For these seeking to improve their TV’s audio and media-streaming capabilities with out coping with a nest of cables and dongles, an all-in-one soundbar like Anker’s Nebula Soundbar—Fire TV Edition is definitely interesting. This 2.1-channel soundbar boasts a built-in subwoofer, baked-in Fire TV interface, and Alexa voice management. You can enhance your TV’s audio and stream video excessive by connecting only one element to your TV utilizing a single cable.
The Nebula is just like the $180 Roku Smart Soundbar in that respect, however whereas we love the comfort of the its video streaming and Alexa capabilities, its iffy audio efficiency—whereas definitely superior to that of most built-in TV audio system—leaves one thing to be desired.
This assessment is a part of TechHive’s protection of the best soundbars, the place you’ll discover critiques of competing merchandise, plus a purchaser’s information to the options it’s best to think about when procuring.
While it lacks a discrete subwoofer, the Nebula Soundbar—Fire TV Edition Anker nonetheless payments this soundbar as a 2.1-channel system by advantage of its two built-in 3-inch woofers and bass ports on all sides, whereas two 1.5-inch full-range drivers provide the left and proper channels. There are not any up-firing drivers, which implies no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X assist, though (as we’ll cowl in a bit), the Nebula does have a (first rate) digital encompass mode.
It’s additionally value noting that for now, you’ll be able to’t improve the Nebula to a 5.1-channel system by including encompass audio system, though an Anker rep didn’t rule out the opportunity of a wi-fi encompass package sooner or later. Roku provides an optionally available wi-fi subwoofer for its system, and you should use Roku’s Wireless TV Speakers as encompass channels.
Measuring 36.2 x 4.5 x 2.4 inches and weighing in at a bit greater than seven kilos, the fabric-covered Nebula has a rounded design and it’s pretty simple to hold, regardless of its bulk. The soundbar is brief sufficient that you would be able to plunk it down in entrance of most TVs with out blocking the underside of the display, even within the case of my 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV (which has an unusually low-slung show stand). You might additionally mount the soundbar on a wall utilizing the 4 mounting holes within the backside of the unit; a bracket, screws, and a mounting information are included.
Inputs and outputs
A center cavity behind the Nebula provides only a trio of inputs: a 3.5mm analog audio enter, an HDMI port with ARC (audio return channel) assist, and an optical (Toslink) digital audio enter. There’s additionally a USB Type-A port right here, however it’s just for putting in firmware updates, not for taking part in music recordsdata saved on a thumb drive.
That single HDMI port is a tad stingy. Better soundbars include a minimum of a few them, so that you don’t must depend on your TV having a number of and supporting ARC to be able to join a couple of supply (e.g., a gaming console along with a cable or satellite tv for pc TV set-top field and maybe a Blu-ray participant, as an illustration). And because the Nebula doesn’t assist the higher-bandwidth eARC (an admittedly unusual characteristic on soundbars), the Nebula can’t play again lossless audio codecs equivalent to Dolby True-HD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks.
While the dearth of eARC assist limits your audio choices, the soundbar does assist 4K/HDR passthrough, together with Dolby Vision, which implies you’ll be capable of watch streaming 4K HDR motion pictures and exhibits from the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Netflix.
While the bodily setup of the Nebula Soundbar—Fire TV version is fairly simple, getting Fire TV up and operating is a little more tedious.
As far because the bodily setup goes, there actually isn’t a lot to it. Once you place the Nebula in entrance of your TV (or mount it on the wall beneath your TV), you join it to your set by way of the HDMI, optical, or analog RCA jacks. Thankfully, Anker provides all three of those cables within the field. Next, you join the AC wire, which (I’m joyful to report) doesn’t come encumbered with an influence brick or wall wart, good for becoming the plug right into a crowded energy strip.
Once the Nebula is plugged in and related to your TV, it’s time to begin establishing Fire TV itself. First, you’ll want to pick out your Wi-Fi community and key within the password utilizing the included distant and on-screen interface (assuming you’ve switched your TV to the right enter). The Nebula related to my community on the primary strive, however utilizing the distant’s navigation pad to punch in my wi-fi password was a little bit of a drag.
After the Nebula has downloaded and put in any accessible updates (the method took about 5 minutes for me), it should immediate you to log into your Amazon account. If you don’t have already got an Amazon account, you’ll must create one earlier than continuing.
The Nebula doesn’t supply any shortcuts for verifying your account credentials, equivalent to opening an app in your telephone or coming into a code from a desktop internet browser; as an alternative, you’ll must (once more) use the distant’s four-way navigation pad and the Nebula’s on-screen keyboard to punch in every character of your electronic mail handle and password—and sure, that’s simply as tedious because it sounds. If you’re fortunate (I wasn’t), you’ll kind in your total electronic mail and password appropriately on the primary strive.
Once that’s achieved, the Nebula will ask if you wish to allow parental controls or begin logging into streaming video or music providers equivalent to Hulu, Netflix, and Spotify—and sure, if you wish to signal into most of these providers, you’ll must laboriously enter your account credentials utilizing the distant. (A welcome exception was Disney+, which let me log in by merely launching the Disney+ app on my telephone.) After that, you’re able to dive into the Fire TV interface (which I’ll describe in a second).
Controls, distant, indicators, and Bluetooth
A shiny plastic strip alongside the highest of the soundbar cupboard options capacitive contact controls for energy, enter supply, equalizer controls, and quantity. A six-digit show that peeks out from behind the soundbar’s material protecting tells you which ones enter is chosen, exhibits you the quantity degree, and guides you thru the soundbar’s numerous settings.
