Roku's new wireless speakers offer great sound, but have one big flaw

Remember when TVs were massive, ornately decorated pieces of furniture that weighed so much you were practically required to slip a disc when trying to move them? Well, it may come as a surprise that today’s televisions are a bit slimmer than their predecessors.

But as televisions have gotten thinner, their speakers have been crammed into ever-smaller spaces. The result is audio that’s often hollow and tinny. Sound bars seek to address this, but streaming device maker Roku (ROKU) believes it has a better solution with its new Roku TV Wireless Speakers.

Available for $199, the Roku TV Wireless Speakers offer just about the easiest setup of any device I’ve used. They also have two wireless remotes and a slew of helpful audio settings that average users are sure to appreciate. There’s just one glaring problem: You can only use them with Roku TVs.

That’s right: These speakers aren’t right for you if you don’t own a Roku TV, a TV powered by Roku’s own operating system and produced by manufacturers ranging from Philips and Magnavox to Sharp and TCL.

The Roku TV speakers offer a great audio experience, but the fact that they only work with Roku TVs is a huge problem. (image: Roku)
The Roku TV speakers offer a great audio experience, but the fact that they only work with Roku TVs is a huge problem. (image: Roku)

Think you can use the speakers with your TV, because you have a Roku streaming device plugged in the back? Think again, because that won’t work, either. Either you have a Roku TV, or these speakers aren’t for you.

Setup without the trouble

If you do have a Roku TV, though, you’ll be surprised at how easy these speakers are to set up. The kit comes with two separate speakers that are far taller than a standard sound bar. However, they can be positioned on the sides of your TV, which can block your set’s IR remote receiver.

The Roku TV Wireless Speakers are incredibly easy to set up. (image: Roku)
The Roku TV Wireless Speakers are incredibly easy to set up. (image: Roku)

Roku took all of the pain out of the setup process with the Roku TV Wireless Speakers by eliminating the wires to your television entirely. You’re still going to have to plug the two included speakers into separate power outlets, which can be a pain if you don’t have a free one near your TV. I have two surge protectors plugged into the two outlets behind my television, so it wasn’t much of a problem. However, since there are no other outlets nearby, I’m lucky I had the extra space.

Outside of that, though, the setup for these speakers couldn’t be simpler. Once my TV was on, and the speakers were plugged in, I just had to hold down the Home button on the TV remote for four seconds and one of the speakers automatically paired to the TV. Heck, you don’t even need to read the instructions, because the speakers will repeatedly tell you to hold down the Home button to pair them.

Once your speaker is paired, it will ask which side of the TV it’s positioned on. The second speaker will then pair and ask what side it’s on. And that’s it. It felt like I spent more time unboxing the speakers than setting them up.

Roku also provides two remotes for the speakers. One is a standard voice remote for your TV, while the other is a wireless base station that you can use to control your speakers from another room. Why do that? Because you can connect your smartphone to your speakers via Bluetooth and play music through them.

It doesn’t make much sense considering you’re not going to really be listening to speakers next to your TV in your living room from, say your kitchen, but hey, it’s an option.

The Roku TV speakers are far taller than a traditional sound bar. (image: Roku)
The Roku TV speakers are far taller than a traditional sound bar. (image: Roku)

The sound

Importantly, the Roku TV Wireless Speakers drastically improve upon the sound quality of your TV’s built-in speakers. A prior demonstration by Roku representatives put two models of the same TV side-by-side with one using the Roku TV Wireless Speakers and the other the native speakers.

With the same movie playing on both TVs, the representative switched back and forth showing how much better the Roku speakers are. That’s not too surprising, though, considering most external speakers are better than the internal ones. That’s not to say that the Roku speakers aren’t impressive in their own right.

Two of the features that stood out on the Roku speakers were speech clarity and volume leveling. Speech clarity does exactly as its name implies. It improves the audio of speech in TV shows and games, ensuring you can hear dialogue when characters may normally sound too low. You have the option to either leave this setting off, set it to low or turn it to high. I left it on low, as dialogue sounded a bit too overwhelming at the highest setting.

The standout feature, though, was volume leveling. This makes it so that highs and lows are more even. So, for instance, if there are annoyingly loud commercials, they’ll be evened out with the rest of the content you’re watching.

I tested this while watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which I love, but which also has what seems like one of the loudest opening credits of any show on television compared to the characters’ dialogue.

With volume leveling on, the audio seemed to adjust to the loudest parts of the show, so I could turn the volume down — ensuring no single part of the program was overbearing. At the same time, volume leveling allowed me to hear effects in movies and games that are usually overpowered by louder noises.

Highs and lows were audible where they weren’t before, and while playing games like “Overwatch” I was able to hear sounds that I previously couldn’t such as the stomping of my character’s feet against the ground.

Should you get it?

The Roku TV Wireless Speakers offer wonderful audio quality, especially for the price. The remotes also feature voice controls, which is a welcome addition for users whose remotes didn’t include the option before. But those voice commands are pretty rudimentary by the standard of, say, Google’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa.

The real issue here is that the Roku TV Wireless Speakers only work with Roku TVs. That eliminates a whole swath of consumers from the company’s pool of potential customers. But those who do buy the speakers will be even more incentivized to buy another Roku TV when they’re ready for an upgrade.

If you already own a Roku TV or are thinking about buying one, the Roku TV Wireless Speakers will make a great addition to your setup.

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