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Polk React review: An attractive, affordable Alexa soundbar

24 Jun 2021
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
249
inc VAT

If you're after a competitively priced Alexa-enabled soundbar, the Polk React is just the ticket

Pros 
Simple to setup and use
Amazon Alexa built-in
Solid sound quality
Cons 
Limited physical input options
Underwhelming virtual surround sound
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As our homes get smarter and we become more reliant on voice assistants to manage the minutiae of our lives, it’s crucial our audio devices keep up. As a result, we’re seeing an increasing number of soundbars incorporating smart functionality in some form, with the Polk React a case in point.

Polk is no stranger to smart soundbars. The Google Assistant-enabled Signa S3 and MagniFi Mini both impressed us sufficiently to earn places on our best soundbars list, while the Command soundbar and subwoofer combo comes with Amazon Alexa built-in. The React takes a leaf out of the latter’s book, with Alexa fully integrated into the bar. The difference with this bar is that it’s available to purchase separately or packaged with a choice of additional speakers.

As a standalone bar, it does a good job of improving your TV audio but in-built Alexa and the reasonable price tag are the big selling points here. If you’re already part of Amazon’s smart ecosystem and looking for an affordable soundbar to join the family, the Polk React is just the ticket.

Polk React soundbar review: What do you get for the money?

The Polk React soundbar will set you back £249. That gets you the soundbar, HDMI and optical cables for connecting to your TV, a remote control with two AAA batteries included and a pair of wall mounting spacers.

Adding a pair of Polk SR2 rear speakers to the mix raises the price to £408, while a soundbar and subwoofer combination is available for £428. For a true surround sound experience, you’ll want the full package, which includes both the rear speakers and subwoofer for £587. The rear speakers and sub can be bought separately at a later date if you’re ready to splash that kind of cash right away.

The soundbar itself is a compact enough affair, measuring 940 x 120 x 50mm (WDH). Those dimensions saw it slot neatly in front of the feet of the 50” Hisense Roku TV in my living room without obscuring the screen or taking up too much room on the TV bench.

It looks sleek, too, with dark grey fabric covering the front and top of the bar save for a pleasingly straightforward control panel located on its crest. There are just four control buttons on the panel: volume up and volume down buttons, an action button used to wake Alexa and one to mute the mics when you want a bit of privacy.

The colour of the small LED positioned dead centre on the front of the bar reflects the status of the React. Blue represents a Bluetooth connection, purple shows you’re in night mode and orange (PCM), green (Dolby) and yellow (DTS) demonstrate which audio format is being used. Just above that LED is a familiar blue light bar that illuminates when you summon Alexa and pulses when she’s in action.

Physical connections are limited to a solitary HDMI port and an optical port located on the rear of the bar. The HDMI port is of the ARC variety meaning you can use the soundbar to play audio from any source connected to your TV. It would have been nice to see Polk incorporate the newer eARC format, while an HDMI input, AUX-in and input option for a subwoofer would also have been welcome inclusions.

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The latter is a frustrating omission for those that already own a subwoofer but an understandable one given that Polk is eager for you to pick up its wireless React sub in addition to the soundbar.

In terms of wireless connectivity, the React requires you to be on a WiFi network to take advantage of its Alexa functionality but also offers Bluetooth streaming should you want to play audio directly from your phone, tablet or laptop.

Polk React soundbar review: How easy is it to set up?

I found setting up the Polk React an absolute breeze - it took no more than five minutes to get up and running after being taken out of the box.

Once you’ve connected it to the mains and your TV you’ll need to complete the setup in the Amazon Alexa app. If you own other Alexa-enabled devices you’ll know that this is a swift process.

As soon as I went to add a device I received a notification alerting me the soundbar was ready to be connected. Connect the bar to your Wi-Fi network, scan the barcode on the back of the device and you’re good to go.

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Polk React soundbar review: How does it sound?

