Roku is a known quality in the streaming world for some years now as their streaming devices and available Roku platform is one of the most popular ones in the field. But if there was one thing that was missing that was a compact soundbar that would combine the advantages of such a small design with Roku’s streaming prowess. And in our Roku Streambar review today we are going to test such a hybrid device. The Streambar basically is a smaller Roku Smart Soundbar and is meant for those that seek a compact unit but without loosing all the goodies Roku is offering in their devices.
The Streambar basically is a Roku streaming device placed inside a compact soundbar design and not the other way around. It’s main purpose is still to be able to offer you all the advantages you get out of the Roku OS with its huge support of online streaming services but at the same time take it a step further by adding an on-board sound system which can be very practical in case you want to have a combination of the two.
On paper the Roku Streambar is a 2.0 channels compact soundbar that supports Dolby Audio and uses Roku’s OS from which you can launch all your favorite streaming services. Roku has included certain features including Airplay 2, support for Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa and Hey Google, you can stream music through Bluetooth or USB while you can even expand the main unit to a full surround system by adding a subwoofer and surround speakers.
Theoretically the Streambar is not meant to be the solution you seek in order to get a real cinematic experience. Its capabilities obviously cannot extend that far, but what Roku gave us here is a device that tries to satisfy a specific market. Have they managed to do so or going for a dedicated Roku device with a better soundbar is the course of action you should be looking for? Let’s find out…
Design, Inputs and Features
The Streambar is definitely one of the most compact soundbars we have reviewed so far. With a size of 14″ x 2.4″ x 4.2″ (355.6 x 60.9 x 106.6 mm) and weighting only 38.4 ounces (1.1 kg) we would say that it is more destined to be used with smaller TVs or gaming monitors rather than replacing the audio system of your 65″ TV.
The price of the Streambar doesn’t allow for the use of any fancy materials but Roku made sure to create a very solid product. Featuring curvy sides, we would say that overall we have a pleasing looking product. The top and back sides are made out of hard plastic while the entire front and both sides are covered by a non detachable fabric that wraps around the corners and slightly to the back of the unit.
At the back we find all the inputs placed at the center while above we find small holes, probably for air ventilation. Lastly there are sockets for wall mounting but the necessary parts are unfortunately being sold separately. The soundbar has no built-in buttons and there is only a single power button at the back right next to the available ports.
One thing we constantly criticize many soundbar manufacturers for, is the kind of displays they are using. But while in most cases not having a full functions display would be a bad design decision in our books, we are still not sure if the Streambar would need one. First of all having such a small unit would make the inclusion of a full display harder than usual. And also since overall functionality is rather simple in this one we could live without one.
Roku instead has placed a single LED light just above the Roku logo that changes color depending what the soundbar is doing. When in use it is green, when accepting a command turns white, it’s pulsing when in mute while when powered off it turns red. There are not many states this LED has so we could live with it even if it is not the best solution we would like to have.
The Streambar is not the kind of soundbar that screams premium quality. But it doesn’t look cheap either. It gives you a feeling that it is a solid construction while its design is more than pleasing and will go unnoticed in most cases. We would love it to have the mounting parts included in the box along with a full functions display but even as it is we cannot complain a lot, especially when you consider its price tag.
With the Streambar’s compact design obviously there is not a lot of room to add a lot of hardware. As such under the front grille Roku used four 1.9″ (50 mm) full range drivers for the two front channels.
What is interesting, and probably the saving grace as you will read a bit down the article, is that two of those drivers are placed at an angle facing outwards. You see, the extremely compact size of the Streambar would keep the sound very much confined in the middle offering almost no expansion and thus no cinematic immersion. By placing the two drivers at an angle it helps to give you the feeling that the Streambar is slightly bigger than it really is.
This kind of trick we have seen in a few other models also and it seems to be helping, especially when the physical limits of the soundbar are keeping the unit from offering a more expansive audio experience.
Other than that unfortunately we don’t have any more information about the Streambar as Roku is not mentioning anywhere its power output or other amplification features.
The majority of the connection ports are located in the central inset located at the back of the unit.
The soundbar comes with a single HDMI 2.0a port, one digital optical input and a USB port for connecting external storage and flash drives.
