Roku Streambar Pro review: A solid, Roku-enabled upgrade for your TV’s built-in speakers

Roku’s step-up soundbar arrives with a new virtual surround mode and surprisingly decent audio performance, plus an integrated Roku player and AirPlay 2.




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Ben Patterson/IDG

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Roku has been slowly expanding its line of affordable soundbars, most recently with last year’s compact, “pretty good” Streambar, and now comes the $180 Streambar Pro, the successor to 2019’s Smart Soundbar. While none of Roku’s soundbars will appeal to audiophiles, they’re perfect for everyday viewers looking to upgrade their TV’s tinny audio without breaking the bank, and the 2.0-channel Streambar Pro ups the ante with surprisingly solid sound and a new virtual surround mode. 

The Streambar Pro’s efficient audio performance is already a strong selling point, but the real draw is an integrated Roku streaming player with 4K HDR playback, not to mention Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit, and AirPlay 2 support. There’s also the vaunted Roku remote complete with a microphone for voice commands and search.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best soundbars. Click that link to read reviews of competing products, along with a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

The Streambar Pro has its limitations, of course. It’s otherwise solid sound is a tad weak on high-end detail, and it falters a bit when it comes to music playback. And while you can upgrade the Streambar Pro with Roku’s wireless speaker pair and subwoofer, doing so vaults you into a price range with other soundbars with much better audio quality. Still, we are talking about a $180 soundbar-plus-streamer here, so as long as you keep your expectations in line, you won’t be disappointed.

Specifications

The Roku Streambar Pro comes equipped with four 1.9-inch full-range drivers that supply the front and right channels, which combine to create a “phantom” center channel for dialog. The soundbar doesn’t come with woofers or passive radiators for low-frequency effects, but as I’ll describe in a bit, the Streambar Pro manages to crank out a respectable amount of bass without them.

While the Streambar Pro supports Dolby Audio, it does not offer any object-based 3D sound modes such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, although that would be asking a lot of a budget soundbar that already has a built-in streaming player. That said, the Streambar Pro does mark Roku’s first soundbar with a virtual surround mode, which (according to Roku) delivers a “rich and immersive sound experience” without physical surround speakers. Virtual surround processing never sounds as good as actual satellite speakers, but they can be effective at expanding the soundstage of an otherwise narrow soundbar while adding a sense of atmosphere. Keep reading for my impressions of the Streambar Pro’s virtual surround mode.

(Incidentally, Roku’s older Smart Streambar will also be getting the new virtual surround mode via a firmware update. The recent Streambar won’t be getting the update, with Roku saying that the Streambar’s angled front drivers already offer “that immersive experience.”)

If you’re willing to spend some more money, you can easily upgrade the Streambar Pro to a full-on 5.1-channel system by adding the Roku Wireless Subwoofer ($180) and Roku Wireless Speakers ($150 for a pair). Doing so, however, brings the overall cost up to $510, at which point the Streambar Pro will be outshined by such sonic performers as Vizio’s Dolby Atmos-enabled M512a-H6. Then again, the Vizio soundbar doesn’t include its own streaming player, much less AirPlay 2 support.

Measuring 14 x 4.2 x 2.4 inches (WxDxH) and weighing in at a mere 2.4 pounds, the Streambar Pro is relatively compact as budget soundbars go, and was short enough to sit in front of my low-slung 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV while barely grazing the bottom of the screen. If you wish, you can also mount the Streambar Pro under your wall-mounted TV, although you’ll have to pony up extra for mounting hardware.

Inputs and outputs

Like Roku’s other soundbars, the Soundbar Pro has just one HDMI connector. If your TV has an HDMI-ARC port (which, unless it’s more than 10 years old, it probably does), you can connect it to the Soundbar Pro’s HDMI port, with both video (4K and HDR10/HLG are supported, but not HDR10+ or Dolby Vision) and audio being transmitted over a single HDMI cable. If you have an older TV that lacks HDMI-ARC support, you can connect the Streambar Pro’s HDMI port to one of your TV’s HDMI inputs, and then send audio back down to the soundbar via an optical (Toslink) cable. Both HDMI and optical cables are supplied in the box.

roku streambar pro inputs and outputs Ben Patterson/IDG

The Roku Streambar Pro has just one HDMI connector, along with an optical input and a USB-A port capable of local media playback.

