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Category Archives: Quantum Physics
Posted: February 25, 2020 at 5:47 am
Scientists have trapped and observed individual atoms for what they say is the first time ever. The mechanism is a kind of supercooled atom rodeo, where individual atoms at nearly absolute zero are held in separate compartments before being released to interact in specific ways.
The researchers use optical tweezers as part of their setup. Atoms can be isolated and held in place with optical tweezers, and these researchers simultaneously used three separate tweezers. Once three atoms are held in laser lock, the researchers move all three setups together and then drop two of the gates. All three atoms are then free to interact in the remaining optical tweezer setup.
This process may sound simple, but it's actually complex and fussy to do. It was worth it: When three atoms interact, one possible outcome is that two of the atoms collide to form a molecule while the third gets a kick of energy as a result, Physics reports. This process, known as three-body recombination, occurs everywhere from laboratory plasmas to star-forming gas clouds, but despite its ubiquity, it had yet to be directly observed.
The researchers had fairly open-ended predictions for outcomes of this experiment, but they were still surprised by what happened. Atoms did act out the predicted three-body recombination, but they were much slower than the researchers predicted. They arent sure why this is, but they speculate that the tight confines in the optical tweezer setup has something to do with it. And other iterations showed that two atoms bonded without doing anything to the third, simply leaving it behind. (Sad trombones.)
Physics reports that the slow recombination rates are considered a promising and exciting outcome. The research teams predictions were based on existing knowledge about three-body recombination and theoretical models of how it works up close. For results to go against those predictions, it shows that something more interesting is at play than what scientists currently understand.
This is one reason why sophisticated nano-observation and manipulation are so important. Experimental quantum mechanics has been something of a black box due to the sheer difficulty of managing to look at anything that was happening. The introduction of optical tweezers for trapping atoms has opened remarkable opportunities for manipulating few-body systems, the researchers explain in their abstract.
Few-body problems are no relation to the three-body problem, beyond the fact that both have, well, a few things. Or are they related? In quantum mechanics, more than three interacting particles of certain kinds end up behaving in ways that are unpredictable and insoluble using traditional (for quantum mechanics) methods.
Springers wide-ranging Few-Body Systems journal defines it this way:
Thats a real twist there at the end.
Optical tweezers are just one of the ways scientists are getting up close and personal with individual particles for the first time, and supercooled environments allow for a variety of manipulations that previous generations couldnt have dreamed of. Now, the tools to explain a delayed three-body recombination could be within our graspor within an atoms grasp.
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Posted: at 5:47 am
Scientists have observed a new state of electronic matter on the quantum scale, one that forms when electrons clump together in transit, and it could advance our understanding and application of quantum physics.
Movement is key to this new quantum state. When electric current is applied to semiconductors or metals, the electrons inside usually travel slowly and somewhat haphazardly in one direction.
Not so in a special type of medium known as aballistic conductor, where the movement is faster and more uniform.
The new study shows how in very thin ballistic conducting wires, electrons can gang up creating a whole new quantum state of matter made solely from speeding electrons.
"Normally, electrons in semiconductors or metals move and scatter, and eventually drift in one direction if you apply a voltage," says physicist Jeremy Levy, from the University of Pittsburgh. "But in ballistic conductors the electrons move more like cars on a highway."
"The discovery we made shows that when electrons can be made to attract one another, they can form bunches of two, three, four and five electrons that literally behave like new types of particles, new forms of electronic matter."
Ballistic conductors can be used for stretching the boundaries of what's possible in electronics and classical physics, and the one used in this particular experiment was made from lanthanum aluminate and strontium titanate.
Interestingly, when the researchers measured the levels of conductance they found they followed one of the most well-known patterns in mathematics Pascal's triangle. Asconductanceincreased, it stepped up in a pattern that matches one of the rows of Pascal's triangle, following the order 1, 3, 6, 10 and so on.
"The discovery took us some time to understand but it was because we initially did not realise we were looking at particles made up of one electron, two electrons, three electrons and so forth," says Levy.
This clumping of electrons is similar to the way that quarks bind together to form neutrons and protons, according to the researchers. Electrons in superconductors can team up like this too, joining together in pairs to coordinate movement.
