Review: Roku TV Speakers Add Big Sound For $200
Roku, the developer of Roku media streamers and the highly popular Roku TVs, recently began selling its first wireless speakers, designed to give home theater sound to Roku TVs whose built-in sound systems haven’t been known for their great depth or impressiveness.
We recently had the opportunity to review these speakers along with one of TCL’s popular Series 5 Roku TVs and found that Roku has indeed successfully taken the ease and quality that made Roku streaming devices popular to the speaker market.
The Roku TV Wireless Speakers offer a quick and easy way to add big sound to a Roku TV. They are also can be had for a relative bargain at $200 a pair through the Roku.com web site.
If you are lucky enough to have a Roku TV and get these speakers, you will find the sound is rich, deep and somewhat immersive, bettering many popular lower-end soundbars in the market. With the ability to space the speakers widely from the television, it’s possible to get nice left and right channel separation creating a large sound field that at times presents a sense of surround from the sides.
Thanks to clever sound engineering the speakers manage to present clear and understandable vocals and key sound elements as if they are coming from the TV screen or a third center channel, even when the speakers are placed several feet to the left and right of the screen.
Roku TVs that support these speakers are manufactured and sold by a handful of companies and brands for the U.S. market including, TCL, Hisense, Sharp, Insignia, Hitachi and others. The speakers will work with the lastest version of the built-in Roku operating system, which offers various controls to maximize and optimize sound performance to the room and content.
Unfortunately, if you don’t own a Roku TV these speakers won’t work for you at all. They won’t even work with Roku’s streaming media adapters. But for those who have a Roku TV, the speakers are designed to pair almost effortlessly through the television. The speakers will work with both video and music streaming apps, but it tends to be easier to use the apps on the TV than to stream music through an app on a Bluetooth connected smartphone or tablet.
Roku provides the ability to turn off the TV picture when the speakers are used to listen to streaming music, and this sound better than many other wirelessly speakers in that they are sold in pair rather than individually, so listeners get true stereo sound without having to buy a second speaker.
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The speakers offer nice deep bass for their size, but this is no comparison to having a real subwoofer and Roku doesn’t provide an option to add one to the system at this time. The same goes for wireless rear channel speakers, and the two speakers alone are insufficient to create any real illusion of sounds coming at the listener from behind.
If that’s what you are after, a 5.1-channel Atmos soundbar or a full home theater surround sound setup is what you’ll need, but this will cost considerably more. Due to the value price of most Roku TVs, we expect users will probably prefer the speakers for most applications.
The speakers are offer are rounded and stand about 6-inches tall. They have a flat-black metal grill that wraps around three quarters of the front and sides of each unit. Each speaker has a power cord, but no other physical wires. Connections are made
The added bass does color vocals, which is some cases can make dialog harder to understand at times, but the Roku TV has settings to adjust vocal clarity by toning this bass effect down as needed. Overall we found the dialog to be excellent.
The separation and center channel creation are so good, in fact, that we had to get up close to the television to make sure the TV’s internal speakers weren’t on along with the wireless add-ons. They weren’t.
For what they are, these wireless speakers add nice bottom end to explosions and loud sound effects in movies. Again, these are up to true subwoofer level, but they aren’t too far off either. This beats a subwoofer without a subwoofer in almost every instance when the added channel separation of the wireless speakers is taken into account. However, if you want real 3D sound dimensionality you will ned to get a better soundbar or system, preferable one with Dolby Atmos and DTX:X capability.
Streaming the Full HD 1080p version of XXX: The Return of Xander Cage through Amazon Prime the theme music over the opening credits featured a deep synthesizer bass line that was loud a spacious, all we didn’t get the rattle of the floor the way we do with a good subwoofer. Still, the overall sound was more disperse than it its with most soundbars, which often sound boxy and directional. As the movie progressed, dialog was always clear and understandable, but explosions and shattering glass lacked enough dynamic impact to sound real. We also became conscious that sound effects were periphery were coming from the left or right channel speaker.
As stereo wireless speakers go, the Roku TV speakers are impressively full, rich and clear. The high end is a bit bright, and the sound stage lacks some dimensionality, but at this price it’s hard to do better.
Streaming the Electric Light Orchetra’s “Showdown” via the Amazon Music was a very enjoyable experience. The room filled with rich tones and clear vocals, and despite the size the speakers there was enough punch to the bass to balance the overall sound. It was a bit hard to believe this was coming from a flat-panel TV system.
We compared the Roku TV speakers to a connected 5.1-channel home theater system with a Denon X6400 AV receiver and B&W CDM tower and rear-channel speakers. The Roku TVs did a very nice job filling the room with the nice discrete left-and-right channel separation, but they were smoked by home theater system on almost every level. Most noticeable differences included the deeper bass from the subwoofer (a Mirage sub with twin 12-inch drivers) which left the Roku speakers sounding thin. The true center channel also gave the overall sound more dimensionality and a higher-end feel, and the rear-channels actually added sound effects from behind us, especially on 5-channel music content. But this isn’t a fair comparison.
Again, compared to most entry to low-mid-range soundbars, the separation afforded by these speakers is enough to give the TV a more expensive-sounding quality.
In order to set up Bluetooth to play music from mobile device it’s necessary to use the TV remote to go into settings, devices and Bluetooth and then pair or connect the two devices through the smart phone’s Bluetooth settings. Generally speaking, it’s easier to use the TV to stream the music apps to the speaker. However, you can use Bluetooth to stream music from a mobile device to the speakers when the TV is turned off. Roku TV and the Roku Wireless speakers will work with a range of popular streaming music services including SpotifyConnect, SiriusXM, Pandora, Amazon Music and others (subscriptions will be required in most cases).
The Roku TV Wireless speakers come with a pair of remote controls: the familiar rounded candybar type remote that looks similar to the remotes sold with most Roku TVs and devices and a new flat, squarish tabletop Touch remote.
The remotes include push-to-talk activated mics that collect commands to perform content searches through the Roku TV OS, and perform some basic control functions through the television, like raise or “lower volume,” or “turn off TV”.
The Roku Touch remote, which Roku also sells separately for $30, includes controls to command the speakers and TV, but the volume, play, pause and fast forward and rewind buttons were the only ones that did us much good. The Touch remote is designed to be used from a coffee table, and offers an arrangement of top-mounted buttons. One, is a hold-to-talk button, but the only thing we could get the television to do was perform some content searches. We had to go back to the second remote or the one supplied with the Roku TV to navigate to and select apps and settings.
The second supplied remote can be taken around the house to control the sound of music being played remotely, pause content, etc. It also has a push-to-talk voice button, but again, the level of voice command functions is pretty basic.
If you have a Roku TV (or plan on getting one) the Roku Wireless Speakers are a natural add-on that won’t break the bank. You will get better sound from a good three-piece or six-piece soundbar, but not for this price. You also won’t get the convenience of setting this up through the TV and using the television’s remotes and voice search capabilities at quite the same level integration. If all you are listening to now are the Roku TV’s built-in speakers, you should definitely consider picking these up and getting good quality sound experience to complete the picture.
We therefore award the Roku TV Wireless Speakers (Gen. 1) 4.5 out 5 hearts.
By Greg Tarr
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