If your criteria for a soundbar purchase is that it must sound good and have Alexa built in, then the Polk Audio React should be on your shortlist.
In price and features it’s similar to Samsung’s S60T, but offers the option of adding wireless rear speakers and / or a wireless subwoofer for proper surround-sound and room-shaking bass.
It’s certainly going to improve upon the sound you’re currently getting from your TV, and doubles as as a Bluetooth speaker. Thanks to Alexa, you have plenty of other avenues available for streaming audio, whether that’s Amazon’s own services or Spotify, Apple Music and others that Alexa supports, not to mention internet radio and podcasts.
What it doesn’t have is a built-in Chromecast as quite a few rival soundbars do – including Polk’s own MagniFi 2 – so you can’t stream video via your phone to your TV. Nor does it support AirPlay in any guise, so Apple fans may prefer to look elsewhere.
The other main point to note is that inputs are limited to HDMI and optical S/PDIF, so it’s not ideal if you wanted something with lots of HDMI inputs or a 3.5mm aux input for older TVs or other devices.
Features & Design
Design is often a matter of taste, but the React is inoffensive and is relatively slim, so should sit in front of your TV without drawing too much attention to itself.
Grey fabric is stretched over the top and sides, making it look rather seamless, save for the circular controls on top which look quite a lot like the top of the original Amazon Echo Dot.
But instead of a circular LED ring, a strip of LEDs is cleverly hidden behind the fabric on the front and lights up when you hail Alexa or adjust the volume. There’s also a status LED which glows purple for night mode, yellow for a DTS sound source, green for Dolby, orange for PCM and blue for.. you guessed it, Bluetooth.
Inputs are in a recessed area on the back and, as mentioned, comprise HDMI (ARC, not eARC), optical and power. There’s also a USB-A port which is FOR SERVICE ONLY. The Connect button is for pairing the sub and rear speakers, if you have them.
Buttons on the control panel adjust volume, mute the mics, dismiss alarms or call up Alexa. The volume buttons control the volume for Alexa as well as for the TV input. This seems sensible, but Alexa’s voice was just a bit too loud at any given volume and it would have been handy to be able to adjust it separately.
Since we’re talking about Alexa, it makes sense to talk about how well integrated she is with the React. Very, very well is the answer.
You can, of course, ask her any of the usual stuff, from weather forecasts and setting timers to playing music and turning on your smart lights, but she can also do soundbar-specific things.
For example, you can say “Alexa, switch to night mode” and she will. Assuming you haven’t already lost it down the back of the sofa, the included remote control also lets you pick one of the sound modes which additionally include sports, movie and music. (Aside: the rubbery front of the remote attracts dust like crazy – see below – and it’s very difficult to clean.)
Alexa can also pair the subwoofer and speakers when you say “Alexa, pair”. That’s slightly confusing as this command is usually used to pair a phone via Bluetooth.
There are bass and voice controls (more on that in a bit), plus separate volume and balance controls for the optional rear speakers. At the top is an Alexa button which you can press to talk, which comes in handy when you have the volume up loud and would otherwise have to shout “ALEXA!” to get her to hear you.
Unlike most third-party Alexa devices, the React supports multi-room audio, allowing you to use the soundbar along with any Echo speakers you might have to play music in sync around your home. It also supports communication, so you can make calls and announcements as well.
Soundbars are never tricky to set up, but even with Alexa, the React was out of the box and up and running in just a few minutes. Usefully, HDMI and optical cables are included in the box.
Once powered on, Alexa will tell you to use the Alexa app. And upon launching that on your phone you should see a pop-up showing the React has been detected and is ready to set up.
Scan the QR code on the back of the soundbar and in another 30 seconds, you’re finished and you can use the soundbar and Alexa.
Though Polk sent the wireless subwoofer for testing, I initially used the soundbar on its own and was pleasantly surprised by the bass on offer. This is thanks to the inclusion of two passive bass radiators along with the two mid-range drivers and central tweeter.
The amount of bass you get will depend somewhat on your specific room and the surface on which you place the React, but in my small lounge on a bench in front of the TV it provided plenty of low-frequency grunt for TV watching.
If you mainly watch action movies and want explosions and effects to really thump, you’ll want that sub, which sounds fantastic. And maybe also if you love your music to have lots of bass, as there’s way more of it and, as you’d expect, you also get those sub-bass frequencies.
For everyone else, the soundbar will be just fine on its own. Watching sports – F1 specifically – the default settings were more than adequate with the commentary easily audible over the sounds of the engines. But if not, you can use that Voice button to boost vocal frequencies and get a bit more clarity.
It sounded great for other types of TV as well, from Netflix series to soaps and simply the news headlines.
Night mode suppresses bass so you can still listen at a reasonable volume without disturbing the kids upstairs too much.
If your audio source contains surround sound, the React will attempt to deliver this even without rear speakers. But in my experience the effect wasn’t nearly as convincing as OrbitSound’s AirSound which does a magnificent job of virtual surround.
If your budget and room allows for it, you can buy the SR2 speakers which connect wirelessly to the React. The same goes for the React Subwoofer, but remember that they all need a mains power connection: they’re not completely wireless.
Price & Availability
You can buy a Polk React direct from Polk’s website for £249 / $249. Delivery is free, and you can return it within 30 days if you don’t like it.
At the time of review it was discounted to $199 for US customers and to £189 for those in the UK, which are great deals.
It’s also available on Amazon in the UK, and Amazon in the US, along with those rear speakers which cost £159 / $199.
The subwoofer – £179 / $199 – wasn’t sold by Amazon at the time of review, but can be bought from Polk, or from other retailers such as Hughes in the UK.
You can read about alternatives in our roundup of the best soundbars.
So long as you’re not after a soundbar with AirPlay 2, a built-in Chromecast or lots of inputs, the React is a great choice. It’s really designed for those who specifically want Alexa and, though it costs more than an Echo Studio, you can’t connect one of those to your TV.
Sound quality is very good, and it really comes alive when you add the React Sub. In fact, unlike Amazon’s own wireless subwoofer, the React Sub works when you stream music via Bluetooth, so if your budget allows for it, it’s arguably a better setup than buying an Echo Studio and Sub.
Polk React: Specs
Dimensions: 2.20″ H (56mm) x 34.02″ W (864mm) x 4.76″ D (121mm)
Weight: 6.6lbs / 2.9kg
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