Home / Reviews / Anker Nebula Soundbar—Fire TV Edition review: Great Fire TV and Alexa functionality, but so-so sound

Anker Nebula Soundbar—Fire TV Edition review: Great Fire TV and Alexa functionality, but so-so sound

For these trying to improve their TV’s audio and media-streaming capabilities with out coping with a nest of cables and dongles, an all-in-one soundbar like Anker’s Nebula Soundbar—Hearth TV Version is actually interesting. This 2.1-channel soundbar boasts a built-in subwoofer, baked-in Hearth TV interface, and Alexa voice management. You may increase your TV’s audio and stream video excessive by connecting only one element to your TV utilizing a single cable.

The Nebula is just like the $180 Roku Sensible Soundbar in that respect, however whereas we love the comfort of the its video streaming and Alexa capabilities, its iffy audio efficiency—whereas actually superior to that of most built-in TV audio system—leaves one thing to be desired.

This overview is a part of TechHive’s protection of the most effective soundbars, the place you’ll discover opinions of competing merchandise, plus a purchaser’s information to the options it’s best to take into account when procuring.

Configuration

Whereas it lacks a discrete subwoofer, the Nebula Soundbar—Hearth TV Version Anker nonetheless payments this soundbar as a 2.1-channel system by advantage of its two built-in 3-inch woofers and bass ports on all sides, whereas two 1.5-inch full-range drivers provide the left and proper channels. There are not any up-firing drivers, which implies no Dolby Atmos or DTS:X help, though (as we’ll cowl in a bit), the Nebula does have a (first rate) digital encompass mode.

It’s additionally price noting that for now, you may’t improve the Nebula to a 5.1-channel system by including encompass audio system, though an Anker rep didn’t rule out the potential for a wi-fi encompass equipment sooner or later. Roku affords an optionally available wi-fi subwoofer for its system, and you should utilize Roku’s Wi-fi TV Audio system as encompass channels.

[ Further reading: TechHive’s top picks in smart TVs ]

Measuring 36.2 x 4.5 x 2.Four inches and weighing in at a bit of greater than seven kilos, the fabric-covered Nebula has a rounded design and it’s pretty simple to hold, regardless of its bulk. The soundbar is brief sufficient that you could plunk it down in entrance of most TVs with out blocking the underside of the display screen, even within the case of my 55-inch LG C9 OLED TV (which has an unusually low-slung show stand). You might additionally mount the soundbar on a wall utilizing the 4 mounting holes within the backside of the unit; a bracket, screws, and a mounting information are included.

Inputs and outputs

A center cavity at the back of the Nebula affords only a trio of inputs: a 3.5mm analog audio enter, an HDMI port with ARC (audio return channel) help, and an optical (Toslink) digital audio enter. There’s additionally a USB Kind-A port right here, but it surely’s just for putting in firmware updates, not for taking part in music information saved on a thumb drive.

nebula soundbar fire tv edition ports Ben Patterson/IDG

The Nebula soundbar options inputs for HDMI (ARC), optical, and analog cables, whereas the USB port is just for servicing the soundbar.

That single HDMI port is a tad stingy. Higher soundbars include not less than a few them, so that you don’t must depend on your TV having a number of and supporting ARC with a view to join a couple of supply (e.g., a gaming console along with a cable or satellite tv for pc TV set-top field and maybe a Blu-ray participant, as an example). And because the Nebula doesn’t help the higher-bandwidth eARC (an admittedly unusual function on soundbars), the Nebula can’t play again lossless audio codecs corresponding to Dolby True-HD or DTS-HD Grasp Audio soundtracks.

Whereas the shortage of eARC help limits your audio choices, the soundbar does help 4K/HDR passthrough, together with Dolby Imaginative and prescient, which implies you’ll be capable to watch streaming 4K HDR motion pictures and reveals from the likes of Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Netflix.

Setup

Whereas the bodily setup of the Nebula Soundbar—Hearth TV version is fairly simple, getting Hearth TV up and working is a little more tedious.

So far as the bodily setup goes, there actually isn’t a lot to it. When you place the Nebula in entrance of your TV (or mount it on the wall beneath your TV), you join it to your set through the HDMI, optical, or analog RCA jacks. Fortunately, Anker provides all three of those cables within the field. Subsequent, you join the AC twine, which (I’m blissful to report) doesn’t come encumbered with an influence brick or wall wart, good for becoming the plug right into a crowded energy strip.

