The Polk Command Bar is a fantastic sounding device. It listens well, too, making it a genuinely useful smart assistant in your lounge.
- Amazon Alexa built in
- Excellent sound quality
- None at this price
- Amazon Alexa multi-room
- 2.1 subwoofer
UPDATE: The review has been updated to reflect a price drop and the addition of a feature missing at launch
These days, any speaker that can’t be activated via voice command is considered outdated. This includes soundbars, as both the Polk Command Bar and the Sonos Beam offer the Amazon Alexa smart assistant built-in.
It means you get all the usual positives of a soundbar, including enhanced voice and bass quality to improve TV audio, as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support for playing your music. But now you can also control your wider smart home from the comfort of your sofa, using your voice.
So do you need this over a more affordable soundbar? And is this a sound system that’s worth buying for those that already have an Amazon Echo device?
Related: Best soundbar
Polk Command Bar – Design
The Polk Command Bar looks just fine. It’s long, sleek and black, with a material finish. The subwoofer features a matte black layer, too, to help it blend in. This isn’t Sonos Beam level attractive, but this is reflected in the Command Bar’s price. The stand-out feature here is the Amazon Dot-style circular centrepiece.
The central controls offer buttons for volume, power, Alexa and muting, and also that now familiar light ring you’ll find on any Amazon Alexa-powered speaker. So for those who already own an Echo Dot, that ring of light will brighten when you call on Alexa, so you know you’re being listened to. It works well on a smart speaker, but can prove distracting watching a movie.
That said, the light ring is a good way to show that updates are in progress. The speaker announces when updates are needed, begins downloading – with a purple ring denoting so – before it’s complete. Clean, simple and clear.
The slender design of the Command Bar means the speaker is slim enough at 2 inches high to sit beneath your TV without blocking the line of sight. As such, setup is as simple as placing the bar in front of your TV.
Of course, you can wall-mount the Command Bar, too, but it’s more hassle and juts out from the wall. Although the Polk is made to be low profile, there’s a fair bit of tech to cram into its housing.
Related: Best multi-room speakers
Polk Command Bar – Features
The big sell here is the Amazon Alexa smart assistant integration. But this feature isn’t just for control of your smart home; it will let you control the soundbar too.
At its most basic, Alexa enables you to switch the input with your voice, but you can also change pre-set audio modes such as Movie or Sport using your voice. Beyond this you can control other items from lighting and heating, to getting weather reports or checking your commute.
Sound modes are varied, allowing you to listen to music, movies or sports with well-balanced equaliser presets. The addition of a voice control volume mode allows for fine-tuning, so you can get the perfect listening experience.
Bluetooth connectivity means you can link up your phone to use the soundbar as a giant speaker. But, thanks to Wi-Fi, you’ll probably find it easier to just ask Alexa to play whatever you want directly via Spotify.
The addition of HDMI 2.0b in and out allows for 4K and HDR viewing while running the audio through the Command Bar. It also means you can control the soundbar with your usual remote without needing to set it up.
Polk Command Bar – Performance
From the very first setup stage, using the app, you’ll be confident that this is going to work well. Everything from Wi-Fi network sign-in to personal Amazon and Spotify account linking is achieved in minutes.
That wonderful welcome continues when you start using the Command Bar with your TV. Small details such as a front-facing LED that displays audio quality is a nice touch, changing from orange (Stereo) to green (Dolby) as you alter what’s being fed into the speaker.
Running the Sky Q system through the Command Bar, which allows you to retain that 4K and HDR quality thanks to HDMI 2.0b, was simple. Once powered on, I wanted to turn the sound down – this soundbar has plenty of power – so I did that using the Sky remote in hand. The Command Bar was immediately detected and worked via the Sky remote.
Here, the light-up LED ring shows white, and decreases in area as the volume drops. Since there’s no number on the screen, it’s a useful way to detect where the volume sits. Generally, there was always plenty more of that light ring to fill, since full power was never really needed.
Related: Sonos Beam review
Talking of volume, low-level listening was excellent. It enables you to enjoy immersive content such as movies at lower levels, while the kids are asleep, yet still hear the voices clearly and enjoy some bass without it shaking the house down.
A handy Night Mode setting gets the levels for the above spot on, but you can also adjust the Voice mode separately to set the perfect balance to hear voices with background noise. The refined sound delivery sets this soundbar apart from much of the competition. Even the Sonos Beam doesn’t offer sound quality as well balanced as this.
The width of the speaker allows for a wide throw of sound, which results in a very immersive audio experience. It’s not proper surround – there are no extra rear speakers – but it comes close without gobbling up room-space.
When controlling system settings or the smart home at large with your voice, you can touch the button on the remote to ensure it’s listening before you say what you want – a similar to functionality seen in the Sky Q or Amazon Fire TV.
Of course, you can simply say “Alexa”, followed by your command. But on occasion, when the volume is quite loud, your command may not get picked up, depending on your distance from the set. That said, Alexa was impressive and did detect its name being called more often than not – it’s just nice to have a backup option, should you need it.
Control of the smart home from your lounge is actually quite helpful, presuming your home has a number of smart gadgets to control. From turning down the lighting to pumping up the heating, it can all be done from the comfort of your sofa. You can even order a Dominos pizza.
Set up an IFTTT protocol and you could tell Alexa to switch to “Movie mode”, have your home lighting dim, boost your heating and place your regular pizza order all at once.
The multi-room functionality that was mooted at launch has also been added. You can now connect to other Alexa compatible speakers (via Amazon Multi-room) and play music across a group of speakers, making the Polk Command Bar a near-perfect soundbar.
Why buy the Polk Command Bar?
If you have a smart home system and want to take full advantage of it then the Polk Command Bar offers you something beyond the average soundbar. In addition, if you want excellent quality sound with varying modes for movies, sports and music then the Command Bar is a perfect way to enhance your home setup.
You could opt for the Sonos Beam for more room-filling sound, but for refined balance and voice clarity the Command Bar wins out. And one advantage the Beam had over the Polk has evaporated, with a recent update adding the multi-room support it lacked when it was launched.