With a single HDMI available the Streambar cannot be used as a hub so your only option is to use the ARC function available to pass audio from your TV. On the other hand if you don’t have a HDMI port available in your source device you can use the optical port as an alternative. The soundbar does not support Dolby Atmos so you are not going to be missing anything from the port’s limited bandwidth.
Lastly we should mention that the Streambar support certain 3rd party USB to Ethernet adapters in case you prefer a wired connection for more stable streaming. The adapters that Roku recommends are the Plugable USB 2.0 to Ethernet adapter and the TRENDnet USB 2.0 to Ethernet adapter. There may be others that could work but these two are the ones that Roku mentions in their website.
The unit also comes with wireless capabilities and so we find a WiFi 802.11ac module along with Bluetooth 5.0 for local wireless streaming.
Next we will be looking at the options you have for controling the soundbar. There are no built-in buttons in this one, with the exception of the pair button that is placed next to the ports on the back, so you basically have three alternatives.
First and most obvious is the remote. Roku has been improving their remotes over the last few years and today they offer great functionality, good looks but most important they are very practical. At first glance the remote seems very similar to the one we saw in our Roku Ultra review. It has a matte black look with a distinguishable purple navigation pad on top and the characteristic Roku fabric tag on the bottom.
But even though the two remotes seem very similar there are a couple of distinguishable differences. First of all the remote in the Streambar is missing the two dedicated buttons that were under the playback ones in the Ultra. Why this was done we do not know but we would love to have them for added flexibility.
Other than the navigation and the playback buttons Roku has incorporated dedicated buttons for Netflix, Sling, Hulu and Disney+ which replaces the HBO one we had seen in previous Roku remotes. These can be very useful for those that use these services but completely a waste for everyone else.
The other difference this remote has is that there is no headphones jack available on the left side. Now we do get that since this is a soundbar and not a simple streaming device, the Streambar is the main means for sound output but we would say that keeping this feature would add much more value to the unit. There are surely many moments, during late night viewings for example, where this feature would come in handy.
The remote also comes with a built-in microphone that you can use to issue voice commands to the Streambar. We have talked previously about the weak Roku Voice Assistant implementation and the one in the Streambar is more of the same. There is support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant but these need an external voice control device to work and cannot be used with the on-board microphone. The Streambar also supports Apple Homekit so in case you prefer to use Siri you have this ability also.
But the remote is not the only way to control the Streambar as it also supports the Roku Official Remote Control app. This gives you all the controls you also have with the remote but there are is an additional feature that is missing from the remote and that is Private Listening mode.
With this you can listen to audio from headphones that are connected to your mobile device and in essence this is a feature like the one we mentioned that is missing from the Roku Streambar remote and is available in other Roku streaming devices. For some reason Roku took this out of the remote and decided to offer it only in the app.
Extra Features and Services
The streambar is not trying to be the absolute soundbar in terms of audio features so in a way what is offered is pretty limited. When it comes to audio support being a simple 2.0 channels design meant that the unit can playback Dolby Audio along with PCM. Unfortunately no DTS here.
Also don’t expect a lot of sound settings or sound modes. There are four basic Sound presets with Normal, Reduce bass, Bass boost and Bass off the ones available. Except from these we find three levels for Speech Clarity which makes voices more crisp and three Volume Modes with Off, Leveling and Night mode available. There is no other options for sound customization so everything is kept rather simple.
In terms of streaming audio you have the ability of local streaming through Bluetooth while the device also supports USB playback for both video files including H.264/AVC (.MKV, .MP4, .MOV), H.265/HEVC (.MKV, .MP4, .MOV) and VP9 (.MKV) and audio files like AAC (.MKV, .MP4, .MOV), MP3 (.MP3, .MKV), WMA (.ASF, .WMA, .MKV), FLAC (.FLAC, .MKV), PCM (.WAV, .MKV, .MP4, .MOV), AC3/EAC3 (.MKV, .MP4., .MOV, .AC3) and ALAC (.MKV, .MP4, .MOV, .M4A).
You can even display images through the USB port as it supports JPG, PNG and GIF formats. The built-in player is rather good overall and from the files we tried out most of them had no problems during playback although we wouldn’t consider the Streambar to be as good as a dedicated media player. It has its limitations and certainly doesn’t come with many playback options as many good quality media players do nowadays.