The findings may have something to teach us about quantum entanglement, which in turn is key to making progress with quantum computing and a super-secure, super-fast quantum internet.
According to Levy, it's another example of how we're reverse engineering the world based on what we've found from the discovery of the fundamentals of quantum physics building on important work done in the last few decades.
"Now in the 21st century, we're looking at all the strange predictions of quantum physics and turning them around and using them," says Levy.
"When you talk about applications, we're thinking about quantum computing, quantum teleportation, quantum communications, quantum sensing ideas that use the properties of the quantum nature of matter that were ignored before."
The research has been published in Science.
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Spin-Rotation Coupling Quantum Effect Measured for the First Time Predicted 30 Years Ago – SciTechDaily
Posted: at 5:47 am
It is like jumping on and off a carousel: what happens to neutrons changing from a non-rotating frame of reference into a rotating frame of reference and back? 30 years ago, scientists predicted that this would lead to interesting interference effects, because neutron spin show a special kind of inertia. Now, this has been verified in an experiment. Credit: 2019 Laurent Thion/ILL
It was predicted 30 years ago, now the effect was measured for the first time by scientists at TU Wien (Vienna): The neutron spin exhibits inertial effects.
Lets assume we are dancing on a meadow, quickly spinning about our own axis. At some point we hop on a rotating carousel. We may end up hurting ourselves when both rotations add up and angular momentum is transferred. Are similar phenomena also present in quantum mechanical systems?
After years of preparation, a team at the TU Wien managed to conduct an experiment where the spin of a neutron traverses through a region with a rotating magnetic field. A special kind of coil had to be developed to produce this rotating magnetic field. Although the neutron spin does not carry any mass and can only be described quantum mechanically, it exhibits an inertial property. These results have now been published in Nature Partner Journal Quantum Information.
Inertia is a ubiquitous feature, Stephan Sponar of the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics at TU Wien illustrates. When we sit on a train which moves at constant speed, we cannot tell the difference to a train parked at the station. Only when changing the frame of reference, e.g. when jumping off the train, we are decelerated. We feel forces due to the inertia of our mass.
When rotations are considered, things are similar: the angular momentum of a rotating object is conserved as long as no external torque is applied. But when considering quantum particles, things become more complicated: Particles like neutrons or electrons feature a special kind of angular momentum the spin, says Armin Danner, lead author of the newly published paper.
Spin is the intrinsic orbital angular momentum of an elementary particle. There are similarities to the rotation of a planet rotating about its axis, but in many regards this comparison does not hold: the spin is a property of pointlike particles. With a classical mindset, they cannot rotate about any axis. Spin can be regarded as the angular momentum of an object which is constricted to a point, Armin Danner says. The properties of such a spin are not to be found in our everyday life. But the formalism of quantum mechanics can give us an intuitive idea how things work for some cases.
Way back in 1988, colleagues already predicted how a neutron should behave when it is suddenly exposed to rotation, Prof. Yuji Hasegawa, head of the neutron interferometry group, explains. A coupling between the neutron spin and a rotating magnetic field was predicted. But until now, no one could directly demonstrate this coupling in its quantum mechanical form. It also took us a few years of work and several attempts to do that.
Similar to a dancer which has spin and crosses a rotating carousel, the neutron is exposed to a rotating magnetic field. This field manipulates the spin, however, the spin orientations before and after the magnetic field are the same. After traversing the region with the magnetic field, the angular momentum of the neutron is exactly the same as before. The only thing that happened to the neutron is that it experienced effects of inertia, which are detectable by means of quantum mechanics.
In the experimental setup, the neutron beam is split into two separated partial beams. One of them is exposed to a rotating field while the other is unaffected. Both partial beams are then recombined. Following the rules of quantum mechanics, the neutron travels along both paths simultaneously. In the first path, effects of inertia locally change the wavelength of the particle-wave. This determines how the partial waves amplify and extinguish each other.
