Polk Command Bar Review

The Polk Command Bar offers superior 2.1 subwoofer-backed audio while adding useful smart voice controls thanks to Amazon Alexa
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Verdict

The Polk Command Bar is a fantastic sounding device. It listens well, too, making it a genuinely useful smart assistant in your lounge. Once the addition of multi-room support arrives via a software update, this will be a near-perfect soundbar.

Pros

  • Amazon Alexa built in
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Free Amazon Fire Stick

Cons

  • No multiroom support, yet

Key Features

  • Review Price: £349
  • Amazon Alexa smart
  • Free Amazon Fire Stick
  • 2.1 subwoofer supported audio
  • Bluetooth
  • HDMI 2.0b throughput support

Polk Command Bar

What is the Polk Command Bar?

These days, any speaker that can’t be activated via voice command is considered outdated.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? The test results are in.

Related: Best soundbar – everything you need to boost your TV sound

Polk Command Bar

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 may already own an Echo Dot, for example, that ring of light will pop on when you call for Alexa, so you know you’re being listened to. It works well on a smart speaker, but can prove distracting whilst watching a movie.

That said, the light ring is a good way to show that updates are happening. The speaker announces when updates are needed, begins downloading – with a purple ring denoting it’s  working – before it’s complete. Clean, simple and clear.

The slender design of the Command Bar itself means the speaker is slim enough at 2 inches high to sit beneath your TV without blocking your 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 a little. Although the Polk is made to be low profile, there remains a fair bit of tech to cram in.

Related: Best multiroom speakers – 9 of the best

Polk Command Bar

Polk Command Bar – Features

It’s pretty clear that the big sell here is that Amazon Alexa smart assistant integration. But this feature doesn’t offer controls for your smart home; it will let you control the soundbar too.

At its most basic Alexa will enable you to switch the input by using your voice, but you can also change pre-set audio modes such as Movie or Sport using just 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 watching in 4K and HDR while running the audio through the Command Bar. It also means you can control the soundbar using your usual remote control without needing to set it up.

Related: Amazon Alexa guide – Features, entertainment, smart home and more

Polk Command Bar

Polk Command Bar – Performance

From the very first setup stage, using the app, you’ll be confident that this is all going to work well. Everything from Wi-Fi network sign-in to personal Amazon and Spotify account linking is achieved in mere 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 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. Sure, it isn’t proper surround – there are no extra rear speakers – but it comes super-close without the expense of gobbling 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.

Related: Best surround sound systems

Polk Command Bar

Why buy the Polk Command Bar?

If you have a smart home system and want to take full advantage of it from the lounge 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. While the Sonos Beam also offers multiroom support, which is lacking in the Command Bar right now, it’s due to be added via a software update “soon”.

Related: Black Friday soundbar deals

Verdict

The Polk Command Bar is a fantastic sounding device. It listens well, too, making it a genuinely useful smart assistant. Once the addition of multiroom support arrives via a software update, this will be a near-perfect soundbar.

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