Advertisement

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Advertisement

Polk Command Bar review: The best soundbar under £300

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
228
inc VAT

Part soundbar, part smart speaker, and amazingly good value – this is the best budget soundbar money can buy

Pros 
Reasonably priced
Alexa functions work well
Sounds great for the money
Cons 
Sub and bar sometimes disconnect
Mushy buttons on remote
Advertisement

The modern lounge is inundated with remote controls. Remotes for your TV, remotes for your speakers, for your set-top box, home-theatre receiver, Blu-ray player, robot vacuum and streaming sticks. Universal remotes because you’re fed up needing so many other remote controls, and controllers for your games consoles. And, no matter what you do, they’re never where you need them when you want to sit down, kick back and relax.

This is a problem the Polk Command Bar aims to solve. It’s a soundbar with built-in Amazon Alexa support – a soundbar that frees you from the tyranny of at least one remote control, so you don’t have to spend five minutes looking for it before you can kickstart your latest Netflix binge.

READ NEXT: The best soundbars for every budget

Polk Command Bar review: What you need to know

It does come with its own infrared remote control as well, for those who prefer to point and click, but the big attraction of the Polk is its voice control. To this end, embedded right in the centre of the soundbar is what looks like the top panel from a regular Amazon Echo, complete with circular, polychromatic status LED to indicate whether it’s heard you or not, volume up and down buttons, a mute button and action button.

This is also where the far-field microphone array is situated; just like a regular Echo, the Command Bar can hear you whether the music’s turned right up or it’s really quiet in the room.

Essentially, the Polk Command Bar is a giant Echo speaker that just happens to resemble a soundbar. It measures 1,090mm wide, so is suitable for TVs from 49in in size, and its low height of 50.8mm means it can comfortably sit on your media unit without obscuring your view of the screen. It can be wall-mounted, too, if you wish.

In the box is a separate wireless subwoofer to deliver explosions and in-movie rumblings, and this is reasonably small and neat too – around the size of a wastepaper bin and built mainly from plastic. Connectivity is decent. As well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, you have all the connections you’d expect a soundbar to have. At the rear of the bar, in a small cutout, is a pair of HDMI 2.0b inputs, plus one HDMI ARC-enabled output (audio return channel), an optical input and a USB Type-A port capable of powering accessories up to 9W.

Handily, one of those HDMI inputs is mounted sideways, and there’s enough space next to it to accommodate a TV streamer, so you can fit and power an Amazon Fire TV Stick without needing cables dangling all over the place.

How does it work? As a smart speaker, the answer is just great, and not solely for regular Alexa requests. You can use it to turn on your lights, set timers and add items to your shopping list – as you can with all Alexa-based speakers – but the big bonus is that you can also use your voice as a regular remote control.

You ask Alexa to turn the volume up and down, pause and play, skip back and forward and switch inputs; most of what you can do with the soundbar’s regular infrared remote control, in other words. It’s a fantastic thing to live with and you quickly get used to using your voice to do everything you would normally do with the remote control.

As a regular soundbar, the Polk Command Bar is simple but effective. It’s a 2.1 unit, so it can’t deliver true surround sound like more expensive soundbar setups, but it has all the tools to deliver significantly enhanced sound over your standard TV speakers. There’s 160W of Class D amplification in the soundbar, driving a pair of 3in wide oval mid/woofers and two 1in tweeters. In the subwoofer, you’ve got a 100W Class D amp driving a 6.5in woofer.

It sounds great. Not, perhaps, as detailed at the top end as Samsung’s best soundbars at this price, or as musical as the Cambridge Audio TV2 or the Q Acoustics Media M4, but for just over £200 it’s pretty darned good. Voices come through clearly in the centre even though there are no dedicated centre channel drivers and, when you’re struggling to make them out, you can boost them using the Voice Adjust feature.

You can tweak the bass up and down, too, and there are three presets to choose from: Movie, Sports and Night modes, the latter of which reduces the bass intensity so you can watch late at night without disturbing the neighbours.

The subwoofer is surprisingly good. Although it’s relatively light and feels insubstantially constructed, it delivers low-end material with gusto. Almost too much, in fact; I found I had to reduce the bass level significantly when listening to music or risk drowning out everything else. And although there’s not much in the way of surround-sound effect – you wouldn’t expect there to be with a 2.1 channel setup like this – the Polk Command Bar presents soundtracks and music in a clean and highly listenable fashion.

The only negative things I can find to say about the Polk Command Bar are that, first, the buttons on the remote are a bit spongy and, second, the wireless subwoofer would occasionally fail to hook up with the soundbar when powering up the system. Most of the time this would rectify itself within a minute or two (and re-pairing is a simple process), but it’s a small annoyance to be sure.

Finally, while the Command Bar supports most Alexa features, it doesn’t support every single one. You can’t, for instance, use it for calls or Drop In and, although it supports Alexa multiroom with Tune-in and Amazon Music, it won’t work with Spotify just yet.

Polk Command Bar review: Price and competition

For the money, though, there are few soundbars that come close to the Polk Command Bar for value for money. You can expect to pay around £230 for one these days and, essentially, it’s unbeatable at this price.

The Q Acoustics Media 4 (M4) sounds superb and costs £187, but it doesn’t come with a separate subwoofer or Alexa compatibility. The Sky Soundbox (from £249 for Sky customers) is a phenomenal TV speaker but, again, doesn’t come with a sub or voice control. Neither does the £199 Cambridge Audio TV2 sound base, and the Sonos Beam, which does have Alexa and is almost double the price, doesn’t come with a sub.

Polk Command Bar review: Verdict

All things considered, then, the Polk Command Bar is a fantastically good-value soundbar package. It’s the TV speaker you should buy if you don’t have potfuls of cash to splash on improving your TV’s audio output.

Not only does it sound good with all types of content, but it’s also a smart speaker you can control with your voice. Since nothing else on the market offers this much for so little, it’s our new favourite low-cost soundbar and thoroughly deserves its Best Buy award.

Read more

Reviews