The biggest challenge was the design of the magnetic coil which produces the magnetic field. A small window inside the coil is needed for the neutron beam to pass through. However, the field properties must comply with the strict conditions to induce the desired field. A suitable geometry was identified with the help of computer simulations. The system was developed and tested at the neutron source of the TU Wien in the Viennese Prater while the final measurements were conducted at the ILL in Grenoble, France.
It is fascinating that we induced a pure quantum effect which at first cannot be understood classically, Armin Danner points out. Our intuition should therefore not help us here at all. But we could demonstrate for a very specific case that the classical concept of inertia is still valid for the neutron spin.
Reference: Spin-rotation coupling observed in neutron interferometry by Armin Danner, Blent Demirel, Wenzel Kersten, Hartmut Lemmel, Richard Wagner, Stephan Sponar and Yuji Hasegawa, 14 February 2020, npj Quantum Information.DOI: 10.1038/s41534-020-0254-8
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Posted: at 5:47 am
A team of physicists in New Zealand has held individual atoms of rubidium in place and observed previously unseen interactions.
Laser-cooled atom cloud viewed through microscope camera. Image credit: University of Otago.
Our method involves the individual trapping and cooling of three atoms to a temperature of about a millionth of a Kelvin using highly focused laser beams in a hyper-evacuated chamber, said lead author Dr. Mikkel Andersen, a physicist in the Department of Physics at the University of Otago and the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.
We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions that we measure.
When the three atoms approach each other, two form a molecule, and all receive a kick from the energy released in the process. A microscope camera allows the process to be magnified and viewed.
Two atoms alone cant form a molecule, it takes at least three to do chemistry, said co-author Dr. Marvin Weyland, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Otago and the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.
Our work is the first time this basic process has been studied in isolation, and it turns out that it gave several surprising results that were not expected from previous measurement in large clouds of atoms.
The researchers able to see the exact outcome of individual processes, and observed a new process where two of the atoms leave the experiment together.
Until now, this level of detail has been impossible to observe in experiments with many atoms.
By working at this molecular level, we now know more about how atoms collide and react with one another, Dr. Weyland said.
With development, this technique could provide a way to build and control single molecules of particular chemicals.
Our research tries to pave the way for being able to build at the very smallest scale possible, namely the atomic scale, and I am thrilled to see how our discoveries will influence technological advancements in the future, Dr. Andersensaid.
The experiment findings showed that it took much longer than expected to form a molecule compared with other experiments and theoretical calculations, which currently are insufficient to explain this phenomenon.
While the authors suggest mechanisms which may explain the discrepancy, they highlight a need for further theoretical developments in this area of experimental quantum mechanics.
The results appear in the journal Physical Review Letters.
L.A. Reynolds et al. 2020. Direct Measurements of Collisional Dynamics in Cold Atom Triads. Phys. Rev. Lett 124 (7): 073401; doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.124.073401
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Posted: at 5:47 am
Otago University researchers in New Zealand have succeeded in breaking new ground in quantum physics. The researchers managed to observe complex atom interactions never before seen.
Researchers from Otago University broke new ground in quantum physics and managed to observe complex atom interactions never before seen. In this study, where the energy and expertise of the researchers combined with many different equipment from mirrors to lasers, the quantum process, which can be understood by the statistical averages of experiments with many atoms before, was observed.
Along with the previously unprecedented image, the new study carried out allowed researchers to expand their knowledge on this topic. The results of the experiment surprised the researchers.
Details of the researchAssociate Professor Mikkel F. Andersen from Otago University Physics Department explained their work as follows: Our method involved capturing a single atom and cooling three atoms up to one million Kelvin using focused laser beams in a hyper vacuum cell. We slowly combined the traps containing atoms to produce controlled interactions we measured.
Marvin Weyland, a post-doctoral researcher, explained his work as follows: Two atoms cannot form a cell alone; there must be at least three for chemistry. Our study was a first for this basic process and gave surprising results that were not expected from previous measurements.
According to the statement on his universitys site, the researchers were able to see the full output of the singular process and observe a new process where the two atoms abandoned the experiment together. Until this time it was impossible to observe this level of detail in multi-atom experiments.
Weyland said that with this study, they learned how atoms collide and how they interact with each other.
