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Roku’s smart soundbar gets wireless surround for $300 all told – CNET

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Roku

Roku is best known for its streamers and smart TVs, but its latest products are speakers. We liked the Roku smart soundbar a lot, citing its excellent sound and built-in Roku streaming, while we found the Roku wireless speakers less appealing because they only worked with Roku TVs. A new software upgrade unlocks the ability to pair the soundbar with the surround speakers, creating a full surround sound system, one that works with any TV, for around $300.

The soundbar is currently on sale for $160 and the speakers for $150, so the full system bought today would run $310. The Walmart version, sold under the retailer’s Onn brand, is cheaper. Currently the Onn version of the soundbar is $130 and the Onn speakers are coming to Walmart in February for $150, creating a full Roku surround system for $280.

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That’s around the same price as CNET’s favorite soundbar with included surround speakers, the Vizio SB36512 (currently on sale for $300). On paper the Vizio is a better value however, because it supports Dolby Atmos, complete with dedicated height channels, and includes a wireless subwoofer. You can add Roku’s $180 subwoofer (the Walmart version is $130) but that brings the price up to $450, and Roku’s system isn’t compatible with Atmos.

Roku’s advantage is simplicity. Unlike the Vizio, Roku’s rear speakers are wireless so you don’t need to run speaker wire across the room — although you’ll still need to plug each one of them into a power outlet. Other soundbar systems with wireless rear speakers are available but they all cost hundreds more than Roku’s. Examples include the Sonos Beam soundbar paired with Ikea’s Symfonisk speakers ($500 total), the LG SL5Y soundbar with SPK8 speakers ($420 total) and the Yamaha MusicCast Bar 400 soundbar with MusicCast 20 speakers ($900 total).

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rokuhometheatersetup.png

Roku

I got the chance to demo Roku’s system at CES 2020 and ease of setup was a big focus. The built-in menus on the soundbar (reminder: it’s a full-on 4K HDR Roku streamer that works with any TV) allow a simple on-screen pairing process. They also guide the user through a sound check, confirming the speakers are playing correctly.

Roku also demonstrated a variety of sound modes, starting with automatic volume leveling, a speech clarity enhancement and “night mode” designed to reduce the number of manual volume adjustments users have to make. Separate modes for home theater and music can pipe stereo through the surround speakers or leave it in the soundbar only. The system sounded very good in my demo but I’ll wait until our audio expert Ty Pendlebury can hear it in CNET’s lab — and compare it to systems like the Vizio — to render judgement.

rokuhometheaterpairing

rokuhometheaterpairing

Roku

I also asked whether you could use the system without the soundbar, for example, by pairing two sets of Roku wireless speakers, but Roku’s reps told me that wasn’t currently possible. To use Roku’s speakers as surrounds you’ll need the soundbar too.

There are some differences between the speakers sold at places like Roku.com and Walmart’s Onn versions. According to Roku the Onn soundbar offers less power (40W versus the Roku Smart Soundbar’s 60W) different drivers, and the cheaper Roku IR remote with TV power controls. The Onn Roku Wireless Subwoofer features a 10-inch driver like the Roku Wireless Subwoofer, but is slightly smaller and features 150 peak watts of power versus 250 watts. Finally, the Onn Roku Wireless Surround Speakers are sonically the same as the Roku TV Wireless Speakers, but offer a different finish and don’t include the Roku TV Voice remote or the Roku Touch tabletop remote.

The free software upgrade enabling Roku’s surround functionality rolls out this February. Look forward to CNET’s full review then.

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