Friday , August 19 2022

Roku's Wireless Speakers Are Beautifully Simple But There's a Catch



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Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

It was a bit of a surprise earlier this year when Roku announced that it would be selling wireless speakers. The popular maker of platform-agnostic set-top boxes is definitely no stranger to home entertainment, but the idea that it would soon begin to compete with Sonos, well, seemed crazy. Having spent some time with the new soundbar alternative, I can say that Roku is doing something more intriguing with the Roku TV Wireless Speakers. It's a custom sound system that works curiously well with Roku TVs. The only downside is that the speakers are not really working on any other TV or wireless audio system. Innovation is a weird beast, I guess.

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What is it?

Wireless speakers for Roku TVs

Like

Super easy setup, solid sound quality

No like

Only works with Roku TVs, no option for add-ons

So let's clear something up right way. The new wireless Roku speakers are not quite a Sonos substitute. The $ 200 Roku speakers connect wirelessly to TVs that run on the Roku operating system, and they work almost exclusively as a soundbar alternative. While the speakers are also equipped with Bluetooth and can be used with a smartphone, laptop or Bluetooth enabled TV, they're really designed to deliver a sound from a Roku TV into your living room. For now, there is no multi-room audio support or easy integration with other speaker systems. The Roku Wireless Speakers are simply speakers for a Roku TV.

This is where I'm scratching my head. Why on Earth did Roku do Roku TV to work properly? It's true that the company is lending its operating system to more and more smart TVs hitting the market, but it seems weird to compete in the home. And you definitely need a Roku TV. You can not get the full Roku Wireless Speaker with a regular Roku set-top box or a Roku stick, although you could technically pipe your TV with a Bluetooth connectivity. I wonder if this first generation of speakers represents a beta test, but I can not say sure. When I asked Roku how folks could use the wireless speakers with a Roku stick or box, they said the Roku TV would be the best thing to do.

Either way, I'm not here to analyze Roku's business strategy. I'm here to talk about the traditional soundtrack. The short answer is that they work pretty damn well-so well.

The Roku Touch tablet also supports voice commands.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

Setting them up with a Roku TV is a breeze. You take them out of the box, then plug in a power outlet, and hold the power button on your Roku remote for five seconds, and then one speaker will let you know that it's paired. After identifying, if the speaker is on the left or right of the TV, you can pair the second speaker the same way. The whole process takes about two minutes, and they're all configured for stereo sound. When you turn on the TV, the speakers turn on and work great. You can also control the volume with the same Roku TV remote that you used before. The Roku Wireless Speakers also come with a new Roku Touch tabletop that features a couple of customizable buttons and a pleasing, squared-off hockey-puck shape.

The fact that you have one speaker on the side of the TV is also the soundtrack, and you can really hear the right sound of the soundbars. Meanwhile, you can access speaker settings in your regular Roku TV menu without the need to fiddle with a secondary remote or app. In other words, the integration is delightfully seamless, which could explain why Roku is the only Roku TV operating system. The company can control every aspect of the experience. You can use the Roku Wireless Speakers like regular Bluetooth speakers, but that's the only way you can play outside the Roku TV sandbox.

Roku keeps things simple in terms of audio quality. The speakers sound pretty good, but there are not many options to tweak them to your particular preferences. Connecting the Roku Wireless Speakers gives you just a couple of ways to adjust the equalizer settings. You can choose between three different sound modes that adjust bass output. You can also shuffle through different volume modes, which include automatic volume leveling. Some of these settings can be in the TV's main audio settings, while others can only be tweaked while you're watching something.

That's as much control as you get. Want to fine tune your speakers? Too bad. You have just got to enjoy this default Roku Wireless Speaker sound profile. Again, the audio quality is pretty good, especially in comparison to whatever crappy built-in speakers are on your Roku TV. But for now, that sort of standard Roku Speaker will have to be good enough, because that's all you get.

The Roku Wireless Speakers system is two speakers and a Roku TV.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

You can probably see where this is heading. The Roku Wireless Speakers do have their limits. The butt-shaking engine sounds of the Ranger spacecraft Interstellar will not quite shake your butt with the Roku Wireless Speakers, since there's a limited amount of bass the speakers' hardware can muster. You also can not hook up an external subwoofer, since the Roku Wireless Speaker system does not support the option. That means you can also completely upgrade to surround sound. With the Roku Speakers, you get a left channel and a right channel, and that's it. No customizing. No added on satellite speakers. And definitely no Dolby Atmos.

The thing is, this is probably all that a lot of people want or even need. Because of their increasingly slim profile, almost all TVs come with tiny, terrible-sounding speakers, so any kind of external sound system will be an improvement. At the same time, the soundbar market is crowded with expensive and seemingly complicated packages that could scare away the casual TV watcher. Roku Wireless Speakers is a simplified solution for Roku TV owners. And from the couple of weeks I spent with the Roku Speakers, I can confidently say they're terrifically idiot-proof.

The Roku Touch tablet fits handily on top of either speaker.
Photo: Adam Clark Estes (Gizmodo)

If the Roku Wireless Speakers seem too simple, they're probably not for you. Heck, if you do not own a Roku TV, the Roku speakers are definitely not for you. But if you do, there are other options for better sound. You can spend $ 200 on the Samsung TV Mate soundbar, which is not wireless and does not sound quite as good as the Roku Wireless Speakers, but it will also make your TV louder. You can spend a little more and get a 5.1 surround sound system from Vizio, although a few speakers around your living room are more complex than plopping two Roku Wireless Speakers on either side of the screen.

We do not know what the future holds for this curious new Roku product. It's certainly possible that Roku is a software update or an app so that the Roku Wireless Speakers work with Roku set-top boxes and Roku sticks. Roku Wireless Subwoofer: Roku Wireless Subwoofer. We do not know what Roku's going to do, but frankly, anything seems possible. The company has built-in wireless speakers, after all. That was a surprise. Who knows what's next.

README

  • A stupid simple way to improve sound on a Roku TV
  • Does not work on non-Roku TVs
  • Good sound quality but not much room for customization
  • Comes with a neat little tabletop voice remote
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