As any Alexa owner will tell you, having a voice-activated speaker in your house is pretty great. You can ask for the weather report, turn your lights off or request your favorite song. It has drawbacks too, including the speaker not "listening" as well you'd like, and in the case ofline, delivering sound that's hardly worthy of your favorite tunes or movies.
Enter "smart sound bars." Not only are they designed to crank the volume up to cinema levels, but they can still hear you say "Alexa" without your having to shout. The Polk Command Bar is one of the first examples, although its release was overshadowed by the $399/£399/AU$599. Both sound bars have Alexa built in and improve your TV's sound significantly, and each has distinct advantages.
The Polk has the features to do pretty much everything you need a smart 'bar to do, including two HDMI inputs and the ability to switch between them with a voice command. The Command Bar is not as compact or pretty as the Sonos but then again looks aren't everything. It sounds better, and that's ultimately more important.
The Polk falls short of the Beam for multiroom music (a Sonos speciality) and flexibility -- Sonos already supportsand will add later this year. Those capabilities could be worth the extra $100 for the right person, like someone who already owns a lot of Sonos or Apple gear. For everyone else, at this early stage in the smart sound bar race the Polk Command bar is my pick over the Beam for both sound quality and value.
The Polk Command Bar is available for $299 and comes with a free($40). The sound bar will be coming to the UK later in the year for £349 and to Australia for an unannounced price -- I'd expect around AU$600.
It's hard to talk about the design of the speaker without first addressing the elephant in the room: yes, that thing that looks like an Amazon Echo Dot ($40 at Amazon) in the middle. It's not actually a Dot -- putting one of those inside a loud sound bar wouldn't work that well -- but the Polk's centerpiece is designed to look and act like Amazon's ring-topped device. The microphone array that lives inside is Polk's own design.
The Command Bar was created by the same team behind the excellent, and yet the only commonality is that the two sound bars share the same wireless subwoofer. The Bar's main speaker is pretty big at 43 inches wide and 4 inches deep. It houses a pair of 3-inch full-range drivers, flanked by two 1-inch tweeters placed at the extreme ends of the bar for better isolation from the microphones. The Bar's wireless 6.5-inch subwoofer is large and plastic but not unattractive.
The remote control is a step up from standard Polk fare and we liked its rounded feel. In addition to upgraded build quality, the clicker has a dedicated Alexa button. Unlike theremote it doesn't have a microphone in it, but activates Alexa's listening mode on the sound bar. It's perfect for the times Sting is playing a little too loudly for Amazon's assistant to hear you say the "wake word".
While the shape of the sound bar is a little awkward for wall-mounting -- it needs to lie flat horizontally -- it is possible due to the included keyhole ports at the rear of the unit.
Polk wanted to call its first sound bar the Echo Bar, but according to the Polk representatives I spoke to, the name was ultimately shot down by CEO Jeff Bezos himself.
But what is in a name? Polk worked closely with Amazon on the speaker, both on its design and in designing new software to drive it. For example, Amazon has never had a speaker with multiple inputs before, and Polk wanted it to be possible to change between them with voice commands. As a result the Command Bar lets you change the input with just your voice, and more besides.