Few companies have done more than Roku to make streaming video easier, between its inexpensive players and streaming sticks, and its affordable (but surprisingly excellent) Roku TVs. And it’s dipped its proverbial toes into the world of audio with the Roku Wireless Speakers, which connect seamlessly to Roku TVs.
Now it’s taking on audio for everyone else with a pair of new releases — the Roku Smart Soundbar, and Roku Wireless Subwoofer. These are separate products — each will retail for $179 when they’re released in October — but they work in concert.
Let’s start with the Roku Smart Soundbar. As the name implies, it’s not a dumb sound bar. That is, it’s not just an audio output. This has the full Roku operating system built in. Connect it to your TV via HDMI and you’ve got access to the entire world of streaming video that Roku provides. Technically it’s positioned sort of between the Roku Premiere and Roku Ultra, being more power than the former but lacking a few of the features of the latter. But really this is a different sort of product with a different sort of purpose. You get a great way to watch all the things you want to watch, and a much better way to hear all that content — all in one 32-inch sound bar. It supports 4K resolution and HDR 10. (Missing, however, is the Dolby Vision HDR standard.)
The Smart Sound Bar sports the sort of audio features you’d expect to find in a Roku product at this point, including Dolby Audio, automatic volume leveling to keep commercials from blowing out your ears (which somehow is still a thing in 2019), night mode for lowering the overall volume for louder scenes and ramping it up for lower ones, and speech clarity for clarifying speech.
In addition, the sound bar features Bluetooth connectivity (and optical audio if that’s your thing, but HDMI ARC is really the way to go). It ships with HDMI and optical cables, as well as with a Roku Voice Remote.
The Roku Smart Sound Bar, while not having the catchiest of names, sports four 2.5-inch speakers. We haven’t had the chance to listen to it yet, but given the price range you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect — audio that’s far better than what comes out of your TV by default, but certainly not as immersive as a multi-piece Dolby Atmos set. You also can’t use it with the aforementioned Roku Wireless Speakers. We asked, and they weren’t telling. But you can see how it’d make sense to be able to use those bookshelf-sized speakers as side or rear speakers at some point — basically like what you can do with Sonos Play:1s and a PlayBar, only far more affordable.
What you can do from the outset, though, is snag the newly announced Roku Wireless Subwoofer. The name pretty much spells it out here. It’s an optional 250-Watt sub that’ll drive the low end far beyond what the sound bar is able to do, all the way down to 40 Hz. It’s also got the Roku OS baked in, but that’s to facilitate the handshake with the soundbar. And because it’s wireless, you can put it anywhere in the room you want. (So long as it’s close to a power outlet, of course.)
At launch, the subwoofer only works with the Smart Sound Bar. Roku is actively working on making it compatible with the Roku Wireless Speakers, but there’s no ETA on that just yet.