Roku’s Super-Cheap 5.1 Surround Sound Solution Is, Uh, Pretty Great

Roku’s Super-Cheap 5.1 Surround Sound Solution Is, Uh, Pretty Great
Photo: Alex Cranz, Gizmodo

wireless stereo speakers, the company gave users the ability to create a seamless 5.1 audio solution that gives you a similar experience of something premium like a Sonos system, but without the high price. After a few months with Roku’s $US500 ($775) solution, I’m convinced the company nailed it. This is the wireless surround sound system to build if you can’t stomach Sonos’s cost.

Before Roku’s new option, you were essentially stuck with two choices when it came to affordable and super easy 5.1 home theatre audio. You could slowly invest in a Sonos system, which still costs well over $US1,300 ($2,016) all in, or you could pick up a system in a box from a company like Vizio. Both have their downsides Sonos is incredibly expensive, and options like Vizio’s SB3651 system are hard to set up. (The audio quality isn’t super incredible either.)

Roku 5.1 Surround Sound System

WHAT IS IT?

Roku's sound bar, sub, and speakers combined to create a wireless 5.1 solution.

PRICE

$US500 ($775)

LIKE

It's cheap, easy to set up, has solid sound, and a Roku box is built in.

NO LIKE

The Roku box isn't necessary, and the audio isn't as nice and detailed as pricier options.

The Roku system is more expensive than Vizio’s system, which can be found for as little as $US160 ($248) all in. Yet it’s also way easier to set up, and because each piece is sold separately, you can spread out the cost over time”a sound bar here, a subwoofer there. When I first set it up months ago, I did it all while chatting with my roommate about our respective days. It took less than five minutes to simply plug in everything and run through Roku’s speaker setup guide on the TV. Even my roommate, who had become accustomed to dealing with all the stuff I test, remarked on how fast and easy the setup appeared.

Beyond ease of setup and the ability to spread out the cost, the Roku system also has a set-top box integrated into the soundbar. It left me a little conflicted, though. If you don’t already own some kind of set-top box, Roku’s solution is definitely appealing”even if the Roku OS itself has a dated look. Set-top boxes are a great way to extend the life of an expensive TV saddled with an outdated operating system. But personally, I don’t want a set-top box built into my TV”let alone my speaker system. Set-top boxes age at a faster rate than the rest of a TV system. A soundbar, like a TV, is meant to last a while.

That means, inevitably, the Roku box built into the soundbar will be replaced by some external box. Fortunately, the setup works just as well with an external box (I tested the Nvidia Shield, Apple TV, and PS4) as without. Once it’s connected to the TV (in this case a Vizio set), and the TV is told to use it for audio, everything plays through the Roku’s 5.1 surround system. I never had to hunt for the Roku remote or fiddle with any controls on the system itself. Black Panther streamed over Disney+ sounded just as robust on my Apple TV as the soundbar’s built-in Roku box.

That means you’re not really spending a lot of extra money to have that Roku box built in. It’s more of a bonus for someone seeking a cheap and easy way to set up a sound system.

And back to that cost, because it’s one of the most appealing elements of the Roku system. You’re saving around $US800 ($1,241) if you choose the Roku option over even the cheapest Sonos 5.1 solution. Does the Sonos really sound $US800 ($1,241) better?

Yes, it does. The Sonos subwoofer, in particular, is capable of producing a lot more detail than anything the Roku system attempts. Think of the Sonos solution as giving you a clean, clear, loud sound, while the Roku one leans more on just being loud. It’s still a step up over your TV’s built-in speakers or the Vizio option, but it won’t impress an audiophile as the Sonos will. Roku is good enough, but not great.

The Sonos Beam (top) is smaller, but pricier with a cleaner sound than the Roku Sound Bar (bottom.) (Photo: Alex Cranz, Gizmodo)

You also can’t toss audio to the Roku speakers via AirPlay 2 or stream something Spotify over them from an app on your phone. Roku’s system is for improving your home theatre setup only.

And that’s probably OK for most people. If you’ve been eyeing Sonos because you want to build a home theatre system, and not because you want a wireless sound solution for your entire home, then it’s time to stop. Turn away from Sonos and its pricy speakers and consider Roku. For $US500 ($775) (which can be spread over two to three purchases) you get a 5.1 surround sound solution that is dead simple to set up and that will make your movie pop in a way cheaper home-theatre-in-a-box options and your plain old TV can’t compare to. If you want a taste of a home theatre future and aren’t eager to deal with hassles or high prices, then purchasing the Roku Smart Soundbar, Wireless Speakers, and Wireless Subwoofer is your best choice.

README

  • It’s way cheaper than the Sonos alternative.

  • It costs way more than your built-in speakers or a home-theatre-in-a-box like the Vizio SB3651.

  • It’s incredibly easy to set up.

  • It’s loud.

  • The sub can be a little floppy.

Editor’s Note: Roku products are not currently available in Australia.