Most TVs these days can be improved with a soundbar—even a budget bar. But a soundbar that also doubles as a premium streaming device will check multiple boxes for people looking for both, particularly if their older sticks or boxes are no longer getting software updates that support newer streaming services. If this is you, Roku’s delightfully adorable mini soundbar with built-in 4K streaming might be one to consider, especially on a budget.
I will say that the first time I powered on the Roku Streambar, which is about the size of a large brick, I was honestly surprised at the depth of the sound that shot out of the speaker without the addition of additional rear speakers or a subwoofer, which I think you’d be wise to add—more on that in a bit. But one of the more immediate benefits of this device is that it offers the ability to declutter your entertainment space, which is very nice in tighter spaces, as it eliminates the need for two separate devices for streaming and sound. But it also works as a Bluetooth speaker for mobile devices, which for some folks may be preferable to having to navigate apps with their TV remote to listen to music (though only one Bluetooth device can be paired at a time).
As far as the functionality of the streaming part of this dual-system speaker, you’re essentially getting a premium HDMI-ready streaming box with 4K HDR, 1080p HD, and Dolby Audio. That’s going to be more than enough for most people. That’s most, but not all, of the features of Roku’s top-tier streaming box, the Roku Ultra. It retails for about $100—or about $30 less than the Streambar—and comes with support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. The Ultra is intended more for homes with a pre-established sound system (and probably a much nicer TV) than what the Roku Steambar is expected to set up. Though Roku did tell Gizmodo the Streambar can also work as a more “traditional” soundbar through HDMI ARC or optical inputs if you decide to add a Roku Ultra or other Dolby Vision device later.
Now, in terms of its audio performance, this is not a premium soundbar on its own. I will not tell you that this wee speaker holds a candle to the Sony HT-G700 I’ve been testing for the last few months. But that unit—which ships with a wireless subwoofer—is also nearly four times the price of the Roku Streambar, and top-of-the-line is not what this smaller soundbar is trying to pull off. Rather, Roku told me during a demo that this was a kind of gateway soundbar, or one for folks who are looking for a more affordable option that can be added to over time. And considering you’re basically paying for two devices here, I will say I think this bar punches above its weight class in terms of performance.
The speaker significantly improved the sound on a 2020 TCL 6-Series even while watching old TV reruns, but especially when watching an action movie like Avengers: Endgame. Sitting about 10 feet from this soundbar, it managed to make its sound feel as big as though it were coming from a speaker three times the size rather than one roughly the length of a Subway sandwich. The way that this speaker is able to pull off this trick is with its 1.9-inch full-range drivers, two of which point forward and two of which point outward to either side. I found I was able to further boost the bass with this speaker in my settings. But if you want a truly immersive sound, it can also be paired with two Roku TV Wireless Speakers for rear surround sound as well as one Roku Wireless Subwoofer, either of which would vastly improve the streaming experience you get with this soundbar. Other speaker pairing isn’t supported, but its nice to know I can upgrade this to 5.1 at my own pace if I wanted to.
I tend to prefer the Android TV interface for its streaming recommendation features on the home screen that help me navigate my own personal subscription hell. But one of the things that makes Roku a good choice for a streaming platform for most people—independent of whatever ecosystem they use for their smart home and mobile devices—is that it’s incredibly intuitive to use. At setup, Roku will allow you to select your primary streaming services to appear on your home screen and shuffle those in with Roku-specific channels like its 4K Spotlight and the Roku Channel, which surfaces free and ad-supported content. The majority of major streaming platforms are supported here after the platform made nice with NBCUniversal’s freemium service Peacock recently, but HBO Max remains the notable exception. When I asked Roku about this, the company said it had “no updates to share.”
One of the things I really enjoy about this and other Roku devices was the remote, which has grown on me. It doesn’t try to pack in much more than you need in terms of buttons, and this remote cleverly moves volume and mute to the right side of the remote which makes it feel less crowded. Like other Roku remotes, this one has shortcut buttons for Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Sling TV, at least one of which many users likely subscribe to. While none of these can be reprogrammed on the remote that comes with the Streambar, the device can easily pair with a separate Roku remote that supports personal shortcuts. Likewise, this one is missing the earphone jack that comes standard on the Roku Ultra, but those remotes can also be paired if you have one laying around or purchase one separately—and they’re honestly pretty cheap, if either of those things matter to you.
The remote also supports voice control, and I had no trouble with basic functionality in asking the OS to do things like skip ahead 20 minutes during a movie or searching for content across my apps. When I asked where the Roku OS pulls those results from, Roku told me that its platform “provides an unbiased search” of hundreds of channels and presents the content that’s free and lowest priced first. I will say that I prefer the Apple TV remote’s tracking ability, which makes navigation on services like Disney+ a little easier. But that’s merely a matter of preference, and I’m not convinced that my neurotic skipping habits are standard of the average viewer.
Lastly, the Streambar supports voice commands using Alexa- and Google Assistant-enabled devices, and Roku recently announced that it soon plans to introduce greater support for Apple devices as well. Roku told me that it’s currently working to introduce AirPlay 2 and HomeKit to 4K Roku devices and TVs “before the end of the year,” a bonus for any avid Apple users who prefer Roku to the Apple TV.
After weeks with the Streambar, I’m convinced it’s a solid choice for people who would like to improve the sound on a TV without dropping an eye-popping amount of money on a pricey sound system, or even someone in need of a 4K streaming device who is willing to drop a few extra bucks on a connected smart speaker. I want to stress again that this is not a top-of-the-line soundbar option, at least not without a boost from additional speakers. But the ability for this tiny but mighty speaker to be expanded upon for a fuller surround system—all while delivering many of the benefits of premium streaming sticks and boxes—makes it a hell of a steal for the price.
- Streambar is a mini soundbar that doubles as a Roku 4K HDR streaming device.
- Packs a surprising amount of sound for its 14-inch length, thanks in part to side- and front-facing drivers.
- Can be added to with additional Roku surround sound speakers and subwoofer for better sound.
- Does not support Dolby Vision or Dobly Atmos like the Roku Ultra.