The Polk Command Bar not only improves your home entertainment audio, but also smartens up your home at the same time
The Command Bar from Polk Audio is one of the latest home speaker solutions to arrive boasting a built-in voice assistant. Smart speakers have become big business of late and this has led to the various smart assistants extending their reach to other audio products, and in particular, ones that are more stationary in nature - like a soundbar. In this instance, the voice assistant in question is Amazon Alexa which makes the Command Bar the first time Alexa has entered the soundbar game. The Polk Command Bar is available to buy now and costs $299 in the US.
Specs & Unboxing
The Polk Command Bar is a 260-watt system overall with the soundbar providing 160-watts and the subwoofer 100-watts. The frequency range is defined as 40 Hz to 22,000 Hz and this is achieved through the use of two 1.25-inch drivers and two 1-inch tweeters in the soundbar, along with a 6.5-inch driver in the subwoofer. The Audio Command Bar comes with a number of connection options including two 4K-supported HDMI 2.0a ports, an optical port and an additional ARC-supported HDMI port for audio. In terms of the physical dimensions the soundbar measures 2-inches in height, 42.95-inches in width, 4-inches in depth and weighs in at 4.95 lbs. While the ported sub measures 14.43-inches in height, 7.4-inches in width, 14.5-inches in depth, and weighs in at 8.65 lbs.
Besides the soundbar and subwoofer, buyers should also expect to receive the usual degree of paperwork, along with one HDMI cable, one optical cable, a remote control and two AAA batteries for the remote.
Hardware & Design
Typically speaking, products like this do not vary too much in general design. After all, to accommodate distribution soundbars are by definition elongated units, and to accommodate bass, subs are typically box-like units. The Polk Command Bar sticks to this tried and tested method in general and offers little in the way of surprises in this sense. Although compared to some units, the Polk Command Bar is a lot smaller. For example, the soundbar comes in at around 46-inches which makes it ideal for most home entertainment setups. Once you start to go beyond a 65-inch TV size, however, the visual impact of the soundbar will start to diminish. The sub is also another unit that is slightly smaller and thinner than what you might get elsewhere and this does slightly impact on it's ability to produce bass. The end result, a compact package overall for what it is. Although one of the most immediate aspects of note is the main control panel as this is one that comes with Amazon Alexa included.
What makes this so noticeable is the fact the control panel looks almost identical to an actual Echo Dot speaker. To the point where one can only assume the soundbar was manufactured with the clear intention of just dropping an Echo Dot shell into the middle. That is unlikely to be what happened as the Echo Dot features it's own speakers which are not included here, but in terms of the mindset when designing the Command Bar, it does seem as though the inclusion of an Echo Dot was the main inspiration. This is by no means a bad thing, but it’s a point worth noting. As this is not just a soundbar with Amazon Alexa support, it is literally a soundbar with an Echo Dot in the middle.
Focusing a little closer on the soundbar and the design and quality is good overall. As this is a more compact unit, it is fairly lightweight for what it is. Speaker cloth-like material covers the majority of the unit with the exception of the middle-third which sports more of a molded design. This part is much greater than the sum of the Echo Dot as it reaches around to the back of the soundbar to include the various ports.
Speaking of which, here you will find multiple HDMI ports with one that includes ARC support. This is important for audio as this port will allow the user to connect the soundbar to their TV by skipping the use of an optical cable. This is as long as the TV in question also has an ARC-compatible HDMI port. If it does not, then there is not much choice as owners will only be able to connect the subwoofer via the optical cable. The rear panel also includes two mount holes for those who would prefer to lock the soundbar into position - although its curved nature does not lend itself well to mounting. Still, the option is there if you want it.
Subs usually are fairly box-shaped as this is a design which naturally accommodates bass reproduction. However, Polk has opted for a skinnier design overall which is not a Polk-thing as there has been a tendency of late for taller and skinnier subs. In either case, while this sub does look like a sub, it doesn't look exactly like a traditional sub, and this is something that might prove appealing to those who want to cut down on the amount of space an accessory like this can take up. Traditionalists, might not find the design as appealing. Unlike the soundbar, there is no speaker cloth in site with this unit adopting much more of a molded design throughout. Though not a true one-piece molded design.
