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Roku's soundbar sounded better than expected, and it fixed a big problem I have

I was impressed with the Roku TV Wireless SoundBar, but this affordable option only works with a certain type of TV.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Artie Beaty/ZDNET

For a lot of mid-range or value-oriented televisions, sound quality can be a pretty big issue. Audio seems to be one of the first corners cut when manufacturers look to lower a device's price. In fact, my main television -- a Black Friday big box special -- is almost completely inaudible without a soundbar.

I recently tested Roku's new Plus Series television, and -- although it's a mid-range set -- I found it handled audio just fine on its own. However, given that Roku's new soundbar to complement its televisions carries an affordable price tag and promises a simple, wireless setup, I wanted to give it a test run too. 

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And I'm glad I did.

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Before I get too far into this review, though, it's worth noting a small caveat with this soundbar – it only works with Roku televisions. Now, that does include Roku's own Plus and Select series TVs that rolled out earlier this year and TVs from other manufacturers that run on the Roku platform, (which make up about 40% of televisions), so a lot of sets are compatible. Just make sure yours is a Roku first.

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Roku's simply titled "Roku TV Wireless Soundbar" is a basic 2.0 channel soundbar. That means there's a left channel and right channel. You'll be able to hear a distinction between left and right, but there's no support for Dolby Atmos or any similar surround sound. Of course, for Atmos support, you'd be spending a lot more for your soundbar, so that's not exactly an expected feature here. If you'd like to expand, though, Roku does offer a wireless bass to provide a little more rumble and additional speakers for a 4.1 surround experience. 

Setting up the soundbar was extremely easy. It's wireless (except for the power cord), so all I needed to do was plug it in and change the audio output in the settings menu to "Wireless Soundbar." The TV almost immediately detected the soundbar and it began working after a short update. 

Artie Beaty/ZDNET

Because this soundbar works with Roku televisions from all manufacturers, there's no additional remote required -- your existing TV remote is all you need. 

Digging into the audio settings with the soundbar paired showed several options like a "speech clarity" toggle and sliders for bass and treble. Roku also advertises an optimization mode for night listening and the ability to automatically lower loud commercials. That last one is admittedly a hard feature to independently test, but I did watch several series of commercials on my content and didn't notice any glaring jump in volume.

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I'm not sure if it's just my ears or it's movies today, but I find dialogue increasingly difficult to hear. Watching a television show that's mostly talking is straightforward, but for a movie or a show with a soundtrack and action sounds on top of dialogue, I find myself constantly toying with the volume. This soundbar totally changed that experience.

When I fired up one of my favorites, Netflix's Stranger Things, to test things out, I found that I could hear the iconic Kate Bush song, the squelching of the upside down, and conversation between Max, Dustin and the gang all without picking up the remote to make constant adjustments. Action elements still seemed loud, but they didn't overpower everything else. And that's without diving into the settings and fine-tuning things. Right out of the box, it provided near-perfect audio.

The soundbar also serves as a Bluetooth speaker. Confession: I'm not much of a snob when it comes to music audio quality in my home. For the most part, I just play songs I want to hear through my Echo devices. But after listening to several songs through this soundbar, my mind was changed a little and I discovered that I actually enjoyed listening to my favorite songs. I was able to hear a richness no other speaker in my home provided, and the volume was enough to carry throughout the house.

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Currently, this soundbar currently costs $149, which is decidedly middle range. There are cheaper options and there are certainly more expensive options, but if you're looking for a simple, no-frills device that enhances your Roku TV audio experience, this is a fantastic choice. When you add in the wireless connectivity and ease of setup, it's an even easier decision.

If you're looking for a soundbar that works without wires, provides a solid upgrade to content audio, and serves as a pretty decent Bluetooth speaker (and you have a Roku TV of course), you'd be hard-pressed to find something that provides as much value as the Roku 2.0 wireless soundbar.

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