The Nebula’s distant has a considerably cluttered assortment of buttons, together with a Home button that sits beneath a four-way navigation pad, an choices button to the proper of the Home button, a channel information button (in the event you occur to subscribe to a dwell streaming TV service), and a recents button (which shows the current exhibits, motion pictures, and apps that you just’ve accessed). Those are along with the usual play/pause, ahead/reverse, quantity and mute buttons, after all, to not point out the 4 labeled shortcut buttons close to the underside of the distant for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, and HBO.
That’s loads of buttons to maintain observe of at midnight, but some apparent ones—specifically enter, sound mode and Bluetooth—are lacking. You can change enter sources and sound modes utilizing the distant by urgent Settings and digging into the menu, or you’ll be able to enter Bluetooth pairing mode by urgent and holding the play/pause button, however I’d have prefered devoted buttons for these capabilities. Luckily, you can even management all of the Nebula’s capabilities and settings utilizing the Nebula cellular app.
Of course, there’s one button close to the highest of the distant that makes controlling the Nebula a lot simpler: the Alexa button. Pressing and holding the button wakes Alexa, permitting you to say issues like “Turn down the volume,” “Pause the movie,” “Change the input source to Bluetooth,” “Show me movies with Clint Eastwood,” and extra. We’ll talk about how Alexa works with the Nebula’s Fire TV options in a bit.
Streaming tunes to out of your iOS or Android gadget to the Nebula soundbar is simple, however as I simply talked about, you could know the trick to coming into Bluetooth pairing mode by urgent and holding the play/pause button; the soundbar ought to then seem within the checklist of accessible Bluetooth gadgets in your telephone. Once I had the Nebula paired to my telephone, I used to be in a position to stream music with none points.
Unfortunately, the Nebula doesn’t assist Apple AirPlay 2 or Chromecast, nor does it work as a Spotify Connect gadget except you will have the Spotify app for Fire TV operating on the soundbar.
Fire TV and Alexa
After having spent a good period of time criticizing the Nebula’s cluttered distant, I’ll now heap some reward on the soundbar’s Fire TV and Alexa options, as a result of they’re fairly nice.
We’ve beforehand given Amazon’s Fire TV interface excessive marks in our critiques of different Fire TV merchandise, together with the Fire TV Stick 4K, and most of these accolades apply right here, too. The Fire TV interface itself appears fairly typical, with a tabbed menu that features dwell TV, your video library, motion pictures, TV exhibits, apps, and soundbar settings. Of course, Amazon’s personal choices are usually favored on the subject of shopping motion pictures and exhibits, however in the event you’ve put in (for instance) the Disney+ and Netflix apps, you’ll see loads of choices from these providers as effectively.
So far, so good, however the true energy of Fire TV lies in Alexa. Indeed, the enjoyable actually begins when you begin asking Alexa to open apps, seek for motion pictures, flip down the quantity, or leap again to the house display. If you’re watching a film on Amazon Prime Video and also you wish to leap to a number of Star Wars movies on Disney+, simply press and maintain the Alexa button and say, “Show me some Star Wars movies.”
You can even ask Alexa to indicate you the information, go to the soundbar’s settings menu, or open an app. And don’t neglect that Alexa on the Nebula can do just about something that she will be able to do on an Echo-compatible sensible speaker, that means she will be able to let you know the climate, play music, or flip off your sensible lights. Indeed, the one factor she will be able to’t do is get up whenever you say “Alexa;” as an alternative, you have to press the Alexa button on the distant earlier than talking into the distant’s mic.
While the Nebula’s built-in Fire TV and Alexa capabilities will make it an attractive selection for individuals who need a simple technique to jumpstart their house theater, the soundbar’s muddy audio received’t please audiophiles. Yes, the soundbar can get fairly loud, and its built-in woofers definitely ship extra bass than a TV’s audio system ever might, however the general audio lacks the richness, depth, and element that I’ve heard from competing soundbars, together with some that value half as a lot.
The soundbar options Movie, Music, and dialog-enhancing Voice modes, in addition to a Surround mode that’s designed to widen the soundstate and improve encompass results. After fidgeting with the treble and bass settings a bit (these are the one different audio-related settings, by the best way), I elected to go away them at their default settings. It’s value noting that the Nebula lacks an evening mode for normalizing the quantity throughout late-night viewing.
I began my sound testing with the opening credit from 1978’s Superman, which includes a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack that’s downmixed for the two.1-channel Nebula soundbar. The whooshing credit and John Williams’ stirring rating nearly all the time manages to quicken my pulse, however the Nebula’s mediocre, considerably muffled audio robbed the well-known sequence of a lot of its pleasure. And whereas I wasn’t anticipating the thunderous bass of a separate subwoofer from the all-in-one Nebula, I used to be anticipating extra from the “thump” that often accompanies Richard Donner’s “directed by” credit score. At least the Nebula delivered some first rate low-frequency rumbles through the opening of the enormous dome on Krypton after the trial of General Zod.
Back on the plus facet, the Nebula’s simulated encompass mode exceeded my modest expectations through the scene when Zod and his lieutenants, Ursa and Non, are imprisoned by the Phantom Zone, which whooshes into the body, scoops up the villains after which flies away and behind us. While the two.1-channel Nebula can’t come near the precision a 5.1 setup can ship, its encompass mode nonetheless managed to convincingly enhance the soundstage and even add some ambient taste within the rear.
Next up is considered one of my favourite audio exams: the launch sequence from Apollo 13. I’ll begin with what I favored, starting with the (once more) stable digital encompass results, notably because the Saturn V’s gas pumps gurgled previous to ignition, and once more because the exhaust flames from the rocket engulfed the display. I additionally appreciated the low-frequency rumbles from the built-in subwoofers, though I’ve heard higher from different single-unit 2.1 soundbars. Then there’s the dangerous: muffled, boring audio that made it really feel like I used to be sporting earmuffs.