It's also probably worth noting that this is a downward-firing design which means the actual driver is not visible from any position when the sub is positioned as intended - the driver is literally located underneath the unit. This is one of those design aspects which will affect the sound quality to some degree (more on this later). Likewise, the sub does also come with fairly tall feet for a sub, which depending on how you feel about your bass production, may or may not be a good design choice.
When it comes to the Polk Command Bar, compact seems to be the name of the game. The package is not compact to the point where it’s overtly small, but it’s smaller than other packages. While audio has come a long way in the last few years, and is now far more artificially influenced than anything else, some consumers will still prefer designs that if nothing else emulate a more traditional design. That is not the case with the Polk Command Bar which is far more modern and accessible.
In spite of the compact nature of the Polk Command Bar, this is not a unit that is designed to be compact when it comes to the sound. After all, the unit as a whole pumps out 260-watts and this is directly comparable to most other packages at a similar price point. There are some caveats to that with one being the small-ish size of the sub which does impact a little on the level of bass offered. For example, the Klipsch R‑10B Sound Bar System is a much older system although it can now be purchased for about the same price as the Command Bar, and while it's older (and dumber) it does come with an 8-inch side-firing driver. Resulting in a lower bass frequency threshold than the Command Bar. Therefore, while the Command Bar is technically louder (in terms of watts), it does arguably suffer more in the bass department, and in particular, at the extreme end. This is not to say the bass is bad as it’s not, and it certainly will be sufficient for a wide number of users, but when compared to other products, there are more bass-focused options available - and at a similar price point.
That said, the tweeters in this system are larger and more frequency accommodating than in other systems - including the Klipsch R‑10B Sound Bar System. Which means the higher end of the audio spectrum is far more catered to with the Command Bar. Resulting in much cleaner treble and upper-mid sounds overall. Which is a further point in favor of the Command Bar as while this is designed to satisfy those who want to stream music, it’s also clearly designed for TV usage, and in truth the frequency range utilized by the Command Bar is far more appropriate in this sense. The sound overall is very balanced and provides a great backdrop to the viewing experience. To put this point into perspective, while other similar priced units come with deeper bass, the bass can sometimes impact on the overall balance and this is turn impacts on the viewing experience. By turning the volume down when watching a movie to lessen the bass, the rest of the sounds are impacted as well. Making conversations and more nuanced sounds in movies and TV shows harder to pick up. In contrast, the Command Bar is very well-suited to these situations and requires fewer manual equalizing adjustments out of the box. In other words, while the bass is present enough, the upside of the bass' lack of dominance ensures the mids and tops come through clearly.
Summing up the audio is a little hard to do as it does seem as though the Command Bar excels in some areas and not in others. Although that in itself might be its biggest strength as while it’s not (by design) the most bass-heavy soundbar package available, it is that lack of bass which really brings home the quality when watching movies. Yet, the bass is present enough that when music is streamed (through Alexa or over Bluetooth) that the experience is not compromised. Therefore, the sound quality here is likely to be dictated by where an individual's bias lies when purchasing a product like this. Those looking for the ultimate in bass will want to look elsewhere, while those looking for a more comfortable all-round listening experience, (and especially when playing movies) might find the Command Bar strikes the perfect balance.
The remote control provided with the Polk Command Bar was a pleasant surprise. More often than not, remote controls bundled with products like this are vastly underwhelming and usually end up left aside. However, Polk has certainly done well to offer a remote control the user would want to use. This is not just in terms of the functionality but also its design as unlike other remotes this one is substantial in size (for what it does) and feels more like an actual TV remote. The body is curved which makes it fit better in the hand, and some additional design cues are also in use, such as a contrasting color trim.
