Review: TCL ALTO R1 Roku TV Ready Soundbar Is A Snap To Setup
TCL is now selling its new ALTO R1 nearly cordless soundbar for Roku TVs providing another inexpensive option for adding on clear, sufficiently loud movie and TV program audio support along with realtively well-nuanced musical performances for a virtual song.
The question is, where does this $179 TCL ALTO R1 Soundbar fit into the expanding line of audio options intended specifically for Roku TVs? Hopefully, this review will make that a little easier to figure out.
The TCL ALTO R1 soundbar is positioned as a TCL add-on “Roku-TV-Ready” audio solution but it feels, works and looks much like another Roku-branded soundbar, minus the built-in Roku streaming platform. That’s for good reason, it was co-developed between TCL and Roku and intended for Roku TVs that already have the Roku OS onboard.
The good news is, if you have a Roku TV this one-piece 2-channel solution will be a breeze to setup and start enjoying. In fact, it’s the easiest soundbar to get started that we’ve ever used.
If you don’t have a Roku TV, it’s not going to work at all.
So, why not get a Roku-branded Streambar or Streambar Pro, instead? Roku TV owners also have options including Roku’s own-branded Streambar Pro, which also runs $179 and is currently available for $149. But, although similar to the TCL ALTO R1, it’s not quiet as powerful as the TCL ALTO R1.
We found the ALTO R1 to have a slightly wider soundstage and a little beefier punch with its 120-watts of total power compared to the Streambar Pro’s 64-Watts RMS. The more diminutive Roku Streambar offers an even leaner depth of sound experience.
This makes the TCL ALTO R1 a little better fit for larger rooms and bigger-screen sets than either of the Roku Streambar products alone. The Streambars do, however, allow adding on a Roku Wireless subwoofer and Roku Wireless speakers for rear-surround, if you want to pay more for those options.
But by itself, the TCL ALTO R1 adds a few extras including auto-sound leveling for commercials, and a nice bass expansion sound mode for added punch. These settings are available through the Roku TV settings menu using the star (*) button the TV’s remote.
We found the TCL ALTO R1 to have very pleasing and immersive sound with very clear and direct dialog that isn’t stepped on by background sound effects. The soundbar doesn’t offer a selection of surround sound modes, like many more advanced and expensive soundbars, but the overall sound it puts out is wide enough to significantly improve upon the built-in thin stereo speakers found in most Roku TV models.
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For music listening, the soundbar is more than able to present well-defined selections from most genres, but especially so from selections with pronounced midrange, like country and folk singers, crooners and pieces with horns. The bass is balanced and clean, though it doesn’t punch you in the face with a lot of bottom end like some hard rock and heavy metal selections are intended to deliver.
Classical music, like Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto’s are very clean and nuanced throughout the range, although on some louder rock and jazz selections the top end can be a little shrill at times.
Users will be able to connect the TCL ALTO R1 via wireless Bluetooth to a mobile device to listen to the device’s stored songs or music streamed from an app of a favorite service. Users can also listen to music streamed from a music app on the connected Roku TV. There are numerous ways to access songs digitally, if you have a large CD library, simply listen to discs via a Blu-ray or DVD player connected to the Roku TV’s physical input.
As mentioned, the most impressive aspect of the TCL ALTO R1 is its easy setup and portability. It is literally a snap to get it up and running, making it easy to then unplug it from the wall and carry it to a Roku TV in another room to bring fuller sound where ever you want to listen to and watch TV.
The only cable you need to deal with is the power cord. The soundbar connects to the television via Roku’s WiFi network connection system. Once plugged into the wall, the soundbar begins searching for the nearest networked Roku TV. Press the home icon button on the Roku TV’s remote TV for five seconds and you’ll be asked which device to link to. Tick off the wireless soundbar option and viola, the devices pair. After the initial pairing the TV and soundbar will recognize each other automatically going forward.
Because they are both Roku devices, both TV and soundbar are controlled by the Roku TV’s remote. So, by adjusting the volume on the remote, the sound will get louder or softer on the the soundbar, instead of the TV’s internal speakers.
The TCL ALTO R1 Roku TV Wireless Sounbar isn’t going to give you a fancy array of surround sound modes like bigger and much more expensive soundbars or home theater speaker setups, but it gives you a decidedly better sound experience than the standard TV speakers while requiring little more space and clutter. The experience is nicely dispersed to the front and sides of the 2.0 speakers reducing some of the directionality of vocals and sound effects. The sound will be a little more hollow and boxy in tonality than bigger systems, but much less so than what the television produces.
If you are looking for the deep, rumble and roll you get in the movie theater, you might want to look around for a soundbar with a good subwoofer, but when budget and space don’t cooperate this is an elegant alternative.
We found the performance of TCL ALTO R1 Roku TV Ready Soundbar to be surprisingly good for a soundbar of this size and a strongly recommended add-on solution for any TCL Roku TV owner. We therefore award the TCL ALTO R1 four and a half out of five hearts.
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By Greg Tarr
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