Sonos’ second-gen Beam soundbar supports Dolby Atmos
Nathan Ingraham is the deputy managing editor at Engadget.
Sonos has sold home theater products for a long time, but the company has made the living room even more of a priority in recent years. It started with the Sonos Beam, a smaller and more affordable version of the flagship Playbar soundbar. And 2020’s new flagship, the Sonos Arc, was the company’s first soundbar capable of Dolby Atmos playback.
Today, the Beam is getting a major upgrade. The new, second-generation Beam goes on sale today for $449 and will be available on October 5th. That’s $50 more than before, in line with the other price increases Sonos announced last week. The good news is that the new Beam is more capable than its predecessor in a number of ways. We’ll have to review it before we can really say if it’s worth the extra $50, but there are a number of notable new features here.
The new Beam looks nearly identical to its predecessor, aside from a new perforated polycarbonate grille instead of the cloth front found on the original. It also has the same speaker components inside: a center tweeter, four woofers, and three passive bass radiators. What’s different is that the new processor inside the Beam is 40 percent faster, which opens up a lot of new audio formats.
Most notably, the gen-two Beam supports Dolby Atmos, for movies, TV and music (the latter in a limited fashion, for now). Scott Fink, a product manager at Sonos who worked on the new Beam, says that the horsepower from the new CPU let the company increase the speaker arrays — not the specific speaker components, but, as Fink explains, “the set of software that coordinates the playback and interaction of all the speakers together in the soundbar.” The new Beam has five arrays, up from the three in the older model, and Fink said that the extras are dedicated to surround sound and height info.
All told, the Beam supports the same home theater audio formats as the Arc(including Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus, Multichannel PCM and more), which costs twice as much as the Beam. In addition to the increased processing power, the new Beam has HDMI eARC to facilitate these new formats. Sonos says the speaker should have improved dialog clarity thanks to the additional audio processing power, something that should make the currently-available speech enhancement feature work better than before.
The hardware also supports additional music formats, as well. The Beam (as well as the Arc) will soon support the Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos formats from Amazon Music. Some Sonos speakers have worked with a handful of HD music services for a while now, but this is the first time that a 3D music format will work with the company’s products. I asked if there were any plans to support Dolby Atmos on Apple Music, and unsurprisingly the company wasn’t willing to say yet. But, there shouldn’t be any technical reason, it’s just a matter of Sonos and Apple working together to get more Apple Music formats supported.
As with other Sonos products, the new Beam connects to the company’s other speakers for multi-room playback; you can also use other Sonos speakers as surrounds. You can tune the speaker to your room to improve the sound using Trueplay, assuming you have an iOS device. The Beam also has far-field microphones so it can receive voice commands through either Alexa or the Google Assistant, but that’s not required (there’s a mic mute button right on top of the Beam, too). Like some other recent Sonos speakers, the new Beam has NFC to make setup even easier — playing your phone running the Sonos app near it will automatically connect it to your WiFi network.
Based on what Sonos has said so far, the new Beam is probably not a crucial upgrade for most, unless you’ve been itching to get Dolby Atmos into your setup without spending a ton of money. But given that the Beam is already the best-selling compact soundbar (according to NPD data), these upgrades should help it keep its lead over the competition — even with that $50 price hike.
Editor’s note:This article originally appeared on Engadget.
Sonos Arc long-term review: the highs and lows
Our man Jonny Evans has now been living with the Sonos Arc for around ten months. If you've already read parts one and two, you can skip ahead to his latest update.
I must confess to getting a little bit overexcited when I heard about the Sonos Arc, a Dolby Atmos enabled soundbar at a price that, while by no means cheap, is still considerably more affordable than other similarly enabled products of decent competence.
After moving house 18 months or so ago, I’d been biding my time as far as a home AV set-up goes. The fully loaded 7.1 Onkyo-powered surround system of my old house is no more - I simply don’t have the space in my new living room to house all those speakers; so I’d been thinking about a soundbar as a replacement.
Clearly I won’t ever get the precision or power of a full system with a soundbar, that much I realised, but practicalities simply have to override such things for me – and a good approximation of surround sound may well be enough to do the trick. The household has been subjected to the sound coming from my 55-inch Samsung TV for a year and a half now – and to be fair the kids haven’t been complaining too much. But what do they know?