Besides the HDMI and optical ports, the Streambar Pro also has a USB 2.0 Type-A port that supports local media playback. Supported file types run the gamut from MKV, MP4, and MOV video files (which can contain video encoded using the H.264, H.265, and VP9 codecs) to AAC, MP3, FLAC, PCM, and ALAC audio files. I successfully played a 24-bit/96kHz FLAC off a thumb drive with help from the Roku Media Player (I’ll discuss how it sounded in a bit), which is available from the streamer’s channel store.

Right next to the HDMI, optical, and USB ports is a reset button, along with a power port. That port connects to a roughly five-foot power cable with an in-line adapter, which terminates in a standard (thank goodness) two-prong plug.

Setup

Getting the Roku Streambar Pro up and running is a relatively painless process, particularly if you’re connecting it to a Roku-powered TV.

If you’re lucky enough to be using a Roku TV, it will guide you through the process of setting up the soundbar via a series of on-screen menus, and it can automatically link up to your Roku account. If you’re using a non-Roku TV, you’ll still be guided through the setup process (including connecting to your Wi-Fi network) with on-screen menus, but you’ll need to manually enter the email address associated with your Roku account. Easing the pain somewhat is the fact that you can say each letter of your email address using the included voice remote (more on the remote in a bit).

Once you enter your email address, Roku will send an activation link via email, so you can continue the sign-in process in a web browser, including adding a channel lineup and selecting your subscribed streaming services (like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or Disney+). After a final prompt that promotes a handful of 30- and 7-day free trials, you’re ready to watch—and listen.

Voice remote

The Roku Streambar Pro is one of the few soundbars I’ve tested with absolutely no buttons or controls on its main speaker cabinet; instead, you take charge of the Streambar Pro using the included Roku voice remote, and that’s a good thing.

Powered by a pair of AA batteries (Roku thoughtfully includes two Duracells in the box), the familiar-looking “enhanced” voice remote has a purple four-way navigational control, along with a Home button in the top-right corner and a Back button right next to it. A “*” button takes you to a screen of contextual options, while four branded buttons for a quartet of streaming services (Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV+, and Hulu) sit at the bottom of the remote. A volume rocker and mute button hang out on the side of the wand.

The star of the show is the Roku voice assistant, which you can activate by pressing and holding the microphone button directly beneath the four-way navigational control. You can use a variety of voice commands, ranging from “find Star Wars” and “show me episodes of Friday Night Lights” to “launch HBO Max,” “fast forward,” “turn on closed captioning,” and “start over.” You can also record oft-used voice commands and assign them to one of the two “personal shortcut” buttons on the remote, which are labeled “1” and “2.”

One more nifty feature about Roku’s “enhanced” remote is the 3.5mm headphone jack, which lets you plug in a headset for private listening sessions.

The Roku interface

We’ve covered the ins and outs of the Roku interface extensively over the years, most recently in our review of the Roku Express 4K+. In a nutshell, Roku offers one of the most intuitive and friendly interfaces of any streaming platform, complete with helpful menus and clear navigation; rarely did I ever find myself at a loss for what to do next, or stuck in any blind alleys. You can even personalize the interface with themes and sound effects.

One of our gripes about the Roku interface is its lack of an aggregated programming guide that shows you what’s streaming across the most popular services; instead, you’ll need to dip into each channel individually. That said, voice searches do deliver results across most of the big streaming services—so, for example, a search for “Star Wars” yields results from the Apple TV app as well as Disney+, while a “Kissing Booth” search serves up the popular rom-com titles on Netflix.

Besides subscription and premium VOD apps, there’s also The Roku Channel, the home of Roku’s growing collection of ad-supported live TV channels as well as Roku Originals, a trove of shows that Roku scooped up from the now-defunct Quibi mobile video service. The Roku Channel also hosts thousands of free, on-demand and ad-supported movies and TV shows, meaning there’s plenty of content to watch without paying a dime, provided you don’t mind a few commercials.

Smart home integration and casting

The Roku Streambar Pro works with both Alexa and Google Assistant, allowing you to use voice commands such as “Alexa, turn on living room Roku” or “Hey Google, find documentaries on bedroom Roku” (if the Streambar Pro is in your bedroom). The Streambar Pro is also compatible with Apple’s HomeKit platform, which means you can control the soundbar with Siri voice commands as well as the Apple Home app.

Even better, the Roku Streambar Pro (like other Roku devices) supports AirPlay 2, perfect for streaming video and music from an iPhone, iPad, or a Mac. Getting AirPlay 2 support on a soundbar as inexpensive as the Streambar Pro is a rare treat, and it ranks as a major plus in our book.

