Home audio is getting smarter. Companies like Sonos are transforming the way we listen to music in the home with multi-room speakers like the Sonos One, and home theater companies are making their products smarter with digital assistants and intelligent audio tech like Dolby Atmos.
One company that quickly adopted the smart home theater trend is Polk Audio, with products the Polk Audio Command Bar, reviewed here.
As you might be able to tell based on the soundbar’s design, the Command Bar comes with Alexa built right into it making it unquestionably smart. It’s also relatively inexpensive too, coming in at $250 (£249, AU$649), and it comes with a subwoofer.
But with all those features, does it compromise on sound quality? We put the Polk Audio Command Bar to the test to find out.
The Polk Audio Command Bar looks largely like any other soundbar: it’s a long, black, unassuming speaker. That said, there are a few things about it that we quite like - such as the material finish around the majority of the soundbar that gives it a slightly more homely feel.
One of the more interesting design choices Polk made, however, is that the device isn’t uniform - it bulbs out in the middle. That means it’s not as minimalist as some other soundbars, but in general it looks good.
Of course, the crown jewel of the Command Bar is what you’ll find in the middle of it: a ring of blue light that serves as the nexus to Alexa. Given the volume controls and microphone management buttons, it almost looks as though Polk Audio has simply cut out a circle to place an Amazon Echo Dot.
Like the Dot, the light turns blue when Alexa is activated, and it doubles as a way to tell how loud your audio is when you’re adjusting the volume. Overall, it’s more intrusive than when the white lights illuminate on a JBL Link series speaker, but it still looks perfectly fine, especially given the fact that the lights aren’t always active anyways.
On the back of the soundbar, you’ll get two HDMI inputs and a HDMI-ARC output - though if you have more than two video sources you want to work with, you can also just use the optical port for audio from your TV. If you stick to the HDMI ports, though, you can use Alexa to switch between HDMI sources - which can be handy when you don't have the remote nearby.
The accompanying subwoofer is around 14.5 inches deep and tall, and around 7.5 inches wide. It’s not huge but it is something you’ll need to find a spot for.
Then there’s the remote, and it’s pretty basic, which is a good thing. At the top there are buttons switch to Night More and Mute the speaker, as well as to activate Alexa.
Activating Alexa from the remote also turns down whatever’s playing so that Alexa can hear you, which is a nice touch considering the fact that Alexa isn’t great at listening when something is playing in the background. Under that, you can switch between HDMI 1 and HDMI 2, and buttons to control TV source and activate Bluetooth. Then, there are volume controls, with separate controls for “voice,” or the center channel, and for the bass response, then buttons to activate Movie, Sport, and Music modes, and playback controls.
Setting up the system is extremely easy: Simply plug the soundbar and subwoofer into a power outlet, and they should sync up. You’ll need to download the Polk Connect app and follow the on-screen instructions, then sign in to your Amazon account to enable Alexa. You’ll also want to make sure to connect the HDMI ARC connection is plugged into the HDMI ARC port on your TV, if you have one, and if not, you’ll use the optical port to send audio from your TV back to your soundbar.
The whole setup process takes around 15 to 20 minutes, but as we mentioned, it’s quite easy.
Unfortunately, setting up the soundbar is about all the app does - it would have been nice if you could control the soundbar a little more from the app, or even use the app to stream music, but unfortunately that's not the case here.
The features on offer by the Polk Audio Command Bar come in two different categories, smart features and audio features.
The smart features on offer by the Command Bar are pretty straightforward: you’ll get Alexa built in to the soundbar, which you can use the same way you would any other Alexa device to control smart home devices and ask questions. You can also use Alexa here to switch between inputs and control the volume of your TV, which is a nice touch.
As you would expect from a soundbar in this price range, the audio features aren’t ultra far-reaching, but they’re not bad. The speaker boasts 2.1 channels of audio, and, at least according to Polk, has a frequency response of 40Hz - 22kHz. In total, you’ll get 260 watts between the subwoofer and the soundbar, which is on the low end of power compared to other soundbars, but more than enough for the vast majority of home situations. I/O-wise, the HDMI connectors support HDMI 2.0a, which itself supports 4K HDR video.
All in all, it’s not the most feature rich system - but for the price it has a lot to offer. On paper, audio performance looks fine, but of course what matters more is what you hear than what you see in a specs list.
That said, what really matters is how the Polk Audio Command Bar sounds - and thankfully, while it’s not incredible, it sounds fine for a device in this price range.
Let’s start with the bass, which, thanks to the included subwoofer, is probably the best frequency range on offer by this soundbar. Not only is bass response present and generally powerful, but it can also be adjusted thanks to the bass controls on the remote.
The mid-range is decently well-tuned, but as you might expect from a soundbar at this price, the sound can emphasize the high mids a little. It’s not a huge issue, and the soundbar still sounds worlds better than the speakers built into your TV.
High-end is perhaps where the soundbar suffers the most, but we found that the high-end was still pretty responsive, clear, and detailed. Sure, it doesn’t extend as high as you’ll get from more expensive systems, and there’s a certain sparkle that isn’t there as much, but the high-end is generally still quite present.
When it comes to volume, there’s plenty of it for the majority of listening environments. The soundbar is more than capable of pumping out enough volume for immersive movie situations or even if you want to use it for parties.
Overall, those wanting something for a really large room might want to look elsewhere, but for a small or medium-sized room, the Polk Audio Command Bar should be perfectly fine.
If you're in the market for the best smart soundbar money can buy, and you have money to spend, get the Sonos Beam. It’s a little sleeker, will eventually get Google Assistant, and sounds slightly better - though you don’t get a subwoofer and as such the bass response is a little less powerful.
That said, the Polk Audio Command Bar still has a ton going for it. For example, it’s quite a bit cheaper than the Sonos and It has defined and powerful low end, some cool smart features, and looks pretty good, too.
If $300 is your budget cap for a smart sound bar, then we highly recommend the Polk Audio Command Bar for any small or medium-sized living room.
- The best soundbars for TV, movies and music in 2018