Posted: at 5:47 am
As far as we currently know you should not exist.
It's nothing personal. According to our current theories of physics, neither you, me, nor the entire material universe around us should exist.
That's because 13.8 billion years ago, just after the Big Bang, every particle of matter, including what we're made of, should have been annihilated by an equal amount of antimatter.
Yet here we are in a universe where there's a lot more matter than antimatter.
"We're at a complete loss to explain that, and so we're investigating everything about antimatter that we can," said physicist Jeffrey Hangst of Aarhus University and spokesperson for CERN's ALPHA experiment.
Matter is essentially the stuff that we and all the material universe is made of. Antimatter is thought of as matter's almost-identical twin the same, except that it carries a different charge.
For example, hydrogen has a proton and an electron, antihydrogen has an antiproton and a positron (the antiparticle of an electron).
Now, for the first time, Professor Hangst and colleagues at CERN in Switzerland have observed a property of the antimatter equivalent of hydrogen that had previously only been predicted.
They say the research, published in the journal Nature, reaffirms a fundamental symmetry of nature.
We've been studying in-depth the structure of hydrogen for over 100 years.
"It is no exaggeration at all to say that we learned quantum mechanics and atomic physics from hydrogen," Professor Hangst said.
"It's the thing we know the most about I would say in physics at every level."
But it's only been in the last few years that Professor Hangst and his colleagues have been able to do similar experiments with antihydrogen.
"First of all we had to learn how to produce it. And then we had to learn how to hold onto it. And we had to learn how to interact with it once it's held. And we had to learn how to make more of it," he said.
Every atom of antihydrogen that's ever been studied has been produced, trapped and studied in ALPHA.
"Other people have tried and failed to do what we do," Professor Hangst
In this latest experiment, the team measured the energy differences between different excited states of antihydrogen in a vacuum.
When an atom of antihydrogen gets excited, its positron gets kicked to an orbital or energy level further out from the antiproton-containing nucleus of the atom.
When it returns to its original orbit it emits energy.
While our classical models only detail these big jumps between orbitals, there are other quantum effects.
"There are fluctuations in the vacuum, there are virtual particles that can appear and disappear," Professor Hangst said.
These quantum fluctuations can shift the energy of these levels by different amounts.
One such shift, called the Lamb shift after it was reported in atomic hydrogen in 1947, led to the field of quantum electrodynamics which describes the interactions between particles and light.
Professor Hangst and his colleagues were able to show that in antihydrogen the value of the Lamb shift closely agreed with the value in ordinary hydrogen.
"To be honest, nobody expected it to not be there, because there's no alternative to quantum electrodynamics that would predict some difference between hydrogen and antihydrogen," Professor Hangst said.
This experiment really tested one of the most interesting predictions of quantum electrodynamics, said particle physicist Phillip Urquijo of the University of Melbourne, who wasn't involved in the research.
Dr Urquijo is working on a different experiment called Belle II that is looking for matter-antimatter asymmetries.
Both types of experiments require extremely high levels of precision and measurement techniques in order for a potential effect to be observed, he said.
"And [then] you may eventually be sensitive to the new particles that you're looking for, [or] the new forces that you're looking for," Dr Urquijo said.
Until then the contradictions between our theories and the real world will continue to rankle.
"It's always in the back of our mind that there's some mystery about antimatter that we simply can't explain," Professor Hangst said.
"Now, whether it shows up in what I do, or whether it shows up on the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] or some other experiment we've yet to devise, we just don't know."
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Posted: February 19, 2020 at 3:41 am
From Texas Standard:
The Trump administration's fiscal year 2021 budget proposal includes significant increases in funding for artificial intelligence and quantum computing, while cutting overall research and development spending.
If Congress agrees to it, funding for artificial intelligence, or AI, would nearly double, and quantum computing would receive a 50% boost over last year's budget, doubling in 2022 to $860 million. The administration says these two fields of research are important to U.S. national security, in part, because China also invests heavily in these fields.
Quantum computing uses quantum mechanics to solve highly complex problems more quickly than they can be solved by standard or classical computers. Though fully functional quantum computers don't yet exist, scientists at academic institutions, as well as at IBM, Google and other companies, are working to build such systems.