While the Sennheiser Ambeo - a veritable beast of a soundbar - would in many ways be perfect, there’s no way I can justify spending two grand on one; so I’ve been biding my time impatiently for a more affordable alternative to come along.
I almost took the plunge with the Sonos Beam (and, as events later reveal, perhaps I may yet do so…), but didn’t really pull my finger out in time to get it sorted before the Arc was announced.
So, sitting at the dining room table that has served as my work desk for most of the period of lockdown, I waited for the team to complete its review, with fingers crossed.
One five-star verdict later, and someone (ahem…) suggested that it might be a great idea for us to really put it through its paces in a real world, long-term test.
Hopes and lofty ambitions
Having read the review and talked to the reviewers, I knew that there were likely to be issues with my set up at home. But you know how it is with these things: once you get an idea in your head, you just want to plough on regardless and hope that it all turns out okay in the end.
And, to be fair to the Sonos Arc, for the most part it really has.
First things first, though. This is a very impressive looking piece of kit. It’s certainly premium in feel and build. It comes nestled in a reassuringly solid box, with heavy-duty locking tags that make the whole thing seem even more upmarket. The unit itself is everything you would expect of a Sonos product - and, despite its undeniably beefy dimensions, looks quite at home and rather neat sitting under my television.
Set up was a fairly simple affair - which was a mighty relief to me, as I had made a half-hearted effort to use a Sonos Amp as my TV’s sound source last year, and that caused me a fair bit of trouble (due, I found out in the end, to an issue with the HDMI cables I was using). So it was with some trepidation that I plugged the Arc in to the Samsung’s One Connect box, using the HDMI cable supplied with the soundbar.
A positive handshake
I need not have worried. The Samsung UE55KS9000 immediately shook hands with the Arc via the supplied HDMI plugged into its ARC (audio return channel), and all felt more reassuring with the world.
Then it was simply a case of downloading the Sonos app onto my iPhone and letting the pair do their set-up thing. (The Arc works only with the new S2 version of the Sonos app, so you’ll need to download that if you’ve got legacy Sonos kit and are still on 1.0).
The phone app found the Arc quickly, and then set me on the way to setting things up. It’s an interesting process, involving, among other things, moving around the room wafting your phone about while the soundbar beeps at you, gauging the dimensions and sonic characteristics of the space it has to work in.
That reasonably fast set up process gone through, we were good to go.
It’s safe to say that the Arc was instantly impressive. Not a massively surprising statement perhaps, given that it was competing with the TV’s speakers; still, instant gratification nevertheless. Voices are precisely placed, and extremely clear, the spread of sound is in a completely different league, and there is texture and depth to the bass. It’s night and day.
What it’s not, of course, and nor could it ever really be, is a proper AV amplifier driving seven speakers - but as I’ve already explained, I have now written that off as an option, so I’m not in any way disappointed.
One of the issues I have had with the Samsung is that the volume would vary with the input - so the Sky Q box, for example, would be playing at a comfortable level, but then if the PS4 was booted up, it was always much louder, and the remote control had to be scrabbled for.
The Arc has removed this irritation for the most part. The sound from the Samsung is fed to the Sonos via the the TV's ARC-enabled HDMI output, and it all comes out of the soundbar at the same volume. This may seem a rather minor irritation but it became less and less minor as time wore on - and I’m extremely happy to be rid of it.
And the volume is controlled by the Sky Q handset, now I’ve told it to be, so the Arc sits there waiting to be of service without fuss. Turn the TV on and the Arc comes on with it. It’s all very neat and intuitive.
Won't somebody please think of the children?
I’d set all this up in an empty house, so I was interested to note the reaction of the rest of the household, and said nothing about the change in sonic setup. The kids (who, as is the way with teenagers, are astonishingly unobservant about such things in general) barreled into the living room, turned on the telly and started watching Netflix (Ru Paul’s Drag Race, I believe.)
Within 20 seconds or so, I was asked, “What’s happened to the sound?” It was only after that that the question came, “and what’s that in front of the telly?” (see comment about observation skills above).
So first impressions very good all round - even for the unobservant teenagers.
Coming down off the high
It was when I started looking into fine-tuning things and trying to test out the surround-sound capabilities that a little bit of the gloss started to come off. I hasten to add, the main issue really isn’t the Arc’s fault. And as I’ve said, this wasn’t an enormous surprise by any means, but it was still just a tiny bit devastating.
My TV won’t pass through a Dolby Atmos signal.
