I’ve always envied people who have really nice home theaters.
We have never lived in a house that had a room I could dedicate to setting up a nice big TV or projector with a good sound system.
My wife and I have always lived in houses with pretty small living rooms, so I didn’t bother with trying to place speakers around such a small space.
We just make do with the sound provided by the TV’s speakers, which is never really great.
Sound bars are a good compromise between your TV’s built-in speakers and a good home theater surround system.
As TVs get thinner, with barely any bezel around the screen, speakers and their placement have almost become an afterthought.
I love my TCL television, but the speakers are small and they face the rear.
Adding a good sound bar can really make difference.
What’s a sound bar?
Sound bars are a group of speakers housed in a low-profile, wide enclosure that sits right in front of your TV. Some sound bars have a subwoofer and can connect to rear speakers to provide surround sound.
I’ve been reviewing the Polk Audio Command Bar ($249.99 at polkaudio.com), which combines a sound bar with a wireless subwoofer and has Amazon’s Alexa built in.
The Command Bar isn’t just a long black box full of speakers. Polk has designed it with gentle curves that almost resemble an airplane wing. Planted in the center of the top is what appears to be an Amazon Echo Dot.
It looks like a Dot, but the Alexa built into the Command bar has far-field microphones that are very good at picking up your voice when the TV sound is turned up.
When you say, “Alexa,” the Command Bar’s sound lowers its volume so it can hear your request clearly. The Command Bar can also join an Alexa multiroom audio setup.
The Command Bar is pretty easy to set up. Unbox the Command Bar and its companion wireless subwoofer and plug them both into power. They should pair with each other automatically. A green light on the subwoofer will show the connection status.
You can connect the Command Bar to your TV via HDMI or optical audio cables (both cables are included).
If you have a TV with an input labeled HDMI-ARC, you should use it. ARC stands for audio return channel, and it will make a special connection to your TV in a way that allows your TV remote to control the volume of the sound bar.
On some TVs, simply hooking up a sound bar through HDMI-ARC will turn off the TVs speakers, but on my TCL television, I had to enter the TVs settings to turn off the TV speakers and turn on a setting called HDMI-CEC, which stands for consumer electronics control.
HDMI-CEC and HDMI-ARC work together to make your TV and sound bar work together seamlessly.
Once the sound is coming from the Command Bar, you don’t have to do much else. The Command Bar has its own remote control that has buttons to control the treble and bass and activate different audio modes to enhance the sound for movies or sports.
If you like, the Command Bar has two HDMI inputs so you can connect a DVD player or video game console that will pass through to your TV. You use the Command Bar remote to change those inputs. The video input and output are 4K-compatible.
The Command Bar measures 42.95 inches wide by 2 inches high by 4 inches deep, and it weighs 4.95 pounds.
The speakers inside include two 1.25-by-3.25-inch mid/woofers and two 1-inch tweeters. The internal amplifier pushes 260 watts with a total frequency response of 40 Hz to 22,000 Hz.
The Command Bar is also a Bluetooth speaker, so you can pair your phone or tablet or computer to play music wirelessly.
It also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi to connect Alexa to the internet.
The Command Bar can be wall-mounted using some included wall spacers.
The wireless subwoofer sits vertically on the floor. It takes up about as much room as a shoebox. It measures 14.43 inches tall by 7.4 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep and weighs 8.65 pounds. The subwoofer has one 6.5-inch driver, facing the floor. Its amplifier pushes out 100 watts.
There’s a USB port on the back to provide a handy place to power up a streaming device or antenna.
One of the HDMI ports on the back is also located in a position that allows you to plug in an Amazon Fire TV stick.
I found the Command Bar to be a real upgrade to my TVs sound output.
The addition of front-facing speakers and a subwoofer make a huge difference. Even the intro music on the local news took on a new dimension with actual booming bass.
Once you have things up and running, the remote will help you get the sound adjusted to your liking so you can just forget about it and enjoy your movie or TV show.