The Polk Audio SB1 Soundbar is one of the most impressive soundbars you will find. Not only does it have excellent sound that greatly improves your home theatre experience, you can use it to wirelessly fill your home with sound by adding other speakers, and they don’t even have to be Polk.
Plenty of Style
I liked the Polk SB1 from the minute I pulled it out of the box. The soundbar has a sleek and slim design that is very attractive. It is 43” wide but only 3 ½“ deep and 2” high. It looks and feels solid, with metal grills over the speaker and a higher quality hard plastic case with curves at the edges to give it a design flair. On top of the bar is a set of controls so if you misplace the remote you won’t be in trouble. Nevertheless, the small remote that comes with it is very handy.
The soundbar comes with all the necessary cables, even an optical cable to hook it up to your TV. If your TV doesn’t have an optical output, the Polk SB1 also comes with an RCA connector so you can use that. It has the optical, RCA connections plus a USB port so you can connect up to three devices directly to the bar. In addition to these wired connections you can connect it to your home network using WiFi so you can play content directly from the Internet or other devices on your network. More on that later.
The subwoofer that comes with the SB1 is equally attractive as the soundbar. It has the same curved edges that gives it a matching design flair. It is totally wireless so you can place it anywhere in the room as long as it has a power source. The soundbar has another subwoofer jack in the back so you could add yet another subwoofer if you choose, but I found the bass on this one to be ample for everything I tested it out on.
Polk Audio is solely focused on designing and manufacturing speakers. They have become very good at it, and this soundbar system is a great example of that. At 350 watts it has lots of power and it didn’t distort at all even when I cranked it up. The bar has three speakers, one at each end and one in the middle. They produced a clear, crisp, very full sound. There was plenty of bass, which you can also adjust up and down using the remote to suit your own taste or adjust depending on what you are watching.
I particularly liked a couple of features that set this soundbar apart for many others. One is the fact that the center channel is designed around what they call VoiceAdjust technology. This enhances the clarity of the dialogue in TV programs or movies that you are watching. You can adjust the voice separately on the remote by making it louder or softer. The other thing I liked is the two mode buttons on the remote, one for music and one for movies. This changes the soundbar settings to be ideal for what you are using it for. I played a variety of music on the bar, from Lorde’s Royals to Led Zeppelin’s Dazed and Confused and everything I played sounded a lot better than I expected. The sound was so powerful and full that it seemed like there were more speakers than there actually are.
In movie mode the bar tries to create more of a surround effect. Initially it seemed to feel like I was in a big empty hall but after a minute or two the sound did feel richer, although it wasn’t nearly as good a surround effect as my actual surround system. When watching action shots like the beginning of Saving Private Ryan on D-Day, the speakers really popped and boomed nicely creating a much better effect than I would ever get out of my TV.
When I initially set up the Polk SB1, it couldn’t have been any simpler. First I just plugged in the soundbar and connected it directly to my TV using the optical connection. Then I plugged the subwoofer into power and everything started working with my TV. Then I downloaded the Polk Audio free app on to my smartphone, opened it up and simply followed the prompts. It automatically found the Polk SB1. Another option is to push the WiFi button on the SB1 (I didn’t need to do that). It then prompts you to put in your WiFi home network password and then you are done. It took only a few minutes to complete everything.
I do like the Polk Audio app as it lets you wirelessly play music from a wide variety of sources on the SB1 system. The main menu lets you select music from your Smartphone or tablet, a media server (if you have one on your home network), Internet radio, or some other pre-selected apps like Songza, SiriusXM, Deezer, etc. I played a lot of different Internet radio stations, and particularly liked the search filters. You could pick local stations, or select worldwide by location or by genre. The selection was fantastic and it streamed directly through the system wirelessly without a hiccup.
Creating a Wireless Sound System
The great thing about the Polk Omni SB1 system, beyond the fact it sounds excellent, is that it uses Play-Fi developed by DTS. This is an open software platform that can be used to send songs to multiple speakers, as long as they all are enabled with Play-Fi. Polk has a variety of Play-Fi enabled speakers so you could start with the SB1 soundbar system for your TV and add other speakers in different parts of your home to stream music wirelessly everywhere else. It is a dead-easy way to create a musical home since there are no wires involved.
The nice thing is you can use Play-Fi to play the same music throughout your home, or you could control rooms separately so the kids could play what they want in their rooms. Although Polk has a good selection of Play-Fi enabled speakers, you aren’t limited to that brand as you could use any other Play-Fi enabled speakers and control them all the same way. This provides excellent flexibility to mix and match speakers for different purposes and is a very unique feature. Unlike Apple’s AirPlay, Bose’s Soundtouch, or the Sonos wireless system that requires you to get components that are specific to their brand and ecosystem.
I am not about to pretend to be a sound engineer, or know all the technologies that Polk has put into these speakers. However, what I can say is they have done a great job of adding some practical technologies that I really enjoyed. For instance, this was the first sound bar I’ve used that has a separately adjustable voice channel for dialogue. Polk also uses what they call Full Complement Bass Technology. All I know about that is the bass sounds amazing and is easily adjusted using the remote. I also liked the fact that when I did adjust anything on the remote a series of white lights on the sound bar temporarily lit up so you can see exactly how high or low your adjustments were.
If you want a great sounding bar that can ultimately expand into a wireless sound system throughout your home, the Polk Omni series is an excellent choice.