It’s a great TV, the UE55KS9000 (and many people have commented on its impressive picture over the past three and a half years), but it’s been left behind by Samsung on the update front. The first time this frustrated me was when the BBC started broadcasting 4K content over iPlayer. The set doesn’t support HLG, so couldn’t show any of the events (Wimbledon, the 2018 World Cup) that the Beeb put out.
And this (the fact that it won’t pass through a Dolby Atmos signal) is the second crushing disappointment it has meted out.
The best I can manage, having tinkered with the TV’s settings is 5.1 surround - the app will tell you what the soundbar is outputting.
Still a very impressive sound in 'plain' 5.1
Thankfully, the plain vanilla 5.1 sound is pretty impressive in its own right; it certainly makes a good fist at spreading the soundtrack of an action movie out wide, and giving very decent sound location. But it’s not Dolby Atmos. There’s no way around this, other than getting hold of a new TV of course, and, while I am positively itching to experience the full fat sonic abilities of the Arc, I really can’t justify replacing what is a pretty fine TV still.
It may just be, though, that the Arc is therefore overkill for me. A Sonos Beam may well do close to the same job for half the cost. Something, for sure, for the prospective Arc purchaser to investigate.
Despite my frustrations, I am still deeply impressed by the Sonos Arc - and I have a few ideas to come to see how I might improve things further; chief among these involves a visit to IKEA and the purchase of two Symfonisk bookshelf speakers to act as true surround speakers for the system.
For that, watch this space: I shall update this particular story Arc in due course, once my family and I have lived with the new Sonos soundbar for a while longer.
Update 1: Dolby Atmos at last!
Update: Dolby Atmos at last!
Well, I couldn’t resist. I had to find out how the Arc performs with a Dolby Atmos signal, and I happened to find myself in our Bath AV test room a while ago. There was a relatively new model 55in Samsung TV (the excellent QE55Q90T) sitting there patiently, just begging me to borrow it for a while. It was but the work of a moment to comply with its wishes and stick it in the back of the car. (I know: it's all right for some. But at least now I can get an idea of how Atmos sounds from the soundbar.)
Once I got it home and set things up, I dived straight in to The Witcher on Netflix (for some reason it’s pretty much the only show that I am able to recall reliably as having Dolby Atmos sound).
The difference between listening to the Dolby Atmos soundtrack compared with the (very good, still) 5.1 surround sound I had been hearing before was clear. Dolby Atmos adds a lot of space to the soundstage, opening things up impressively. The soundstage is immediately wider and effects are quite effectively placed and moved around the room.
Indeed, over the past few weeks I have, on a number of occasions, started to wonder what was happening in another room of the house, only to then realise that the sound I was hearing was coming from the soundbar, reflected off the side walls of the room, rather than straight from the hall or kitchen.
Now I’m certainly not saying that the improvement in sound and atmosphere is necessarily worth splashing out on a new TV for if your current set won’t pass through Dolby Atmos; but if you’re in the market for a new set, it’s something I would definitely take into account.
It’s also, in my set-up's current configuration, nowhere near as effective a surround sound solution as a full seven-speaker set-up. For the Arc to have a chance of approaching that, I will need to get a couple of other Sonos speakers to act as proper surrounds. But as a compromise solution, in a room that simply cannot house all the extra boxes required for a full set-up, this is a rather fine alternative.
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A worrying glitch
Things haven’t been plain sailing for the Arc, however, despite my excitement at hearing the impressive Atmos performance. After a week of using the new TV with the soundbar without issue, the system developed what could have been a serious problem.
Every five or six seconds, the sound would drop out for half a second or so. It was a persistent occurrence and made watching anything pretty much impossible. It was a puzzle, especially as all had been fine with the new TV for the first week of using it.
I unplugged and reinserted the HDMI cable, to no effect. I swapped the cable out for another one; also to no effect. A quick Google (not sure why I didn't just try that first) showed that this is a known issue with the Arc with some televisions. The solution, I read, was to do a full reboot of the Arc (rather than simply unplug and reconnect the HDMI cable).
The thread was undeniably worrying, in that a number of people have said that it is a frequent problem for them. All I can say is that, after the reboot, I haven’t experienced a recurrence of the issue over the course of three or four weeks. So fingers well and truly crossed there.
