Roku explored audio technology last year when the company came up with $200 Roku TV Wireless Speakers. These accessories were a little pricey and had limited compatibility, but overall, they were fairly solid products, and it was just a matter of time for Roku to extend its offerings.
Enter the Roku Smart Soundbar ($180), a pricey gadget that enhances the sound quality of your TV and doubles as a Roku streaming box. To the credit of the unit, it does just what it intends to do, offering consumers high-quality sound in addition to Roku’s robust streaming experience.
Roku Smart Soundbar Design
The Roku Smart Soundbar looks a little like a very big Roku Premiere, having the same general shape with curved corners on one side and sharp corners on the other. It’s much, much larger, though, measuring 2.8 by 32.2 by 3.9 inches (HWD) and weighing 5.5 pounds.Buy on Amazon
The front face, with its bent edges, is shrouded in a dark gray grille fabric that wraps around the edges. The remainder of the soundbar is matt black plastic, with a glossy Roku emblem on the top. A single LED indicator lights up behind the front grid when the signal is received, but otherwise there is no hint of the status of the soundbar.
The back panel houses the USB, HDMI, optical input, and power connectors in the middle recess, along with the reset button. HDMI and optical cables are provided, and the sound bar operates with the HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC) to accept audio from your TV via the HDMI-ARC port without using a separate optical connection. Since it acts as its own 4K Roku media streamer, it is a useful system for connecting to an HDMI port, but it does not have HDMI inputs like the JBL Link Bar and other HDMI-compatible soundbars that can act as input switches.
Roku Smart Soundbar Audio Performance
For a relatively small, unassuming speaker with no included subwoofer, the Roku Smart Soundbar is very loud and also generates an appreciable bass . Its two-channel stereo separation produces a fairly wide sound range, quickly occupying the apartment without maxing out the volume, even though it does not have ambient or virtual surround sound. Power and performance are similar to Roku TV Wireless Speakers, with the additional advantage that you don’t need a Roku TV.
Superb Sound and Streaming
The Roku Smart Soundbar is a good way to add both 4K streaming media and much improved sound to your TV without costing a lot of money. At $180, it costs a lot less than the $300 Alexa-powered Polk Command Bar, and a much, much less than the $400 Android TV-powered JBL Link Bar, and while it doesn’t have a hands-free voice assistant like it does, it still provides pretty powerful sound.
Even doubling that price to add a subwoofer (which the Link Bar lacks), you pay less and get a room-filled, wall-thumping bass, and even adding Roku TV Wireless Speakers to that keeps the price down to $600 for solid surround sound.
Should You Buy It?
If you start from scratch or only want to keep the number of devices to a minimum, Roku is a fine option.
Overall, the smart soundbar adds a wealth of content and great sound quality to older TVs for a little bit of cost.