Review: Roku Streambar Offers Great 2-For-1 Value Performance
Roku this week officially released the Roku Streambar as the latest addition to the company’s growing line of affordably priced sound-for-video components with built-in Roku media streaming.
Think of the Roku Streambar ($129.99 suggested retail) as a more compact alternative to the company’s longer Roku Smart Soundbar ($179.99) of a competitor’s sound base. The Streambar has many of the same features, including a built-in Roku streaming media player, and the ability to expand the experience down the line by adding on a pair of Roku wireless rear-channel speakers ($149.99 a pair) and/or a Roku Wireless Subwoofer ($179.99).
By itself, the Streambar still let’s you connect to almost any brand or model of television via HDMI/ARC or optical audio cable connections to get genuinely bigger and wider sound than most built-in TV speakers provide in mid and lower-tier television sets.
We were highly impressed with the sound Roku managed to produce from the Roku Soundbar when it was first introduced, and found the Streambar experience was very similar in many respects. But what really impressed us is how the quality of sound was elevated to the next level after adding on the aforementioned Roku wireless rear speakers and subwoofer to either device.
On its own, the Streambar’s sound is remarkably wide and clear for a device that measures a mere 2.4 x 14 x 4.2 inches. Of course, the room dynamics will play a role in the quality of the experience you hear. At this size, the Streambar makes a nice option for smaller room configurations where sound waves have a shorter distance to travel reflected off of walls. Here to, the small size of the unit makes it ideal to position in front of a television placed atop a dresser, still leaving plenty of room for odds and ends. In fact, the Streambar handles music so well, it makes a great alternative to a clock radio or bedside CD player for good quality bedroom music listening.
In larger spaces in front of bigger TV screens, the Streambar strains a bit to fill the overall space, and the directionally identifiable sound in front of the television is much more obvious. The sound also tends to take on more of a boxy quality, akin to the built-in TV speakers its supposed to replace in better designed television sets. In larger rooms, the Roku Soundbar is a better option both because it provides better physical separation between the right and left channel drivers and because it produces better depth and punch from the internal woofers.
In either case, if these are being added to a Roku TV we can’t recommend strongly enough that you think about adding on the Roku Subwoofer. It makes everything sound much bigger and enveloping. The Roku wireless rear-channels complete the package, delivering an impressive 360-degree feeling at a bargain (about $500 altogether) compared to a full-blown home theater rig or even some all-in-one high-end Dolby Atmos soundbars.
We don’t pretend to suggest that the sound quality is as good as better designed and significantly more expensive audio components, but for the average Roku TV purchaser the Streambar and package of supporting Roku speakers is a heck of an impressive option.
If this is being added to a non-Roku TV from most television brands, the Roku Streambar will still add a bigger dimension to the TV’s sound in many cases, plus you’ll get the built-in Roku TV streaming platform providing the popular stripped down easy to navigate user interface and access to thousands of movies, television programs and streaming apps and services. It makes a great two-for-one option at a great price for gift giving.
The Streambar is sort of a cross between a soundbase and soundbar. It is small enough to be placed directly in front of and in the middle of a TV screen, fitting nicely with virtually any type of TV stand. The cabinet is composed ABS plastic and wrapped in black fabric on the front and sides. The top is made of a mat-black soft plastic. In the front center of the Streambar is an elevated “Roku” logo in matching black, to subtly blend in with the surrounding plastic, so as not to distract the eye. Directly above this and behind the fabric is an LED that changes color to indicate when its powered on and properly connected or not. When properly set up LED changes to white and then shuts off as a program commences.
The Streambar is outfitted with four full-range drivers, two of which are mounted on the front and directed out at the listener, and two others, one positioned on the right side and the other on the left side pointed at oblique right angles to direct sound toward the side walls for reflection all around the audience. The decision helps to broaden the sound stage and while delivering nice channel separation. The drivers measure 1.9 inches in diameter and are comprised of paper cones and neodymium magnets, powered by discrete Class D amplifiers outputting 8 watts RMS each for a total of 32 watts RMS or 64 watts peak power.
