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Roku Streambar Pro Surround Set tested and reviewed: My ears have never been happier

Upgrade your sound system and your streaming setup at the same time.

 

A proper home theater requires two key elements: a big screen and a quality sound system. The screen is easy: Just buy a big TV. But the sound side of the equation can be a little more complicated. At least, it used to be. Gone are the days of needing a sophisticated (and expensive) stereo receiver and lots of speakers with unsightly wires running everywhere. Now you can get a superb home-theater surround system that's almost completely wireless and super easy to integrate into your living room. Oh, and one that's a high-end streamer, too. Here's my Roku Streambar Pro review.

VERDICT: Part streaming box, part 5.1-channel surround sound system, the Roku Streambar Pro bundle makes a fantastic home-theater addition.

Pros
  • Easy setup and operation
  • Great room-filling sound
  • Premium Roku streaming experience
  • Feature-packed remote
Cons
  • No Dolby Atmos
  • Remote's batteries not rechargeable
$473 at Amazon

I'm specifically talking about the Roku Streambar Pro bundle, which includes the Roku Wireless Bass Pro Subwoofer and a pair of Roku Wireless Speakers. This effectively creates the highly desirable 5.1-channel setup that's closer to what you hear in a theater. You can, of course, buy these items piecemeal, but I'm here to give you the scoop on the whole enchilada — and what an enchilada it is.

Roku Streambar Pro: One key difference versus other soundbars

Let's start with the "Roku" part. See, this isn't just a soundbar; it's also a top-end Roku streaming device, with pretty much every feature found in the Roku Ultra box. That means you get not only 4K HDR Netflix, Hulu and all the other channels, but also a souped-up remote with voice controls, a headphone jack, custom shortcut buttons and a lost-remote finder feature. The remote should be able to control your TV's power, volume and mute settings as well.

What if your TV already has smart features built in (in the form of, say, Fire TV or Google TV)? You can still use the Streambar just for audio, but you may lose out on a few features that are baked into the Roku operating system (like, say, dialogue enhancement). One important consideration either way: Make sure your TV has an HDMI-ARC input (most modern ones do) and support for CEC (consumer electronics control). That's so you can successfully use the Streambar with other items plugged into the TV: cable boxes, Blu-ray players, game consoles and so on.

A photo of the Roku Streambar Pro bundle in a living room, with a TV showing the Roku interface.
The Roku Streambar Pro is not only a sound bar, but also a high-end streaming box. (Roku)

The Streambar Pro integrates nicely into your smart-home setup, with support for Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. ("Home servant, turn on the TV and play the latest episode of Severance!") It also works with Apple's AirPlay 2 (which lets you mirror your Apple device to your TV) and HomeKit.

Setup is extremely easy: Just connect the Streambar Pro to your TV and walk through the onscreen setup steps. I do wish Roku did a better job of duplicating existing Roku setups you might already have on another TV or device, especially with regard to signing into various streaming services. As it stands, you mostly have to do everything manually.

To add the subwoofer, you just plug that into an AC outlet and walk through another simple onscreen setup. Same goes for the satellite speakers, which you'll likely want to place behind you for a real surround experience. (Aside: Early attempts at wireless satellites produced spotty results at best; this works flawlessly.) The speakers are wall- and stand-mountable in case you don't have strategically placed shelves or tables on which to place them.

I especially love Roku's remote, which is compact, comfortable to hold and logically laid out. You've got volume and mute buttons on the side, where they're easy to find by touch, four streaming-service shortcut buttons (which you can't modify, alas), two programmable buttons and — drum roll — a headphone jack! Yep, you can plug in any wired headphones or headset for instant private listening. (Prefer a wireless option? The Roku app affords private listening via any headphones or earbuds paired with your phone.)

A close-up of the Roku Streambar Pro remote.
The Streambar Pro remote is a star attraction, with a headphone jack for private listening and customizable shortcut buttons. (Rick Broida/Yahoo News)

How the Streambar Pro sounds

I'm no audiophile; I just know that built-in TV speakers are terrible and any soundbar is an improvement. I also know that when you add a subwoofer to that mix, the experience elevates considerably. All this is to say that once you've got everything set up, it's time to rewatch The Matrix. Or The Dark Knight. Or basically any movie or TV that supports 5.1-channel sound. In short order it's going to utterly thrill your ears.

That's because you'll hear the bullets whizzing by. Or the helicopter approaching from offscreen. The subtle sounds of conversation in the cafe. It can actually be a little disconcerting at first, this fully immersive spatial audio in your living room. But, heavens, I'm hooked. And as a 50-something viewer, I especially appreciate the Speech Clarity feature, which amplifies voices. The wonderful flipside to that is Night Mode, which dampens overloud noises like explosions and TV commercials.

The system isn't perfect. For example, once in a while I'll start streaming something on Netflix or another service and the whole system will lock up and reboot. And sometimes the soundbar lags when I, say, adjust the volume or even just hit the Home button, though this happens much less frequently than it used to, making me think a firmware update helped resolve whatever issue was causing that.

A photo of the Roku Wireless Bass Pro subwoofer (left) alongside a TV stand with the Streambar Pro.
The Roku Wireless Bass Pro subwoofer (left) adds serious bass to your setup, and it's wireless, so you can plug it in just about anywhere. (Rick Broida/Yahoo News)

Meanwhile, although the Streambar Pro supports Dolby Audio, it lacks Dolby Atmos, a feature that helps create a more three-dimensional audio experience. It's found in many higher-end soundbars, often to help compensate for the lack of physical rear speakers. Having tested several Atmos-equipped soundbars, I can't say I miss it here. It's sort of like the spatial-audio capabilities found in some headphones: nice to have, but not essential.

If you're a serious audiophile, you may prefer a system with more audio bells and whistles. (Feel free to peruse our list of the best soundbars to find one.) My ears don't make such demands; I'm not chasing super-perfect fidelity or room-shaking bass. I went into this seeking a simple, reasonably affordable, great-sounding setup, and that's exactly what I got.

To bundle or not to bundle?

The Roku Streambar Pro has a list price of $180, as does the Roku Wireless Bass Pro Subwoofer; a pair of Roku Wireless Speakers will run you $150. All told, you're looking at $510, roughly the same price as the bundle.

Because there's virtually no savings in bundling, you could trying taking a piecemeal approach: Start with the Streambar Pro by itself and see what you think. Although it's pretty light on the bass, it does include a virtual surround-sound mode that's fairly effective. You can always add one or both of the other items later on, as theater finances allow.

Speaking of which, there's a much more affordable surround-sound option in the form of the Vizio V-Series 5.1, which typically sells for around $200. It doesn't have Roku or any other streaming UI baked in, and its satellite speakers are wired, not wireless. Assuming you can live with that, it's definitely worth a look.

But if you're searching for a substantial home-theater upgrade, both for streaming and audio, it's hard to beat the full-on Streambar Pro bundle. I'm extremely happy with it, and have been for a couple years now.