When Roku announced a $200 set of wireless TV speakers designed to work exclusively with Roku TVs, a lot of people scoffed at the idea. Why would you spend so much money on an audio setup that only works with certain televisions? (The speakers don’t even support Roku’s own streaming devices.) How could this be any better than just buying an entry-level soundbar? After some time testing out the Roku TV Wireless Speakers, I can tell you that convenience and simplicity can be powerful selling points when it comes to home theater gear. And I don’t think I’ve ever used speakers that made everything feel so easy.
Roku’s speakers won’t be the right choice for everyone (or anyone without a Roku TV), and some features — voice controls, especially — need to get better. But they’re a massive improvement over the awful built-in speakers on Roku TVs, which sound lifeless and frequently make dialogue hard to understand. If you’re tired of that and want to give shows and movies the audio they deserve with minimal fuss, Roku’s option starts to make a lot more sense.
It’s easy enough to answer why Roku is making its own speakers: Roku TVs make up approximately a quarter of the US TV market, so that’s a lot of potential customers right out of the gate. And these speakers can integrate with Roku OS in a way that a soundbar from Vizio just can’t; that’s what makes it possible for them to be wireless. Each of the two Roku speakers is similar in size and shape to a Sonos One, but they’re wrapped in fabric on the front and sides. They weigh in at a hefty, sturdy four pounds. Inside each speaker, there’s a 3.5-inch woofer and 0.75-inch tweeter. Around back is a pairing button (which I never had to use), a reset switch, a status light, and a power input. Since the speakers operate wirelessly from the TV and aren’t linked together via a cord, each one requires its own outlet. This made me groan because, if you’re like me, outlets near the TV are a precious thing. Using up two of them is a big ask, but that’s the trade-off for going wireless. The upside is you’re left with less wire chaos behind your TV.
Setup is totally painless. You plug the speakers in, turn on your Roku TV (make sure it has the latest Roku OS update installed), and hold the home button on your remote for five seconds. Then, you choose “speaker” on the menu that pops up, and the pairing process happens automatically for one speaker at a time.
All you need to do is confirm which side each speaker is on. Setting up the two remote controls that come alongside the Wireless Speakers is equally as simple. You might be tempted to ignore the bundled Roku TV Voice Remote for the one that was originally included with your TV, but you shouldn’t. Unlike the standard IR-based Roku remotes that ship with many TVs, this one doesn’t need line-of-sight or require you to point it directly at the TV. It also has a microphone button for voice search, which your original remote might lack.
Aside from the traditional Roku voice remote, the speakers also come with a brand-new Roku Touch remote. It’s a puck-like thing with rounded edges and a soft-touch finish. There’s a big microphone button, volume / track controls, and customizable “1” and “2” shortcut buttons. I know what you’re thinking: “Finally, I can assign those to my favorite streaming apps!” Roku’s shortcut buttons on the main remote are always the result of paid placement, leaving some destined to be useless for certain customers. (Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and the Roku Channel are the four buttons this time.)
Unfortunately, that’s not how the Touch remote’s shortcuts work. Those two buttons are meant to store voice commands. So instead of having to tell the remote “play rock music” every time, you can store that and just push the button to play music faster. It’s best to think about the Roku Touch’s role as a music remote that you’d put in the kitchen or someplace within earshot of the TV but not directly in front of it. There’s no D-pad on it, so you couldn’t navigate the TV’s menus even if you wanted to. That’s still what the primary remote is for.
What’s weirder is that the puck remote has a button that doesn’t even do anything yet. If you press it, a voice response says, “This feature is not yet available.” What feature, oh secretive remote? Roku won’t tell me what this button will eventually do down the road. What do you think the two linked squares mean? Multiroom audio? Mirroring of some kind? This product category is so new for Roku that it actually shipped a remote with a TBD button. That makes me feel like something of a beta tester, but the speakers do their primary job reliably enough that I can look past it.
The Roku TV Wireless Speakers can also act as regular Bluetooth speakers for music played back from your phone or other devices. To get this option, you must enable Fast TV Start in your TV’s power management settings. Doing so will also allow you to turn the TV screen on or off with either voice remote or listen to music from Roku apps when the display is off.
Roku’s voice commands will feel very basic if you’re used to an Alexa or Google Assistant speaker. Searching for a movie / TV show by name or pulling up content starring a certain actor works well enough, as does saying something like “show me free movies” or asking to hear a genre of music from supported music services. If you say “play Stranger Things on Netflix,” it’ll pull up the show, but you’ll have to click through a couple more screens to start watching. Spotify doesn’t work with voice commands yet. However, the Roku speakers do show up as a Spotify Connect point, so you can just start up your Discover Weekly or Release Radar playlist from your phone. I’ve gotten a fair number of “I didn’t understand that” responses when requesting an artist — Jason Isbell isn’t that hard to make out, is it? — or a specific song, so this is probably the way to go unless you’re satisfied just calling out a genre for Pandora to pull from.
Audio-wise, the Roku speakers deliver as promised. The sound they put out is full, detailed, and will put TV speakers to shame. And since there’s a speaker on each side of your TV, the stereo separation is better than what most $200 soundbars can achieve. There’s a very real sense of left and right, and Roku has done an impressive job of tuning the speakers to make dialogue sound like it’s coming from between them in the center — even with nothing there.
You’re not going to get room-rattling volume or bass, however. There’s no subwoofer, and two speakers can’t reach that low-end growl on their own. Pricier speakers or soundbars like the Sonos Beam can top Roku here; even my Vizio soundbar puts out meatier bass.
There also aren’t rear surround speakers for a more immersive experience. Dolby Atmos this is not. Roku isn’t making either of those things yet, though it’s possible the company might add to this initial pair over time. Through your Roku TV’s settings, you can activate settings like Volume Leveling (to reduce jarring changes in loudness and boost content that’s too quiet) and Night Mode, which cuts down on boomy audio in the evening that can disturb others. You can also boost dialogue even higher in the mix than normal if you want.
Music playback is better than I expected it to be, and these speakers are genuinely good at playing a range of styles. Sometimes soundbars focus on TV and movie audio at the expense of music, but Roku has checked off both. Most everything I tried — Leon Bridges, Ruston Kelly, Drake, Twin Shadow, and the new 2018 remix of The Beatles — sounded well-balanced. There’s a limit to how far you can push the bass (both with TV sound and music), but the speakers do a good job of handling that internally to avoid distortion. The speakers also work with OTA programming if you have an antenna hooked up to your Roku TV, and they support game consoles without much noticeable audio lag so long as Game Mode is enabled.
I’m left impressed by the Roku TV Wireless Speakers as, well, speakers. Roku’s voice control system still needs improving, but it works well enough at the basics, and that $200 price will get you satisfactory sound for your TV shows, movies, and music. Everyone knows that TV speakers are awful, and the improvement here is obvious.
But whether Roku’s speakers are a smart buy depends on how much you value their dead-simple setup and ease of use. It also depends on how long you’ll be keeping your Roku TV around. If you upgrade to something else for your living room, these speakers can always stick with the Roku TV as a secondary set in another room. Do you hate cable clutter? Maybe speakers that connect to your TV over Wi-Fi are all the more appealing.
If I were starting from scratch with a new Roku TV out of the box, I think I’d buy these to go along with it. People who want a more high-end home theater experience will look elsewhere and spend much more, but this is a pretty clear path to better sound for people who are satisfied with good and don’t need great.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge
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