The Roku Smart Soundbar gained’t enchantment to audiophiles. This $180 speaker—Roku’s second audio providing after its Roku TV Wireless Speakers--delivers solely middling sound high quality, and there’s only one alternative for reinforcing its sonic efficiency. The function that saves this speaker is its capacity to additionally function a Roku streaming TV player, decreasing the litter round your TV—and the distant controls you’ll must preserve monitor of.
That audio reinforcement opporutnity comes within the type of Roku’s wi-fi subwoofer, which additionally prices $180, however there’s no choice for true encompass sound, not to mention immersive audio codecs equivalent to Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. The soundbar can’t be included right into a multi-room audio system by way of Apple AirPlay 2, Amazon Alexa, or Chromecast Built-in, both.
As a media streamer, the Roku Smart Soundbar provides the identical easy interface and broad app assist as Roku’s standalone gamers. Even higher, Roku offers fast and handy entry to audio settings that may increase bass, restrict loud sounds, and—most significantly—improve the quantity of speech. Other soundbars don’t all the time supply these choices, and after they do, they make you attain for their very own distant to entry them.
What Roku provides here’s a fairly first rate and inexpensive soundbar for anybody who’s additionally out there for a brand new streaming participant, and particularly those that want Roku’s easy and utilitarian streaming TV platform.
So-so soundbar, candy subwoofer
The Roku Smart Soundbar measures 32.2-inches broad, 2.8 inches tall, and 3.9 inches deep, and it is available in a black plastic enclosure with a material speaker cowl that wraps across the soundbar’s sides. It’s a bit on the tall facet for a soundbar, so that you’ll wish to measure the peak of your TV’s built-in stand (if it’s not wall mounted) to verify the underside of the TV clears the soundbar’s high edge. (The soundbar itself has a pair of mounting sockets should you’d slightly not plunk it on an leisure heart, however you’ll want to purchase the mounting brackets individually.)
Around again, the Roku Smart Soundbar has an HDMI port (with ARC assist), optical audio enter, and a USB port for taking part in native media recordsdata. There’s no analog 3.5mm enter for plugging in an exterior audio system, equivalent to your cellphone, however you may join gadgets over Bluetooth.
Inside, the soundbar has 4 2.5-inch full-range drivers, and Roku says its amplifier produces most energy of 60 watts (36 watts RMS), which places it on the decrease finish of the spectrum for a soundbar.
Roku, in the meantime, is not going to disclose the soundbar’s frequency vary, which—together with my listening expertise—makes me suspect it’s nothing to boast about. While watching the nightclub motion scene in Black Panther, the sound of gunfire grew to become muddled at excessive volumes, and I observed a scarcity of high-frequency response from the scrapes and slashes of Okoye’s spear.
That similar lack of high-end readability grew to become obvious whereas blasting Jacob Mann Big Band on YouTube, with the horn part specifically lacking the form of brightness you’d get from higher-end audio system. Cranking up the quantity additionally launched some noticeable distortion. To be clear, although, the soundbar continues to be a giant improve over your typical TV audio system.
As you would possibly count on, the Roku Smart Soundbar doesn’t present a lot low-end oomph both, however you may rectify this matter by including a wi-fi subwoofer, which prices one other $180. It’s outfitted with a 10-inch driver and an amplifier that may produce most energy of 250 watts (125 watts RMS). Roku says its able to reproducing low frequencies right down to a decent 40Hz.
The subwoofer is dead-simple to arrange—simply maintain the Roku distant’s house button for a couple of seconds to carry up a pairing menu, after which choose “subwoofer” from the listing. It additionally sounds nice, including a giant punch to motion films and music with out sounding muddy. The solely notable draw back is that at 12 cubic inches, you may’t simply match the woofer behind or beneath a settee.
Even with the soundbar and subwoofer, you’ll miss some parts that different methods supply. Roku doesn’t promote satellite tv for pc audio system to create a 5.1 encompass sound system, nor does it tie into any multi-room audio methods, so you may’t play music in sync with some other audio system within the house. You can also’t faucet into Chromecast Built-in or AirPlay 2 to launch music from a cell system over Wi-Fi, and this isn’t a wise speaker—just like the Sonos Beam or Polk Command Bar—that has Alexa or Google Assistant inbuilt.