The next steps then, as already mentioned above, are to get a couple of smaller speakers to act as surrounds in the set-up, so I can get as close to a full-blown surround sound system as possible. I have rather high hopes for that, if the improvement from 5.1 to Dolby Atmos is any hint as to the improvement possible.
I had intended to use a couple of the IKEA Symfonisk speakers, as they act as a shelf as well; I have nowhere to put two Sonos Ones, and it feels like a neater - and cheaper, of course – solution. I shall take advice on that though; it's possible that I may go for the Ones – but then I shall need to rely on my DIY skills as far as finding them a place to sit.
Watch this space…
Update 2: a glitch, extra height and proper surrounds
Update: another glitch, extra height and proper surrounds
Plenty has been going on over the months since my last living-with-the-Arc update.
I have changed TVs once again; there has been an update to the soundbar’s software, so the height drivers’ volume can now be adjusted separately from the rest; and I have installed a pair of rear surround speakers.
Each of these adjustments has changed things to a greater or lesser extent – but almost entirely for the better.
There have also been some gremlins along the way, however – chief among them, an irritating lip-synch issue with my Sky Q box.
Let’s start with the irritations. No matter which television I have been using, there has been a seemingly permanent issue with lip-synching live programming from the Sky Q box, when it is in its multichannel out audio setting. There are often issues like this with AV amplifiers, of course, and it is usually a fairly simple issue to resolve, with most pieces of AV kit able to delay the audio output to put it in perfect timing with the mouth movements of whoever happens to be speaking on screen.
Those tweaking abilities, however, are useless in this case, as it is the sound that is coming after the image - so delaying it makes the situation only worse. Programming in standard definition doesn’t have the issue, so it seems to be something to do with HD and 4K programming coming from the Sky box.
It honestly makes watching most programmes so annoying as not to be worth it, and it’s more than a minor delay - it’s incredibly obvious to everyone. Watching Huw Edwards mouthing the news before he says it is disconcerting to say the least. Sky hasn't yet come up with an answer to this for me, but a quick internet search certainly shows that I’m not the only person to suffer this issue.
It isn’t such a problem for streaming services via the Sky Q box, but I have been going to my TV’s apps for the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime and so on – simply because I haven’t really trusted the Sky Q box. In the end, as a compromise, I have set the Sky Q to output just stereo sound for most of my general live TV watching (which removes the lip-synch problem), and then switch settings manually when I want to watch, say, the 4K, Dolby Atmos football broadcasts on Sky Sports.
It’s not an ideal solution, of course, but it takes only about 12 seconds to sort out, so it’s also not the end of the world.
New TV number two…
On a more positive note, I haven’t had any further recurrences of the issue I had when the sound dropped out regularly on my original Samsung TV. The second Samsung set didn’t have the issue, and I have now moved on again, this time to a Philips 65OLED804.
This switch was made partly because I wanted to make sure the Arc would play Atmos via HDMI ARC (audio return channel) as well as the newer Samsung’s more high-tech eARC – the original Samsung set I had didn’t relay Atmos over its old-school (2016…) HDMIs.
The other reason I was keen to try out the Philips, I confess, is that I haven’t yet enjoyed an OLED TV at home – nor, come to that, the delights of Ambilight. On which note, it must be said that the teenage occupants of my house are immensely impressed with Ambilight (more than they were with the switch from the excellent Samsung QLED to OLED, if I’m honest, although they are particularly happy with the Philips’ picture as well).
Suffice to say that the Philips set copes admirably with Dolby Atmos signals via its HDMI ARC ports, and the system seems to be working well, for the most part.
I have had a few occasions when the Philips TV seems to have the occasional handshake issue with the soundbar, which necessitates a bit of a reboot. But that seems to have been resolved with a change of HDMI cable.
Tweaking the height channels
The recent Sonos software update has brought in an interesting new toy. I can play with the volume of the height channels to bring them into greater prominence (or pretty much remove them from the equation, should I wish).
Go into the new option on the Sonos app, and you are presented with a slider, with a scale going from -10 through 0 to 10. It is set, by default at 0. I had a play with this using my default Witcher scenes, and the difference between a -10 setting and the full-on all-guns-blazing 10 is clear, as one would hope.
It’s worth having a play with the feature, certainly; my living room has a fairly high ceiling, and adding more oomph to the heights has brought a more rounded image to the sound even from the 0 setting. I’ve settled on around 7, but I’m still enjoying tinkering with things.