But you can also use Airplay in case you are more of an Apple user and want to stream music from any Airplay 2 capable device.
It may sound a bit strange for such a small unit but the Streambar can be expanded by adding the Roku Wireless Subwoofer and Wireless Speakers. This obviously will up the audio output quality of the main unit as it lacks in low end power and in general there is not much in terms of surround activity. So if you want to make some improvements at least Roku gives you the ability to do so.
Above we mentioned all the features that first and foremost you find in a soundbar. What we left for last was what the Streambar can do as a streaming device.
And with it featuring Roku’s platform there are literally thousands of apps available and surely among all these you will find all the big names available. Netflix, Amazon prime, HBO MAX, Hulu, Sling TV, Google Play Movies & Music, Vudu, DirectTV Now, peacock, Youtube, Apple TV, CBS, Paramount+, iHeartRadio are only a few of those available.
The only one from the major services that is missing is naturally iTunes and the chances this to appear outside of an Apple product is zero so you cannot really claim that is missing since no other competitor product, except from Apple devices, can offer this. In general you cannot ask for more than what is on offer.
What we liked very much is the simplicity of the user interface which by the way has remained the same for the last few years in all Roku devices. You download the apps or services you want, customize the tiles in the main screen in rows and click to open them. There are no folders or sub menus like some other devices offer and this can be good and bad as you will have to organize your apps very good if you are using more than one but it can also be good thing as this reduces the time between you and your content to just a few seconds.
For some the Roku interface may seem very simple and doesn’t allow a lot of freedom in terms of customization but in reality Roku kept it the same because simplicity is what they want and while this may have its ups and downs in the end this is what most of its users ask for.
As for its performance as a streaming device the Streambar was really not all that different from how the Roku Ultra behaves. Obviously when it comes to streaming, your internet connection plays a big role but in our case all apps were opening very fast while films would start pretty quick. Also during our session we didn’t experience any buffering issues and in general the experience was very smooth and trouble free.
If there is one thing missing that’s Dolby Vision support as the Streambar supports only the basic HDR10. For Dolby Vision you either have to go for the Roku Ultra or the Roku Streaming Stick 4K.
Any soundbar, either cheap or expensive, should offer an easy to setup and control environment and the Roku Streambar could not be any different.
After we connected the main unit to a power outlet we used HDMI as our preferred way of connecting it to our test TV. After that you only have to follow the on screen instructions including creating a Roku account, which is free by the way, and after a few simple steps you are ready to go.
As we mentioned above in terms of sound options there are not many to choose from so things are pretty straightforward here which many will surely appreciate. Just for the record for our tests we used the Normal sound preset both in movies and music.
We start our testing with the Man of Steel in 4K UHD. The film comes with an impressive Dolby Atmos mix but unfortunately we have to settle with the legacy Dolby Digital one as there is no Atmos support in the Streambar.
Let’s talk first about the front stage. For such a small unit the Streambar had satisfying extension due to the inclusion of the side firing drivers. Obviously sound couldn’t reach the far sides of our room as we had experienced in some other, bigger soundbars but considering the size of this one we can say that we were satisfied by what we heard on that front.
Dialogue was nicely handled and was pretty clear and distinguishable through all the action but channel separation was obviously lacking a lot. Everything felt like it came from the center and panning sounds didn’t have the necessary wow factor. This also has an effect on the surround performance of the unit as there was practically none. There was no activity behind us or even on our sides for that matter. The Streambar completely lacks the ability to envelope you in the action so only by purchasing the optional surround speakers can improve on that front.
Also the unit leaves a lot to be desired on the low end. Its bass lacks the punch and power, it cannot dig deep and offer the kind of shaking power that would give each action scene the necessary weight. Explosions feel uninspiring and when superman fights General Zod the destruction happening on screen is not felt in any measure or form. The saving grace is that Roku gives you the option to add a subwoofer and if you really want to feel a shake or two then this is your only way to go.
Next on our list was Independence Day: Resurgence again in 4K UHD and once again we have to settle for the legacy Dolby Digital mix. We chose this film because we wanted to once again to see how the Streambar can do with large action sequences that involve a lot of panning and surround effects.
