How many soundbars out there can stream Netflix? At least one, and it’s called the Roku Streambar. While plenty of TVs and Blu-ray players come equipped with operating systems to launch your favorite streaming services, Roku has taken the plunge in creating a new kind of hybrid device.
The Roku Streambar’s 2-in1 functionality might be unique. But, is it needed? While I’ll discuss the pros and cons of the Streambar here, there is definitely a place for this device. From its surprisingly robust sound to its rock-solid interface and more, this tiny soundbar is the perfect upgrade for certain setups. It’s not a replacement for a full home-theatre or ideal for a larger space, but smaller rooms like a bedroom or a small living room will find this an excellent addition, especially considering how atrocious TV speakers typically are.
If you have an aging soundbar, want to limit the amount of devices in your setup, or only have a TV and want to add to it, read on to see if the Roku Streambar is the right investment for you.
Roku Streambar review: price and release date
One of Roku’s strengths over the years has been the affordability of its products. And, it’s no different with the Roku Streambar, which launched in October 2020 for $129.99/£129.99. Consider that the Roku Express 4k+ has the same set-top box capabilities as the Streambar, and costs $39.99 (or the Roku Express 4k for £39.99). On top of that, most of the soundbars under $100 are very stripped-down affairs from budget TV manufacturers. So, for the functionality of both a set-top box and a soundbar it is quite a steal when it comes to value.
It’s an even better value when you keep in mind that Roku also makes wireless speakers ($149.99) and a wireless subwoofer ($179.99) that can pair with the Streambar for a more well-rounded TV audio setup. Unfortunately, Roku doesn’t offer any bundles and the speakers and subwoofer need to be purchased separately. And, the wireless speakers and subwoofer don’t seem to be available in the UK at the moment.
Roku Streambar Review: Design and Features
The Roku Streambar is among the smaller soundbars out there, coming in at 2.4 x 14 x 4.2 inches (61 x 356 x 107 mm). It’s possibly the smallest that I’ve ever seen. And, while it shares the basic design of most soundbars, it looks a tad different. Instead of the typical boxy rectangle shape, the front edges are rounded to give it a little more character.
In fact, it has an almost space-age look to it. A contributing factor is that there are no controls anywhere on the unit. It’s incredibly minimalist, with just the word Roku emblazoned on the grill. There’s an LED above that but is only visible when the Streambar is on. And, the grill hides four 1.9” drivers, two forward facing, and two that angle outwards where the Streambar rounds off.
All the ports are lined up on the back. Unfortunately, it comes with the bare minimum, including an optical, HDMI, and USB 2.0 along with the power jack and a reset button, not to mention two mounting sockets. I would have preferred a second HDMI port over the optical one.
At least, the one included HDMI port supports ARC, which it should be noted is a requirement for the TV the Streambar will be plugged into. The use of an ARC-enabled HDMI somewhat mitigates the lack of HDMI ports since you can plug any extra peripherals, such as gaming systems, Blu-ray players, and the like into your TV, and the Roku Streambar will still function as a soundbar. The USB port is also a nice addition for anyone that has a media server or hard drive filled with their own content. I was able to easily playback movies off an old hard drive through the Roku Media Player app.
The Roku Streambar also has Bluetooth connectivity. Considering that its place is most likely going to be a bedroom or small living room, this additional feature makes having a smart speaker somewhat redundant in the same room. And, the sound will be at least on par if not better than most smart speakers.
The remote that comes with the Roku Streambar will be very familiar to anyone that’s owned a Roku before. It’s an improvement over older remotes since there’s an indentation underneath for the remote to rest on a finger or two, making it a little more ergonomic and easier to hold. It also comes with a voice remote feature that works as intended.
One of the coolest features of the Roku Streambar is something that doesn’t come in the box and that is its ability to expand into a fuller home theatre experience. Though you have to buy them separately, you can get a wireless subwoofer to get the full bass experience and a pair of wireless speakers for a surround sound setup. That modularity is something you typically see more with higher-end home theatre systems, so it’s nice to see the ability to add to the Streambar as your budget or space allows.