One different factor to notice: Walmart sells its own version of Roku’s soundbar beneath the retailer’s “onn” model. It prices $50 much less, however doesn’t embrace a voice distant. A Walmart-branded subwoofer is also available for $130, however with a a lot decrease most energy of 150 watts. We haven’t reviewed these Walmart-specific variants.
Easy audio choices
Now that we’ve firmly established that the Roku Smart Soundbar isn’t for audio obsessives, right here’s why it would enchantment to everybody else: It’s very easy to fine-tune the sound based mostly on what you’re doing.
While Roku doesn’t supply granular equalization settings—yet one more knock for audiophiles—it does supply 4 ranges of bass, two ranges of boosted speech readability, a leveling mode that compresses loud and quiet sounds, and a “night” mode that retains the quantity from getting too loud. Those controls are all simply accessible by urgent the distant’s star button, which brings up a management overlay on high of no matter video you’re watching by way of Roku’s system.
As a guardian of younger youngsters in a home the place sound carries fairly simply, the Roku Smart Soundbar is a large assist on this situation. By boosting dialog and enabling evening mode, I can watch TV with out having to continually wrestle with quantity ranges.
The solely caveat is that these controls aren’t as simply accessible with different inputs, equivalent to a sport console or cable field. While the Roku Smart Soundbar will carry no matter sound profile you’ve chosen over to those inputs, you’ll have to modify again to the primary Roku menu to alter audio settings, which is inconvenient.
Roku streaming inside
The primary purpose to purchase the Roku Smart Soundbar within the first place is that it’s greater than only a soundbar. It’s additionally a full Roku 4K HDR streaming participant that operates on the identical enter you employ for the HDMI-ARC audio connection.
In phrases of capabilities, the Smart Soundbar is someplace between Roku’s $60 Streaming Stick+ and $100 Roku Ultra. It has a USB 2.0 port for native media playback, and a mute button on its distant management, nevertheless it doesn’t have an ethernet port, microSD card slot, or a remote-finder operate. It additionally lacks the marginally sooner app loading and programmable keys of the most recent Roku Ultra, and it doesn’t have a headphone jack on its distant for personal listening. (As with different Roku gamers, you may nonetheless pay attention with headphones by way of your smartphone utilizing the Roku cell app.)
Like different Roku gamers, the Smart Soundbar presents a easy interface for accessing streaming apps equivalent to Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Hulu. Apps load shortly and run easily, and just about each main streaming service you may want is obtainable on the platform. Roku even surfaces a number of free films and exhibits by way of the “Featured Free” part of its house display screen, and it provides extra free content material by way of The Roku Channel, which isn’t accessible on different streaming gamers immediately.
As I’ve written in different Roku evaluations, I do want the platform was higher at surfacing and enjoying content material from throughout totally different sources. While you should utilize the Roku distant’s microphone button for common search, there’s no fast approach to resume exhibits you’ve been watching currently with out diving into particular person apps. Roku can also be behind Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV in voice controls, providing no approach to launch stay TV channels by voice in companies like Hulu, PlayStation Vue, or AT&T TV Now.
Likewise, you may solely use Roku’s voice distant to provoke music playback in Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. For different apps equivalent to Spotify and Amazon Music, you’ll must thumb by way of menus on the distant, and Roku doesn’t supply any apps for Apple Music, YouTube Music, or Google Play Music, leaving Bluetooth as your solely choice for these companies.
For all these causes—together with the restrictions on the audio facet—the Roku Smart Soundbar shouldn’t be the final word hybrid of streaming field and sound system. It is, nevertheless, a reasonably cheap approach to improve your TV’s audio and streaming capabilities abruptly.
While you can all the time simply purchase your soundbar and streaming field individually, you’d be lacking out on the handy dialog boosting and different simple audio enhancements that the Smart Soundbar provides. If you’re not an audiophile, perhaps that’s all you want.