As soon as the Nebula is plugged in and related to your TV, it’s time to start out organising Hearth TV itself. First, you’ll want to pick your Wi-Fi community and key within the password utilizing the included distant and on-screen interface (assuming you’ve switched your TV to the proper enter). The Nebula related to my community on the primary strive, however utilizing the distant’s navigation pad to punch in my wi-fi password was a little bit of a drag.

After the Nebula has downloaded and put in any obtainable updates (the method took about 5 minutes for me), it can immediate you to log into your Amazon account. If you happen to don’t have already got an Amazon account, you’ll must create one earlier than continuing.

The Nebula doesn’t provide any shortcuts for verifying your account credentials, corresponding to opening an app in your cellphone or getting into a code from a desktop net browser; as an alternative, you’ll need to (once more) use the distant’s four-way navigation pad and the Nebula’s on-screen keyboard to punch in every character of your e-mail tackle and password—and sure, that’s simply as tedious because it sounds. If you happen to’re fortunate (I wasn’t), you’ll kind in your whole e-mail and password appropriately on the primary strive.

As soon as that’s carried out, the Nebula will ask if you wish to allow parental controls or begin logging into streaming video or music providers corresponding to Hulu, Netflix, and Spotify—and sure, if you wish to signal into most of these providers, you’ll must laboriously enter your account credentials utilizing the distant. (A welcome exception was Disney+, which let me log in by merely launching the Disney+ app on my cellphone.) After that, you’re able to dive into the Hearth TV interface (which I’ll describe in a second).

Controls, distant, indicators, and Bluetooth

A shiny plastic strip alongside the highest of the soundbar cupboard options capacitive contact controls for energy, enter supply, equalizer controls, and quantity. A six-digit show that peeks out from behind the soundbar’s cloth protecting tells you which of them enter is chosen, reveals you the quantity stage, and guides you thru the soundbar’s numerous settings.

nebula soundbar fire tv edition top controls Ben Patterson/IDG

A shiny strip on high of the soundbar cupboard options buttons for energy, enter choice, equalizer settings, and quantity up/down.

The Nebula’s distant has a considerably cluttered assortment of buttons, together with a House button that sits beneath a four-way navigation pad, an choices button to the fitting of the House button, a channel information button (for those who occur to subscribe to a stay streaming TV service), and a recents button (which shows the current reveals, motion pictures, and apps that you simply’ve accessed). These are along with the usual play/pause, ahead/reverse, quantity and mute buttons, in fact, to not point out the 4 labeled shortcut buttons close to the underside of the distant for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, and HBO.

That’s numerous buttons to maintain monitor of at midnight, but some apparent ones—specifically enter, sound mode and Bluetooth—are lacking. You may change enter sources and sound modes utilizing the distant by urgent Settings and digging into the menu, or you may enter Bluetooth pairing mode by urgent and holding the play/pause button, however I’d have prefered devoted buttons for these features. Fortunately, you may as well management all of the Nebula’s features and settings utilizing the Nebula cell app.

nebula soundbar fire tv edition remote Ben Patterson/IDG

The Nebula’s distant is a bit cluttered for our style, however urgent the Alexa button on the high allows you to management the soundbar with voice instructions.

After all, there’s one button close to the highest of the distant that makes controlling the Nebula a lot simpler: the Alexa button. Urgent and holding the button wakes Alexa, permitting you to say issues like “Flip down the quantity,” “Pause the film,” “Change the enter supply to Bluetooth,” “Present me motion pictures with Clint Eastwood,” and extra. We’ll talk about how Alexa works with the Nebula’s Hearth TV options in a bit.

Streaming tunes to out of your iOS or Android system to the Nebula soundbar is straightforward, however as I simply talked about, it is advisable to know the trick to getting into Bluetooth pairing mode by urgent and holding the play/pause button; the soundbar ought to then seem within the record of obtainable Bluetooth units in your cellphone. As soon as I had the Nebula paired to my cellphone, I used to be capable of stream music with none points.

Sadly, the Nebula doesn’t help Apple AirPlay 2 or Chromecast, nor does it work as a Spotify Join system except you’ve gotten the Spotify app for Hearth TV working on the soundbar.

