Polk Signa S4 Sound bar with Dolby Atoms Full Review

Now The Polk Signa S4 sound bar offers excellent Dolby Atmos performance and musical replay at the best price yet. Immersive audio standard Dolby Atmos had a fairly inauspicious start when it came to sound bars , with speakers such as the Yamaha YSP-5600 being both crazy expensive ($1.5K or more) and “extraordinarily huge.”

Polk Signa S4 Sound bar with Dolby Atoms Full Review

But in the following years, with the help of companies like Visio , the size of the products and the wallets needed to fund them became more manageable. Now, with the Polk Signa S4 sound bar, you can buy a true, Atmos-capable system for half the price of a decent AV receiver. And it’s fairly compact, too.

Dolby Atmos sound bars are designed to add the dimension of height, which makes them great for action movies and video gaming. What distinguishes the Atmos-toting Polk Signa S4 sound bar from other $400-plus sound bars is its physical up firing speakers (competitors such as the Sonos Beam Gen 2 use psychoacoustics to mimic height effects). The Polk sounds good with music, too, and Atmos movies are in fact given a chance to rare.

The Polk Signa S4 sound bar does have some drawbacks, however. Channel level, or speaker height cannot be adjusted and the cheaper Signa S3 offers Wi-Fi connectivity, making it more suitable for music lovers.
If you can stretch your budget a bit further, the Visio M512a offers better sound, as well as dedicated surround channels for true immersion. But if you want the best possible Dolby Atmos performance for the least amount of money, the Polk Audio Signa S4 is the sound bar to get.

Features of Polk Signa S4 Sound bar

The Polk Signa S4 sound bar is a Dolby Atmos sound bar, with 3.1.2-channel playback (left, right, center, front overhead and a wireless subwoofer). It offers several connectivity options and an array of useful sound modes.

In terms of competition, there are few comparable sound bars with simulated or physical Dolby Atmos — the Sonos Beam and the LG Eclair, respectively. Although the Eclair briefly sold for $400 at the time of writing this review, it has since returned to a more prohibitive $600. For $100 more from Polk, you can get the Visio M512a, which comes with surround speakers.

Polk’s connections run to a single HDMI eARC, digital optical and an analog 3.5mm input. While the Signa S3 comes with Wi-Fi and Google Chromecast built-in, the new Polk Signa S4 is Bluetooth only.

If you want the option of asking Google to play a song on a compatible audio device, the Signa S3 (or even the MagniFi Mini) is a better way to go. Finally, in the absence of networking, there is a USB-A port for future firmware updates.

A standout feature of previous Polk sound bars is its sound modes: Movie, Music, Night and especially Voice Adjust. The latter mode enables three separate levels of adjustment, which pits it against Zvox – a company that offers several configurable, hearing-enhancing modes.

The main downside of this sound bar is that you cannot adjust the level of any channels, let alone the sub bar If you have tall or vaulted ceilings, for example, you won’t hear the overheads at all, which other sound bars like the Visio M512a let you fix.

While some models on the market allow you to add a rear aftermarket, the Polk Signa S4 does not. If rear channels are something you want, you should look at the Polk React or Magnify sound bars instead.
Polk’s Clicker is just as user-friendly as previous versions, with large, easy-to-understand buttons and the ability to adjust the amount of sound enhancement without having to deal with menus.

How does listening sound?

Polk’s sound bars have consistently excelled with music, and the Polk Signa S4 sound bar certainly carries the torch for musical replay. And it’s just as talented when it comes to movies. Whether you’re watching an action movie in Dolby Atmos or enjoying a low-key drama, Polk delivers.

I compared the Polk to three competitors: the LG Eclair, the Visio M512a and the Sonos Beam Gen 2. There’s only one clear loser in this group and it has as much to do with performance as price.

I began my testing with Mad Max: Fury Road, one of the best movies to showcase the capabilities of any Dolby Atmos system. Despite the lack of surround channels, Polk managed to fill CNET’s listening room with just the right amount of post-apocalyptic atmosphere.

The opening scene begins with disembodied voices, which spread to the corners of the room in a good system. The Polk certainly managed to keep up with the rival LG Eclair (another sound bar without rear speakers).

While the Sonos Beam may not have physical height drivers, you wouldn’t know it when looking at this scene. The sense of width and height with the Sonos matches the LG and Polk. Only when switching to the Visio M512a were the surround benefits instantly recognizable. Instead of a wall of sound, the Visio created a veritable bubble around my listening position.

Next, I tried the non-Atoms movie The Matrix (Chapter 9). There, the LG Eclair has done a better job of integrating the pulsing bass soundtrack. At times the polka bass was a bit lost, but the trade-off is that it offers more midrange, more zinging bullet effect and more “air” to the command “freeze” shouted at the start of the scene.

Although the LG Eclair is tuned for music by the folks at the high-end company Meridian, most of the tunes I heard were taken by Polk. Both devices come with dedicated music modes, but the Polk was able to communicate even the subtlest music, while the LG gave songs a bright, almost solid glow.

For example, with the acoustic ballad Naked as We Come by Iron and Wine, LG mixes the basics. Although it’s just a simple song with finger-picked guitar and Sam Beam’s breathy vocals, LG has rendered the guitar from far away and Beam’s vocals sound irresistible.

In comparison, Polk’s balance was just right, with a well-structured central vocal and a slightly ambient, though present, backing guitar. The Polk fared better than the Visio here, too, as Sam Beam’s voice sounded in surround-capable bars, even in music mode.

Moving on to something a little more surprising, Polk managed to find the party on the Sunny boys song Alone With You. This ’60s throwback features swirling guitars and a central tenor vocal, but it’s the stirring guitar solo that clocks in at 1 minute, 16 seconds, that might throw some systems off.

The Vizio offered a good vocal performance but was undone by a unit like the LG. It’s good that sound bars offer more detail, but if you have a music collection that’s a little rough around the edges, some systems can make these songs difficult to listen to.

Why should you buy it?

If you want true Dolby Atmos that’s also affordable, the Polk Signa S4 sound bar is the cheapest I’ve seen so far. The low price doesn’t mean a lack of performance, though, as solid as other speakers in the Polk line, for music and movies alike.

The only “problem” with the Polk comes down to how the sound bar fares against its competition. Sound bars with better specs can have a bit more. For example, the Signa S4 lacks the Wi-Fi music capabilities of the Sonos Arc (let alone the Signa S3), and you can’t adjust the level of each channel with the Vizio M512a.

Are you trying to keep it in the family? If you’re deciding between Polk React’s Signa S4, for example, be aware that they’re quite different. React trades Atmos for Alexa and ditches the subwoofer.

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