Roku Streambar review: No-brainer TV sound and streaming upgrade

Compact soundbars like the Vizio M-Series 2.1 and the Yamaha SR-B20A offer improved TV sound in a small package. 4K HDR streamer such as the Chromecast with Google TV is Roku Streaming Stick Plus offer better streaming on any TV. Until now, however, no product has combined the two into one DIY package under $ 150. This is what the Roku Streambar does and it does the job very well.

Like it

  • Compact, easy to set up and affordable
  • Excellent dialogue reproduction
  • Tried and true Roku experience

I do not like

  • Bass is lacking in movies and music
  • Limited ability to adapt sound

The Streambar follows in the footsteps of last year Roku Smart Soundbar with a smaller size and cheaper price. Usually the biggest problem with hybrid devices is that they compromise too much in some areas, and while the Streambar isn’t sonic perfect – the lack of bass is its biggest weakness – it makes up for with excellent sound for the dialogues and an ability to fill a room that belies its small footprint. Sure, a subwoofer is missing, but it can still beat your TV speakers without one.

Then again, so can many other soundbars. If you want superior sound and don’t need streaming, Yamaha SR-B20 or Vizio V21 ($ 180 best buy) are better choices. The Roku Streambar is cheaper than both, however, and makes perfect sense for people who don’t already have a good streamer connected to their TV. If you want to be able to hear your TV better, especially your voice, and also improve its streaming capabilities, that’s excellent value.

What’s this

The Roku Streambar is a 2.0-channel soundbar with side-firing “wide” speakers, and the company says its built-in streaming capabilities are equivalent to the Roku Streaming Stick Plus. The system will process 5.1 audio, which means you can update the system later with Roku’s wireless subwoofer is surround speakers or the Walmart Exclusive Onn Products.

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Only 14 inches wide, the Streambar (right) is dwarfed by this 55-inch TV.

HDOT staff

The main differences between the Streambar and the original Roku Smart Soundbar are the size and shape. The Smart Soundbar is 32 inches wide while the Streambar is much more compact at 14 inches. While I haven’t heard the two side by side, I can pretty much guarantee that the larger cabinet will generate more bass.

The Streambar includes Roku’s voice remote, which lets you issue commands by speaking into the clicker. On the side the remote control includes volume and mute controls. The shortcuts below include Netflix, Disney Plus, and Hulu.

The Streambar offers “simple volume modes” that “lower the volume of commercials, raise the volume of voices and optimize the sound for night listening”, as well as adjust the bass levels – useful for controlling an external subwoofer.

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Sarah Tew / HDOT

Connectivity includes an optical digital input and HDMI with audio return channel capacity. It is designed to connect to a TV and if you have other devices, such as a game console, you will need to use your TV as a switch. The soundbar is also equipped with Bluetooth and Spotify Connect, while Apple AirPlay 2 support will be available soon.

How it behaves

The HDOT team has written extensively about our experiences with Roku streamers, so I won’t dwell on the bar’s streaming capabilities here. Suffice it to say it’s our favorite streaming platform and Streambar is more or less the same. The menus were familiar and simple, the response speed and picture quality were excellent as expected, and the voice remote was a joy to use as ever.

Instead I will focus on the sound quality. The Streambar is smaller than most soundbars, but after plugging it in, I was struck by how naturally it performed with dialogue. There was no austerity in the male voices – a problem with some soundbar / subwoofer combinations – and the dialogue had the articulation that made it easy to follow the story. I was listening to a couple of Elac Uni-Fi 2.0 speakers immediately before the Streambar and it was easy to imagine that I still was. Given that vocal articulation is the Elac speaker priority, this is probably the highest praise I could give the Roku speaker.

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The Streambar remote control can also turn the TV on and off.

Sarah Tew / HDOT

Of course there were differences, almost certainly due to the Roku’s tiny cabinet. When I compared the Streambar to the Yamaha SR-C20, the Roku’s lack of bass or even mid-bass was immediately apparent. With Mad Max: Fury Road, the Roku still made dialogue understandable by making it seem like it was coming from across the room. Roku’s side focus speakers really help create a large image. In comparison, the Yamaha speaker’s Virtual: X software did an equally good job of distributing the sound to my listening space, but when Max turns on his Charger’s motors, the Yamaha has moved on.

The Roku is so small physically that the motors and on-screen explosions in Mad Max have had minimal impact. Yamaha managed to better capture the roar of the cars and the explosion that catapulted Max into the air. Yamaha lacked the oomph that a dedicated submarine can bring, but it was a better solution than the Roku for people who want to watch more of the news and drama.

The Matrix lobby scene followed and the Yamaha offered a more balanced sound mix, with fewer highs and lower frequencies. The Roku sounded a bit sharp in contrast, particularly with the dropping shells. Changing the sound mode to bass boost helped a bit, but the Yamaha was better.

Adding the $ 130 Onn subwoofer to the Roku helped a bit. I could finally hear the bass soundtrack, the shotgun explosions had more impact, and the shells of the falling bullets weren’t as piercing or irritating. If you are looking for an easy and inexpensive upgrade to the Streambar, we recommend the Onn subwoofer.

With music the Roku lagged behind the Yamaha for the same fundamental reason: lack of bass response. There is no dedicated music mode, which is a shame for people who want to use the Streambar to listen to songs from their phones or music apps like Spotify. Songs like Doves’ Cathedrals of the Mind sounded hollow on the Roku, despite its excellent vocal articulation, and once again Yamaha made the song fuller and more gripping.

Should you buy it?

If you want real home cinema thrills, you still have to spend more than $ 130 on a soundbar, although the Roku’s ability to add the subwoofer and rear channel speakers gives you a clear upgrade path if you so desire. The $ 130 Roku Streambar is for people who appreciate small size and simplicity but still want better sound is streaming for their TV. It’s easy to connect and set up (one cable!), It’s just as easy to use, and its streamer behaves like a regular Roku in every respect. And that’s a good thing.

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