Polk Audio Command Bar soundbar review: Good sound, with Alexa at your service

To answer the question posed in the subhed, no, Polk didn’t create the Command Bar by taking a hole saw to the middle of its chassis and dropping an Amazon Echo Dot in there. But the feature is unquestionably designed to look like that, and this soundbar does support Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant.

Soundbars are hot these days, and they run the gamut from sub-$100 cheapies to the ludicrously priced, but wow-it’s-impressive Creative X-Fi Sonic Carrier. Polk is going after the better-than-entry-level market with this $300 speaker. That makes it $100 cheaper than the recently reviewed Sonos Beamand it comes with a nicely matched subwoofer. That’s not too shabby.  

Like the Beam, the Command Bar can be controlled by voice command, but that feature isn’t uber reliable while the speaker is producing its own sonic vibrations. Turn the volume down a bit and Alexa works as well as it does in any other incarnation. That should come as no surprise to anyone who’s used a smart speaker.

Design, features, and setup

The Command Bar comes in basic black, measures 2 inches high, about 43 inches wide, and 4 inches deep. The soundbar half of the system—housing two 1.25- by 3.25-inch midrange/woofers and a pair of 1-inch tweeters driven by a 160-watt Class D amp—weighs in at just about 5 pounds. A pair of keyholes on the back allow it to be hung on the wall without need of additional brackets, though the screws (which are not provided) should probably be secured to studs for safety.

command sound bar firestick 01 Polk Audio

Polk thoughtfully mounted the USB port sideways, so you can fit a full-sized USB streaming dongle without it interfering with the placement of the unit.

A ported, powered (100 watts from another Class D amp) subwoofer with a 6.5-inch driver automatically pairs with the soundbar via Bluetooth when you set it up. The sub measures approximately 14.4- by 7.4- by 14.5-inches and weighs in at 8.65 pounds.

Most of the speaker’s connectivity offerings are recessed into the center back of the unit: An HDMI input with 4K HDR pass-through, HDMI with ARC (audio return channel), and Toslink optical input. There’s a second HDMI input on the speaker’s right-hand end cap (if you’re looking at the speaker from the back). You can’t see it in the picture below, but there’s a USB port to the right-hand side of the recess, mounted at a 90-degree angle. This let’s you attach a USB streaming dongle, such as the Amazon Fire TV stick, in a location where it’s unlikely to get knocked around with day-to-day use. That’s a thoughtful design touch.

On top of the unit is the increasingly familiar Alexa circle of light that becomes active when you summon Amazon’s digital assistant: The ring glows orange during setup, red when you turn the mic off, pulsing yellow when there’s a message or notification waiting for you, shades of blue while Alexa is responding, and so on. Buttons for power, mic mute, and volume control are in the center of the device. Polk also provides an efficient remote control that I found much handier than voice commands for simple tasks.

I can ‘t hear you, the speaker’s too loud

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Polk’s Command bar setup app is a bit tedious, but it is thorough and idiot-proof.

Having experience with smart speakers, I was  familiar with the conundrum of a device trying to listen for audio while it’s producing it. At any sort of volume, the waves emanating from the Command Bar tend to obscure those produced by your voice. Solution? Turn down or mute the audio device before issuing a voice command or query, or use the remote control or the speaker’s onboard buttons. Or you can just yell. I’m kidding, that doesn’t always work.