I tried this soundbar with Amazon Alexa built in that's $100 cheaper than the Sonos Beam - here's why it's worth it
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- The $250 Polk Command Bar isn't a soundbar that works with Alexa; it's a soundbar with Alexa.
- While there are innumerable soundbars that work with Alexa, there's only one other soundbar that has Alexa built-in (the Sonos Beam), and it's $100 more and doesn't come with a subwoofer.
- From the smooth setup to the excellent audio fidelity, this smart soundbar makes a great centerpiece for a smart home.
- Amazon Alexa has never sounded this good. Even without Alexa built in, the sound quality justifies the price.
Polk has long been one of the premiere audio brands for home theater speakers. From floor-standing speakers worth multiple thousand dollars to cheap soundbars you grab off the shelf at Best Buy, Polk has done it all.The Command Bar is different, though. It's an easy-to-use, all-in-one soundbar that's meant to be at the center of your home.
First, what it is. The Polk Command Bar is a 260 watt soundbar with wireless subwoofer capable of producing sound from 40Hz to 22kHz. In addition to connectivity over toslink optical and HDMI, you can also stream to the Command Bar wirelessly over Bluetooth or WiFi. It supports both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands, too, which is a nice touch.
The included remote allows you to adjust the volume of the different components, set which mode you're listening on - more on that later - and tell Alexa to listen. You likely won't need the remote, though. As long as you've connected to an HDMI ARC port or connected with HDMI and optical, you can use your TV's remote to control the volume. The Command Bar is preconfigured to accept voice commands from Samsung, LG, Sony, Vizio, and more, too, so you can always go at it that way.
In addition to the HDMI output, there are dual HDMI 2.0a inputs capable of passing 4K HDR content at up to 60 frames per second through the soundbar. Assuming you have the correct input on your TV selected, you can switch between these inputs either using the remote or voice commands.
Getting started with the Command Bar
Polk includes a massive manual with the Command Bar, which, at first, I couldn't find (it's stuck in a slot in the styrofoam). Originally, I assumed there wasn't one, so I went at the setup alone. Thankfully, the Command Bar doesn't need a manual.After plugging it in, even before connecting it to your TV, Alexa will turn on and prompt you to finish setup using the Polk Connect app. Much like the Amazon Echo, the Command Bar uses your phone to connect to your WiFi network, start location tracking, and pair to your various smart devices.
The setup is painless, though it does require a Polk account to complete. Thankfully, you only have to sign in once. Connect is used to manage any Command Bar you have, and you can assign different names and attributes to each.
Outside of the various connections the Command Bar can support, the setup is very fluid. Our subwoofer automatically connected without the need to press the pair button, there are mounting holes on the back of the unit - as well as two additional holes that can be attached with adhesive - and labels for where everything should plug in. When it was all said and done, I was using yelling "Alexa" across the room in five minutes.
The smart bar
Polk makes it clear that the Command Bar is "Alexa enabled," but given how many smart home products are marketed with the Alexa brand, the purpose of the Command Bar is confusing.
This isn't a soundbar that works with Alexa; it's a soundbar with Alexa.
With a far-field microphone and the iconic blue ring, the Command Bar is a meeting of the minds, combining Amazon's AI with Polk's excellent audio quality. Saying "Alexa" lowers the sound of the audio, allowing you give any - well, most - of the commands that work with Amazon's Echo.
There are some advantages over a regular Echo, though.On the back, there are dual HDMI 2.0a ports for 4K HDR content. One of the ports is actually labeled for a Fire TV Stick, and you can power your stick using the built-in USB port. With such a setup, you could, for example, say "Alexa, stream Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix" and it would.
While it's great for those who own a Fire TV Stick, everyone else is left using voice command to simply switch between the HDMI ports. As with all smart home products, there are limitations to the Command Bar. It can't control apps on smart TVs or interface with non-Amazon streaming devices.
