First things first: If you don't own a Roku TV -- a Roku-powered model from the likes of TCL, Insignia or Sharp -- don't even consider buying the Roku TV Wireless Speakers. They simply won't work. At all. Even if you have a Roku streamer.
Plenty of people do own a Roku TV, however. The smart TV platform is growing its market share every year -- three of the top five best-selling TVs on Amazon are TCL Rokus, for example. And if you have one of them, the company's new wireless speakers offer a painless way to improve audio quality.
Dialog sounds better than you'll ever get from your Roku TV's built-in speakers, and music has much more snap. Since this is a pair of actual stereo speakers, the image is wider and more involving than a sound bar. So getting these instead of a good sound bar must be a no-brainer right? Not exactly.
If movies and TV are your thing, a sound bar -- especially one with a wireless sub -- will still sound better. The Roku speakers' Achilles' heel is bass response, and action movies are particularly affected with a flattened performance compared to a bar like the crazy-cheap. This bass-shyness can also impinge on rock and electronic music, but overall the speakers still beat a bar for music, thanks to that wider separation.
The Roku wireless speakers are not the sound bar killer I hoped for, but they are articulate, ridiculously easy to set up, and ideal for music-loving Roku TV owners.
Basic voice via two remotes
Roku announced its newest multiroom system -- Roku Connect -- at CES 2018. The announced may as well be vaporware, and Roku's first speakers don't even bear the "Connect" badge. But these speakers are already different from every other multiroom speaker in that they're TV-based, and use the streaming apps and audio on a Roku TV rather than on your phone.
I guess you could call these $200 stereo speakers "smart" because you can operate them via voice. But you can't just talk out loud like you would with an Alexa or Google Assistant speaker ("Hey, Roku"). Instead you'll speak into one of the included remote controls.
The company includes the tabletop Touch remote and an updated version of your regular Roku TV controller, and both have a microphone button. The Roku Touch remote, available for $30 by itself, is weird. Physically it reminded me of a more fully featured version of an Amazon dash button. It's got a bunch of controls to command the speakers and TV, the most useful being the volume and the TV power control. The two shortcut buttons aren't used to keep "favorites" as you might expect, but "favorite voice searches." In my experience it doesn't work that well for any but the most rudimentary of searches.
Roku says the second clicker is designed to be used around the house, outside the living room, and it is useful to be able to turn off the TV from across the house. Its voice button is touch-to-talk and the mic is designed to pick up your voice from a tabletop, rather than requiring you to hold it up to your mouth.
Does the TV need to be on to use this speaker for music? Yes and no. If you use Bluetooth, then no, but I found if I used Spotify Connect the TV would come on automatically. Roku says activating Fast TV Start should prevent the screen from coming on and you can press the star button to turn the screen off if unneeded.
Voice options and search are restricted to entertainment, just like other Roku devices. You can ask for video content from the main Roku channels or music via iHeartRadio, Pandora and TuneIn by voice. I found that the microphone can only be used for the most basic searches such as artist radio, as often requesting individual tracks didn't work. With the latest update the speakers and TV are now also Spotify Connect compatible.