Scott Aaronson is a professor of computer science and the founding director of the Quantum Information Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He says applications for quantum computing include simulation of chemistry and physics problems. These simulations enable scientists to design new materials, drugs, superconductors and solar cells, among other things.
Aaronson says the government's role is to support basic scientific research the kind needed to build and perfect quantum computers.
"We do not yet know how to build a fully scalable quantum computer. The quantum version of the transistor, if you like, has not been invented yet," Aaronson says.
On the software front, researchers have not yet developed applications that take full advantage of quantum computing's capabilities.
"That's often misrepresented in the popular press, where it's claimed that a quantum computer is just a black box that does everything," Aaronson says.
Competition between the U.S. and China in quantum computing revolves, in part, around the role such a system could play in breaking the encryption that makes things secure on the internet.
Truly useful quantum computing applications could be as much as a decade away, Aaronson says. Initially, these tools would be highly specialized.
"The way I put it is that we're now entering the very, very early, vacuum-tube era of quantum computers," he says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.
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Posted: at 3:41 am
Saturn's most Earth-like moon looks a bit less likely to host life, thanks to quantum mechanics, the weird rules that govern subatomic particles.
Titan, the second largest moon in our solar system after Jupiter's Ganymede, is unique in two ways that have convinced some researchers that this moon might host extraterrestrial life: It's the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere, and it's the only body in space, besides Earth, known to definitely have pools of liquid on its surface. In Titan's case, those pools are frigid lakes of hydrocarbons, closer to the gasoline in a car than the oceans on Earth. But some researchers have suggested that complex structures could arise in those pools: bubbles with special properties that mimic ingredients found to be necessary for life on our planet.
On Earth, lipid molecules (fatty acids) can spontaneously arrange themselves into bubble-shaped membranes that form the barriers around the cells of all known life-forms. Some researchers think this was the first necessary ingredient for life as it formed on Earth.
Related: 9 strange scientific excuses for why humans haven't found aliens yet
On Titan, researchers have speculated in the past, an equivalent set of bubbles might have emerged, these consisting of nitrogen-based molecules called azotosomes.
But for those structures to arise naturally, the physics has to work just right in the conditions actually present on Titan: temperatures of about minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 185 degrees Celsius), without liquid water or atmospheric oxygen.
Previous studies, using molecular dynamics simulations a technique often used to examine the chemistry of life suggested that such bubble structures would arise and become common on a world like Titan. But a new paper, published Jan. 24 in the journal Science Advances, suggests that those earlier simulations were wrong.
Using more complex simulations involving quantum mechanics, the researchers in the new paper studied the structures in terms of their "thermodynamic viability."
Here's what that means: Put a ball at the top of a hill, and it's likely to end up at the bottom, a position of lower energy. Similarly, chemicals tend to arrange themseIves in the simplest, lowest-energy pattern. The researchers wanted to know whether the azotosomes would be the simplest, most efficient arrangement for those nitrogen-bearing molecules.
Titan represents a "strict test case for the limits of life," the researchers wrote in their paper. And in this role, the moon fails. Azotosomes, the simulation showed, just aren't thermodynamically viable on Titan.
This work, the researchers said in a statement, should help NASA figure out what experiments to include on its Dragonfly mission to Titan, planned for the 2030s. It's still theoretically possible that life emerged on Titan, the researchers said in the paper, but such life would likely not involve anything we'd recognize as a cell membrane.
Originally published on Live Science.
Posted: at 3:41 am
To heat a slice of pizza, you probably wouldntconsider first chilling it in the fridge. But a theoretical study suggests thatcooling, as a first step before heating, may be the fastest way to warm upcertain materials. In fact, such precooling could lead sometimes to exponentially faster heating, two physicists calculate in a study accepted in Physical Review Letters.
The concept is similar to the Mpemba effect, the counterintuitive and controversial observation that hot watersometimes freezes faster than cold water (SN:1/6/17). Scientists still dont agree on why the Mpemba effect occurs, andits difficult to reproduce the effect consistently. The new study is a way ofthinking of effects like the Mpemba effect from a different perspective, saysphysicist Andrs Santos of Universidad de Extremadura in Badajoz, Spain, who was not involved with the research.
