Roku Streambar review: Big sound, small package

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My Vizio TV set is only capable of 1080p video, but the Streambar does support 4K HDR. However, unlike the new Roku Ultra and competitors like the Chromecast with Google TV and the Apple TV 4K, it doesn’t support Dolby Vision. In fact, neither the Streambar or Roku’s full-sized $180 soundbar support Dolby Vision, so if you’re looking for the highest quality video possible, you’ll need to look at other streaming devices. But both of Roku’s soundbars support Dolby Audio and that’s arguably more important for them — audio quality comes first, after all.

The Streambar’s sound quality while I binge watched Season 1 of Prime Video’s The Boys was quite impressive. The audio coming from the Streambar was leaps and bounds better than anything my TV’s internal speakers can produce. It almost felt like I had inherited a new TV. Explosions boomed, gunshots crackled and background music took on a life of its own. I haven’t been to a movie theater in months (and I’m sure I’m not alone), but using the Streambar felt a bit like bringing part of the big-screen experience in my bedroom.

I compared the Streambar to the many Echo speakers I have around my apartment and, not surprisingly, it’s far and away a better speaker than the 3rd-gen Echo Dot (that’s more about convenience than anything else). But the lines blurred when I compared the Streambar to the Echo Show 5 and 2nd-gen Echo Show 10. The Show 5 actually has punchier bass than the Streambar, but it didn’t do as good of a job filling the room with sound. The front- and side-facing speakers kind of give the illusion of surround sound, and I can only assume that’s what Roku was going for. The Show 10 filled the room a bit better, but the vocals it produced sounded more distant than on the Streambar. I’d actually consider moving the Streambar into my living room (where the Echo Show 10 lives) and using it as our main TV and Bluetooth speaker.

The Streambar is a huge upgrade on its own but you can even add Roku’s wireless TV speakers and subwoofer into the mix to get true surround sound. However, I believe those add-ons are better suited for the company’s full-sized soundbar. Aside from the affordable price, arguably the best thing about the Streambar is that it’s much smaller — it measures 14 x 4.2 x 2.4 inches whereas the bigger soundbar measures 32 x 3.9 x 2.8 inches. Adding two additional speakers and a subwoofer to a device that’s supposed to be space-saving kinda defeats its purpose. I haven’t tested the full-sized soundbar myself, but considering its size and its larger drivers (2.5-inch vs the Streambar’s 1.9-inch), it will likely have stronger bass performance and better overall sound quality.

Valentina Palladino / Engadget

You’re also able to connect your smartphone to the Streambar and use it as a Bluetooth speaker. It obviously sounds better than my iPhone (although I wish it had punchier bass) and it fills a room with sound more easily, but convenience is the key here. Instead of having one Bluetooth speaker and one soundbar for your TV, the Streambar fulfills both of those needs. However, this isn’t going to replace your Sonos or other high-end speaker system any time soon.

But Roku didn’t design the Streambar to compete with a Sonos or even something like an Echo Studio. Instead, it made the Streambar for people on a tight budget who still want to upgrade their home theater setup. Soundbars under $130 exist, but we haven’t tried enough of them to confidently recommend any. And besides, most of them don’t have the 4K streaming capabilities that Roku’s device has. Ultimately, you’re getting a two-in-one gadget — a soundbar and a 4K set-top box — that ups your home theater game for much less than you’d pay if you bought those two things separately.

All the Streambar had to do to be successful was sound better than most built-in TV speakers and it absolutely does that. In my case it did that and then some, giving me an updated, faster streaming device, too. Those two things, plus the added convenience of Bluetooth, make the Streambar an excellent value. It’s a lot more cost efficient way of upgrading your old TV, especially if it predates the smart TV era. Roku’s device has essentially made my old TV new again and that’s hard to beat when you’re only spending $130.

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