With the October release of the new Roku Streambar, Roku now sells two soundbars with built-in 4K streaming, prompting us to compare the Roku Streambar vs. Smart Soundbar. The 2020 Roku Streambar has the same video quality and audio formats as the 2019 Roku Soundbar, but substitutes smaller speakers for a more compact frame and cheaper price. Neither soundbar is a clear-cut winner over the other, so we've made an in-depth breakdown to help you decide which is a better fit under your TV.
Roku Streambar vs. Smart Soundbar: More similar than different
When companies release shiny new variants of tech you own, it often inspires FOMO that makes you want to throw out your current device for the latest model. But Roku Smart Soundbar owners shouldn't have this problem, as the Streambar is essentially the Smart Soundbar in miniature. It ships with the same accessories and only features a couple of critical changes from its predecessor. You'll see what we mean after checking our spec breakdown below.
|Roku Streambar||Roku Smart Soundbar|
|Size||14.2" x 4.2" x 2.4", 2.4 lb||32.2" x 3.9" x 2.8", 5.5 lb|
|Speakers||Four 1.9" full range drivers||Four 2.5" full range drivers|
|Audio Formats||PCM, Dolby Audio||PCM, Dolby Audio|
|Picture Quality||Up to 2160p at 60fps (3840 × 2160) with up-scaling from 720p and 1080p||Up to 2160p at 60fps (3840 × 2160) with up-scaling from 720p and 1080p|
|HDR||HDR10 and HLG||HDR10 and HLG|
|Wireless connection||802.11ac dual-band, MIMO wireless||802.11ac dual-band, MIMO wireless|
|Wired ethernet||Yes, with USB adaptor accessory (sold separately)||No|
|Ports||Power, optical, HDMI 2.0a (ARC), USB 2.0||Power, optical, HDMI 2.0a (ARC), USB 2.0|
|Voice assistants||Alexa and Google Assistant||Alexa and Google Assistant|
We'll dive into the sound differences in the next section, but just look at how extensively the two soundbars match one another. Each soundbar supports the same audio protocols, as well as the same sound modes: Reduce bass, Bass boost, Bass off, Low or High Speech Clarity, and Night Mode. Both soundbars can also stream 4K HDR content or upscale 1080p content to 4K. However, neither can stream Dolby Vision content like the Roku Ultra.
The Roku Streambar may be cheaper, but it packs in all the features of the Smart Soundbar, plus a few extra.
Both soundbars sport the same ports, have identical wireless protocols for streaming content, and only work properly when connected to a TV with an HDMI ARC input that supports HDCP 2.2. The Streambar and Soundbar both respond to Alexa and Google Assistant commands through their voice remotes, which have TV controls for power and audio but not the personal shortcut buttons, headphone jack, or find-my-remote features you get with the Roku Ultra remote. With either soundbar, you can connect your local music files via a USB flash drive.
Inside each box, you get the Voice remote with AAA batteries, HDMI cord, optical cable, and power cable. The Streambar also comes with an "adaptor" but Roku didn't make its purpose clear. We know that only the Streambar allows you to convert the USB 2.0 port into an Ethernet connection for wired internet using an adaptor, but Roku also says that this Ethernet adaptor is "sold separately," so we're waiting to get our hands on the Streambar before we can clarify this.
Optional wired Ethernet connectivity is the Streambar's first important improvement on the Smart Soundbar. It ensures you maintain reliable Mbps speeds when streaming HDR content, although this mainly matters if your TV is near where you keep your router.
The second significant upgrade is that the Streambar enables Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, while the Smart Soundbar isn't quite as smart with its Bluetooth 4.2 standard. As we explain in our Bluetooth 5 guide, Bluetooth 5 can transmit data at 2 Mbps, while Bluetooth 4.2 had a maximum of 1 Mbps, and it can communicate from greater distances than 4.2. With that speed boost, your music streaming from your phone is more likely to play smoothly, without any audio hiccups.
Roku Streambar vs. Smart Soundbar: How the sound performance matches up
The Roku Smart Soundbar is over twice as long as the Roku Streambar and has more space for larger full-range drivers, which produce more powerful audio. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Streambar's audio quality is inferior.
Neither soundbar is a powerhouse, but the Streambar's side-firing design makes it stand apart from other cheap soundbars.
The Soundbar has a traditional layout with its four 2.5-inch drivers facing forward, while only two of the Streambar's four 1.9-inch drivers face forward — the other two are angled diagonally to the sides. Side-firing speakers give the Streambar a wider soundstage built to reverberate through a living room, while the Smart Soundbar blasts you head on with richer, direct sound.
Neither soundbar ships with a subwoofer or discrete speakers, so bass won't be a strong suit regardless of which you pick. Roku sells a Wireless Subwoofer and a pair of surround sound speakers, all of which can pair with either the Streambar or Smart Soundbar to create a complete 5.1 audio system.
Roku Streambar vs. Smart Soundbar: Which should you buy?
At full price, you'll save $50 on the Streambar compared to the Smart Soundbar. It offers wired internet and an improved Bluetooth connection compared to the 2019 model, while matching it in video and audio formats. Considering you'd have to pay $50 to get the same streaming features with the Roku Streaming Stick+, you're really paying less than $100 for the Streambar as an audio experience, making it one of the best cheap soundbars today.
Don't upgrade from the Roku Soundbar to the Streambar, but new buyers should absolutely lean towards the Streambar.
Roku didn't reserve any exclusive features or functionality for the Smart Soundbar to make it seem more attractive than the Streambar, outside of its larger size and speakers. Still, some shoppers will prefer front-facing, powerful audio with the Smart Soundbar instead of the wider, room-filling sound of the Streambar. The Streambar doesn't have the same audio impact, but side-firing drivers help it achieve a pseudo-surround sound effect that many audiophiles will prefer.
Regardless of which you pick, you're getting an upgrade on TV speakers but not the powerful bass you'd get with a soundbar with a dedicated subwoofer or built-in woofers. We recommend you buy the optional subwoofer to improve the audio performance, which may be another reason to choose the Roku Streambar versus the Smart Soundbar: the subwoofer is a bit expensive, so offset the cost and choose the cheaper Streambar.
Ultimately, we think that the Roku Streambar supplants the Roku Smart Soundbar as one of the best Roku devices available today.
Better Bluetooth and wired connections
While not worth upgrading to if you already own the Smart Soundbar, the Roku Streambar does make it easier to stream content from your phone or maintain a consistent internet connection, and has an impressive speaker configuration for an affordable price.
A traditionally-sized soundbar
The Roku Smart Soundbar is built for audiophiles who care about richer audio first and foremost. With its larger drivers and wider frame, you'll get a more powerful sound. However, you'll also want to invest in the separate wireless subwoofer and side speakers for better bass and surround sound.
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