When I stopped by the Polk booth at CEDIA 2015, it was nearly the end of the show. As a result, there was a relative calm in the air, and the background noise level was lower than it had been since the show started. It presented an opportunity to hear Polk's 7.1.4 demo—which was open to the show floor—without much distraction.
Polk kept its Atmos system simple, an Onkyo TX-NR1030 AVR provided all of the processing and amplification.
The Polk system did not push any limits or bend any rules when it came to speaker layout. Instead, the system proved that if you use gear with proven performance and set it up in a proper Dolby Atmos-approved speaker configuration, the result would blow you away!
All processing and amplification for Polk's Atmos demo came courtesy of an Onkyo TX-NR1030 AV receiver ($1700). Up front, a pair of LSiM 707 towers ($2000 each) took care of the left and right channels. In the center, the system used an LSiM 706C center channel ($1200) while two pairs of LSiM 705s ($1500 each) handled surround duties. Polk's 900 LS in-ceiling speakers ($450 each) handled the four Atmos elevation channels, meanwhile a pair of Polk MicroPro subs pumped out the bass.
Granted, that's a $13,000 speaker system—not including the subs—but that's hardly a high price for the performance you get when compared to most other Atmos systems I heard at the show. More importantly, Polk's outfit produced the sort of immersive experience I've come to expect from a good system—it completely enveloped me in the soundfield and the speakers effectively disappeared.
Here's the thing, had I not taken a moment to stop by the Polk booth before the show ended, I would've missed out on one of the best-sounding Atmos demos at CEDIA 2015. If I had stopped at the company's booth during the middle of the show, it's practically guaranteed that the cacophony of the show floor would have obscured any nuance in the presentation. Fortunately, the serendipitous timing allowed me to experience at least a portion of the system's capability.
The demo itself consisted of clips from the latest Dolby Blu-ray. By day two of CEDIA, a clip from the Star Wars Battlefront video game had emerged as an exhibitor favorite, and it quickly became the Atmos sequence that I was most familiar with (out of sheer repetition). Gamers literally depend on accurate object positioning within the soundfield to identify off-screen threats, and indeed the object-based approach to audio that's used by Atmos comes from the world of gaming. The Polk system would make an advanced gamer very happy with its ability to render a multitude of sound objects in a 3D soundfield with pinpoint accuracy.
What did I learn from Polk's demo? That a mainstream receiver hooked up to great-but-affordable speakers using a Dolby-approved Atmos configuration (featuring four in-ceiling speakers) can deliver the immersive audio goods like few other approaches are able to. Based on my experience demoing dozens of Atmos-capable systems, I am compelled to rank it in the top tier (as far as sound quality goes) because what I heard was the best-sounding mainstream Atmos system at CEDIA 2015.