For wall-mounted TV applications, Roku provides two M6 x 8mm threaded bolt holes on the back of the Streambar. These can be relatively easily used with third party mounting brackets to position the Streambar below the mounted TV screen.
We covered the popular Roku smart TV experience many times, including the recent review on the 2020 Roku Ultra 4K/Dolby Vision media player. The Roku platform inside the Streambar is closest in features/performance to the Roku 4K Streaming Stick+, right down to the 4K/HDR10 support and more basic level Roku Voice Remote. You don’t get Dolby Vision support from supporting apps, like Netflix of Vudu. Instead, Dolby Vision HDR highlights will be delivered as baseline HDR10. If you don’t have a Dolby Vision-ready TV this won’t be an issue anyway.
Keep in mind that like the Roku Ultra 2020, the Streambar now features the Roku OS version 9.4, which among many benefits and enhancements now includes support for both Apple’s HomeKit and AirPlay 2, enabling interactive control and use from Apple mobile devices and Mac computers. A recent firmware recently added these enhancements to the Roku Ultra, Roku Streambar, Roku Smart Soundbar, Roku Streaming Stick+, and Roku Premiere. The update also provides a number of customization features and snappier response.
Inputs are located on the back of the Roku Streambar. These include one HDMI 2.0/ARC (Audio Return Channel) port, a USB 2.0 input (to playback various media files or to accept an Ethernet adapter), a digital optical input and a contact slot for the included power adapter. The built-in Roku Streaming media player will pass through to a supporting television up to 4K/60p resolution with High Dynamic Range (HDR) in either the HDR10 or Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) profiles. Dolby Vision dynamic metadata HDR is not supported internally, but it can be enjoyed if the Streambar is connected to a Dolby Vision-supported Roku TV. In such a setup, the TV’s own Roku smart TV platform will be used in place of the one in the Streambar.
For wireless connectivity, the Streambar is equipped to connect via 802.11ac to a home Wi-Fi network. The Streambar also supports Bluetooth 5.0 to pair with mobile devices to stream music from locally stored libraries or streamed music services.
Roku includes its popular candy bar sized voice remote designed to easily navigate and control the on-screen menus and settings. It offers up/down volume and mute controls on the upper right side of the hand unit. The remote has a mic pinhole to accepts verbal commands to search for movies and TV programs, activate favorite streaming music apps, and control basic Streambar functions. As always, the remote is well-designed to fit comfortably in plam to perform one-handed operation. Roku is currently equipping the supplied remote with four quick-access buttons for the Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Sling TV apps.
In our tests we tried connecting the Roku Streambar via the HDMI/ARC connection to both a 2018 4K/Dolby Vision TCL 5 Series Roku TV and a 65-inch Hisense 2020 H9 Series 4K Android TV. In both cases, set up was swift and straight forward. We were asked to use our Android phone to help complete connections and authentication for several subscribed apps. We were also encouraged to download the Roku app to use the phone as an additional remote control, as well as a means of listening to programs over connected earphones, when others nearby might wish not to be disturbed.
Integration with the add-on Roku wireless rear-channel speakers and Roku subwoofer using the TCL Roku TV required a few extra steps, including putting the speakers in pairing mode and pressing and holding the “home” button on the Roku remote to complete the integration process. Once the Streambar was connected we used the Roku remote that came with the television to control television operation. This includes adjusting the various audio modes, controlling the volume and muting, and making app selections from the Roku OS platform resident on the television set.
We should point out that the Streambar, like the Roku Soundbar and Roku TVs in general, allow you to set various situational sound modes, so you can, for example, maintain a level volume when
We found this worked well most of the time, although after turning off the television and turning it back on some hours later we occasionally needed to go into the settings to re-establish connections with the wireless rear-speakers and subwoofer.
