Although companies like Samsung, LG and Sony are hard at work improving the sound quality of the built-in speakers you find on 4K TVs, by and large, most TVs don't sound that good.
While Roku can't do anything to change how those built-in speakers sound, it can create a two-in-one device that provides better sound quality and 4K/HDR streaming all rolled into one. That's the premise of the new Roku Streambar.
Combining 4K streaming, clear dialogue, sound leveling for commercials and the ability to stream music with Spotify Connect or your phone via Bluetooth and more, the Roku Streambar tries to be the affordable upgrade your TV speakers have been searching for.
So does it deliver? Well, mostly. The sound quality on offer here was a huge upgrade on our TV's built-in speakers and while we felt it lacked solid bass response, that can be remedied by connecting the Streambar to Roku’s subwoofer and rear speaker kits, which are all connected wirelessly. That adds to the total cost, but if you want a piecemeal solution that sounds pretty good right out of the box, the Streambar is it.
Price analysis and release date
The Roku Streambar was announced alongside the new Roku Ultra in September 2020, with its release date set shortly afterwards. The cost of the Streambar is only $130/£130, which makes it only slightly more expensive than the Roku Ultra and its rival, the Amazon Fire TV Cube.
As we mentioned above, it's possible to add additional components to the Roku Streambar in the form of the Roku Subwoofer and Roku Wireless Speakers, but those do come at an extra cost of $179.99 and $149.99 (around £140/£115 or AU$250/AU$200), respectively.
Design and features
If the Streambar sounds semi-familiar, you might be remembering the Roku Smart Soundbar, introduced 2019, that's around 32 inches long. The new Streambar is a more compact version which measures 2.4 x 14.0 x 4.2-inches (H x W x D) and weighs 2.4 pounds.
It has black fabric front and sides; a rubbery top (without any buttons) and a black Roku logo on the front. There is a small LED indicator in the middle of the front near the top so that you know the unit is actually on but it is totally inconspicuous and does not lure the eye in a dark room.
The rear has an input to connect the power adapter, a HDMI 2.0 port with support for ARC (audio return channel), HDR10 and HGL high dynamic range information passes through (but no Dolby Vision or Dolby Atmos), an optical audio input, a reset button, and a USB 2.0 port that can be used to access video or music files stored on a USB drive. If your house is wired and you prefer an Ethernet connection the USB port can be used with an adaptor. There are also two threaded mounting holes if you want to hang the speaker.
The 2.0 Streambar includes four 1.9 inch drivers, two of which face forward while the other two are angled left and right on the sides. The drivers are slightly smaller than those on the Roku Smart Soundbar (2.5 inches each). However, the speaker still projects an impressive large sound field considering the room used to test the Streambar did not have walls on any sides which would help to reflect for even better sound. The low-frequency was weak especially at higher volume.
The Roku Streambar comes with a voice remote that can adjust sounds for boosted volume, speech clarity, lower loud commercials and optimization for night listening. If you use the HDMI ARC input, the remote can also adjust TV volume as well as turning it on or off. The four buttons on the bottom of the remote (Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Sling) cannot be reprogrammed.
On the right side of the remote there are three buttons for volume: up, down and mute. Not all of Roku’s remotes have a mute button. The mute button location is apt to cause a left-handed person who would normally hold the remote in their right hand to constantly be muting the TV because of the way it would lean into the hand.
New for 2020, Roku’s updated OS 9.4 offers the use of a free mobile app which allows you to control your player using it as a second remote that can search with either voice or keyboard. Since there is no headphone input on the provided remote the mobile app can also allow private listening with connected headphones as well as streaming free TV on The Roku channel. This new OS will be rolling out to all streaming devices and Roku TVs soon.
The Streambar also works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit (including Siri) will be coming later this year. This makes Roku the first streaming player to support all three major voice ecosystems.
For our testing, we connected the Roku Streambar to a Samsung 55-inch UN55NU800D TV with ARC and were largely impressed with what we heard: Raiders of the Lost Ark on Netflix, for example, had great clarity during scenes set in the jungle and complicated fight sequences, and we quite enjoyed the harmonies in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? on Amazon Prime - though they lacked the lows one would expect from larger speakers or a subwoofer.
Watching Dunkirk in 4K using a LG UBKC90 Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc player, we found the voices and sounds of battle were sharp with many mids and highs but again the bass was lacking so it could have had more oomph.
For music Clapton’s Pretending was streamed. The vocals were clear and the lead guitar was crisp and sharp but the drums and bass didn’t have any clarity. Lady Gaga’s vocals on ScheiBe were initially very snappy but became muddled once the pounding bass kicked in. The base boost setting didn’t help here. Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s Cheek to Cheek were better for the lower tones than the rock and roll and overall the sound was very impressive.
After adding the Roku Wireless Subwoofer and re-viewing and listening to all of the above movies and music, we found that the bass lines were much improved and the separation very satisfying and substantial.
We then added the left/right Roku TV Wireless Speakers ($200) as rear speakers making it into a 4.1 surround system. The audio was most impressive with 4K Blu-ray and TV but didn’t quite satisfy when streaming music. The instrument separation was infinitesimal and did not add to the experience. For movies and TV there seemed to be a much wider experience wrapping the sound around the room. The 2.1 system was our preference for music.
The Streambar on its own is fulfilling because of what it offers and the quality of what it provides without any extra speakers. The surround sound was nice but it makes this system costly and unnecessary as better systems with more control are available for the $500 cost of adding all these speakers. The subwoofer would be a perk that can be added on at another time.
Should you buy the Roku Streambar?
Buy it if...
You need both a soundbar and streaming device
If you need both AV accessories, the Roku Streambar is a great deal.
You want a cheap, expandable audio setup
One of the biggest bonuses about the Streambar is that you can expand it from a stereo two-channel system to a 4.1-surround system by simply adding additional components over time.
Don't buy it if...
You want the best Roku device
The new Roku Ultra is by far the better streaming player, if you're only considering the visual quality and feature set. It offers Dolby Vision and Atmos support, plus the remote has both an audio jack for private listening as well as programmable buttons.
You're expecting a movie theater-like sound experience
For its size, the Roku Streambar offers full, clear sound. But its anemic bass response due to a lack of a separate subwoofer means that you won't experience the rumble of explosions in action movies or hear the drum kick in your favorite music.
- Looking for beefier bass response? Don't miss our guide to the best soundbars