I wasn’t blown away by the audio quality of the Polk React at first listen. But as I spent more time using it, I came to appreciate the nuances of its sound modes and the small tweaks you can make to enhance your audio experience based on what you’re watching.

There are three main sound profiles to select from: music, movie and sport. There’s also a night mode, which reduces bass while boosting dialogue to allow you to watch content safe in the knowledge a sudden on-screen explosion won’t wake the neighbours.

Movie mode has the widest, most immersive soundstage and bass reproduction is impactful without affecting the clarity of mids and treble. As the earth’s crust began to give way during the sci-fi disaster movie, 2012, the low-end thumps and rumbles successfully added to the sense of impending doom. However, I was still able to make out every word of dialogue along with high-pitched sound effects as cars and houses were swallowed up by the ground beneath them.

Music mode is equally competent but bass isn’t quite as weighty, allowing songs with a vocal component to shine. The bassline on Black Box’s “Ride on Time” hit home with a decent whack but played second fiddle to the singer’s piercing voice, which was reproduced clearly and crisply.

Sports mode pushes bass even further back in the audio mix, bringing commentary and crowd noises into greater focus. I actually found the prominence of the commentary a little jarring while watching football but it worked better while watching Test cricket, where the summarisers’ analysis was less incessant and frantic.

Polk’s proprietary Voice Adjust technology provides an effective way to boost dialogue clarity regardless of which mode you’re in. It can be increased or decreased by up to four notches; +2 proved the sweet spot for me, ensuring I could hear every word no matter what I was watching. The only other audio adjustment option available is a bass equaliser, which can be accessed via the Alexa app or on the included infrared remote.

Polk says the React soundbar delivers room-filling virtual surround without the need for additional speakers but for a truly immersive experience you’re going to want the full 5.1 surround speaker system. The soundbar certainly provided a significant step up in audio quality from my TV speakers but, unsurprisingly, didn’t have the depth or breadth of sound you’d get by adding a pair of rear speakers and a subwoofer.

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Polk React soundbar review: How well is Alexa integrated?

The range of smart functions the React offers is comprehensive. Basic soundbar controls like adjusting volume and bass are supported, as are Alexa Skills and the management of your various smart home devices.

The React also supports more advanced features including Alexa Communications and Alexa Multi-Room Music. The former lets you use the React as an intercom to communicate with others in your household or make phone calls, while the latter enables you to pair the bar with other Alexa-enabled speakers to enjoy music across multiple rooms.

The Polk React’s four far-field microphones picked up my commands consistently well at a range of distances. With the volume cranked right up I had to shout to be heard but that’s understandable given how loud the soundbar can get. The only real issue I had with the React’s Alexa controls came when I wanted to switch to Sport mode. After politely asking Alexa to switch to it, I would always be met with the same response: “I can’t set this mode on this device”. I didn’t experience the same problem when switching between the other three audio modes, however.

That issue aside, the various smart components of the React worked without a hitch and were executed with only a brief delay between my command and the action. It still proved quicker to execute basic actions using the remote when it was to hand, though. It's worth noting that Alexa's audio responses are rather loud. I didn't find it too egregious, but my girlfriend, whose ears are a lot more sensitive than mine, did mention it on a couple of occasions.

Polk React soundbar review: Should you buy it?

The Polk React is a soundbar that will appeal to those already invested in the Alexa ecosystem and smart soundbar novices alike. It offers comprehensive Alexa integration combined with solid sound quality and a low-profile form factor at a competitive price.

Its closest competition (from soundbars we’ve tested) comes from the Sonos Beam, which sounds superb and supports Alexa or Google Assistant but is significantly more expensive at £400 and doesn’t support the calling or drop-in features the React does.

The Denon DHT-S216 is our favourite-sounding bar under £200 and features virtual 3D audio courtesy of DTS Virtual:X, while Polk’s own Signa S3 delivers impressive audio, works with Google Assistant and comes with a subwoofer included for just £279.

But neither of those cheaper alternatives make use of Alexa, so if she’s your smart system of choice, the Polk React is the way to go.

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