Overall the behavior with this one was similar. During more quiet moments the soundbar fared much better with clear dialogue and good usage of its side fire drivers in order to slightly extend the soundstage a bit further than its physical limits.
But when the real action starts and especially during the aerial battles between the fighter jets and the alien ships the Streambar really showed its weaknesses. Sounds that should come from the sides or behind were firmly rendered at the center front which gave a strange overall feel to what you look on screen. Channel separation was not good enough as the proximity of the two channels could not allow the unit to offer panning sounds the necessary extension.
Once again we didn’t sense any action on the sides or behind us and there a complete lack of an enveloping bubble that would make you feel right in the middle of the action. The weak bass also made these scenes feel flat and uninspiring which made us wish we have the optional subwoofer at hand.
Having tried several scenes from both films it became very obvious what the Streambar can do and what it is really capable of offering you. On the one hand its dialogue was good while its side firing drivers will give you the illusion that the soundbar is slightly bigger than it really is but when things go crazy the unit simply cannot cope with grand scenes that require both surround and low end prowess to make them justice.
For our music testing, the Streambar supports USB playback so we opted to try out a few FLAC files we have at hand through the available port for the best quality possible.
Once again the soundbar lacks any kind of music modes so the Standard one was the only way to go. So how did it fare? Well, we cannot say we were impressed with it. Although we were not expecting any kind of HiFi performance the music felt really without energy and very uninspiring.
Obviously if it is meant for casual listening and if you are the kind of person that cannot tell the difference between a low quality mp3 file and a high resolution FLAC one then surely the Streambar will be just fine for those moments that want to keep yourself entertained with a few musical bits.
Its mid-range was not all that bad but the vocals had no soul, and no energy to them while the bass was completely hollow making the whole performance fall apart. We did try a few songs that would push the low end more than others and the Streambar simply could not follow so the inclusion of the optional subwoofer is your only option if you are desperate at getting something better out of it.
We also tried various genres and more or less all of them revealed the same weaknesses the Streambar has. Although its mid-range was good enough in most cases the lack of bass and the shaky handling of the high frequencies would create inconsistences to each performance that were hard not to notice. The songs we tried ranged from classical to jazz, rock, pop and electronic and most of them had the same behavior.
Overall when it comes to music the Roku Streambar will surely suffice for those that just want to listen to some music without paying attention to the quality of what they hear. For casual use it will be just fine, just don’t expect anything more out of it or you will be greatly disappointed.
In today’s streaming world it means that we need to have more than one devices in our entertainment room. Streaming devices, media players, audio equipment, visual devices and the list goes on and on. And with Roku already having a strong foothold in the streaming arena with its Roku streaming devices they thought it was a goof opportunity to bring forth this hybrid of a device in order to make things a bit more straightforward for those that looked at combining a Roku streamer with a simple soundbar.
Have they succeeded? Partly we would say yes. The Streambar has everything a Roku device offers, meaning the famous Roku OS and platform with its huge app support and combined it with a basic soundbar system that is extremely easy to setup and to use and can be ideal for small TVs or using it under a gaming monitor. It also includes plenty of features, both for online and offline streaming, which can extend its value and usage as a dedicated media player. Lastly if you find that its audio output is lacking Roku gives you the option to add a subwoofer and surround speakers.
On the other hand the basic unit, although doesn’t miss anything as a streaming device, its audio performance leaves a lot to be desired. Obviously from such a compact design you cannot expect much but the reality is that the basic experience is not a big upgrade over what a TV system will offer, unless you have a pretty bad one so in that case the difference will be audible for sure. The unit lacks this cinematic performance as its low end feels weak and the overall sensation is not enveloping you in the action on screen.
Closing what we can say is that if you have a small and cheap TV then it makes sense to add the Streambar in order to boost its streaming and audio capabilities. The other possible scenario is if you want to use it under a gaming TV or monitor where the distance between you and the screen is extremely small. We wouldn’t recommend the Streambar in case you have a mid or higher tier, big size TV as in that case you are not going to gain anything in relation to what your TV can already offer.
With all the above its clear that the Roku Streambar is meant for a very specific market. It’s not a bad product, on the contrary it has a lot of merits. But it was made with a very specific audience in mind and this will surely limit its appeal.