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Lifewire / Zach Sweat
Great futuristic design
Handy text information
Useful smart features
Poor sound range
Soundbars can be a great way to boost your TV’s audio quality, but the Anker Nebula Soundbar doesn’t quite deliver in the most important area—sound. That makes it tough to recommend despite the features.
We purchased Anker Nebula Soundbar so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
If you’re someone who has a non-smart TV or someone who’s simply looking to upgrade their aging hardware to get the latest tech, upgrading your home audio equipment right alongside your TV is even easier with the new smart soundbars hitting the market.
Smart soundbars combine the hardware of something like an Apple TV or Chromecast device with a speaker array to enhance your total viewing experience in one convenient package. Anker is one such company to release a smart soundbar with the debut of their new Nebula Soundbar—an all-in-one smart TV box and speaker system equipped with Amazon’s Fire TV.
Looking to purchase one of these newfangled smart soundbars? Check out our review below to see if the Nebula from Anker is the right choice for you.
Soundbars generally don’t stray too far from your typical elongated black bar with some basic controls and speaker cloth. Anker’s Nebula Soundbar looks mostly the same, but it does have some cool futuristic-looking features I found quite handy.
The entirety of the Nebula is covered from end to end in grey cloth with plastic caps on either end. In the middle, there’s an array of useful controls allowing users to operate power, input, and volume with a simple touch. Though you can just as easily use the remote, it’s nice to have these physical buttons right on the bar. Aside from the controls, there’s a single red Nebula logo on the front of the device to denote branding.
My personal favorite feature on the Nebula is the LED display hidden beneath the mesh at the front. When powered up, this display provides handy info to let you know exactly what commands you’ve given the system. It displays things like input, sound mode, volume and more, which is super convenient to have when you want to quickly get information. It’s not too bright either, so thankfully it’s not distracting in a dark room.
Overall, the unit is fairly compact at about 36 inches long and just 4.5 inches wide. This allows the soundbar to be easily placed on most entertainment systems or stands without taking up a ton of space.
At the back, you'll find a couple mounting holes if you want to attach it to a surface or wall, as well as the various inputs for connections. Included here is the power port, optical, USB-A, HDMI, and a 3.5mm aux. Hosting a solid range of inputs is welcome here, as it allows you to hook up the soundbar however you see fit. The ports also have a nice cutout section that allows cables to be easily routed behind the unit with ease.
The main thing to consider with the Nebula is whether you plan to fully utilize the smart features baked into the device.
As for the controller included with the soundbar, anyone who’s ever used a Fire TV remote will feel right at home, as it seems the Nebula uses a standard version of this with some simple branding stamped on. It’s a solid remote with just enough functions to keep it useful but still compact, and users can even use the Alexa assistant with it at the push of a button.
Setting up a major audio system can be quite a challenge if you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the tech. Thankfully, soundbars like this couldn’t be any easier—even with the additional smart TV installation process.
Once you have the soundbar properly plugged in and connected as you see fit (note that you’ll need to use the HDMI cable if you want the Fire TV to work), all you need to do is select the proper input on the soundbar by using the remote or physical controls on the unit. You should immediately see the on-screen instructions pop up on your TV from here, so just follow along and complete the setup. You’ll need to connect to the internet and sign into your Amazon account in order to fully utilize Fire TV and Alexa, so have that info ready.
The entire setup is pretty straightforward and shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes or so. If you want to use the speaker without Fire TV, you can also connect it with either a digital optical cable or an aux for a basic speaker setup.
The speakers built into your TV are almost always going to provide a bare minimum experience in terms of sound quality. While a soundbar might not be as good as a surround setup with a dedicated amplifier, it will undoubtedly boost your entertainment experience for the better.
Sound quality is the most important realm for speakers to do well in, but how does the Nebula perform here? After testing the device with a range of music, movies, and games, I ultimately concluded that Anker’s new smart soundbar is pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to sound quality. Let’s dig into what I mean.
Starting at the highs with treble performance, the Nebula Soundbar does about as well as most other soundbars in this price range—meaning it’s not great. Treble is something a lot of soundbars struggle with, so it’s no surprise that it’s lacking a bit here as well. Especially noticeable at higher volumes with music, you may hear some slight distortion depending on how keen your ear is.
