Several years ago, two converging and highly popular home audio trends give rise to the inevitable: hybrid sound bars. These offer all the home theatre advantages of a sound bar, but instead of having to connect them to a smart speaker for full smart home integration, the smart speaker is built in.
Two years ago, I tested one of the pioneer hybrid sound bars, the Polk Audio Command bar with integrated Amazon Alexa. This time around, I spent some time with the company’s latest entry, the React sound bar—still featuring Alexa onboard. Polk Audio also sent along a matching React wireless subwoofer, along with a pair of SR2 wireless surround speakers.
What it is and what it isn’t
Before getting too deep into the review, I want to quickly address what the Polk Audio React is—and what it is not.
The Polk Command bar came as a package that included a wireless subwoofer. The Polk React box contains the sound bar, but no other components.
Out of the box, it is a 2.0 channel sound bar with support for Dolby and DTS virtual surround sound. However, with the React you have the option of expanding your sound bar’s capabilities. The react wireless subwoofer and SR2 wireless surround speakers are sold separately. You have the option of adding either (or both) to your system. With the complete set—React sound bar, React wireless subwoofer, and SR2 wireless surround speakers—you will have a 5.2 channel home theatre system.
The Polk React sound bar does not support Dolby Atmos or other 3D surround sound formats.
As always with a wireless audio system, keep in mind that while the speaker wires have been banished, there is still a power cable for each speaker plus the HDMI or optical cable connecting to your TV.
Polk Audio React key specs:
First impressions of the React sound bar
With the Command bar, Polk Audio went with a somewhat futuristic look. Part of that was to emphasize the Alexa integration with a glowing control ring in the centre of the top surface that looked as though an Echo Dot smart speaker had been sunk in it.
The company took a more traditional approach to the React’s design. The Alexa control ring is still there, but it no longer glows. Instead, there’s a more subtle, horizontal blue LED on the front face that lights up to alter you when Alexa is doing something. Other than that ring, the visible surfaces are covered with black cloth, with the Polk logo on the font.
All in all, it’s a nice looking sound bar. At 5.6 cm tall it can easily fit beneath most TVs, but it is also wall-mountable.
Setting up the Polk Audio React sound bar
Setting up a hybrid sound bar can be a bit of a slog as it also involves connecting to your Wi-Fi network and your digital assistant account. Polk Audio made it a lot easier this time around. Basically, once it’s powered up, the speaker will instruct you to open the Alexa mobile app on your mobile device. Once that’s done, you search for a Polk speaker, add it, then scan a QR code on the back of the React sound bar. It took just a minute or two.
You also need to connect to either the HDMI ARC port or the optical port on your TV. Fortunately, the power supply is built in, so there’s just a power cable to plug in—no bulky adapter.
Polk Audio React sound bar performance
The driver setup is different in this sound bar compared to the Command bar. In particular, the company added a pair of passive subwoofers to complement the tweeters and mid-range drivers. The result is improved bass—which makes sense, since this sound bar doesn’t come with a standalone subwoofer.
I found the surround effect wasn’t particularly convincing, but TV shows, movies, music, and video games all sound far better through the Polk React than through my TV’s speakers. There is more depth, more detail, more deep bass effect, and far more volume. Polk doesn’t publish the amplifier power rating for the React sound bar, but I never found myself wishing it could get louder.
The included remote includes the usual controls, as well as specialized sound modes for movies, music and others.
One thing to be aware of is that because this is a hybrid sound bar, if you give Alexa a command, the volume mutes for a moment. Speaking of Alexa, four microphones ensure the digital assistant can hear your commands.
There’s a button to mute the microphones (with a red LED indicator) if you don’t want Alexa listening in.
Adding the extras: React subwoofer and SR2 surround speakers
Where the audio experience of the React really steps up is when you start adding the additional speakers. Doing so is easy. There’s a “Connect” button on the back of the React, and a corresponding button on each speaker. Hit “Connect” on the React, then hold the button down on each of the speakers and they’ll wirelessly connect.
The connectivity seemed solid during my testing. Wireless means you can place these anywhere you have the space (and access to power). It’s recommended that the subwoofer be located along the same wall as the sound bar, while the surround speakers should be placed behind viewers, on the left and right.
The React subwoofer is equipped with a downward-facing, long-throw 7-inch woofer and it adds all the low end rumble you might want. It’s not small (about 35cm high and 42cm deep) and it’s meant to be placed upright, so you can’t turn it on its side and slide it beneath a sofa. The SR2 surround speakers are small enough to fit in a hand. They are equipped with 3-inch mid-range drivers and can be either set on a table or wall-mounted.
Polk leaves the optional speakers up to you. If the existing low-end performance works for you as is, you may want to skip the subwoofer and add the surround speakers for the widened virtual surround effect. Or if you’re primarily concerned about adding some thump to your music, you may decide to add the subwoofer. Of course you can stick with just the React sound bar on its own—for most people, I suspect that will be more than good enough.
With all the optional speakers connected, I found the listening experience was much closer to a traditional, multi-speaker, home theatre system.
The nice thing is that you can start with the React sound bar and easily add the optional Polk wireless speakers later if you decide to.
Is the Polk React the sound bar for you?
Polk’s React sound bar is a solid choice if you’re sound bar shopping. As a standalone unit, it’s a sleek and modern-looking upgrade to any TV’s built-in sound system. The ability to upgrade to 5.2 channel home theatre audio through optional wireless speaker add-ons is a big plus.
Having integrated Alexa support will be a big win for some people, but for others it’s a feature they won’t use. If you want your sound bar to be smart, that’s another reason to consider this one.