Roku Streambar review: performance
Setting up the Roku Streambar is a snap. Plug in the power cable and connect it via the ARC-enabled HDMI port on the TV, follow the prompts, and you’ll be watching in no time. With its 802.11ac dual-band, MIMO wireless connectivity, there won’t be any connection issues either.
The Roku software is pretty straightforward, utilizing a tile layout with all your apps listed by thumbnail that makes it very easy to navigate. The apps boot up and run without issue, the kind of rock-solid performance that quite a few off-brand TV interfaces don’t provide. You probably already have a smart TV but getting to Disney+ or Hulu can be a chore, whether it’s because the TV’s interface is laggy or because the interface is unintuitive. The experience with the Roku, thankfully, software is streamlined and smooth.
The software on the Streambar includes some additional settings that are typically not available on Roku devices – Sound Mode lets you boost or cut the bass, Volume Mode compresses the sound so nothing’s too quiet or loud, and Speech Clarity makes voices cut through if you have trouble hearing them.
These settings all do as advertised, though I found the Sound Mode to be fairly subtle since there’s not a lot of low end to begin with. Meanwhile, the Volume Mode is effective at keeping loud sounds from surprising you, or more importantly, a sleeping roommate or spouse when watching something at night. The most useful to most people, however, will be the Speech Clarity feature as it works very well. Dialogue in plenty of shows can be hard to hear on 2.0 systems, and this feature does a great job of remedying that.
As far as the sound goes, it is a vast improvement over any set of speakers a TV will have. The Streambar, like most small soundbars, is a 2.0 stereo system, meaning you’re just hearing the left and right audio. There’s no surround sound or Dolby Atmos here. Despite that, the sound itself is clear and full.
The soundbar starts to lose clarity when you turn the volume up past 60 or so (out of 100). While the amount of volume available on this little guy is surprisingly loud, it doesn’t sound good at its upper limits. However, if you use the soundbar in a smaller room, you probably won’t pass the 50 mark. You’ll have more than enough volume on tap to hear everything clearly at lower volume settings.
As far as the sound frequency goes, the highs are not overly detailed, this is not an audiophile system after all, but they’re still pretty good. Audio comes through clear and crisp enough to keep most people happy. The mids are present so that the audio sounds full despite coming from such a tiny device. The small stature of the soundbar impacts the bass the most, though. There just isn’t very much there. You won’t feel the rumble from explosions or action-packed scenes with the Roku Streambar. But, that’s to be expected with an audio device this diminutive.
The Streambar does a good job with its sound separation, but its soundstage is not very wide. Though Roku has angled its outer speakers for a wider sound, its size means you’re limited in how wide the soundstage will be. There’s just no substitute to having speakers spaced out to deliver that immersive sound. With that said, it will at least be on par with whatever TV you’re connecting it to. And, for use in a smaller setup where this belongs, the smaller soundstage is far from a dealbreaker.
Roku Streambar Review: Verdict
The Roku Streambar is an ideal choice for smaller setups, whether you want a minimalist setup in your bedroom or you’re working with a smaller living room and have limited space. It’s compact, very feature-rich, delivers decent sound, and does all of that at a price that rivals budget soundbars that come without all those additional features.
Its tiny size is a mixed blessing though. Most of its issues stem from that size, whether it’s the lack of bass, narrow soundstage, or its limited number of ports. Thankfully, its modular capability means that you can add a subwoofer or wireless speakers to remedy at least the sound-related issues for a price that still barely gets into the mid-range soundbar price range.
Roku Streambar review: also consider
If the Roku Streambar sounds perfect to you, except that it’s too small, then consider the Roku Streambar Pro, which goes for $179.99 (not currently available in the UK). It comes with larger drivers to pump out more volume, has a more feature-filled remote, and doesn’t lose any of the features of the Roku Streambar, such as the ability to add those wireless speakers and subwoofer.
If you’re looking for a feature-rich soundbar and don’t care about the streaming interface – maybe you already have a Roku or Apple TV, for instance – then the Polk Audio React ($249/£249) is the soundbar for you. It integrates seamlessly with Alexa so you can also use it as a smart speaker. And, like the Streambars, you can add wireless speakers and a subwoofer for a fuller experience.