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Polk Command Bar review: Alexa-powered sound bar gives command performance

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Typical Price: £349.00
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The Good The Polk Command Bar offers built-in Alexa control that "hears" your voice more reliably than in competing Sonos speakers. With the help of a wireless subwoofer, sound quality is better than the Beam for both music and movies. A feast of connectivity options includes dual HDMI and the ability to mount a Fire TV Stick onboard.

The Bad The Polk has a narrower soundstage than Sonos Beam and lacks its ability to add rear speakers. It isn't (yet) compatible with Alexa multiroom. It's big, and not the most attractive sound bar on the market.

The Bottom Line The Polk Command Bar's mix of features and elevated sound quality makes it the best Alexa-compatible sound bar yet.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 9
  • Sound 7
  • Value 9

Review Sections

As any Alexa owner will tell you, having a voice-activated speaker in your house is pretty great. You can ask for the weather report, turn your lights off or request your favorite song. It has drawbacks too, including the speaker not "listening" as well you'd like, and in the case of Amazon's Echo line, delivering sound that's hardly worthy of your favorite tunes or movies.

Enter "smart sound bars." Not only are they designed to crank the volume up to cinema levels, but they can still hear you say "Alexa" without your having to shout. The Polk Command Bar is one of the first examples, although its release was overshadowed by the $399/£399/AU$599 Sonos Beam. Both sound bars have Alexa built in and improve your TV's sound significantly, and each has distinct advantages.

The Polk has the features to do pretty much everything you need a smart 'bar to do, including two HDMI inputs and the ability to switch between them with a voice command. The Command Bar is not as compact or pretty as the Sonos but then again looks aren't everything. It sounds better, and that's ultimately more important.

The Polk falls short of the Beam for multiroom music (a Sonos speciality) and flexibility -- Sonos already supports AirPlay 2 and will add Google Assistant later this year. Those capabilities could be worth the extra $100 for the right person, like someone who already owns a lot of Sonos or Apple gear. For everyone else, at this early stage in the smart sound bar race the Polk Command bar is my pick over the Beam for both sound quality and value.

The Polk Command Bar is available for $299 and comes with a free Amazon Fire Stick ($40). The sound bar will be coming to the UK later in the year for £349 and to Australia for an unannounced price -- I'd expect around AU$600.

Design

01-polk-command-bar

The Polk Command Bar is an Alexa-compatible sound bar with a wireless subwoofer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's hard to talk about the design of the speaker without first addressing the elephant in the room: yes, that thing that looks like an Amazon Echo Dot (£20 at Amazon.co.uk) in the middle. It's not actually a Dot -- putting one of those inside a loud sound bar wouldn't work that well -- but the Polk's centerpiece is designed to look and act like Amazon's ring-topped device. The microphone array that lives inside is Polk's own design. 

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"Alexa, what's the time?"

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Command Bar was created by the same team behind the excellent MagniFi Mini, and yet the only commonality is that the two sound bars share the same wireless subwoofer. The Bar's main speaker is pretty big at 43 inches wide and 4 inches deep. It houses a pair of 3-inch full-range drivers, flanked by two 1-inch tweeters placed at the extreme ends of the bar for better isolation from the microphones. The Bar's wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer is large and plastic but not unattractive.

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The drivers (and bass ports) are situated at the extreme ends of the bar.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The remote control is a step up from standard Polk fare and we liked its rounded feel. In addition to upgraded build quality, the clicker has a dedicated Alexa button. Unlike the Fire TV remote it doesn't have a microphone in it, but activates Alexa's listening mode on the sound bar. It's perfect for the times Sting is playing a little too loudly for Amazon's assistant to hear you say the "wake word".

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The remote includes a dedicated Alexa button at the top.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the shape of the sound bar is a little awkward for wall-mounting -- it needs to lie flat horizontally -- it is possible due to the included keyhole ports at the rear of the unit.

Features

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The Polk is designed to sit flat on an AV unit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Polk wanted to call its first sound bar the Echo Bar, but according to the Polk representatives I spoke to, the name was ultimately shot down by CEO Jeff Bezos himself. 

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