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Roku smart sound bar rocks built-in streaming for $180

There's also an optional wireless sub for the same price.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Sound bars are one of the most popular ways to add improved audio to your TV, and now they let you add streaming too. The Roku smart sound bar, available for pre-order today for $180, has a full Roku operating system suite onboard, complete with thousands of apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and Spotify -- no need to add a separate media streamer. You can, however, add Roku's new wireless subwoofer, also $180 and available for pre-order today, if you want more bass.

Roku is CNET's favorite streaming TV system, with thousands of apps and a dead-simple layout. It's available in smart TVs and media streamers already, but this is the first time Roku's been baked into a sound bar. 

Roku's new speaker doesn't include a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant built-in, found on more-expensive bars like the Polk Command Bar and Sonos Beam. Like all Roku devices you can pair it with an Echo or Google Home speaker, however. And you can speak into Roku's included voice remote to use Roku's voice system, for example to find movies and TV shows. 

Here's the top-line specs

  • 32-inch stereo sound bar with four 2.5-inch speakers
  • 4K Ultra HD, HDR, 1080p & 720p HD streaming
  • Roku voice remote included
  • HDMI ARC
  • Optical audio input
  • Bluetooth
  • USB 2.0

Like many bars the Roku lacks multiple HDMI inputs. Instead it relies on HDMI ARC (audio return channel) to pass audio -- hook a game console, cable box or other device to your TV and sound passes to the bar via HDMI or (for TVs that lack ARC) the optical digital audio connection. There's also Bluetooth to handle audio from phones, and you can listen to the bar without having to fire up the TV screen at all.

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The optional wireless sub (well, wireless except for a power cable) is $180.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Adding the $180 sub doubles the price of the system, but at least it's a substantial unit. It has a sealed cabinet with a 10-inch driver, 250-watt amp, and can get down to 40Hz. Those specs mean it should outthump the smaller subs included with the Vizio SB3621 and Polk Command Bar, for example, but for that much extra, it should. Roku says the sub will also work with its Roku Wireless speakers, but it's not compatible with any other systems. Those speakers won't pair with the sound bar to add rear surrounds, however -- the Roku smart sound bar is strictly stereo.

Roku demoed the system for us and showed off some cool features, like Automatic Volume Leveling and night mode to even out peaks and valleys in the sound. There's also a speech clarity setting to improve speech intelligibility. Roku reps said that connecting a sub would automatically set up new crossover points for more seamless sound, and touted the easy setup with Roku TVs thanks to the Roku Connect protocol. We'll wait for the full review to pass judgment on sound quality.

The $180 Roku smart sound bar is comparable in price to what you'd pay for separate devices. For example, one of our favorite "dumb" bars without a sub is the $100 Vizio SB362An-F6. Pair it with the $50 4K HDR-capable Roku Streaming Stick Plus and you get a similar system for about $150. Combining a bar with a streamer in one device is arguably simpler, but dumb sound bars like the Vizio are already pretty simple to use. And if you're running the smart TV apps built into your television already -- for example, if you own a Roku TV -- you don't need to buy the streamer at all. 

Based on past experience with Roku I expect the smart sound bar to deliver a more polished experience than the JBL Link Bar, another streamer/sound bar hybrid that includes built-in Google Assistant and Android TV in a bigger (and likely better-sounding) cabinet for $400. We'll see. 

The Roku smart sound bar and wireless subwoofer go on preorder today at Roku.com and will ship in October. Best Buy will also stock both in October and for now it's the exclusive retailer -- Roku didn't say when or if the gear would make it to other stores like Amazon.

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