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Roku's Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer pack quality sound and features into an affordable package

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor

Roku (ROKU) is expanding its nascent line of audio products with its new Roku Smart Soundbar and Roku Wireless Subwoofer. Available now for $179 each or $299 purchased as a pair, the Smart Soundbar and subwoofer follow the release of the Roku TV Wireless Speakers.

But unlike those speakers, which cost $149, the new soundbar and subwoofer work with all TV brands instead of only those powered by Roku's TV operating system. I've been using both the soundbar and subwoofer in my living room, watching TV, playing video games, and listening to music, and I’ve liked what I’ve heard so far.

What’s more, the Smart Soundbar also doubles as a premium Roku player, offering 4K, HDR streaming and a voice-enabled remote. For $179, it's a heck of a deal, and with the added subwoofer, Roku has created quite a worthwhile pair.

Roku's Smart Soundbar offers a full 4K Roku player and soundbar in one device. (Image: Roku)
Roku's Smart Soundbar offers a full 4K Roku player and soundbar in one device. (Image: Roku)

The Smart Soundbar

If there's one thing you should take from this review it’s that you don't necessarily need the Roku Smart Soundbar and the Wireless Subwoofer. The soundbar itself packs four audio drivers that produce far better sound than the tiny speakers packed into my 55-inch LG TV.

The problem with modern, super-slim TVs is that while the images they produce keep getting better, the audio they put out gets worse. That's because speakers need both room and size to push the air around them to create the dialogue, explosions, and songs that make up movies and TV shows.

But huge home theater speaker systems aren't exactly helpful for space-conscious consumers. Soundbars are a means to split the difference. They feature speakers that are larger than those built into today's TVs, but manage to fit neatly on a TV stand.

Roku's Smart Soundbar offers far superior sound to your built-in TV speakers. (Image: Roku)
Roku's Smart Soundbar offers far superior sound to your built-in TV speakers. (Image: Roku)

Pricing for soundbars varies wildly with some units available for as little as $60, while you might pay as much as $2,500 for the outrageously expensive Sennheiser Ambeo soundbar. At $179, Roku's offering is right in the sweet spot for inexpensive soundbars. The addition of a Roku player built into the unit makes it all the more impressive.

What's more, Roku has equipped the soundbar with both optical audio and HDMI ARC ports, and chances are your TV also supports both. Between the two, it's best to use the soundbar's HDMI ARC port, as it can handle higher resolution audio, and serves to connect the Roku player in the speaker to your TV in one cable.

If you use the optical port, you'll need to connect both that and an HDMI cable to your TV. HDMI ARC also allows you to control some of your TV's functions through the Roku remote.

Naturally, the Roku Smart Soundbar outputs audio even if you're using a different HDMI input source. For instance, I switched my TV to the HDMI input for my PlayStation 4, and the HDMI ARC port allowed the sound to pass through my TV to the soundbar.

Normally, it would be a pain to lose an HDMI port on your TV for a soundbar, but because the Smart Soundbar includes a full Roku player that you'd likely connect to your TV via HDMI anyway, it evens out.

From a features standpoint, the Roku soundbar includes four, 2.5-inch drivers, or speakers, that handle both high-frequency and low-frequency audio. By itself, the soundbar has a good deal of power without sounding overwhelming. Dialogue was clear and bass was relatively powerful for the soundbar's size.

While watching HBO's "The Watchmen," I could hear dialogue cleanly and the zip and thud of bullets as they whizzed around and plunged into a herd of cattle during the first episode's climax. The Soundbar also packs Roku's audio settings including voice clarity and the ability to increase and decrease bass.

You're unlikely to have to decrease the bass with just the soundbar, but even when cranked up, the system didn't produce any audible hiccups or static.

The Roku Wireless Subwoofer adds the extra bass boost to round out the Smart Soundbar's audio performance. (Image: Roku)
The Roku Wireless Subwoofer adds the extra bass boost to round out the Smart Soundbar's audio performance. (Image: Roku)

At a height of 2.8 inches, the Soundbar could end up blocking the IR receiver on your TV, which can be a bit of a pain. If you're using the HDMI Arc port, though, the included Roku remote can control your television's power and volume. You can't, however, change your television's input from the remote.

Mounting points on the back of the soundbar also lets you attach it to your wall if you've got a wall-mounted TV.

Bring the bass

While the Soundbar offers fine sound quality, it's the subwoofer that truly opens things up. After watching shows without the subwoofer plugged in, adding it to the mix made everything sound far fuller and more vivid.

Setting up the Roku Soundbar itself was quick and easy, requiring me to simply log into my Roku account, and add any apps I wanted to the Roku player homescreen. But tacking on the woofer was somehow easier.

All I had to do was plug it in, and press the Home button on the Soundbar's remote for five seconds, and the woofer was paired. It's dead simple.

To test the quality of Roku's soundbar and woofer at the same time, I naturally thought it would be a great idea to watch "Midsommar," a horror movie that would still be scary if the sound were off entirely.

Needless to say, the added oomph from the subwoofer made the thud of a character dropping to the ground sound especially impactful. I did notice that the bass could be a bit overpowering at times, especially while streaming "The Office" for the 30th time. But tuning down the bass via the settings menu can fix that.

Should you get it?

Taken together, the Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer are an inexpensive, intelligent package thanks to their sound quality and the addition of a full 4K Roku player. On its own the Smart Soundbar is still a quality buy, especially for the price, but the Wireless Subwoofer truly rounds out the entire package.

If you're a true audiophile, chances are the Roku Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer won't offer the kind of truly outrageous audio quality you're looking for. But the price and functionality packed into the duo should appeal to a wide range of consumers.

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Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@yahoofinance.com, and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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