This potential for faster heatingdoesnt actually apply to pizza slices, but to certain simplified theoreticalmodels of materials, which scientists use to make calculations that help themunderstand real materials. Physicists Amit Gal and Oren Raz of the WeizmannInstitute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, studied a theoretical system calledthe Ising model, a 2-D grid of atoms which have magnetic poles that pointeither up or down. In particular, they considered a version of the Ising model inwhich neighboring atoms tended to point their poles in opposite directions,behavior which is called antiferromagnetic. In that system, heating could occurfaster after a precooling phase.
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For the new effect to occur, there mustbe some relevant property of the system other than a uniform temperature thatis affected by the precooling. Otherwise, thered be no difference between asystem that had been precooled and rewarmed, and one that hadnt. Thetemperature cannot really tell the whole story, Gal says.
In the case of the antiferromagnetic Isingmodel, the researchers considered the total magnetization produced from all theatoms, as well as how many magnets pointed in the opposite direction of theirneighbors. Cooling the material could change the ratio between those twoproperties in a way that would allow heating to proceed more quickly.
Raz hopes that physicists might look forthe effect in real materials next, such as magnetic alloys.
The prospects are exciting, says physicist Adolfo del Campo of the Donostia International Physics Center in Spain. Scientists have been searching for ways to speed up heating in tiny machines that follow the rules of quantum mechanics and can bypass some of the limits of standard machines (SN: 4/1/19). If the effect can be exploited in such minute machines, he says, it would [be] quite handy.
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Posted: at 3:41 am
Simple, immersive, affordable surround sound. Thats the promise of Rokus new operating system update, which allows you to link up the companys soundbar, sub, and Roku Wireless Speakers for a slick and concise surround setup that costs just $500.
On many fronts, Rokus makeshift system delivers on its promise, booming and sweeping its way to some pretty sweet cinematic immersion. But, after spending some quality time with the newly minted setup, I can tell you it wont be for everyone, especially those looking for a system as musical as it is cinematic.
Here are the highs and lows of Rokus new Voltron-style surround setup.
Rokus new system is designed to be so easy to use that even your aging Aunt Freda can set it up and enjoy those mahjong tournaments on ESPN 7 in immersive surround. Roku shoots for a broad audience, so the system needs to be accessible for all. For the most part, thats the case when it comes to setup, but there are some caveats to mention.
The Roku Smart Soundbar is basically a Roku TV in soundbar form. You can stream directly from it and easily access the onscreen menu for everything from streaming apps to sound settings. Once youve got the bar set up and all components plugged in, pairing the wireless subwoofer and speakers to the bar is done by simply holding down the remotes Home button for five seconds and selecting them from the on-screen menu.
Thats assuming the new update that makes this possible goes off without a hitch, of course. Updates can be tricky, and you may need to hit the reset button on the speakers or sub, though the simple on-screen directions should make this clear. However, since the Roku Wireless Speakers were originally designed to pair to a Roku TV, they kept chiming improper directions about doing just that after I plugged them in. This may be something thats worked out in the update (or a future one).
Youll also need to find a place to set up the speakers behind (and to the left and right of) the listening position. This will likely require you to pick up speaker stands or find a console for them, etc. So, while the setup is simple, it isnt necessarily a breeze for surround newbies.
Thats not to say this system isnt intuitive as all get-out its Roku, after all and operation is a snap once youre up and running. Apart from the luxury of a built-in video streamer, easy access to on-screen sound settings, a signature perk of Roku audio gear, is perhaps the most useful feature.
A tap of the star key on the soundbars remote calls up a small but effective suite of settings, including leveling and night mode (for keeping the system from blasting during commercials or when the kids are sleeping), two settings to pump up dialogue (low and high), and a range of bass controls for the subwoofer. The settings are limited, but work well for those for whom a graphic EQ is as mysterious as quantum physics.
Like most modern soundbars, the system also works seamlessly with your TV remote for power and volume when connected via HDMI ARC (cable included).
