[Originally posted to my PC Gaming column at Examiner.com]
The Polk N1 gaming sound bar is a fairly cost effective and space-efficient 5.1 surround sound bar that’s perfect for the living room or desk.
A man walks into a bar…
A sound bar is a great way to provide relatively big boom and decent surround effects in a space-efficient package. Sure, you may sacrifice some ‘awesome’ by not opting for an array of accurately-placed speakers all around your gaming hub, but the cabling, mounting, and overall footprint of such an installation is daunting—and often not very practical for a typical desktop PC setup.
This is especially true of my particular setup, where I’ve long used a receiver and 5.1 speaker system connected to my PC through a single optical cable. But I don’t have any real way to truly ‘surround’ myself with the speakers, and the extra cabling adds a lot of clutter (even as neatly as I route/coil them).
Enter the Polk N1 sound bar, which I purchased from Woot! at a too-good-to-pass-up $150 (the N1 normally costs closer to $300). I’d had enough with my sub-optimally placed speakers and (more importantly) wanted to clean up cable clutter around my desk—a haven for lint bunnies and potential angry-cat-attracter.
Although the N1 sound bar is marketed a bit more towards Console (Xbox One) gamers, it is equally at home in front of a PC on a desk as it is on a big screen TV—provided your PC has an Optical output from your sound card. (Many/most PC’s do if they were made in the last 5 years.)
The N1 sound bar comes with a 6-foot long optical cable and an AC adapter, so installation is as easy as plugging it in and connecting it to your PC. It took longer to remove my existing 5.1 receiver system than it did to get the N1 up and running.
Polk N1 Gaming Surround Sound Bar Features and specifications
- Transducer type : 4-Dynamic Balance full range
- Diameter: 2.5″ full range drivers
- Input connections: Optical, coaxial, 3.5mm analog, Bluetooth with aptX
- Included cables: 6′ digital (optical) cable
- Included accessories: Remote Control, Power Supply
- N1 bar dimensions: 4″ H x 39 1/4″ W x 4 1/2″ D (10.16 cm x 99.7 cm x 11.43 cm)
- Available in white or black
- 3-year warranty
The N1 also features a connector for an optional subwoofer (which I’ll likely add later) as well as blue-tooth connectivity. It’s not something I’d likely use day-to-day, but on the other hand the N1 is light (about 15 pounds) and relatively easy to move, so it’s a great sound system if you want to pair it with a smartphone and add some music to parties and gatherings.
Basic controls line the top of the N1 for power, volume up/down, and Bluetooth. The N1 also comes with a small remote, and it can ‘learn’ and/or be paired with a universal remote, making it easier to join it to your home theater/gaming family of devices. In a desktop environment such as mine I’m within easy reach of the controls, although the remote enables you to increase/decrease bass levels, which you can’t do from the top-mounted controls.
A series of LED’s beneath the button controls indicates the volume level. The N1 will also sleep if it’s idle long enough.
The N1 includes a four preset mixer settings, defined as “Halo” and “Forza” basically – neither of which really sounds good to be honest. For PC gaming, I find the “Cinema” or “Music” presets are better for most games, and provide perfectly acceptable audio for movies and music.
Overall sound quality is generally quite good, though I’d probably stop short of “stellar” or similar hyperbole. I cranked a variety of music through it from my PC and my smartphone and found the overall quality to be more than adequate for my tastes. I would appreciate more mixer settings (or even an equalizer).
But on the whole the Polk N1 can get plenty loud and maintains good sound quality—just make sure you’re sitting directly in front of it for the best pseudo-surround sound experience. I think the bass could be a little better, and I suspect I’ll be adding a subwoofer to the setup in the near future.
Overall (4/5 stars)
The Polk N1 gaming surround bar is an excellent choice for a PC sound system. It delivers good surround sound, easy setup, and requires minimal cabling—and it even looks cool to boot. I think its normal asking price of $300 is a bit steep, but if you shop smart (or lucky) it can be had for less.