There are other Alexa features missing, too. Even with the Alexa app on your mobile device, you can't use the Command bar to make calls or send messages. Likewise, the Command Bar doesn't support reminders, though, when I tried, Alexa said that it doesn't "currently" support that function, suggesting that it may come in the future.
Most of the features are intact, though. Alexa can still tell you jokes, set alarms, and give you the weather report. The Command Bar integrates with the Alexa app, too, so you can use it to control other smart home devices.
Outside of a few, minor features, this is a better-sounding Echo in a different form factor.
Alexa has never sounded this good.
While Amazon's Echo line has come a long way since its first generation, Polk is a true master when it comes to audio quality. When I first unboxed the Command Bar, set it up, and streamed some music, I was disappointed in the sound, though. While the Command Bar is capable of producing great-sounding audio, it needs some tweaking.
Thankfully, that's simple to do. Polk includes four modes with the Command Bar: movie, music, sport and night. Each changes the balance of the subwoofer and soundbar and tweaks the frequency output. For example, movie mode has heavier bass and a more present midrange, while music mode tightens up the bass and accentuates the highs.You can, of course, adjust some parameters of the audio manually. Polk gives you control over the balance of soundbar and subwoofer, as well as the volume of dialogue. It calls this technology "Voice Adjust," which can help make dialogue in movies and TV shows clearer. From what I know about audio, the voice adjust sounds like it's messing around with some of the midrange frequencies to help voices cut through the highs and lows.
While the price tag suggests this is a low-end sound bar with Alexa built in, that's not the case. Compared to my $150 Polk 2.1-channel soundbar, there's no contest. Before testing the product, I expected the two to sound similar - afterall, some amount of the MSRP has to account for the Alexa integration. However, to my surprise, the Command Bar sounded better. In addition to getting louder, it had deeper bass and crisper highs.
There are a few reasons for that. The Command Bar and subwoofer have slightly larger amplifiers that are capable of producing floor-rumbling loudness. Furthermore, the Command Bar can maintain crystal clear quality when getting loud.
However, the real difference is the addition of dual 1-inch tweeters next to the 1.25-inch drivers and a larger subwoofer. The woofer measures 6.5 inches with a built-in 100 watt class D amplifier.
That said, the Command Bar is relatively inexpensive, so, as expected, the sound isn't perfect. While the bass can shake the floor, you often won't want it to. When watching movies with the subwoofer turned up, the bass became flubby and overpowering. That's further demonstrated when playing bass-heavy music through it.
The Command Bar has bass to spare, which makes it feel unbalanced in certain configurations. Movie mode makes music sound bass-heavy and dull, while music mode doesn't allow the subtle sub hits of movies to come through. It's important to adjust the Command Bar based on what you're putting through it.
There are some minor annoyances outside of that, too. For example, you can't turn the Command Bar off. You can turn Alexa's microphone off, but the bar will remain on. When working, I had the TV on for some background noise, with the soundbar connected through an optical cable. Of course, I didn't need fantastic audio quality, so I opted to mute the soundbar and use my TV's built-in speakers.
After about half an hour, and after there was a moment of silence in whatever was on, the Command Bar unmuted and started blaring sound. I've been able to reproduce that a few times, but with varying consistency. Suffice it to say, some way to turn off the soundbar indefinitely is missing.Outside of those few niggles, the Command Bar is seriously impressive. Even without Alexa built in, the sound quality justifies the price. Amazon's AI is just the icing on top. Polk recently announced integration with other speakers, making it the first third-party soundbar to be fully functional with Amazon's multi-room music ecosystem, too.
We want to note that there are a few complaints online about the Command Bar losing connection to other devices and dropping audio occasionally. While we didn't experience any of that during our testing, it is something you should be aware of.
Polk has done something special with the Command Bar. While there are innumerable soundbars that work with Alexa, there's only one other soundbar that has Alexa built-in, and it's $100 more and doesn't come with a subwoofer. From the smooth setup to the excellent audio fidelity, the Polk Command Bar makes a great centerpiece for a smart home.
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