Hands on: Polk Command Bar review

Alexa crammed into a smart soundbar

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Our Early Verdict

With essentially an Echo Dot built into the top of this sound bar and housing for a Fire TV stick, the Polk Command Bar one-stop AV solution could be the perfect accompaniment for your television.

For

  • Alexa built in
  • Space for a Fire TV stick

Against

  • Not as seamless with a 4K Fire TV dongle
  • Fire TV Stick sold separately

Polk is one of the best selling audio brands in the United States, but outside the US it’s little known. That could all change thanks to the Polk Command Bar, an interesting and smartly-designed soundbar / smart speaker hybrid that essentially crams an Echo Dot into a speaker for your TV.

In an area that can be hard to stand out in, Alexa voice integration can be just the sort of feature to help you separate your soundbar from the pack. And thanks to some clever design considerations, Polk could do just that.

Pricing and availability

The Polk Command Bar is available for pre-order now for a July shipping date, priced in the UK at £349. Though it’s set to be available in the US, too, we’re still waiting for local pricing. Based on a direct conversion of the UK price, expect to pay around $470.

Design and features

The Polk Command Bar consists of a soundbar measuring 908mm x 53mm x 70mm, and a curvy wireless subwoofer measuring 188mm x 368mm x 366mm. At that size, it's a nice match for any TV above 42-inches 

It’s the soundbar itself where things get exciting though – it looks quite unlike any soundbar you’ve ever seen before. Sure, it’s a wide, thin speaker that can sit in front of your TV – that’s not unusual. What does stand out is the fact it essentially has an Amazon Echo Dot built into its top surface.

Aside from sending voice messages or calling other Echo devices, the Polk Command Bar can therefore do pretty much anything else that an Alexa-powered Echo can do. You simply speak your command, and Alexa complies, be that to control some smart home gear, control volume, play music and much, much more. It even has “Device Arbitration” – a premium Alexa feature you usually only see in homegrown Amazon Echo devices, which lets it intelligently prevent other Echo devices from responding to your commands should the Polk Command Bar be placed near another Alexa device.

Just like an Echo Dot the, this soundbar has a circular section on its top that feature manual volume controls, a mic-mute button and an action button to trigger the Alexa voice assistant without the need to use the “Alexa” wake word. As the Polk Command Bar is likely to be sat at eye level on a TV table, the customary blue Echo ring is raised 2mm from the rest of the soundbar, rather than sitting flush within it. Not only does that make it easier to see when Alexa is listening, but also raises the embedded mics out of the soundbar enclosure for better performance.

Spin the bar around and you’ll be presented with the soundbar’s connectivity options, which include a pair of 4K HDR passthrough-compatible HDMI 2.0b inputs and a HDMI ARC-compatible output, plus an Optical Digital Audio output. You can also connect to the speaker over Bluetooth, if you want to throw some tunes from a mobile device at it. 

But showing just how invested in the Amazon ecosystem Polk’s Command Bar is, there’s also a USB port and recess designed to snugly fit Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. So, with Alexa built in, you’ll be able to ask your TV to stream specific shows and movies, just by the power of voice alone. It’s unfortunate that the design was finalized before the different-shaped Amazon Fire TV 4K dongle was announced, as it doesn’t have a specific housing point here, but that USB port has enough power to run the 4K version too. And though it’d have been even tidier to have the Stick built directly into the soundbar, at least you’ve got the option of taking it with you elsewhere this way. Note that the Fire TV stick does not come included.

The remote control has some smart options built-in. With Alexa built into a soundbar for a TV, and movies regularly encouraging us to crank up the volume, there’s an Alexa action button built into the remote. This drops the volume down as well as waking the voice assistant so that you don’t have to shout to be heard. As well as regular volume buttons there are separate audio modes to choose from, pushing the best out of movies, music and sports playback respectively. Polk also includes its renowned “Voice Adjust” and “Bass Adjust” volume controls on the remote, with the former specifically lifting the volume of dialogue in a soundtrack, and the other dialing back bass levels for nighttime viewing. 

The soundbar also supports IR codes, letting you program in your individual TV remote number so that your TV’s zapper can control the audio, too.

Performance

Though our ears-on time with the Polk Command Bar was limited, it still managed to show off its impressive volume levels, and what on early inspection was a rich and well defined soundstage. The soundbar uses a pair of 1.25-inch x 3.25-inch full range drivers, a pair of 1-inch tweeters and a 6.5-inch ported subwoofer. From the short clips we were shown you’ll have no trouble filling a large room with sound at the top volume levels, with vocal clarity  set to be particularly good. But we’d need a lot more ears-on time to give a full and final impression of the overall quality.

Alexa performance was as solid as you’d expect too – particularly given our demo was shown off in a hotel basement and reliant on a mobile hotspot! Alexa still gets a bit confused with some commands, so speaking clearly is still important, but if you’re as happy with the always-improving Alexa assistant as we at TechRadar are, you’ll be right at home with the Polk Command Bar.

Early verdict

Though it’s a shame there’s not dedicated room for the 4K Amazon Fire TV dongle, and that the services aren’t built into the soundbar outright, the Polk Command Bar is a very promising piece of AV kit indeed. Considering the specific quirks or putting a voice assistant into a very loud soundbar, and essentially forever removing the dreaded fear of the lost remote control, the Polk Command Bar looks set to be a smart centerpiece to a living room media center.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.