Voices assistants were everywhere at CES 2018. Alexa and Google Assistant were baked into more products than we could possibly count, but Polk Audio was showing a product that stood out from the crowd. The Polk Command Bar is a soundbar coming this spring that is Alexa Enabled. That means that it has far-field microphones built right into it allowing the soundbar to be the only Alexa device in your living room.
It’s easy to think of the Polk Command Bar as a sound bar with an Echo Dot smashed into the middle of it. It functions that way, and honestly, it looks that way too. Besides having microphones built right in, the Command Bar also has directly integrated with the Alexa API. That allows you to ask Alexa directly for things instead of saying things like “Alexa, ask Polk…”. With the Command Bar, you can say “Alexa, switch to HDMI 1” or “Alexa, turn up the bass.” It’s much more natural than many of the Alexa implementations we’ve seen. It also makes it far more likely that everyone in your home will be able to use the voice commands. We asked Polk if some of the commands could be modified. We wondered if it was possible to rename the HDMI inputs to things like “Blu-ray Player” or “TV” so that you could speak commands such as “Alexa, switch to TV”. They didn’t think that was currently possible, but it’s something they are looking into. Polk did point out that the Command Bar has preset volume levels for things like alarms. That should prevent an alarm or a timer from blasting too loudly if you were recently watching a movie.
Most devices at CES that had support for the popular voice assistants worked with both Alexa and Google Assistant. Unfortunately, the Polk Command Bar only works with Alexa. The representatives we spoke with didn’t even hint at a possible update to include Google Assistant. It doesn’t have Chromecast support either.
The Polk Command Bar is a 2.1 system with a wireless subwoofer. Given that it’s almost 43″ wide we would have preferred to see a dedicated center channel speaker, but maybe Polk’s patented VoiceAdjust system will adequately make up for the missing third channel. That technology analyzes the audio being played and dynamically boosts frequencies that are in the common vocal ranges. The subwoofer is rather small. It only houses a 6.5″ driver and its amplifier draws 100 watts of power. The sound bar has two 3.25″ oval woofers and two 1″ tweeters. Listening tests are practically useless on the noisy CES show floor, so we can’t attest to how well it sounded. Polk Audio has a history of producing excellent sounding devices, but given the size, we don’t expect this knock your socks off.
The back of the Command Bar has two HDMI inputs that will pass through 4k and HDR video. There’s also a USB port that can be used to power some streaming sticks. The second HDMI port is tucked into a cut-out section that is designed to nicely house an Amazon Fire TV stick or other streaming sticks.
Polk’s Command Bar soundbar looks like it will be a great solution for people looking to get better audio performance than their TV can provide and also supplement their living room with Alexa. The Command Bar’s implementation of Alexa is reason enough to consider the device in a home where Alexa has become the go-to voice assistant. It should be available this spring for $299, and that price does include the wireless subwoofer.