However, once set up the audio performance is quite powerful for a soundbar this small. Of course, the add-on subwoofer had much to do with that, and we remain impressed with the depth of impact the compact Roku wireless subwoofer delivers. Of course, lacking any height channels and format support, the ensemble doesn’t provide an authentic Dolby Atmos 360-degree surround sound experience, but the transcoded surround sound is quite impressive, nevertheless. In a smaller size room the reverb from walls and ceiling did on occasion present the illusion that certain sounds and tones were coming at us from our left and right flank. The rear channel speakers deliver actual surround sound tracks from our rear, providing a quite immersive experience from well mixed and produced content.
Again, we aren’t suggesting this is better than more expensive and high engineered Dolby Atmos soundbars on the market, but for this price, along with the convenience of being able to add-on in steps, we think this is a commendable budget-friendly solution.
As you would expect, the Streambar does good job with with movie and television surround sound presentations. We found the sound stage was well spread out for sound effects and musical accompaniment. Vocals were a little more directional and box, when the Streambar was played without the add-on rear-channel speakers and subwoofer. However, we found dialog to be nicely separated from competing sounds and muddied. In a few instances, where a narrator of character is speaking in delibrately hushed levels, we were able to find the right mix of sound modes to boost the dialog while limiting to other effects to hear without blasting out anyone on the other side of the wall.
For our test, we played the train assassination scene from Gemini Man (4K/HDR with Dolby Digital+ soundtrack) streamed from YouTube and found the sound experience to be quite engaging, right down to the violently loud crack of the passenger car’s bullet-pierced glass window as Will Smith’s character strikes his target’s neck from a distant vantage point. The sound of the train entering a tunnel just as the shot is delivered, seemed to reverberate around us, even without the rear-channel speakers and subwoofer in play. However, by itself the Streambar’s punch is more anemic than even the Roku Soundbar, without the wireless subwoofer added on.
In a small room test environment, the Streambar alone provides a nice bump up in quality from the TCL 5 Series TV sound system, but with wireless Roku rear speakers and subwoofer in play, the experience was impressively more expansive. That’s not to say its a substitute for an authentic 5.1-channel home theater surround system with separate center and righ/left front speakers and a more powerful AV receiver, but it beats out many better-quality soundbars without dedicated rear channel support.
By itself, the Streambar also does a respectable job delivering the power and impact of music. In fact, this was one of the more strengths of the Streambar to our ears. The internal Roku OS provides a lot of flexibility in accessing digital music from personal libraries on home-based DLNA server devices, like a PC or NAS device as well as files stored on USB thumb drives or portable HDDs. Users can access song files using a few apps including the Roku Media Player, Plex and others. Even through the USB input, the Roku platform supports a range of music and Hi-Rez Audio codecs including ALAC, FLAC, MKV, MP3, MP4, PCM, and WAV. with up to 48kHz/24-bit resolution.
Using the Roku Media Player app, the Streambar played back our 44kHz FLAC, and constant bit rate 320Mbps MP3 music files stored from an SSD in a networked desktop PC two floors down with bright tonal quality without being overly shrill. Midrange was nicely balanced, keeping horns and vocals clear and unmuddied from even moderately well-produced selections.
Curtis Mayfield’s soulful Freddy’s Dead from the Superfly soundtrack was bright and musical keeping horn arrangements distinct against strings and flute accompaniment. Mayfield’s echoed falsetto seemed to float in the air with lilting emotional power.
We continue to be impressed with the quality and value Roku is able to put into its still relatively new audio products assortment. The Roku Streambar is not a step up in performance from the Roku Soundbar, but it is a nice alternative for those who want both better sound from their television combined with the Roku streaming experience all in one very affordably priced product. If you are a stickler for audio precision and fidelity, you’ll want to check out something a little more elaborate and expensive, but if you are in the target demographic and on a budget — especially if you already own a Roku TV — this is an HD Guru recommended product worth checking out. It’s also are great gift idea for anyone considering adding on a Roku 4K media player who might also appreciate a boost in the TV’s sound.
We therefore award the Roku Streambar five out of five hearts.
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By Greg Tarr
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