S3 (buy at Crutchfield) would likely be the next place to look if the desire was to step up from the Polk Reserve R200AEs. The 706 S3 has an advanced, highly rigid cabinet design with many other speaker technologies that trickled down from their 800 series reference loudspeakers. Sophisticated drivers (their tweeter is really well designed) that match and ultimately better Polk’s value-minded technologies in overall performance is one notable difference. Keeping level-headed, it is quite a testament to Polk’s engineering that it would take a loudspeaker that costs nearly twice as much to be appreciably better.
Final Thoughts on the Polk Audio Reserve R200AE Loudspeakers
50 years into the game, Polk Audio is still bringing hi-fi to the masses through its affordable loudspeaker offerings, and the Polk Reserve R200 50th Anniversary Edition (buy at Amazon) is no exception. From top-tier fit and finish to well-rounded performance with no meaningful sonic flaws, the Polk Reserve R200AE is a loudspeaker I really, really like.
One slight bummer about being an audio journalist is having to invest in equipment to have reference products on-hand for direct comparisons. Yes, we get good prices on audiophile gear, but the overall investment and room that these products take up can be an unforeseen challenge, as I am sure you can imagine. As such, only the best of the best makes it into the circle of reference gear – especially in my value system. I feel the Polk Audio Reserve R200AEs fall into this category for me, and coming off the purchase of a Grace Design m900 or my Parasound P 6 Preamp-DAC, being fortunate enough to have such great value equipment in for evaluation back-to-back is certainly a blessing and curse. While I try to scrape up the pennies to make a pair of Polk Reserve R200AEs a fixture in my system, grab a pair yourself if you think that they are right for your system. You will not regret it, and if I have my way, there will be only 999 pairs left for you to choose from.