Performance

We generally don’t expect too much from a sub-$200 soundbar like the Roku Streambar Pro; it certainly can’t compete with the sound of pricier models, nor could it ever replace a full-on home theater system with separate speakers and an AVR. Instead, we think of budget soundbars as an inexpensive way to upgrade a TV’s built-in speakers, and that’s why I spent quality time listening to the internal speakers on my LG TV—and not my usual 5.1.2-channel rig—before running through my standard tests.

Overall, I came away pleasantly surprised. No, the Streambar Pro isn’t a soundbar for audiophiles, but compared to the anemic speakers on most TVs, it delivers solid, full-bodied audio, with a surprising amount of bass (the key word is “surprising,” not amazing) given its smallish mid-range drivers. Musically, the Streambar Pro proved to be hit and miss, but for watching movies and binging TV shows, it should make for a noticeable—and affordable—upgrade to the sound coming from your TV.

I started off with the Battle of Hoth scene from the UHD version of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on the Apple TV app, and I have to say, I was pretty impressed with the Streambar Pro’s performance. It turns out the soundbar’s quartet of full-range drivers pack some decent low-end oomph—not enough to shake the room, mind you, but sufficient to anchor the thump of the Imperial Walker’s massive feet. While the whine of the Millennium Falcon’s engines was missing a tad of high-end detail, the overall sound was much fuller than the thin (if Atmos-enhanced) gruel from my LG’s tinny speakers. Also, the new virtual surround mode did a nice job of widening the soundstage and adding some depth and atmospherics.

Switching to the thrilling opening titles of 1978’s Superman, the Streambar Pro deftly handled John Williams’s rousing score, with the swooshing title cards getting some relatively decent surround effects while the “directed by” credit for Richard Donner (RIP) landed with a satisfying, if not overwhelming thump. Again, the Streambar Pro skimps a bit on the high-end, but that’s preferable to the shrill yet too-boomy sound that some budget soundbars go for.

I also tried the opening sequence of Top Gun, which offers a little bit of everything: Harold Faltermeyer’s deep, moody score, the clink of cables on the aircraft carrier’s deck, the roar of the F-16s climbing into the air, and of course the catchy crooning of Kenny Loggins. Once more, the Streambar Pro came to play, with some pretty decent muscle plus full-bodied vocals (“Fly in-to the danger zone!”) without drifting into shrill territory.

To hear how the Streambar Pro handled dialog, I dialed up a West Wing episode. Dialog-heavy content on a 2.0-channel soundbar (i.e., no center channel) can tire the ears, but the Streambar Pro delivered clear results once I turned off the virtual surround mode and switched the two-step “speech clarity” setting to “low.” After that, the non-stop White House chatter sounded loud and clear, while the effects and W. G. Snuffy Walden’s score sounded reasonably robust given the narrower soundstage.

For music, I played a 24-bit/96kHz FLAC of Chet Baker’s “Solar” off a USB thumb drive, and while much of the detail of the high-resolution file was (quite naturally) lost on the Streambar Pro’s 1.9-inch drivers, the track still sounded alive and punchy, with the virtual surround mode giving the soundstage a needed boost. I also streamed Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” on Spotify via AirPlay 2, but while The Boss’s reedy vocals sounded clear and crisp, the drivers began to chuff a bit when I cranked the volume. More issues arose with Larissa Dedova’s rendition of Maurice Ravel’s solo piano works for Centaur, with the audio straining during some of the higher chords. The Streambar Pro had an easier time with Ciara’s “Level Up,” with the soundbar smoothly delivering the driving bass and Ciara’s bouncy vocals.

Bottom line

While I didn’t find the Roku Streambar Pro to be all that reliable when it comes to music, I thought its audio performance for movies and TV shows was more than acceptable, provided you’re judging it against the sound of your TV’s built-in speakers. Throw in the built-in Roku streaming player and AirPlay 2, and the Streambar Pro turns into an excellent value for bargain soundbar shoppers.

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  • Roku’s step-up soundbar arrives with a new virtual surround mode and surprisingly decent audio performance, plus an integrated Roku player and AirPlay 2.

    Pros

    • Solid audio performance for a $180 soundbar
    • Effective virtual surround mode
    • Intuitive Roku interface and voice remote
    • Alexa, Google Assistant, HomeKit, and AirPlay 2 support

    Cons

    • Hit-or-miss music performance
    • Only one HDMI port
    • Expansion upgrades (subwoofer and surrounds) are pricey

Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart home and home entertainment products.

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