New Anker products are exciting because they always seem to jump into adjacent categories with a quality product and a competitive price point. Which is why we were excited to hear that their latest product is a soundbar powered by Fire TV and Amazon’s Alexa, and that it’s capable of 4K HDR streaming. With Anker’s successful dive into consumer audio, and Amazon’s robust streaming media center, Fire TV, it sounded like a match made in heaven. Having now tested Anker’s Nebula Soundbar, there’s some things we love and some things we don’t.
The Anker Nebula Soundbar looks great, but admittedly, it still just looks like a typical soundbar. We like that it doesn’t have the classic boxy design, instead, the speaker is completely smoothed, like an extra-wide pebble. It’s almost entirely wrapped in black speaker grill and stands just 2.3” tall. It’s short enough that it sits right in front of our TV without covering up the screen. It comes with all the mounting gear you need to hang it on a wall. It weighs a bit over 7lbs and it’s a relatively easy device to get set up and use. In the front is a low resolution led screen, and on the top are a few control buttons.
Nebula has a few different options for connecting audio to the speaker, but HDMI is required for getting Fire TV video and all the content onto your TV. If your TV supports ARC you can play audio from your TV through the Nebula speaker, otherwise, you’d use a standard auxiliary cable, optical, or Bluetooth for playing audio on Nebula. If you’re only ever using the built-in Fire TV for content, then you’ll be fine with just an HDMI cable. It has pretty much everything you’d need to play audio from other sources, but it might take some finagling at home if you have multiple sources (i.e. cable, Blu-ray, Playstation, etc) you’d like to play through the soundbar. Thankfully the soundbar comes with cables that should cover you in most situations.
When we heard Nebula comes with Fire TV we didn’t really know what to expect; it turns out it’s quite literally Amazon’s Fire TV media center, but in a soundbar instead of a stick or cube. Unfortunately for Anker, the Fire TV aspect of Nebula is the best thing it has going for it. If you haven’t used Amazon’s Fire TV, it’s an incredible alternative to a Roku, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Smart TV functionality. It can easily replace your cable box depending on the types of things you watch. It can stream (and consolidate) videos, audio, and even games from pretty much every provider out there – Netflix, Disney+, YouTube, HBO, ESPN, Spotify, of course, Prime Video, and more. There’s an extremely broad range of free and paid content. While we won’t make the review about Fire TV, it’s our favorite platform for streaming and it’s very usable and intuitive.
Like the Fire TV Cube and Stick, the soundbar’s remote comes with built-in Alexa that you can use it to control what you watch — and it’s fantastic. Just say “Breaking Bad” and in seconds you’ll find all the different sources you can use to play Breaking Bad. All of Alexa’s features are supported so that it’s capable of any command or question like “what’s the weather”, but it only works when pressing the button on the remote – it’s not hands-free always-listening. Like Amazon’s Cube or the 4K Stick, Nebula supports 4K video and HDR. Not to worry if your TV doesn’t support 4K or HDR, it will still work perfectly fine in 1080p.
The remote that comes with the soundbar is similar to Amazon’s Fire remote. It’s a smaller-than-average remote, but consistent with the streaming device remotes. It has just a handful of buttons including an Alexa Voice Command button. Unfortunately, it’s an IR remote and requires a line of sight with the soundbar for proper usage. It comes with 2 AAA batteries. There’s a simple Nebula app that can do everything the remote can do, with a touchpad and just a few extras. The weirdest thing about this product is that Nebula’s settings are not adjustable from the TV screen, instead, you need to use the remote and follow along on the speaker’s little display, or use the app. There’s not a ton of settings so it’s not such a big deal, but it is odd. Aside from basic controls like volume, inputs, and fast-forwarding/rewinding, you can adjust the inputs and just a few audio settings.
The Nebula soundbar is a 2.1 speaker system that boasts a built-in subwoofer. It has a virtualized surround sound mode, but it does not work well. The audio quality is subpar. It gets loud, and there’s some bass, but it’s harsh and relatively unclear. While it’s tolerable and usable, we expected better from Anker. Aside from a little extra bass, it’s not much better than the audio that plays out of the TV. You can tweak the treble and bass from low(-3) to high(+3), and you can switch between Movie, Music, and Voice equalizers. While these settings “work” they don’t improve the audio experience by enough and the audio quality is still muddy and harsh. We did adjust to the sound quality after a few days of use, but it was a pretty big shock considering the size of the speaker, the price, and the brand.
Anker’s Nebula Fire TV Soundbar looks like an amazing device on paper, and the Fire TV inclusion is wonderful, but the audio quality ruins it for us. It gets loud but we found it harsh and unclear — in some cases we may prefer the TV’s own speakers. Pricing in at $229.99 from Amazon, we’d say it’s expensive for what it is. If you want the convenience of Fire TV and an easy-to-use easy-to-mount loudspeaker bar, it’s not such a bad purchase. Just consider that Amazon’s Fire TV Stick with 4K costs $49.99, and you can maybe find a $100 speaker bar that sounds as good or better.