Midrange performance is also pretty average, but it’s certainly a step up from the speakers equipped on the TV I tested with. Things like dialogue are considerably better with the Nebula compared to using just my TV set, but not quite as good as some of the other soundbars I tested, like the Polk Audio Command.
As for bass, this was where Anker really missed the mark. Bass was lackluster with measly performance compared to an audio setup with a dedicated subwoofer. While subwoofers are usually an additional cost to these types of speakers, I highly suggest adding one for delivering proper bass. Sure, the Nebula boasts better bass than your TV’s rattling attempts at it, but it’s not going to impress even non-audiophiles.
The sound performance on this device isn’t bad per se, but it’s not especially outstanding compared to many of the other soundbars I’ve tested.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of the Nebula is that it doubles as a soundbar and smart TV box. One of the few soundbars offering both Fire TV and Alexa, the Nebula comes loaded with handy smart features.
Fire TV is one of the many smart TV operating systems around today, and the overall performance and experience is quite nice. If you’ve ever used this OS before, it’s pretty much the same as any other Fire TV device like the Cube. But if you haven’t, I’ll touch on a few details in this section.
Booting up Fire TV brings you to the home screen loaded with various content (lots of Prime, of course), apps, software, and other features. Users can download all their favorite streaming apps like Netflix, HBO, and more, as well as other apps like Spotify or news services. You can browse the UI with the remote or by asking Alexa to directly load specified content (i.e. “Alexa, play The Expanse”). While voice assistants are becoming pretty ubiquitous with modern smart TVs, it’s nice to have the Nebula Soundbar for quick navigation.
One of the cooler features I loved is that the Nebula can connect to other devices on your home network, allowing you to stream music from your phone or PC with ease. The soundbar can also pair with your other Echo speakers/devices if you have a multi-room speaker arrangement.
In addition to the smart TV stuff, the Nebula also has some cool sound modes for boosted performance depending on what you’re listening to. I found the presets for music and movies to help things quite a bit, so don’t forget to switch them around when jumping between different forms of entertainment.
At right around $230, Anker’s Nebula Soundbar isn’t especially expensive for a soundbar, but it’s certainly not the cheapest either. The main thing to consider with the Nebula is whether you plan to fully utilize the smart features baked into the device.
After testing the device with a range of music, movies, and games, I ultimately concluded that Anker’s new smart soundbar is pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to sound quality.
For less than $100, there are plenty of solid options for non-smart soundbars with comparable sound quality to this Anker (some even from the manufacturer themselves). That said, if you want a convenient all-in-one smart TV and soundbar package, it isn’t a bad price.
If you don’t currently have a smart TV or similar device that upgrades your “dumb” TV set, this may be a perfect option if you want to upgrade your audio equipment simultaneously—just keep in mind that there are cheaper options around with nearly the same features.
Like we said earlier in this review, the smart soundbar market is heating up, so there’s some decent competition to Anker’s Nebula currently available. One such device is Roku’s new Smart Soundbar (see on Best Buy).
While both of these smart soundbars offer similar enhancements over a regular soundbar, there are some big distinctions to know about before you commit to either.
First off, price. At $180, Roku definitely has better value compared to Anker’s pricey offering. If you purely want the cheapest option for smart-TV-equipped speakers, Roku’s is hard to beat. Even better, you can upgrade their system with a subwoofer for an additional $180 to dramatically enhance the sound quality of your audio equipment (Anker doesn’t have this option).
Now, if you love Fire TV and Amazon Alexa, you won’t find either on Roku’s device, so that may tip you towards the Nebula. Personally, having used both Roku and Fire TV, Roku is fine, but has some annoying issues with ads, so I prefer the Fire TV. However, both essentially perform the same functions, so you won’t go wrong with either choice.
Not the best soundbar for the money, but the Nebula provides a good set of features.
Anker’s new foray into the smart soundbar space with the debut of their Nebula Soundbar gives you a smart TV and improved audio in a single package, but it may not be the best option for the money when compared to rivals like the Roku Smart Soundbar.