The annoying downside to soundbars is that very few entry-level options allow you to easily upgrade to a larger speaker system. Spend a few hundred dollars for a basic bar now, and you’ll be stuck buying a whole new center speaker if you want to upgrade to a full surround sound system – with dedicated surround speakers and a subwoofer – down the line.
That’s why I became a fan of the new Polk Audio React home theater speaker line. The Alexa-enabled main bar, subwoofer, and surround speakers are each sold separately, so you can start with the bar and then purchase the other parts to complete your full 5.1 system as you wish.
You could buy a complete 5.1 soundbar system as a package for less money than what you would spend to put together a Polk React system piece by piece, but you should be wasting all the money at once. With each component of the Polk React costing just a few hundred dollars and can be purchased separately, it’s an affordable way to get great surround sound for those with lighter wallets.
When you unbox React’s main bar, you’ll quickly notice the trick Alexa unit integrated in the center of the top of the bar. Looks like it was melted into the main speaker housing. The little plastic circle offers the same controls you’ll recognize from other Alexa devices, including the ability to mute the microphone if you don’t want to use Amazon’s smart assistant for anything.
I spent the vast majority of my time interacting with this fabric-covered rectangle via my TV’s own remote control, thanks to Polk’s smart inclusion of an HDMI ARC port that allows me to use my remote control. TV to adjust the volume of the sound bar.
That said, it was helpful to use Alexa to set quick kitchen timers and other things I typically do with a smart speaker or my phone, right on the soundbar. You never miss a cookie baking timer if your TV show is literally interrupted by the chime of your sound bar.
In addition to the sound bar, Polk Audio sent me the rest of the React surround sound system for testing. Setting up the powered surround speakers and wireless subwoofer was a snap, thanks to Polk’s simple instructions for the pairing procedure, although you will want to make sure you have outlets (or extension cords, in my case) that reach about six feet from each speaker. The included power cables are longer than most but a bit short for larger rooms.
The whole black system is sleek and indescribable enough that it easily gets lost in most spaces, which is either a plus or a minus, depending on your aesthetic sense. Personally, I like devices like this to blend into the background.
I tested the soundbar on its own first, then added the subwoofer and surround speakers, to simulate what I think most people should buy this system. Even on my own, I was impressed with the 34-inch bar’s ability to project warm, serious sound throughout my listening space. The audio was fuller and richer than I expected from a bar of this size, which made it well suited for standalone listening.