The React soundbar is an accomplished and affordable effort from Polk. Alexa is seamlessly integrated, and it offers clear, detailed and dynamic sound. There’s no attempt at immersive audio, but if what you’re after is a simplified home audio experience, then the Polk React hits the spot.
- Clear, dynamic performance
- Spotify Connect integration
- Well-integrated Alexa smarts
- Useful Voice Adjust feature
- Feeble Bluetooth mode
- Limited bass
- UKRRP: £249
- USARRP: $249
- EuropeRRP: €299
- CanadaRRP: CA$299
- Polk Voice Adjust Specifically adjusts the levels of dialogue so it can be heard better
- Alexa Integrated with Amazon Alexa
- Upgrade pathCan add a subwoofer and surround speakers
The Polk React is the latest soundbar from the American brand that brings voice-assisted smarts at an affordable price.
The React’s smarts come by way of Alexa, which makes it a soundbar suited for those in the Amazon ecosystem looking to boost their TV audio.
It will benefit those who have no need for technical wizardry, looking for a simpler home audio experience instead.
- Smart looks
- Compact size
The Polk React won’t win many design awards, but it arrives smartly attired for duty. Draped in a grey fabric, its good looks are slightly marred by the plasticky-looking control area in the middle that features buttons for volume, microphone on/off and the Alexa ‘Action’ button.
There’s no traditional display; instead you get a light bar that flashes Alexa’s trademark blue as well as other colours. Below that is a status LED that reflects the React’s mode through a variety of colours. Examples include green (Dolby Audio), Purple (Night mode) and Blue (Bluetooth), among others. The choice of colours is simple and easy to remember, and both the light bar and status LED are visible from the comfort of a sofa.
Measuring 57mm tall and 864mm wide, the React is sufficiently compact to not obstruct the bottom half of (most) TVs, and its width means it won’t stick out at the edges. Wall-mounting is possible since Polk has included a wall-mount template in the box.
- Alexa integration
- Supports additional bass and surround speakers
Connectivity-wise, the React covers the basics. The USB port is service only, accompanied by optical and HDMI ARC. There’s no eARC connectivity, since this soundbar doesn’t perform any object-based audio gymnastics such as Atmos or DTS:X.
Next to the ARC is a ‘Connect’ button for wirelessly connecting a React Sub wireless subwoofer or the SR2 wireless rear surround speakers, both of which are available separately. Bluetooth connectivity is included as another means of flinging audio at the bar.
The Polk React is sold as a ‘smart’ soundbar, much like the Command Bar we tested a few years back. Like the Command Bar, the React only has eyes for Alexa, meaning there’s little interest for anyone who’s not aboard U.S.S Amazon.
For those who are, the integration of Alexa is smoothly done. Setup is via the Alexa app and involves scanning a barcode on the soundbar to register the React. It’s an easy and fuss-free process that gets you going in minutes.
Alexa is always listening, and if that unnerves you then the React’s array of microphones can be turned off for privacy. However, having Alexa on does mean you can summon her even when the TV is off, like you would a smart wireless speaker. The React’s microphones prove highly reactive, picking up my voice almost every time I uttered a command.
The soundbar responds even when playing loud content, which isn’t always guaranteed. With the wick turned up on the performance that opens A Star is Born, the React heard my voice at the second time of asking without having to raise it. That’s better than Samsung’s HW-S61A, which didn’t register my voice at higher volumes at all.
You can, of course, go through the usual repertoire of Alexa questions; play music from linked services (such as Spotify), listen to Audible audiobooks, launch skills, switch sound modes, and adjust the volume, as well as group the React with other Alexa audio products via multi-room. There are plenty of ways for Alexa to ingratiate herself.
Of course, the Polk React ships with a physical remote and it’s fine to use. Every button is clearly labelled, with the Alexa action button up top. Button presses feel as if they need a harder press, and I never got to grips with the volume buttons. I suppose the way they depress into the remote adds to the ergonomics and handling, but I had to press them a few times to register.
- Good clarity and detail levels
- Voice Adjust feature for dialogue
- Music playback over Bluetooth disappoints
While it doesn’t have the fancy features and accoutrements of more expensive soundbars – smarts aside, this is a standard offering – the React is a sharp, crisp and dynamic performer.
The width of the soundstage doesn’t extend much beyond the soundbar’s physical dimensions, with no real sense of effects being dispersed out wide in the manner of a JBL Bar MultiBeam 5.0 or Samsung HW-S61A. However, pair it with a 55-inch TV and it spreads it sound well enough.
The React is capable of impressive dynamism, with sudden loud noises resisting harshness or lacking in detail. It’s a sharp presentation but not overtly so, with high frequencies well judged. Adjusting the main unit’s bass values can add some more weight, but the React remains natural sounding.
Dialogue can be reinforced by Polk’s Voice Adjust technology, which homes in on voices and raises them above the action. It’s an effective tool for catching every word in your favourite shows and films.
The React can make a considerable commotion if the volume is pushed up – without succumbing to much distortion, although bass does harden. There’s a choice of a few presets in Night, Music, Sport and Movie. Music and Movie should be obvious, while Night mode reduces bass and reins in the soundbar’s high-frequency performance and dynamism. Sports makes the sound field a little bigger and lifts the commentary above the action, so they’re separated somewhat better.
While on its own I wouldn’t call the React room-filling, with the subwoofer connected it fills a space with more presence. Watching the opening of Blade Runner 2049, there’s more depth, power and dynamism at the React’s disposal, which gives the film a suitably weighty and epic feel. The same can be said watching the ‘Black Eyes’ performance from A Star is Born, with the bass kicking with a tight, weighty thud.
The React’s music performance can be very good with Spotify Connect, but it’s dependent on the quality of the track. At its best, music comes across as clear, detailed and dynamic, although bass can disappoint without a subwoofer. Push up the volume and low-end frequencies have a presence, but not much depth – and, at times, are fuzzily defined in a track such as Lupe Fiasco’s ITAL (Roses).
The performance is better than the Bluetooth mode, which is smaller, distant and features rather feeble bass. Eddie Floyd’s Big Bird lacks excitement, while listening to the same track in Spotify Connect offers more scale, bass, detail and clarity.
Should you buy it?
If you’re after an affordable boost to your TV’s sound The React offers a nice boost to a TV’s performance, with good detail, clarity and a persuasive sense of dynamism.
If you’re not into Alexa Much of the soundbar’s appeal is down to the integration of Alexa, and if you have no interest in using Alexa then the React holds less appeal
For the asking price and for what it does, the Polk React is an accomplished performer. If you’re not interested in Atmos but do want (Alexa) smarts, then this is an impressive and affordable effort.
Offering clear, detailed and dynamic sound, the integration of Alexa and her responsiveness is fuss-free and seamless. If you want more bass or surround sound then an upgrade path is possible, with both the sub and speakers available for around £150 each.
How we test
We test every soundbar we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Used as the main soundbar for the review period
Tested for more than a week
Tested with real world use
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No, you can’t play immersive audio through the React.
The subwoofer is sold separately from the main bar.
AlexaAmazon's smart voice assistant
Multi-room refers to the act of grouping wireless audio systems together to play/control music throughout a home. For example, Multi-room systems can allow for the same piece of music to be played on all connected systems, or different music played on each individual speaker.