Hearth TV and Alexa

After having spent a good period of time criticizing the Nebula’s cluttered distant, I’ll now heap some reward on the soundbar’s Hearth TV and Alexa options, as a result of they’re fairly nice.

We’ve beforehand given Amazon’s Hearth TV interface excessive marks in our opinions of different Hearth TV merchandise, together with the Hearth TV Stick 4K, and most of these accolades apply right here, too. The Hearth TV interface itself seems fairly typical, with a tabbed menu that features stay TV, your video library, motion pictures, TV reveals, apps, and soundbar settings. After all, Amazon’s personal choices are usually favored on the subject of shopping motion pictures and reveals, however for those who’ve put in (for instance) the Disney+ and Netflix apps, you’ll see loads of choices from these providers as properly.

nebula soundbar fire tv edition interface Vizio

We’re followers of Amazon’s Hearth TV interface, seen right here on a Toshiba Hearth TV Version set.

To this point, so good, however the actual energy of Hearth TV lies in Alexa. Certainly, the enjoyable actually begins when you begin asking Alexa to open apps, seek for motion pictures, flip down the quantity, or soar again to the house display screen. If you happen to’re watching a film on Amazon Prime Video and also you wish to soar to a collection of Star Wars movies on Disney+, simply press and maintain the Alexa button and say, “Present me some Star Wars motion pictures.”

You can too ask Alexa to indicate you the information, go to the soundbar’s settings menu, or open an app. And don’t neglect that Alexa on the Nebula can do just about something that she will do on an Echo-compatible sensible speaker, which means she will inform you the climate, play music, or flip off your sensible lights. Certainly, the one factor she will’t do is get up if you say “Alexa;” as an alternative, you should press the Alexa button on the distant earlier than talking into the distant’s mic.

Efficiency

Whereas the Nebula’s built-in Hearth TV and Alexa capabilities will make it an attractive selection for individuals who need a simple method to jumpstart their residence theater, the soundbar’s muddy audio received’t please audiophiles. Sure, the soundbar can get fairly loud, and its built-in woofers actually ship extra bass than a TV’s audio system ever might, however the total audio lacks the richness, depth, and element that I’ve heard from competing soundbars, together with some that value half as a lot.

The soundbar options Film, Music, and dialog-enhancing Voice modes, in addition to a Encompass mode that’s designed to widen the soundstate and improve encompass results. After fidgeting with the treble and bass settings a bit (these are the one different audio-related settings, by the way in which), I elected to go away them at their default settings. It’s price noting that the Nebula lacks an evening mode for normalizing the quantity throughout late-night viewing.

I began my sound testing with the opening credit from 1978’s Superman, which incorporates a remastered Dolby Atmos soundtrack that’s downmixed for the two.1-channel Nebula soundbar. The whooshing credit and John Williams’ stirring rating nearly all the time manages to quicken my pulse, however the Nebula’s mediocre, considerably muffled audio robbed the well-known sequence of a lot of its pleasure. And whereas I wasn’t anticipating the thunderous bass of a separate subwoofer from the all-in-one Nebula, I used to be anticipating extra from the “thump” that often accompanies Richard Donner’s “directed by” credit score. No less than the Nebula delivered some first rate low-frequency rumbles in the course of the opening of the large dome on Krypton after the trial of Normal Zod.

Again on the plus aspect, the Nebula’s simulated encompass mode exceeded my modest expectations in the course of the scene when Zod and his lieutenants, Ursa and Non, are imprisoned by the Phantom Zone, which whooshes into the body, scoops up the villains after which flies away and behind us. Whereas the two.1-channel Nebula can’t come near the precision a 5.1 setup can ship, its encompass mode nonetheless managed to convincingly increase the soundstage and even add some ambient taste within the rear.

Subsequent up is one in all my favourite audio checks: the launch sequence from Apollo 13. I’ll begin with what I favored, starting with the (once more) stable digital encompass results, notably because the Saturn V’s gasoline pumps gurgled previous to ignition, and once more because the exhaust flames from the rocket engulfed the display screen. I additionally appreciated the low-frequency rumbles from the built-in subwoofers, though I’ve heard higher from different single-unit 2.1 soundbars. Then there’s the unhealthy: muffled, uninteresting audio that made it really feel like I used to be sporting earmuffs.

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