(Pocket-lint) - The Polk Command Bar is a soundbar and subwoofer combination that doesn't just support Alexa, it actually has Amazon's smart assistant built in. As a result you can boost the sound quality of your TV, with a wider soundstage and deeper bass, while controlling other smart devices in your home.
This 'bar also features two HDMI inputs for connecting devices, Bluetooth support, a full-sized remote control and Polk's proprietary VoiceAdjust feature. That fact you can pick all this up for just £227 is nothing short of a miracle, so is there a catch?
A commanding presence
- Soundbar (2x 80W): 1091 x 51 x 102mm
- Sub (100W): 188 x 367 x 368mm
- Available in black only
The Polk Command Bar uses an elegant design that is both long and sleek. As a result it can be paired with larger TVs, but at just over 50mm in height it also won't block the screen. The build quality is good for this price point, predominantly composed of matte black plastic with a black fabric cover. There's an LED on the front that changes colour to denote sources and modes.
The design is dominated by a circular middle section with four buttons. If it looks familiar that's because it is: Polk would appear to have literally built an Echo Dot into its new soundbar. Just like that device, there's an LED ring that indicates when Alexa has heard you, and controls for activation, volume up/down, and turning the near-field mic on and off.
The soundbar uses front left and right speakers composed of an oval midrange driver and a round tweeter. Each speaker is powered by 80W of built-in amplification and there are vents at either end. The included wireless active subwoofer is styled in matte black to match the soundbar and uses a downward-firing 165mm driver powered by 100W of amplification.
Connections and controls
- 2x HDMI input, 1x HDMI with ARC
- Optical digital audio input
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
- USB port for power
The Polk Command Bar houses its connections in a recessed area at the rear. Considering the price it's an impressive selection.
There are two HDMI inputs and an HDMI output with ARC (Audio Return Channel). All these connections are HDMI 2.0b with support for high dynamic range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision). Other connections include an optical digital input and a USB port for powering streaming devices. On the wireless side of things, there's support for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The only controls on the soundbar itself are those found in the circular central section. However, there are plenty of alternatives - including using your voice or the provided remote.
The remote is full-sized, comfortable to hold and easy to use with one hand; it's black, with a silver trim and a rubber finish, and includes all the buttons you'll need to control the soundbar. There are also controls for setting the bass level, voice level, play/pause/skip in Bluetooth, and four different sound modes (Movie, Music, Sport, and Night). There's even a button for activating Alexa, which is handy when the volume is loud and it can't hear you properly.
Setup and operation
The Polk Command Bar is incredibly easy to setup. All you really need to do is place it under your TV and plug it in. If you need to wall mount that's not a problem: there are two holes at the rear for just such a purpose.
Then simply connect your sources to the soundbar. You can either do this directly using the two HDMI inputs and the optical input, or you can connect your sources to your TV and then send the audio back to the Polk via HDMI-ARC (assuming your TV supports this).
Once everything is connected, all you need to do is position the subwoofer towards the front of the room (it should pair automatically) and if necessary, adjust the bass level. You can then choose between the Movie, Music, Sport, and Night sound modes, depending on the the content you're watching.
The LED on the front changes colour to indicate the input, audio format, and mode, but it can be difficult to remember all the different hue combinations. However, it's largely redundant, because the Command Bar also talks to you and has Alexa built-in.
The integration of Amazon's smart assistant is this soundbar's big selling-point, and anyone familiar with an Alexa-powered speaker will know what to expect.
Polk provides an app for setup and connection to your Wi-Fi network. Once completed, you can add the soundbar as a device on your Alexa app and immediately have access to your Amazon Music and Spotify accounts.
The LED ring lights up to show Alexa is listening, but also indicates the volume level. You have all the interactivity you would expect from an Alexa-enabled speaker, and you can activate the smart assistant by simply saying "Alexa" or pressing the dedicated button on the remote.
You can use your voice to control the soundbar, allowing you to switch inputs, change the volume, or select a sound mode. You can also use the Command Bar to control other aspects of your home, assuming you own some relevant smart devices.
Thanks to Bluetooth you can stream music from your phone or other paired device, but it's probably easier to just ask Alexa to play something from your Spotify or Amazon Music accounts over Wi-Fi.
Polk has recently added Amazon Multi-room functionality, which means you can now connect the Command Bar to other Alexa compatible speakers in your home. We have an Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot in our house, and had no problems playing music across all three speakers.
The less vocal amongst you have the option of using the provided zapper, and if the soundbar is connected to your TV via HDMI-ARC you can use a number of other remotes as well. In fact you can still use third-party remotes even if your TV doesn't support ARC, thanks to IR (infrared) learning.
A smart performer at a knock-out price
In case you hadn't already guessed, the Polk Command Bar is seriously smart and there's a lot to be said for a soundbar that allows you to listen to the weather forecast, switch inputs, turn on the heating and order your weekly shop without ever getting off the sofa.
However, all the bells and whistles in the world amount to nothing if it doesn't sound good. Thankfully the Command Bar is as impressive here as it is in every other aspect of its performance.
The two-channel nature of the design lends itself to music. Given the inclusion of Alexa that's particularly useful. You can stream your favourite songs over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and you can even use the Polk in conjunction with other Amazon-enabled speakers to create a multi-room system.
Listening to David Bowie's Heroes on Spotify, the Command Bar delivers a detailed performance that layers the various instruments over the driving guitar riff. The epic scope of the song is delivered with a big and open sound, while the subwoofer digs deep to give the drums more impact.
The soundbar's size and the vents at either end allow for a wide front soundstage, but despite the lack of a centre channel, vocals and dialogue remain clear and focused. However, if you feel they need greater clarity then Polk's proprietary VoiceAdjust feature can prove very effective.
The Command Bar has plenty of grunt in the amplification department, allowing it to deliver a big, room-filling sound. It's also well balanced, with the soundbar and subwoofer nicely integrated. As a result a film like Ready Player One is a surprisingly immersive experience, although there's no actual surround presence.
The four sound modes can also prove useful and the Movie option boosts the bass, giving soundtracks more weight. In comparison the Sport mode emphasises dialogue, making it useful for the news and documentaries, as well as the big match.
Music on the other hand delivers a balanced soundstage with smoother bass, making it our preferred option. Finally, there's the Night mode, which restricts the dynamic range and reduces the lower frequencies for a more family-friendly volume late at night.
The Polk Command Bar is a remarkable soundbar that offers features rarely found elsewhere at a price that is hard to believe. If it was just a 2.1-channel 'bar and sub' combo it would be worth buying thanks to an impressive audio performance, but the inclusion of HDMI inputs and a wireless active subwoofer are simply unheard of at this price point.
However, it doesn't stop there because the Command Bar also has built-in Amazon Alexa, making it a genuine smart assistant. That means you can simultaneously operate it with your voice, stream your favourite music and control other smart devices in your home - all while ordering your favourite pizza.
The bottom line: you won't find a better soundbar for the price. It's outstandingly good value and sounds great too.
Wharfedale Vista 200S
The closest logical pick as a competitor is probably the Wharfedale Vista 200S, which you can buy for £219. This soundbar comes with a separate active wireless subwoofer, a small remote, an HDMI output, and support for Bluetooth. However there are no HDMI inputs, no Wi-Fi, and definitely no built-in Alexa, giving the Polk an advantage.
If your budget is little higher, you could consider the Sonos Beam - which also has Amazon Alexa built in. This 'bar is capable of a refined and detailed sound, with a big room-filling presence and great tonal balance. However, it lacks the extra bass that the Command Bar's sub can deliver, and it is considerably more expensive, priced at £399.