Rear surrounds are in
Also new on the scene is a pair of IKEA Symfonisk bookshelf speakers to act as rears in a more conventional surround sound system.
I went for the Symfonisks in the end as it seemed the simplest option – they act as shelves in their own right, so cut down a little on the DIY. Also, as I am using this pair exclusively as surround speakers, I didn’t feel that I needed them to be the very best sounding option out there, merely that they should be able to perform their duties to a high standard. And besides, being entirely practical about things, they also come with a roughly 50 per cent saving over the nearest Sonos branded option, the One SL.
(A new Sonos/IKEA collaboration seems to be imminent, so it’s possible some discounts may be in the offing on the Symfonisk family.)
Setting the Symfonisk pair up after screwing them to the wall was a pleasingly simple exercise, once I'd updated their software (for which I needed to hard-wire them to the router), with the app on my iPhone finding the new units quickly, and then allowing me to make a system from the three speakers with the push of a couple of buttons.
While I have been impressed with the soundbar’s ability to provide a very decent attempt at true surround sound on its own, it was immediately clear that having discrete speakers at the rear, leaving the bar to perform front centre, left and right duties (along with the Atmos height, of course) improves things remarkably. This is now a ‘proper’ surround system, with the sonic soundstage far more accurately described by the trio of speakers.
I'm very happy with the results for the relatively modest outlay of less than £200. That does, of course, take the system cost up to £1000, but I feel this Sonos combination isn't out of place at that price – especially given the space it frees up over a conventional home cinema sound system.
And, of course, it is an upgrade that can be made in time as and when it can be afforded. The soundbar was impressive enough in its own right. The bespoke rears do raise it to another level, though.
Jonny is the editor of What Hi-Fi? magazine. He is rather shocked to have to admit that he has been a journalist for a quarter of a century now, and counting.
Before working on What Hi-Fi?, Jonny helped to produce a number of tech and motoring titles, including Autocar, Stuff and Jaguar.
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Release Date: June 2020
The new Sonos flagship soundbar, the Arc ($799), improves upon its near-decade-old ancestor, the Playbar, in a whole host of ways. It has an all-new design, and updated guts to work as a smart speaker with Google Assistant or Alexa, but its standout feature is without doubt support for Dolby Atmos. Unfortunately, you’ll need more than just an Arc to make use of that technology: you’ll need a compatible TV and content as well. And that unavoidable headache complicates the magic that makes Sonos ordinarily so easy to recommend.
Dolby Atmos, for the uninitiated, is an audio technology that creates its own virtual height channels so, if you’re watching a movie or show, it sounds like things are flying over your head and to the way left and way right of you; not just like the sounds are shooting out from the TV. This, obviously, requires specialized hardware and also compatible content.
The content, fortunately, is not a big problem. Not every movie and show supports Dolby Atmos, but many you can find on common streaming services do. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple iTunes and Vudu all have Atmos content, though there are stragglers like Hulu and HBO Max.
But to make use of it, every link in your audio-video chain has to be Dolby Atmos compatible. So in addition to content, you need a compatible TV, compatible speaker system, and compatible streaming device, all connected to each other with Atmos-compatible connections, which is to say, no optical connections allowed. (These are the current external streaming devices that support Dolby Atmos: Apple TV 4K, Fire TV Stick 4K, Fire TV Cube, Fire TV Stick (2nd-generation), Fire TV (3rd-generation) and Nvidia Shield TV.)
It can be a convoluted and complicated affair, and one that contains numerous configurations that feel like they should work, but don’t. The Arc, to its credit, simplifies this situation a little bit. As it only has a single HDMI port, it has to be connected directly to your TV (via its HDMI ARC or HDMI eARC port). This prevents you from dabbling in complex setups that involve a streaming device as a pass-through, but at the cost of requiring a fairly up-to-date TV. If your TV is older than 2017, you’re probably going to be out of luck.
There are a lot of TVs older than 2017 that have an HDMI ARC connection, but its presence doesn’t mean you are in the clear. My current socially-distancing situation includes a gorgeous 65-inch Samsung TV from 2013, and even though it has an HDMI ARC port, it doesn’t support Dolby Atmos. And so while I have the Arc — and it sounds great — I have yet to be able to try out its killer feature.
