Living Rooms have been streamlining for the last decade or so. TVs have been getting thinner and thinner. Messes of cords have been collapsing into single HDMI cables. Set-top boxes have been replacing DVD players, cable boxes, and even video-game consoles. Network cords have been disappearing in favor of wireless signals. But our home theaters are still a complex mess. We often have three or four remotes to control the different things in our home theater. What if you could get full sound while making your home theater that much simpler? That’s the goal of Polk’s Command Bar, an Amazon Alexa-integrated soundbar with a host of functions and some killer features in a $299 package.
Build and Style
At first glance, it looks like exactly what it is – a soundbar had a baby with an Echo Dot. It has the classic look of a soundbar, but the multi-colored ring in the middle marks it as an Alexa-integrated device.
My thought immediately upon pulling it out of the box is just how big it is. The subwoofer is the same downward-firing subwoofer as we saw in Polk’s Magnifi Mini previously, but the soundbar is a different beast altogether. Where that one was meant to fit into small spaces and get out of the way, the Command Bar seems to take up about as much space as a sound bar can take.
At 43 inches wide, this thing is going to be well-suited to a place under a 55-inch TV, but will look oversized under smaller screens, especially if you choose to mount it beneath or, heaven forbid, above the television. It’s a pretty deep sound bar, too, at 4-inches from front to back, to allow for that Alexa ring.
With that said, it’s still a pretty good-looking piece of hardware. The soundbar itself is clothed in black fabric, with a matte-black deck for the Alexa controls. The subwoofer is plastic again, but it’s wireless, so you can get it out of sight – it won’t dominate your room the same way the bar itself could.
The remote, meanwhile, has a slightly more premium look than some Polk remotes. It’s black and gold again, but it has a soft-touch rubberized feel and rounded edges everywhere you look. There’s an Alexa button on it, though there’s no microphone inside. There are buttons for both of the HDMI ports – more on that in a bit – as well as for switching between TV and Bluetooth modes, and for independently adjusting the volume of bass and of on-screen voices.
While I tend to prefer to use a universal remote for this stuff – or voice commands – it’s not a bad remote at all.
The Command Bar stands out from the competition in a few ways. This is the first (and only at the time of this writing) Alexa speaker with multiple inputs that you can change with your voice.
On the back, you’ll find a whole host of ports. Aside from the usual power and sub-woofer sync stuff, there are two HDMI ports, a USB power port, and an optical audio (S/PDIF) port.
Both of the HDMI ports are HDMI 2.0b ports, making them 4K and HDR compliant. HDMI 2 is labeled specifically as being designed for the Amazon Fire TV 4K or Fire TV Stick, but it should work fine with any HDMI device you can throw at it. The HDMI Out port is an ARC (Audio Return Channel) port, which will allow you to control the volume of the soundar with your TV, should you choose. It also allows the device to work as a passthrough for those other HDMI ports. HDMI ARC is one of those features that can be tough for people with lots of devices to implement because it means giving up one of your HDMI ports, but this not only lets you keep that port, it gives you a second one to use.
The HDMI ARC feature makes connecting the soundbar incredibly easy, and the pre-synced wireless soundbar Just Worked – all I had to to was plug it into the power outlet. It can go anywhere in your living room without any worry about whether you’ll need to run any audio cables to make it work.
To get the soundbar connected to Alexa, you’ll download the Polk Connect app. I found the setup quite easy on my Google Pixel, though you’ll want to make sure to follow the prompts closely. One step involves connecting to the Command Bar as a Wi-Fi network, and if you don’t tell it to connect anyway even though the command bar isn’t online, it’ll just drop the connection.
The soundbar will also connect to your wireless network through the Polk app to establish Alexa access.
You can run commands like “Alexa, turn off the lights” if you have Alexa-compatible lighting gear in your smart home, as well as telling it to play music through services like Spotify and Amazon Music. If you plug in a Fire TV stick, you can tell it to play things on video services like Netflix. If you haven’t set up an Alexa device before, you’ll have to go through setting up the Alexa app, but once that’s done it can pretty much do anything your other Alexa audio devices can do. Calendars, sports, lists, and skills are all there, for example.
One particularly nice feature is that even when the audio pumping out of the speaker is quite loud, Alexa still was able to hear me and respond quickly. I didn’t have a chance to fill a room full of people to test it that way, but even with a heavy action sequence going full blast, Alexa still heard me as if I was talking in a silent room.
Despite this, it is missing a feature here and there that some people might be looking for.
Most notably, it doesn’t connect to other Alexa devices. That means it won’t do Alexa multi-room audio. In fact, consider the Command Bar a closed system for the time being. There isn’t a way to link it up to any outside speakers, whether for actual 5.1 play or into a whole-house audio system.
But before all that Alexa stuff even matters, the sound bar has to sound good. I spent about a couple months with it is my main audio source for gaming and TV, playing through Spider-Man twice and binge-watching my way through shows like Iron Fist and Bojack Horseman.
As an everyday piece of hardware, the Command Bar gets the job done and does it well.
When I pointed my phone at it for a Bluetooth connection, I was impressed with what I heard. A soundbar is never going to beat a proper set of speakers, but I was pretty happy with how they sounded for the most part. Listening to Metallica’s Black Album, drums were as snappy as I’d hoped. Plugging in Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” gave me clear, clean audio with better instrument separation than I would’ve expected from a soundbar. The big subwoofer offers very satisfying bass that went as loud as I’d let it go in my apartment building.
It’s not perfect, though. The highs were a little rougher on my ears than I would’ve liked. The trumpets in Miles Davis’ “Blue in Green” were a bit brighter than I like, as were the vocals on Thee Michelle Gun Elephant’s “Akage no Kelly.” On Kyuss’ “Green Machine,” vocals sounded weirdly “set back” – they felt placed further away than I’m used to.
On the gaming side, the real crucial thing is the bass needed to deliver the booms and bangs that come with action games, and the Command bar does that in spades. Movies play well, too, especially when you factor in the flexibility offered by Polk’s excellent VoiceAdjust functionality.
At $299, the Command Bar isn’t a bad choice, but it’s not without a few flaws. It’s really big. The Alexa ring in the middle is really prominent, and if you switch audio modes or inputs, Alexa mutes the audio for a second to tell you. Because it’s so much flatter than most other soundbars, it may be tough to get mounted to a wall or home theater stand in a way that looks acceptable.
As a piece of home theater equipment, it’s a great-sounding soundbar overall, especially for movies and games. The musical shortcomings I mostly picked up on because these are songs that I’ve listened to literally hundreds of times. They’re minor shortcomings in my opinion, and won’t stand out to most people in my estimation.
The lack of multiroom play and inability to expand with other speakers may be a downside for some, but the extra HDMI port is going to be a boon to others, as are the variety of options for connecting it to your television.
It does what a lot of other soundbars do, and more, while sitting itself right in the middle price-wise. If you have the right setup for this soundbar, you’ll like what it can do.
Disclaimer: We spent a month and a half with the Polk Command bar as the primary home theater audio device and used it for movies, gaming, and music extensively before starting this review.
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