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Alexa-ready sound bars: new-level laziness or a can’t-live-without feature?

With an Alexa-ready sound bar, you won't have to move an inch to put on your favourite festive movies this Christmas. But will this feature mean a compromise on sound quality?

As well as boosting your TV’s audio, a sound bar with built-in Amazon Alexa works as a voice assistant in the same way that an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot would. It allows you to just ‘speak to the room’ to manage your day, get information, and put those remote controls to rest.

If you like the sound of selecting your favourite festive songs or turning up the TV’s volume while getting on with Christmas dinner, you may be tempted to invest in a sound bar with Amazon Alexa. Built-in voice control is becoming a popular feature in sound bars, which could also be great for accessibility and assisted living. Rather than turning your living room upside down looking for the remote, you can use effortless voice commands to control your sound bar.

If you’re worried about having to shout commands for fear that Alexa may not hear you, some sound bars have technology that ensures Alexa hears your requests no matter how loud your music or TV is. For example, the Bose Soundbar 500 has custom-designed microphones designed for clear voice pick-up. Also, with the Polk Audio Command bar, you just have to say ‘Alexa’ or press a button on the remote to lower the volume and state your request.

However, don’t let this impressive feature distract you from whether the sound bar can fulfil its main purpose. We’ve recently tested the below models, which all have Alexa built-in. Follow the links to our reviews to find out which ones excelled in our tough tests.

If your main priority is sound quality and you don’t really care about having Alexa, head straight to our Best Buy sound bars to find an excellent one for your TV.

Sound bars with built-in Amazon Alexa

Sonos Beam, £399

As well as using effortless voice control, this stylish sound bar can also be controlled with the Sonos app, AirPlay or the app for your chosen music streaming service. The Sonos Beam has plenty of attractive features, including wi-fi which allows you to connect it to speakers all over the house for a multi-room set-up. It also comes with a free nine-month Deezer Premium music streaming subscription.

An abundance of attractive features can’t make up for poor sound quality, so read our Sonos Beam review to find out whether this sound bar is worth buying.

Polk Audio Command Bar, £349

Described by Polk Audio as ‘the best Alexa-compatible sound bar yet’, the Command Bar enables you to control other smart home devices, search for information and stream music using Amazon Alexa. It’s compatible with a range of brands, including Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, WeMo and beehive.

As well as being able to use your voice to set the bass level, sound mode and source selection, this sound bar has Dolby/DTS surround sound decoding which should deliver a room-filling cinematic experience that makes you feel immersed in the action when watching a movie.

While many sound bars are designed to create a surround-sound-like experience, we’ve found that very few manage to this well. Read our review to find out whether the Polk Audio Command Bar is one of them.

Bose Soundbar 500, £500

The Soundbar 500 is so thin that it should barely be visible under your TV. Despite its slender design, Bose promises no compromise to audio quality. It’s compatible with Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer and TuneIn so you can use the Bose app to keep all your playlists in one place and stream music using a wi-fi or Bluetooth connection. The app can also be used to control the device.

Our expert review will tell you whether the Bose Soundbar 500 sounds as good as it looks.

Bose Soundbar 700, £800

This model is similar to the Soundbar 500 except it’s more powerful and it supports DTS for superior surround sound. As with the 500, this sound bar can be paired with a wireless subwoofer and Bose Surround speakers for a full system.

Is it worth buying this model over the cheaper Bose Soundbar 500? Find out in our Bose Soundbar 700 review.

Works with Alexa vs Alexa built in: what’s the difference?

Some sound bars are compatible with Alexa, meaning that they can receive messages from an Alexa-enabled product. So, if you own an Alexa product such as an Amazon Echo, you can use it to control the sound bar.

The main difference between sound bars that work with Alexa compared with ones that have it built-in is that you can’t talk directly to the sound bar. You’ll have to speak to the Alexa-enabled product to control the sound bar.

Having Alexa built-in is better. The below models are compatible with Alexa but don’t have it built-in: did they wow us enough to recommend them over others?

Avoid letting a Don’t Buy sound bar ruin home entertainment this Christmas

Painfully distorted sound, thumping bass, unclear dialogue and deafening high notes can ruin your favourite Christmas films and TV dramas. Which? Don’t Buy sound bars are worse than some TV’s speakers and won’t do justice to whatever you’re watching or listening to.

Attractive features can cause you to buy sound bars that are hard to use and/or can’t deliver the brilliant sound they promised. There are models around with very convincing marketing descriptions that have failed to provide even average sound quality in our testing.

We use over 50 unique measures when testing sound bars and we judge each model on its own attributes without considering the price or brand. We’ve uncovered some excellent cheap models as well as some terrible ones costing hundreds of pounds. Take a look at our Don’t Buy sound bars to find out which ones to steer clear of – you’ll be surprised by some of the ones that have made it onto the list.

Also thinking of upgrading your TV this Christmas? Check out our Best Buy televisions to make sure your new model is easy to use, has the best picture quality and outstanding sound.

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