In terms of the functionality, the remote does more than simply increase and decrease the volume. Instead, it offer a number of additional features to improve the experience. For example, it has a dedicated Alexa button which tells the soundbar you are about to issue a command - designed for when the audio is playing loud enough that the soundbar is less able to hear the incoming command. As well as a ‘night’ mode which essentially tells the soundbar you are done for the day. The night mode is also accompanied by various other quick access settings like movies, sports, and music, which let you quickly tweak the settings to get the best experience you can from the content playing. Overall, this is one of the better remotes you will get with a product like this, Polk or otherwise.
App Support & Alexa
As is the case with most products these days, and certainly with all smart products, the Polk Command Bar is compatible with an Android app. In this instance, it is the Polk Connect app which seems to be largely designed for use with the Command Bar, similar to how the Polk Omni app caters to the Omni line of speakers. Although, with the Omni line being far more mature, the difference is the Omni app is compatible with a greater number of speaker options. Irrespective, those who currently use the Omni app will find this app fairly simple to use and in line with the experience already encountered.
For everyone else, the Polk Connect app is a fairly simple and straightforward app to use. There is nothing too complicated here and the app is not super-rich in terms of features. So once a user does set the system up, it’s debatable how much the app will be used going forwards. In terms of the setup, the app does do most of the heavy lifting for you by guiding the user through the process including identifying the target device, connecting to it, connecting it to the Wi-Fi network, and so on. Due to the Command Bar being so heavily Alexa-influenced, the Polk app itself is the gateway to connecting Alexa with a user’s Amazon account - no Amazon app needed.
Alexa works much as you might expect with an Amazon Echo device and so there is very little to comment on in this respect other than stating the transition to a soundbar has been fine. Responses are as expected and the whole Alexa experience is as good as it would be on an Amazon-branded device - although not quite as feature-rich. While Alexa can control compatible audio hardware, the inclusion on the soundbar does make it that much easier to control the product itself. For example, users obviously do not need to reference the name of the soundbar (which they would have to do otherwise) and can issue simpler and shorter commands (like "turn down the volume") and Alex understands. The same is true if you want to turn off the soundbar altogether with a simple “turn off” command being sufficient enough to turn off the soundbar.
During testing an update did arrive and this was automatically applied. Alexa does voice confirm the update’s availability and also that the update is about to happen, which was good. Although it was a little unclear if it was the actual Polk soundbar that was receiving the update, or Alexa - if there is even a difference anymore?. Either way, the update was applied easily and without the need for any user interaction to the point where if the owner is not present when an update becomes available, they are unlikely to know there was even an update in the first place.
Connectivity and Performance
At the physical level the Polk Command Bar offers enough ports to ensure users are well catered to, including an ARC-supported HDMI port. This is important for those TV owners who would prefer not to use an optical cable to connect the soundbar to the TV. Although to make use of ARC, the TV will also need to have an ARC-supported HDMI port available. Adding to this, one of the ports on the back is in-part designed to accommodate an Amazon Fire TV Stick, allowing those who are more entrenched in the Amazon ecosystem to directly connect a Fire TV Stick to the soundbar, and have the soundbar control the stick as if it was naturally part of the system.
There were no issues in terms of connectivity with the Command Bar working as expected, and in all instances. This is a soundbar that is connected to a Wi-Fi network (via the corresponding Android app) and the setting up process was largely seamless and issue-free. From then on there were no immediate issues noted in this respect with the soundbar, and by association, Alexa always connected and ready for use at a moment's notice. As an extension of this, there were no major issues noted with the performance in general with the Command Bar consistently working as expected. On the whole, this proved to be an extremely reliable user experience, although in fairness, it is a fairly limited product in terms of what can go wrong. Nevertheless, it worked as expected, and consistently.
The Polk Command Bar is an ideal addition to a home entertainment setup. It’s priced affordably for what it is, and for that price offers a good overall experience. Those who are specifically more interested in a soundbar for movie content will find this to be much more accommodating due to the frequency response in use and overall delivery of sound, while the built-in Alexa features do add to the experience in general, providing a much greater level of control. Arguably, for this price you could opt for a slightly older and dumber soundbar which will likely provide a richer audio experience. Although, for a smart soundbar, you’re not going to find much better right now, and especially at this price.