Like the Roku Smart Soundbar, the Anker Nebula Fire TV Edition is a speaker that doubles as a media streamer. That means there’s no need for an extra media player outside of the soundbar—video and audio originate from the same connection. Throw in Alexa voice control, and you’re getting a lot for $229.99. Audio is loud and clear, but if you’re looking for subwoofer glory from this system—which is advertised as a 2.1 soundbar despite missing the essential “.1” element—you will be disappointed. This is a modest sound signature, without much in the way of deep bass. So while the Roku soundbar isn’t markedly more powerful, it’s a better deal at $180.
Measuring 2.4 by 36.2 by 4.3 inches (HWD), the 7.1-pound Nebula is covered in a dark gray cloth grille, with a status LED readout that shines through the front-facing panel. An array of controls are situated on the top panel, with buttons for power, mode (source), EQ, volume up, and volume down. There are connections on the back panel for HDMI (ARC/Output), optical, 3.5mm aux, and the included power cable. There’s also a USB-A port for firmware updates. In addition to these physical inputs, the soundbar can stream audio via Bluetooth.
The Nebula is marketed as a 2.1 system, which is pure marketing gibberish. There is no subwoofer. The claim that built-in woofers make this a 2.1 system is simply not accurate. This is a stereo system with some built-in woofers, end of story. If you want subwoofer audio, you need to go a different route—those seeking serious movie theater-like rumble will be disappointed. There are dual 3-inch “subwoofers” (also known as woofers) and dual 1.5-inch full-range drivers, along with two bass ports on either end of the soundbar. The system delivers a combined total of 100 watts, and a frequency range of 60Hz-20kHz.
For those unfamiliar with Amazon’s Fire TV offerings, you can stream Netflix, Prime Video, Stars, Showtime, and YouTube, among other options, at up to 4K and 60fps where supported. Of course, the obvious catch is that you must have paid accounts with the various services. Still, the inclusion of the media player means there’s one less box to purchase, setup, and connect.
The included remote is designed to make things easy, with shortcut buttons for Netflix, HBO, Prime Video, and Amazon Music at the bottom. You can also switch between sources using the Mode button, which is located on the soundbar itself. The default Source is FTV (Fire TV), and the others are optical, ARC, Bluetooth, and aux. The rest of the remote, which runs on two included AAA batteries, is dedicated to buttons for power, mic (for Alexa), navigation, backward/return, menu, previous track, play/pause, next track, volume up/down, channel up/down, guide, mute, settings, and recents.
Switching between sound sources and adjusting the EQ and treble/bass settings is all done by pressing settings on the remote and then scrolling through options using the remote’s navigation control. You can download the Nebula Connect App to control the soundbar from your phone and get firmware updates, but it’s not necessary to use the soundbar out of the box.
Setting up the Fire TV player is simple—the on-screen process walks you through connecting to your wireless network and then downloads the latest software update and installs it. Once this is complete (it can be a long process, as the remote requires its own separate updates), the player is easy to operate. The first stages of setup allow you to save passwords, sign in to Amazon, set parental controls, and choose your streaming services.
Once Fire TV is set up, using Alexa voice control is as easy as pressing the Mic button on the remote. It’s not hands-free control with the mic always listening, but tapping a button on the remote is at least less effort than getting up to tap a button on the soundbar. And Alexa voice control is something the Roku soundbar doesn’t support at all.
In addition to the bass and treble adjustments that can be made (from -3 to 3, with the default setting for each at 0), there are EQ modes. The default EQ mode is Movies, but you can also switch to Music or Voice. There is no off mode for the EQ, however. There’s also a Surround mode, but we suggest leaving it off, as it does odd things with the treble in the mix, and doesn’t in any way resemble anything like real surround. Fiddling with the bass and treble is a better way to fine-tune the audio here.
The Nebula supports Bluetooth 4.2, Dolby Digital Plus Decode, Dolby Vision, and 4K HDR, as well as Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac). The soundbar ships with an RCA-to-3.5mm cable for the aux input, an HDMI cable, and an optical cable, as well as brackets and a wall mount guide.
Blade Runner 2049‘s big crash scene features multiple explosions. Through the Nebula with the bass setting at neutral, the explosions pack some punch. With the bass maxed out at 3, they pack quite a bit more. The audio in no way sounds thin or brittle, but there’s no real subwoofer rumble. It doesn’t sound bad in the slightest—there’s decent balance and solid clarity for dialogue, but don’t expect the 2.1 thunder that’s advertised.
When the Death Star explodes in Stars Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the Nebula delivers less than dramatic results. In Movie mode, with the bass boosted and surround on, the explosion sounds tiny and bright. Turn off the surround sound and you get a lot more bass depth, but still nothing that comes close to approximating real subwoofer-like rumble. The audio is otherwise clear, crisp, and packs plenty of regular bass depth when surround mode is off.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” it’s important to switch to Music mode and make sure surround is off. The bass depth in Music mode is decent—going up level 3 provides some notable extra low-end, but it isn’t in the sub-bass realm where this track’s real deep lows are. However, adding in some richness in the lows is still a way to tweak the sound signature in a way many users will prefer.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the Nebula’s general sound signature. Even with the bass level maxed out, the drums here sound more like polite tapping than anything heavy, and it’s Callahan’s baritone vocals that command all of the bass depth. This tells us what we need to know about the Nebula’s sound signature. The lows don’t extend down very much—it’s a lows and low-mids affair with virtually nothing in the sub-bass realm. Even for the price, it’s a bit surprising how little bass depth there is, especially in the neutral setting. The high-mids and highs are already crisp and bright without any need to tweak the treble, but it’s there if you want it. With neutral bass and treble settings and in Music mode, the Nebula delivers a bright, clear, sound signature with some low-mid richness added in.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the drum loop gets plenty of high-mid presence so that its attack retains its punchy presence. The deep thump we often hear accompanying it on bass-forward systems is not present here. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with what sounds like zero bass depth. The vocals are clear, with perhaps a smidge of added sibilance. It’s not a bad sound, but bass fiends will be disappointed.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound fairly natural through the Nebula. There’s a little added low and low-mid push, but the spotlight definitely belongs to the bright brass, strings, and vocals. This is a clear, detailed sound signature, and adding in a little bass depth on tracks like this can give the mix some subtle anchoring.
Consider the Anker Nebula Soundbar Fire TV Edition the all-in-one budget solution for anyone who wants Fire TV media streaming and Alexa voice control. If your top priority is audio performance, even for this low price, you can do better—there’s just no deep bass here, period. The Roku Smart Soundbar isn’t significantly more powerful, but at $180, it’s a better buy. And if you’re more interested in audio than Fire TV features, consider the $130 TCL Alto 7+, the $200 Sony HT-S350, or the $300JBL Bar 3.1, all of which have actual subwoofers.