With smart soundbars on the way from Bose, Vizio and several others, it's only a matter of time before a virtual assistant makes it into your living room. Polk's $300 Command Bar is one of the first to become available, incorporating Amazon's Alexa. The Command Bar offers an affordable entry into hands-free audio control, but it still has a few kinks to work out.
At 43 x 4 x 2 inches, the Command Bar doesn't need much clearance under your TV, but with its length, it looks best with larger screens. In addition to the main unit, the Command Bar comes with a 14.5 x 14.4 x 7.4-inch wireless subwoofer. By comparison, the $400 Sonos Beam measures just 25.6 x 3.9 x 2.7 inches and doesn't include a subwoofer.
Black fabric covers the nondescript exterior of the Command Bar, and the unit won't attract much attention — until you wake up Alexa. On top of the soundbar, it looks like an Echo Dot was plopped inside.
When you say, "Alexa," a bright LED circle on top lights up. The LED also shows volume level when you change it. There are also buttons for adjusting the volume, muting the microphone and activating Alexa — just like on an Echo Dot.
On the back, Polk placed two HDMI inputs, an HDMI ARC output and a digital optical output. The soundbar also includes a powered USB port, which is extremely handy for connecting the USB cable that provides power to an Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast.
The top of the soundbar looks like an Echo Dot was plopped inside of it.
The Command Bar comes with a remote, which includes buttons for volume, bass and voice levels, as well as ways to switch sound modes (Movie, Music or Sports). However, you can also just ask Alexa to make the change for you.
The Command Bar integrates Alexa, though it doesn't always work smoothly. In addition to executing the usual Alexa commands — it told me the weather, turned on a Wemo switch and launched Prime Video on a Fire TV — the Command Bar lets you use your voice to control the soundbar itself.
You can tell it to set the volume at 50 or switch to Movie sound mode. Because the Command Bar doesn't have an on-screen display or any indicator lights for volume or sound mode, the voice feedback it provides helps.
I sometimes needed to say, "Alexa," twice before it started listening, and occasionally it would freeze when trying to execute a command.
However, I found that I sometimes needed to say, "Alexa," twice before it started listening, and occasionally it would freeze when trying to execute a command. When the soundbar froze, it would take about a minute to become responsive again.
The Command Bar delivers good overall sound, especially for a $300 soundbar. It produces resonant dialog and decent rumble during low-end effects, but, despite its length, it doesn't create as wide of a sound field as the much smaller Sonos Beam.
Billy Bob Thornton's drunken drawl was clear and easy to understand in Goliath. During the epic battle in Wakanda in The Avengers: Infinity War, the subwoofer produced a good rumble as Thor's ax sent lightning through the sky and ground, though the subwoofer lacked detail that more-expensive units can deliver.
The subwoofer produced a good rumble as Thor's ax sent lightning through the sky and ground, though this subwoofer lacked detail that more-expensive units can deliver.
When I listened to music, the Command Bar's resonance provided excellent depth. The bass thumped under the vocals on "Thunderclouds" by Sia, Diplo and Labrinth. After I boosted the Voice level, Amanda Shire's vocals on "Parking Lot Pirouette" soared above the full bass and drums.
Setting up the Command Bar was simple, as it should be with a soundbar. I connected the soundbar to my TV via HDMI, and the wireless subwoofer came paired with the main unit. After that, the setup was similar to that of any smart speaker. I had to download the free Polk Connect app, which helped the unit access my Wi-Fi network for internet access. I then needed to log in to Amazon to allow the Command Bar to use Alexa. The assistant verbally prompted me at each step of the process. The soundbar also supports Bluetooth for wireless music playback, which is helpful for streaming services that don't work with Alexa.
The Command Bar offers a few ways to adjust the sound quality. I found I wanted to increase the Voice setting almost to its max, but I kept the bass level the same as it came. The unit has three sound modes — Movie, Music and Sports — but even with the Movie mode engaged, the Command Bar couldn't match the virtual surround sound of Yamaha's YAS-108 or the Sonos Beam.
If you want a virtual assistant in your living room, you might like the Polk Command Bar, as it offers an affordable entry into smart soundbars. For not much more money than an average soundbar, you get a unit that sounds good overall, and Alexa is handy for hands-free control — when it works properly.
With several more smart soundbars due soon, it may be worthwhile to wait a few months before taking the plunge. However, if price is your main concern, it's unlikely you'll find a better smart soundbar at a price this affordable in the near future.