Tom's Guide Verdict
This Alexa-powered soundbar produces impressive bass without a subwoofer, though it lacks a truly wide soundstage.
Impressive bass without a subwoofer
No Atmos support
Few sound modes
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
If you're on a budget and want to bring Amazon Alexa into the TV room, the Polk React soundbar is probably the least expensive soundbar you’ll find with Alexa built-in. Amazon’s digital assistant is available on Sonos Beam and Sonos Arc, as well as some Yamaha soundbars, but those all cost well over $300.
Speakers: 2 x mid range drivers, 2 x tweeters
Ports: Optical in, USB in, HDMI ARC
Size: 2.2 x 34 x 4.8 inches
Weight: 6.4 pounds
The React has other things going for it, too, including a slim design and impressive bass response even without a subwoofer. But you’ll need to make sacrifices in exchange for the lower price, as the React can’t match those more advanced soundbars on sound quality or overall features. If you think you might want to take the chance, keep reading our Polk React review.
Polk React: Price and availability
- Reduced from $249 to $199
- Choice of retailers available
Polk React review: Design
- Compact dimensions
- HDMI ARC support
- Mainly uses voice controls, but remote is functional
The React is a slim soundbar that looks like an Amazon Echo Dot was dropped into it. It’s also basically an updated version of Polk’s Command Bar, though more compact and without the included wireless subwoofer.
At 34 x 4.8 x 2.2 inches, it’s smaller than many soundbars and should slide beneath most TV stands. Inside the soundbar, Polk put two midrange drivers, two tweeters and two passive radiators.
On the front there’s a light bar that shows you the volume level and lights up when you engage Alexa. Then, there’s a small LED status light below the light bar that switches color to indicate the sound input and other functions.
The top has the Echo-like controls, including buttons to activate Alexa or mute the microphones. Mainly though, you’ll be happy using Alexa voice commands to adjust the sound. There are four microphones dotted around the React, which helps make Alexa responsive to your voice.
On the back you’ll find an HDMI port with audio return channel (ARC) for easy connection to your TV, or you can use an optical digital audio cable. The React also includes a USB port and a button for pairing with Polk’s wireless subwoofer and wireless surrounds, which are sold separately.
The remote has large, well spaced buttons. You can activate Alexa, switch between TV audio and Bluetooth, change the volume, adjust the bass and voice levels and pick a sound mode. If you add the wireless surrounds, you can also use the remote to change the balance and volume of those.
Polk React review: Setup
- Fast and easy initial process
- Optional but worthwhile EQ tweaks available via Alexa
The React is simple to set up and use. After you connect it to your TV with an HDMI cable, installation is done. Then launch the Alexa app to get it on your network and working with Alexa. The React has a QR code on the back to make that process easy.
You can adjust the bass and voice levels with the remote. I didn’t need to pump up the bass, but I did want dialog at a higher level. You can also use the remote or your voice to switch among three sound modes: Music, Sport and Movie. I found the Movie mode to be the liveliest, even when listening to music.
If you want to further tweak the sound, you can go into the Alexa app and find a three-band equalizer. I wanted more treble and midrange in the sound, so I bumped those up. But the effect was minimal on the overall sound.
Polk React review: Audio performance
- Surprisingly powerful bass
- Small soundstage, but good for music
The React sounds good overall, but it’s the booming bass that is the welcome surprise — especially since there’s no subwoofer and given its slim profile. Dialog is easy to understand as well. But because the React lacks virtual surround sound or Dolby Atmos support, it creates a much narrower soundfield than many soundbars available today.
When Thor brought the lightning in Avengers: Infinity War, the bass rattled my TV stand and made the effect tactile, while the snide banter between Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder in Hacks was clear (and cutting).
During the “96,000” scene of In the Heights, the vocals were rich and the bass helped drive the song. However, this scene also served to demonstrate how the lack of surround sound, even virtual, made the experience less engaging than it could be. Instead of filling the room, the sound was confined to the space right in front of me. And when Thor threw Stormbreaker in Infinity War, the React couldn’t make it feel like the axe moved around me, as many soundbars with virtual surround sound will.
The React is still a solid music machine — when listening to two-channel music I didn’t miss having a wide soundstage as much. The chorus of Lorde’s “Solar Power” sounded big and full, while the strummed guitar on Billie Eilish’s “Your Power” was suitably warm. The layers of sound on St. Vincent’s “Pay Your Way in Pain” got a bit compressed coming out of the 2.0 system, but the React’s bass again shined on the funky synths.
The React can also get plenty loud, despite its relatively small size. It reached about 95 decibels at full volume, though the sound became harsh and distorted at that level.
Polk React review: Alexa
- Familiar and reliable smart assistance
- Only basic playback control, though
Alexa’s smart functionality is consistent whether you’re using a soundbar or smart speaker, so the React’s implementation of the digital assistant works as you’d expect. Unlike the Command Bar, which was one of the first soundbars to come with Alexa, the React was quick to respond to my commands. It played music, turned on a Wemo switch and told me the weather forecast immediately upon my prompts.
Alexa is somewhat limited when it comes to controlling the React itself, however. I could use my voice to change the volume, input and sound mode, but it couldn’t turn the TV on or off.
Polk React review: Verdict
By combining affordability with built-in Alexa functionality, the Polk React manages to stand out among similarly-priced soundbars. The relatively compact design and impactful bass further add to its appeal.
But as sound in movies and TVs shows increasingly take advantage of Dolby Atmos and other immersive audio tech, the React’s soundstage feels disappointingly narrow. You can add wireless surround speakers and a wireless subwoofer, but that brings the price close to over $500 — and you can get a better all-in-one soundbar for that, like the $399 Sonos Beam.
If you don’t need Alexa in your soundbar and want to keep under $200, the TCL Alto 6 Plus creates a much bigger sound than the React and only costs about $100. If you can afford to spend more, the JBL Multibeam 5.0 brings Atmos support and impressive virtual surround sound for $350 — though again, without Alexa.
But if what you want is an affordable Alexa soundbar with good overall sound that won’t take up too much room, the Polk React will be a good choice for you. Just don’t sit too far to the sides.
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Michael Gowan is a freelance technology journalist covering soundbars, TVs, and wireless speakers of all kinds of shapes and sizes for Tom’s Guide. He has written hundreds of product reviews, focusing on sound quality and value to help shoppers make informed buying decisions. Micheal has written about music and consumer technology for more than 25 years. His work has appeared in publications including CNN, Wired, Men’s Journal, PC World and Macworld. When Michael’s not reviewing speakers, he’s probably listening to one anyway.
Seems to miss the unique selling point of it being able to be used in an alexa multi room music group unlike most Alexa enabled devices - as far as I recall, there”s one model of Sony soundbar that can too, but no more.Reply