Roku Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer review: Boom

A brilliantly simple way to make your Roku — and your TV — sound a whole lot better

Roku Smart Soundbar

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Ask anyone who's spent time with every major method of streaming video (there are, in fact, people who do this) to sum up Roku in a single word, and there's a good chance that "simple" will make its way forward. That, folks, is the name of the game. Roku is what we'd call a "consumer"-type product. It's made for you to use, and not have to overthink it in the process. And it's done so at a price that you almost don't have to think about.

Sticks, boxes, dongles, whatever. They work, they work well, and they don't cost too much.

Roku has recently branched out with the likes of Roku TVs (see the excellent TCL 6-Series), and the accompanying Roku Wireless Speakers. The former is a TV with Roku built-in, and the latter is a pair of speakers meant to take the pain out of pairing. Also, both are excellent at what they do.

The latest iteration? Roku built into a soundbar; a single device to plug into your TV to stream all the things — and make them sound good in the process. At least, it's a lot better than they might otherwise if the audio were only coming from your television. Plus, pair it with the new Roku Wireless Subwoofer, and the bottom end will be covered, too.

So how does this new pair fare? And how easily does this new pair...pair? Let's take a look.

The sweet sound of ...

Roku Smart Soundbar What I Like

Roku Smart Soundbar

Source: CordCutters (Image credit: CordCutters)

There are two kinds of people in this world — those who don't mind bending technology to do what they want, and those who just want things to work the first time, every time. I call the latter folks "normal." And when a "normal" person asks what to use to stream video in this new era, I almost always point them to Roku. It's the easiest and least expensive way to watch what you want to watch. Full stop.

So it's been interesting to see Roku complicate things in 2019. First with the Roku Wireless Speakers — which at the time of this publication still only work with Roku TV — and now further into the audio sphere with the Roku Smart Soundbar.

The Roku Smart Soundbar itself

It's one of those rare products whose name completely describes its function. It's a Roku, baked into a smart soundbar. That's it. That's the tweet. Roku itself is a known quantity. If you've ever used a Roku, you know what to expect. Exactly the same user interface. Exactly the same available channels.

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Smart Sound Bar Features
Size 32 inches
Outputs HDMI-ARC, optical
Video resolution 4K @ 60 fps
HDR standard HDR10
Speakers Four 2.5-inch drivers
Audio formats PCM, Dolby Audio
Extras Bass boost/reduce, speech clarity, leveler
Other USB-A port
Assistants Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa

If you've ever used a soundbar, you also have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's a series of speakers in a single package, designed to significantly improve the sound over what's built into your TV. Plus, it's in a package that doesn't require much in the way of installation skills.

Marry the two, and that's what we have here.

It's possible to complicate things a bit — there's an optical connection if you need it — but why would you? Setup is as simple as plugging in the power cord and plugging the included HDMI cable into the HDMI/ARC connection on your TV. The Roku setup process takes care of everything else — including warning you if you've plugged things into the wrong HDMI connection on your TV. (It happens to the best of us.)

So how does it sound? Not bad. I'd prefer more separation — and perhaps I've spoiled my ears over the years — but the highs are clear enough and nowhere near as muddied as they'll be coming from your TV. Volume is plenty sufficient, and if you're not picky enough to deman a subwoofer, you'll probably be plenty happy, given the price.

And so is the part where I'll tell you that the soundbar sounds better than your TV, and you can stop here if your wallet wants you to. And it is better than your TV, but still not as good as it could be.

The Roku wireless subwoofer

For that, we need a subwoofer. And I can't in good conscience say that you should ever consider this sort of audio upgrade without at least considering a subwoofer. Subwoofers aren't new and even wireless subwoofers aren't exactly a 2019 invention. And pairing a wireless subwoofer — at least in my experience the past couple years — has been relatively simple. So there's only so much Roku needed to do here.

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Wireless Subwoofer Features
Size 11.8 x 11.8 x 11.8 inches
Weight 17 pounds
Power 125 W RMS, 250 W peak
Frequency response 40 - 200 Hz
Sound pressure level 102 dB
Requires Roku Smart Sound Bar or Roku Wireless Speakers

And I'm happy to report that pairing the wireless subwoofer to the Smart Soundbar is exactly as simple as you'd expect from something with a Roku logo on it. Just dive into the Roku menu and tell it to start pairing, and it takes care of the rest. That's it.

