Polk React soundbar review: Built-in Alexa for your TV speaker

I had a voice assistant at my house in recent years and it’s hard to know how I managed without it. The whole family uses it to turn off the lights, ask for the time or, to my horror, listen to an endless amount of Spotify-altering pop music. Polk React brings the convenience of Alexa in a TV-friendly soundbar form. The essential question is: do we really need a TV speaker that is also an assistant?

Like it

  • Amazon Alexa on board works well.
  • Excellent sound quality for the price.
  • Smart looking design

I do not like

  • Only one HDMI input
  • Optional subs and surrounds are expensive.

The new React follows Polk’s almost-but-unofficial-original Echo soundbar, the Polk Command Bar. The React differs from the Command in that it doesn’t include the wireless subwoofer – it’s just a single bar. The React sounds very good and is equally at home with movies and music, and its integration with Alexa is even smoother than before. The result is a complete package for your money.

But let’s get back to that essential question. I honestly prefer to keep my assistant on a separate, dedicated speaker. Ask Alexa a question on a hybrid device like React and the audio stops while the assistant makes your bids. This can be annoying, especially when you have to interrupt yours The Nevers session to ask a related question.

Additionally, you may prefer an all-in-one solution, particularly if you don’t already have an Alexa speaker in your living area. And the React is worth better than the $ 400 Sonos Beam, another Alexa-powered soundbar, though it lacks Sonos’ multiroom chops. At the time of publication the React is available for $ 200, and if you want to improve the sound you can add an optional sub ($ 180) and / or SR2 surrounds ($ 180), providing a nice upgrade path for the future.

What’s in the box?

The Polk Command Bar lacked the elegance of the Sonos Beam, but React dulls the awkwardness with touches like its soft wool grille. The characteristic section of the center ring remains, with the volume, action and on / off buttons arranged in a circle that resembles the top of a file Old school echo – but the activity light is now an illuminated bar on the front edge.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The bar itself measures 2.2 inches high, 4.76 inches deep and 34 inches wide. The soundbar is wall mountable via keyhole mounts on the back. The audio section consists of two midrange drivers, two tweeters and two passive radiators underneath for added bass.

The inputs go to a single HDMI (ARC) output, an optical input for TV audio, Bluetooth and a USB which is used exclusively for firmware updates. I wish it had the Polk Command Bar’s second HDMI port, which is a plus for users with multiple devices. The unit also offers Wi-Fi connectivity, although not Ethernet, to connect the voice assistant to the internet.

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Ty Pendlebury

The React includes Amazon multi-room music compatibility in addition to Spotify Connect, but unfortunately not AirPlay either Chromecast integrated. However, I liked that song requests via Alexa can be played via Tidal by default.

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The React can work with an optional secondary and / or surround speaker.

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The optional wireless Polk React Sub is heavy, similar to what I’ve seen on the JBL Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, and it also costs a nice penny at $ 180. The large 16.5 x 8.6 x 13.7-inch box has a 7-inch woofer on board.

Meanwhile, the optional rear speakers come in dedicated left and right versions and feature 3 meter long power cables. The speakers, vaguely shaped like a spectacle case, are finished in mottled gray and measure approximately 8 inches long by 4 square inches.

For a relatively inexpensive soundbar, the remote is pretty comprehensive. It’s chunky but functional and offers plenty of control capabilities, even for the rear and subwoofer levels. These latter checks could also be seen as a not-so-subtle upsell attempt.

Interact with Alexa

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

In the time that has elapsed since the introduction of voice assistant-enabled soundbars, I have second thoughts about technology, as do many manufacturers apparently. There are two main reasons. First, people probably already have a digital assistant in their living room by now, because they’re reasonably cheap. Secondly, the main speaker sound “lowers” or mutes each time a command is given, which means that the program or movie is interrupted.

These caveats aside, the Polk React was relatively painless when it came to issuing commands, hearing my wake word “Alexa” even at the highest volume. The speaker doesn’t turn off completely when you turn it down, which means you can still hear what’s going on. The questions were resolved quickly and so the disruption wasn’t as big as with other smart soundbars I’ve tested, such as the Yamaha YAS-209 or JBL Link Bar.

Polk remote control

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

If you don’t want to use the remote you can also use your voice for all controls, including the ability to alter the secondary and rear volume. Relatedly, the only thing that bothered me during setup was that neither the soundbar nor the subwoofer manual tells you how to sync peripherals. Hopefully the company can fix this for its May release, but if you’re stuck you have to press the sync button on the soundbar for 4 seconds, then the sync device for 4 seconds, then quickly tap the soundbar button again. .

One night on the sofa

As with the excellent series of previous TV speakers, Polk React is comfortable with both movies and music playback. The range of quickly editable sound modes means you can ask Alexa on the fly if you’d like to increase intelligibility (voice volume) or immerse yourself in pseudo-surround sound (movie mode).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have the Sonos Beam on hand for direct comparison, but I had two soundbars without a subwoofer, the Vizio M21D-H8 ($ 150) and the JBL Bar 5.0 Multi Beam ($ 350), which hold up the price of Polk.

I started my tests with one of the most memorable sequences of a superhero movie – up there with Superman flying around the world backwards – which is Wonder Woman going “over the top” of the trenches of WWI (1 : 14: 00). Bullets fly as our hero confidently advances through the mud before preparing with the help of his shield for a machine gun assault. The scene gave me the creeps.

The Polk was able to capture the film’s epic sweep, the soundtrack inflated and the bullets exploded, but I missed some of the grit and immersion that a larger system could bring. In comparison, the Vizio wasn’t that clear and didn’t have as much bass. It just seemed a little underpowered for this scene, even with the often reliable DTS Virtual: X processing used.

But it was the JBL Bar 5.0 that sounded the most majestic in this test. With JBL’s Smart Mode activated, dialogue was still clear, but the bullets darted around the room in a way that didn’t happen with the other two bars. There was also a lot of bottom end for the bullets that exploded around our friends as they approached the German line.

With this and other material I found that the Polk offered the best compromise between full sound and a reasonable figure, but the JBL was the best home cinema speaker. It might be worth the extra $ 100 to watch a movie, but not if you want to listen to music.

Like other Polks before it, the React is able to beat a melody very convincingly. Nick Cave’s red right hand sounded natural and balanced with Polk at every volume level. While the JBL can go much louder than the Polk, its musical performance came with sonic artifacts. The bass line began to distort and become synthesizer-like beyond only halfway across the dial.

When I added the optional subwoofer and fins, the Polk was at its best, as you would expect from a system now costing $ 650. The benefits of the sub and rear could be felt no matter what type of material I was listening to, a times in unexpected ways. For example, Dead Can Dance’s Yulunga Spirit Dancer, especially in Film mode, was funnier than ever – the world music-nuanced melody sounded huge and it was hard to believe it came from a soundbar system.

Should you buy it?

With the Polk React the manufacturer has offered users a clear upgrade path, a rarity in this category, by offering the optional subwoofer and surround sound. If you have to choose between the two it is a difficult call. If you mainly watch sports or TV dramas, the surroundings will make a difference as they give the listener the greatest sense of immersion. On the other hand, if you like your music loud or your action movies blasting, then that’s the subtitle you should get.

Without the optional speakers, the Polk React delivers excellent tone for a single bar with a smattering of great features for the money. For people who want a hybrid Alexa speaker, it’s another satisfying system that lives up to the legacy of the smart soundbar created by the original Polk Command Bar.

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