Polk figures quality pays dividends

November 25, 1990

At Polk Audio, quality is measured in infinitesimal degrees -- and pays big dividends.

The woofer suspension, a flexible band that surrounds the sound cone and allows it to move back and forth with vibrations, is a critical part of an audio speaker.

Most manufacturers make the suspension out of plastic foam, said George Klopfer Jr., Polk's president and co-founder.

Polk Audio, in contrast, makes the suspension out of rubber available from one German supplier. "It makes the speaker much more sensitive. And it costs three times as much," Mr. Klopfer said.

Or there's the "crossover network," electronic filters that accept signals from the amplifier, divide them according to frequency and send them to the appropriate drivers within the system.

Most speaker manufacturers will accept shipments of crossover components that may be as much as 20 percent defective; Polk Audio demands shipments with a defect level of 10 percent or less, Mr. Klopfer said.

"These are the small but meaningful improvements in favor of sound that we've decided to make at the expense of price," he said.

Some of those prices can be fairly steep. The Monitor series of speakers, which Mr. Klopfer called Polk's "bread and butter," ranges from $200 to $1,000 a pair. The top-of-the-line SDA speakers range from $2,000 to $3,500 a pair.

Experts say the improvements make the price worthwhile. Polk Audio "makes what we consider to be 'audiophile' speakers. They're known throughout the country for making a very fine product," said Alan Kefauver, director of recording arts and sciences for the Peabody Institute.

The company also selects dealers carefully and encourages them to provide active customer support, a tactic analysts say has distinguished Polk Audio in a highly competitive market.

"Their franchise is incredible dealer loyalty," said Chris Feiss of Alex. Brown & Co.

In return, Mr. Klopfer said, Polk Audio remains loyal to its dealers.

"Over the long haul, that strategy redounds to our benefit," he said. "When times get tough, the dealers aren't going to turn to the next pretty face that offers a good deal."

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