Bona-fide three-way speakers are rare in the RTi A9’s price class, so it came as something of a surprise to see the speaker boasts not just one, but two midrange drivers flanking its tweeter. Three woofers fill in the bottom octaves. The curves and yummy real cherry finish would lead even the most experienced audiophiles to believe the RTi A9 is a much more expensive speaker than it really is. Hey, I had to double-check the MSRP; it looks that good.
The RTi A9 isn’t just a three-way speaker, with a single tweeter, midrange, and woofer. In this case, each speaker has six drivers arrayed over its front baffle. A pair of 5.25-inch polymer/composite midrange drivers flank the 1-inch silk/polymer dome tweeter, and lower down there are three 7-inch polymer/composite woofers. Instead of having all of the drivers sharing the RTi A9’s internal cabinet space, Polk’s engineers gave the midrange drivers their own sealed enclosure within the larger cabinet. The gambit costs more to build, but improves midrange clarity. The three woofers’ bass is augmented via front and rear ports. Not just any ports would do—the RTi A9 boasts Polk’s exclusive PowerPort Plus that’s shaped like an oversized Hershey’s chocolate kiss. Polk claims the bass venting system provides lower distortion compared to more conventional porting designs.
The speaker’s curves incorporate Polk’s new Damped Asymmetric Hex Laminate Isolation (DAHLI) cabinet technology (a six-layer laminate with five viscous layers). The goal is to produce an acoustically inert structure to house the drivers.
At first blush the RTi A9 comes on like gangbusters. Play rock and roll at a healthy clip and those six drivers will generate a lot of sound. Bass is quite powerful, but nicely controlled. The sonic advantages of the threeway design were evident in the RTi A9’s midrange clarity. Top to bottom tonal balance was spot on, so the big speaker was equally adept with rock, jazz, and classical music.
Billy Burnette’s hard-rockin’ Memphis In Manhattan CD [Chesky], when cranked to a healthy volume level through the RTi A9s, really knocked me out. I’m not talking about “golden ear” subtleties here, but rather about the sheer impact of Burnette’s rockabilly music, which was outstanding. The CD was recorded and mixed without compression, and when it’s played over speakers that can handle the onslaught, you appreciate what that means; namely, a big and at times explosive sound. Play a dynamically squashed recording (like pretty much any Springsteen record) after the Burnette, and it’ll sound downright anemic. The RTi A9 lets you hear the difference.
One of the joys of auditioning these speakers was hearing old familiar recordings in a different way. I’ve always liked the music on the Herb Ellis Meets Jimmy Giuffre CD [Verve], but I thought the CD’s sound was pretty ho-hum. Whoa, the RTi A9’s meaty sound completely turned my head around. Giuffre’s tenor sax was all there, with a warmth and full tone that’s so hard to get right. When he was joined on some tracks by Bud Shank and Art Pepper on alto sax and Richie Kamuca also on tenor, the big Polks’ uncolored midrange really shined. Ellis’s guitar tone was wonderfully ripe, but when he digs in a little harder, there’s a nice edge. On the quieter tunes, you can hear a fair amount of analog tape hiss from this 1959 recording, which for once really sounds like tape hiss. Lesser tweeters can sometimes make tape hiss sound like random noise. The RTi A9’s tweeter easily defines the hiss for what it is and keeps it in the background so it doesn’t interfere with the music.
If you have a hankering for big speaker sound, you’ve come to the right place. The RTi A9’s gorgeous wood and luscious curves are icing on the cake.