Anker Nebula Soundbar - Fire TV Edition full review
While Amazon is the go-to for Alexa-enabled devices, it’s not the only manufacturer of smart home tech that features Alexa integration. Companies like Creative and Logitech are producing gadgets with built-in support for Amazon’s virtual assistant, but Anker has taken it a step further by including not only Alexa functionality in the Nebula soundbar, but Amazon’s 4K-enabled Fire TV Stick too.
We’ve spent quite some time watching TV and movies with the Anker Nebula soundbar, and here’s what we think.
Pricing and availability
The Anker Nebula soundbar – Fire TV Edition costs £179.99 in the UK, although it’s available slightly cheaper on Amazon at the time of writing. Those in the US can pick the soundbar up for $229.99, also from Amazon.
When you consider the fact the Nebula is comprised of a 2.1 soundbar system and a Fire TV stick, which costs £49.99/$49.99 alone, it’s not a bad deal – you just need to be sure that’s what you need from a soundbar. If you’ve already got a smart TV and have no need for Fire TV functionality, there are plenty of alternatives available that provide more bang for your buck; take a look at our selection of the best soundbars for inspiration.
A simple design
The Anker Nebula soundbar is admittedly a bit of a chonk, measuring in at 92 x 11 x 6cm, especially when you consider it’s only a 2.1 speaker system comprised of two speakers and two subwoofers. The one saving grace is that the dark mesh fabric that covers the entirety of the Nebula helps it blend into the environment and, if you’ve got a second or third-gen Echo nearby, the fabric will match up, providing nice synchronicity throughout the room.
On the rear of the soundbar you’ll find various connectivity options including a HDMI port, Optical in and a 3.5mm Aux port, and you’ve also got built-in Bluetooth connectivity to connect the soundbar to your phone to ‘pump out the tunez’.
Atop the soundbar you’ll find a touch panel allowing you to change the source and EQ, adjust the volume and turn the soundbar off. There’s also a basic display embedded behind the mesh fabric finish to display source information, and you’ll find an embedded Nebula badge along the left-hand side of the speaker – so far, so standard.
It’s when you connect a HDMI cable to the rear-facing port that things start to get interesting.
The Amazon Alexa experience
Once connected to your TV, you’ll be able to set up the built-in Amazon Fire TV with 4K HDR support, providing access to the entire Fire TV experience without the need for an additional dongle. While the interface is admittedly focused on Amazon’s own video offerings, you’ll find apps for Netflix, BBC iPlayer and other popular streaming services, turning the Nebula soundbar into your one-stop-shop for media consumption.
Along with 4K HDR support, the Nebula can take advantage of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision technologies for an improved visual experience. That’s usually tailored to high-end TVs and isn’t something the majority of consumers will be able to experience, but it’s a nice plus if you do have a Vision-supported TV.
We won’t go into too much more detail about the core Fire TV experience as we’ve got a review dedicated to the Fire TV Stick, but there are a few features unique to the Nebula. The issue is, they don’t always work as intended.
Of course, with Fire TV integration, users should expect Alexa support. It’s not voice-activated like other devices, but you can use the Fire TV remote to activate Alexa and, using the remote’s built-in mic, ask it to turn off the bedroom lights or whatever else you might want to ask. It’s not the full Alexa experience though, as some features like drop-in aren’t available, but this is common amongst third-party Alexa-enabled devices.
You can, however, ask Alexa on another device – be it an Echo speaker or the Alexa app on your phone – to control the soundbar, allowing you to change the input, adjust the volume and more.
There’s a catch though; Alexa can only control the soundbar when the Fire TV is in use. If you’re watching Freeview or playing your PS4, you’ll be rebuffed by Alexa explaining that it can’t connect to the soundbar. The built-in Fire TV acts as a bridge between the soundbar and the wider Alexa ecosystem, and when it’s not in use, there’s simply no way for Amazon’s servers to connect and control the unit.
So, while the Anker Nebula is a smart soundbar, it’s not always smart.
Booming bass, but at a cost
The Anker Nebula sports a 2.1 system, featuring two 1.5in 20w speakers and two 3in 30W subwoofers, with bass further enhanced by Anker’s BassUp technology. You won’t find the same level of definition on offer compared to a 5.1 system, but it’s a huge step forward from the built-in speakers of most TVs.
The soundscape is surprisingly wide, filling the room with audio and, as expected, the bass is booming. It’s surprisingly clear at high volumes, perfect for listening to music or watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but the impressive bass could also be the Nebula’s downfall.
While the soundbar sounds great with the volume cranked up, that isn’t the case at the other end of the spectrum. We don’t always want it ear-splitting playback, especially late at night or early in the morning, but when it’s turned down, there’s a noticeable degradation in quality – especially in the mid-range, and in particular, vocals.
Voices generally sound distorted at low volume, as if forcing bass tones that aren’t actually there, and it’s something we can’t seem to get past. We’ve tried tweaking the EQ, adjusting the levels of treble and bass, but it’s still present when the volume drops below 10 and particularly noticeable when watching TV shows without background music.
So, while the Anker Nebula sounds great when the volume is cranked up, you don’t get the same level of audio quality at low volumes.
If you’re looking to upgrade your TV audio setup and introduce some smarts at the same time, the Anker Nebula soundbar is a great, budget-friendly option. The Fire TV integration is handy, providing access to not only Amazon Prime Video but a host of streaming services without the need for a separate Fire TV Stick, but the experience isn’t perfect.
You can only use Alexa via the Fire TV remote, for example, and while you can use Alexa on other devices to control the soundbar, the functionality is only available when the Fire TV is in use – not good if you wanted to adjust the volume when watching terrestrial TV.
The audio quality, while not as good as what’s on offer from a 5.1 system, is a huge step up from the built-in speakers of most TVs. There’s a wide, immersive soundscape on offer, and the bass is booming at high volumes, but distortion at low volume means it isn’t perfect.
Anker Nebula Soundbar - Fire TV Edition: Specs
- 2.1 channel soundbar
- 2x 20w speakers
- 2x30w subwoofers
- Fire TV integration with Alexa support
- 3.5mm Aux
- Optical In
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Fire TV remote
- 92 x 11 x 6cm