In this Polk Audio React review, we're looking at a cheap soundbar that doesn't skimp on options, and offers a good-looking design that doesn't make it feel low-price.
The Polk Audio React is clearly a smarter buy than your average budget soundbar, though. It has Amazon Alexa built-in so that it acts as a smart speaker, and also offers a clear and easy path for those that want to upgrade from stereo to 5.1 surround sound.
The React is a stereo proposition out of the box, but it will decode Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 with surround speakers and subwoofer attached.
For this review, we're looking just at the Polk Audio React in its cheapest, single soundbar guise. Do you really need to buy extra boxes to get a great TV sound upgrade?
As it happens, no you don’t, because this is one of the best soundbars in its price bracket even without the add-ons.
Polk Audio React review: Price & features
The Polk Audio React soundbar sells for a competitive £249/€299/$249. If you want to expand your Polk system to surround sound, Polk’s SR2 wireless surround speakers sell for £159/€179/$199 a pair, while the React Sub is £179/€199/$199. This would make a full 5.1 setup £587/€677/$647, which is pretty competitive (and a fraction of the price of an equivalent Sonos setup).
Its built-in Amazon Alexa functionality means that it behaves just like an Echo, so you can say "Alexa" and then make your requests, whether that's for information or to control smart home products. But it means it also works as part of an Alexa Multi-Room music system, which allows multiple Amazon Echo products to be paired in a group. You can also use it to drop-in on other connected Amazon devices, and voice chat – if you already have Echo Dots around the house, this might be perfect living room addition.
There’s no Chromecast support on-board or AirPlay 2, but you do have Bluetooth.
Polk Audio React review: Performance
The React soundbar has been tuned by the Polk Audio team in Baltimore, USA, and they clearly like a forward, forceful sound presentation. There’s nothing particularly subtle about the React’s delivery, but that’s undoubtedly the point. Polk speakers have a reputation for no nonsense value and performance, and that’s exactly what you get here.
While not Dolby Atmos enabled, the React’s soundstage is reassuringly wide and dynamic. Its punchy delivery makes it particularly entertaining with action movies – there’s a lot of steerage left and right, great for everything from fast moving chases on tarmac to swooshing in deep space. Meanwhile, a well-rounded mid-range rewards with talky dramas and reality shows.
Of course, the React also does the small stuff, creating ambiance and presence with small sonic details, but it’s at its best with boisterous content.
Don’t expect any faux surround sound or 3D audio height though. There’s no towering wall of sound or wraparound effects on offer, this is very much a stereophonic proposition.
The React’s driver array comprises two mid-range speakers, a pair of 25mm tweeters, and two passive radiators to solidify bass delivery.
Power output isn’t disclosed, but the React isn’t short of volume. It’s more than capable of filling a smaller viewing room. Crank it up and lower bass can get a little boomy, but there’s enough flexibility provided by the remote control (bass/treble and four audio presets) to balance the sound accordingly.
While we think most users will take this stereo soundbar at face value, it can be upgraded for a more cinematic experience, using Polk’s SR2 wireless rear surround speakers (no need to run loudspeaker cable) and the React Sub wireless subwoofer, a compact enclosure with 7-inch long-throw woofer. You’ll find the pairing button to sync them round the back of the bar.
The addition of the sub adds low level slam, but for those who value floor space, the React bar still delivers reassuring mid-range grunt. If you live in an apartment, your neighbours might thank you for giving deeper bass a miss, anyway.
The four sound modes on offer comprise Night, Music, Sport and Movies. Each offers a slight EQ tweak which suits their intended purpose. The Movie preset proves the most versatile, it pushes audio forward rather than thins out, and sounds great with most types of content.
There’s also a Voice Adjust option to lift dialogue, useful if you find TV dialogue muddled and hard to hear.
Obviously you’ll want the React to play music, either via Bluetooth streaming, or voice command, and the React can hold a tune. While we would hesitate to label the React a high-fidelity speaker (it just doesn’t have the musicality) when positioned as an alternative to Amazon’s Echo family of smart speakers, it’s a comparable listen. As a general purpose Bluetooth speaker then, it makes an agreeable noise.
Polk Audio React review: Design & usability
The React is straightforward to set up, and is easy on the eye. Mirroring Amazon’s own Echo speakers, even down to the use of Amazon’s Alexa app, we were up and running in a matter of minutes.
It’s a relatively low profile bar at just 56mm tall, and can be wall mounted if required. Accommodating it on AV furniture shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Measuring 864mm wide, it should be suitable for 43-inch TVs and up.
Supplied is a dumpy little remote with volume, bass/voice adjustment and those music presets.
Connectivity is basic, restricted to a single HDMI (v2.0) with ARC support. There's no HDMI passthrough, which means that by plugging in this soundbar, you'll lose the ability to connect other devices to whichever is your TV's ARC port, so bear that in mind.
If you don’t have an HDMI ARC output, there’s also a digital optical audio input for older screens. There’s also a USB port on the rear, but this is only for service duties, not media playback.
Overall build quality is impressive. Wrapped in acoustically transparent cloth front, top and sides, the React looks quite upscale. Its Alexa control interface sits dead centre, mimicking what you see on any Echo speaker.
There are four far-field microphones built-in which respond to standard wake word instructions. Even at volume, these could pick-up our commands and activate Alexa.
Polk Audio React review: Verdict
We rate the Polk React as a highly entertaining, easy to use smart soundbar. Its integration with Amazon Alexa is neatly done, and while we appreciate that it can be upgraded for genuine 5.1, its performance as a standalone stereo soundbar it warrants at least one and a half thumbs up.
Adding weight and excitement to TV audio, while also doubling as a Bluetooth smart speaker, it comfortably outperforms its price tag, and is a great option if you're looking at this budget level.
Polk Audio React review: Also consider
The main competition here is from Yamaha, and we'd draw your attention to our Yamaha SR-B20A review if you want something a little cheaper but also marginally more basic, or our Yamaha SR-C20A review if you want something the same price, and that we gave a full five stars to.
Neither offers the Amazon Alexa support of the React, but the SR-C20A in particular is one hell of a performer for the price.
If you would like something a bit more cinematic than the stereo of the Polk or the two Yamahas, the Sony HT-G700 is only a little more expensive (in the UK – the price varies worldwide), but includes Dolby Atmos support and virtual surround, and really ups the game for positional audio. It also has the benefits of an included subwoofer, and a 4K HDR HDMI passthrough, so you won't lose the use of the port you plug it into. Here's our full Sony HT-G700 review, which we really rated at the time, but has now come down in price a lot.