The point of a subwoofer — to move air in a way that other speakers can't, to reproduce lower frequencies, and make things go BOOM. And go boom it does.

There's some special Roku sauce built into the downward-firing sub to keep things synced, but that's not something the end user — that's you — ever needs to worry about. It. Just. Works. And it provides the bottom end that the soundbar physically cannot. That is, after all, the point of a subwoofer — to move air in a way that other speakers can't, to reproduce lower frequencies, and make things go BOOM.

And go boom it does. It'll depend a little bit on what you're listening to and quite possibly the format in which you're listening to it, but the simple that is that if you have the choice between buying a subwoofer with a system — particularly one meant for the living room. Still, I'd also recommend one for the bedroom — buy a subwoofer. And maybe warn the neighbors.

The beautiful part is that the only thing you have to plug into the sub is the power cord. That means you can put it anywhere in the room (within 30 feet), and it'll do its thing because the bass is omnidirectional. Hide it in a corner where it's out of the way, and it'll still shake the walls quite nicely. (I would, however, also recommend playing around in the basic Roku audio settings to see if you prefer more bass or less. The options are simple, but they work.)

The little things ...

Roku Smart Soundbar What I Didn't Like

Here's the thing — and it's a crucial bit of context when talking about audio setups: You have to set your expectations accordingly. And that's where the Roku Smart Soundbar gets a little confusing.

This just isn't as immersive an experience as you'll get with something bigger, and with more speakers. Full stop.

We'll start with the price: On its own, the Smart Sound Bar retails at $180, which just feels a bit high. Maybe that's what we'll call the "Roku Effect" bleeding through — where you know you're getting something good that works pretty well, just not top-shelf. Or maybe it's the post-Thanksgiving price of $150 making more sense.

In any event, this again is where I'll argue for the soundbar/subwoofer combo, which Roku is offering for $270. (The woofer by itself also retails for $180.) My daily living room setup is still this entry-level Vizio 5.1 soundbar with Dolby Atmos . It's a different sort of beast, with dedicated wireless rear speakers, and a soundbar with greater separation than Roku's. I did not expect Roku's sound bar to be in the same class, and indeed it is not.

The Roku Smart Soundbar is a good soundbar that combines the simple-but-excellent Roku experience with an audio experience that is almost certainly better than what you'll get from your TV alone.

But it also costs about twice as much and has more speakers. So while I wasn't wowed by audio spilling out of the Roku Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer, that's partially because I've been somewhat spoiled. But it's also because this just isn't as immersive an experience as you'll get with something bigger, and with more speakers. Full stop.

That doesn't mean this combination isn't good, because it is. It's just not great. And while it'll fill a room with sound, I just don't get that bone-shaking, thigh-tickling feeling I get with other, more expensive systems. And to be fair, I shouldn't.

Roku Smart Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer

Should You Buy It? Sure!

Roku Smart Soundbar

Source: CordCutters (Image credit: CordCutters)

The Roku Smart Soundbar is a good soundbar that combines the simple-but-excellent Roku experience with an audio experience that is almost certainly better than what you'll get from your TV alone. It's good, but not great, on its own.

And it's better when paired with a Roku Wireless Subwoofer which, by the way, works well with Roku Wireless Speakers, but not with a Roku TV on its own.) In fact, I'll go so far to say that if you buy a Roku Smart Soundbar, you almost must also purchase the subwoofer if at all possible.

The bottom line is that Roku absolutely delivers on what it promises: A simple solution to getting better audio into your Roku experience. It's a breeze to set up and use, and the experience is exactly like every other Roku you've ever seen — it just sounds a lot better.

If you want something better, you can, by all means, find it at a higher price, and undoubtedly with more headaches during the setup process. And quite possibly the knowing look from the folks at Roku, who very much know what it is they're doing, what it is they're selling — and how much better it'll make your TV experience.