Theres also a cool feature called Expanded Stereo mode, which uses digital signal processing (DSP) to pump ambient sound into the surround satellites for stereo content. The Movies and TV mode, which is on by default, actually works impressively well, seeming to magically pull only the background effects into the back speakers for a more immersive experience. I was less impressed with the Music version when streaming Bluetooth, but it does give you a bigger soundstage.
Smart assistant support includes Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for some basic functionality like streaming from select services, volume control, and turning the system on and off, while the microphone in the remote allows for searching streaming content via Rokus operating system as well.
The opposite side of the coin that is Rokus dead-simple interface is that, well, theres not a lot you can do to tune the system manually. For control freaks like yours truly, the lack of incremental levels for the subwoofer and (especially) zero control over the satellites is maddening. While there are settings that raise or lower bass output, the only way to control the surround volume appears to be where you place them in conjunction with your listening position.
Also somewhat frustrating is Bluetooth streaming, which demands you go through the settings via your TV for initial pairing. Id rather just have an input key. That said, once youve paired to it, the system is designed to allow you to stream to the bar with the TV off (though for my TCL 6-series Roku TV, it seemed to turn on the TV when I turned on the bar).
Speaking of inputs, the options are limited. Unlike competitors such as Vizios $500 SB36512-g6 surround soundbar (which also tacks on Dolby Atmos, by the way), theres no way to stream over Wi-Fi, or even a 3.5mm input.
When it comes to performance, the highlights of this four-piece system are easily the subwoofer and satellite components, which deliver power and immersion, respectively, that rises above what youll get from the vast majority of competitors at this price point.
After connecting the sub, Rokus booming test demo freaked out my normally quiet dog from a dead slumber, causing him to bark as viciously as a 15-pounder can at what he deemed a full-on invasion. The impressive little tub holds court in everything from major action scenes to acoustic tracks, offering clean and powerful bass that punches well above its weight when measured by both size and price point.
Meanwhile, the Roku Wireless speakers offer power and clarity thats far above what youll see in most surround bars in this price class (or even well above it). Designed as stand-alone speakers for Roku TVs, their smooth-and-clear, dual-driver attack adds definition, detail, and poise to the swirling effects of action scenes, while swelling brilliantly with ambient sound in slower moments.
The result is excellent immersion that really pulls you into the moment in films like Avengers: Infinity War and The Dark Knight. But the setup also leaves something to be desired when it comes to the weakest link in this chain, the soundbar itself.
While the bar is the piece that ties it all together, its also the wild card of the system. Loaded with DSP, at times it can sound quite good, reveling in the meat of the sound for clean and detailed midrange effects and dialogue. At other times, youre reminded of its stubby size, which limits its soundstage significantly, while its smaller tweeters seem to be stretching to produce more velocity, resulting in a shouty sound signature.
That goes for music playback, too, which often comes off flat and boxy. My first impression when I called up a Spotify playlist was that of disappointment as the soundstage seemed to collapse on itself significantly. The subwoofer helps take some of the load, adding punch to songs that hit hard and chocolaty bass to acoustic fare, but I often wished for more warmth and presence in the middle of the sound and more definition up top.
This wasnt always the case I certainly found myself enjoying some tunes, usually those with excellent mixing, but in general, Bluetooth streaming is lackluster. You can lean on the Roku Wireless Speakers a bit by engaging the Expanded Stereo Music mode, but it cant really make up for the lack of musicality upfront. And perhaps ironically, I found myself wishing I was just listening to the twin speakers on their lonesome instead.
At $500, Rokus mostly wireless surround setup has a lot going for it. Its slick and simple to use, offers a great streamer built-in (assuming you dont already have one), and provides compelling surround sound immersion for your favorite cinematic scenes. Its not the best for music streaming, though, and while its easy to use, I find its limitations in both connection options and settings frustrating.
If you love the simple and intuitive nature of Roku and especially if youve already invested in one of these components the full system might be a good option. Otherwise, you can get more well-rounded surround solutions from Vizio and other brands, often for less.
Updated 2/20/2020: This piece has been updated to clarify that basic smart assistant functionality is supported for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
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