It’s this layer of confusion that seems to be the Arc’s biggest flaw. Of course it is not Sonos’s fault that Dolby Atmos compatibility is a little confusing. It does, however, mean that the Arc comes with an asterisk attached; if you want the best sound, you better make sure that you have compatible TV first. That’s far from a dealbreaker, but it is a notable caveat from a brand that’s built its name on almost magical ease of use.
Of course, you don’t have to have a TV that supports Dolby Atmos to still have a good experience with the Arc. It still works as a very good smart speaker that can be integrated with your other Sonos speakers in a multi-room system. But it just won’t be the best possible experience.
Sonos provided this product for review.
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How to pre-order the new Sonos Beam with Dolby Atmos
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Sonos has unveiled a new version of its lauded Sonos Beam soundbar, a top perfomer and one of the most popular devices in the Sonos speaker ecosystem. The new Beam has some impressive tricks up its sleeve, including Dolby Atmos support. It's available for pre-order now for $449 and shipping globally on October 5th.
Pre-order the Sonos Beam for $449 from Sonos now
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We (and almost everyone else) adored the original Beam when it launched back in 2018, and have more recently compared it favorably to the company's top-tier Sonos Arc.
The Beam's minimalist design, smartly crafted feature set, and robust sound make it a winning addition to your living room, while Sonos' impressive software and add-on speakers make this not just a soundbar, but an integral piece of a whole-home audio solution.
The new Beam aims to maintain this beloved package, while making some very key improvements. At the top of the list is the addition of support for Dolby Atmos surround sound and HDMI eARC for seamless, future-proof connectivity. Using phased speaker arrays and software tuning, the 2nd gen. Beam is designed to emulate the cinematic experience, placing sound to the left, right, and even above you in your living room.
This upgrade could be a huge win for Sonos, not just for the sake of more immersive performance, but also because getting Dolby Atmos under $500 is still somewhat rare. Like the Arc and other Sonos products, you can also add on extras like surround speakers and a subwoofer to build a full surround setup at your own pace.
Despite those more advanced abilities and components, the new Beam keeps the same minimalist footprint and compact design as the original. Sonos has swapped in a new speaker grill, however, using a rigid polycarbonate with "precise perforation" to allow for optimal acoustic expression and matching the look of the higher-end Sonos Arc.
We won't know how it all comes out until we get our ears on a review unit in the near future, but if you just can't wait to pre-order, we don't blame you. You can pre-order the new Sonos Beam—in Black or White finish—from Sonos today for $449, and it'll ship October 5th.
Pre-order the Sonos Beam (2nd gen.) from Sonos for $449 now
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Sonos arc ship when will
Sonos Arc soundbar to ship on June 10, along with a third-gen Sub and the Sonos Five tabletop speaker
Sonos unveiled three all-new higher-end speakers today: The $799 Sonos Arc, a roundish soundbar with support for Dolby Atmos object-based audio; the $699 Sonos Sub (Gen 3), a dual-driver, dual-amplifier subwoofer; and the $499 Play 5, a 14-pound speaker with six drivers and an equal number of Class D amplifiers.
All three new speakers will be available in all-white or all-black (including the Sonos logo) on June 10, preceded by the release of the new Sonos S2 app on June 8. Pre-orders are available now.
Updated to provide a link to our in-depth Sonos Arc review.
The Sonos Arc replaces both the Sonos Playbar, the company’s first soundbar that came to market in 2013, and the Sonos Playbase that shipped in 2018. The less-expensive Sonos Beam ($399) will remain in the company’s lineup. As with several newer Sonos speakers, the Arc supports your choice of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant along with Apple AirPlay 2.
The 45-inch-wide Arc has eight elliptical woofers and three silk-dome tweeters behind a 270-degree plastic grill, each driven by a discrete Class D amplifier. Two of the woofers are mounted on top of the bar to bounce height cues off your room’s ceilings, and two are mounted in the end caps to reflect surround cues off your walls. When you’re not listening to Dolby Atmos-encoded content, a DSP controlling the Arc’s up-firing drivers changes their profile so that they produce more low-end frequencies.
Since the Arc can support Dolby Atmos, it is undoubtedly capable of decoding other high-resolution audio codecs, such as DTS:X; Dolby TrueHD; the Sony 360 Reality Audio format that Amazon has adopted for its premium streaming service; and, perhaps MQA. It also wouldn't be a stretch to assume that the Arc and the new Sonos Five (more on that in a minute) can support sampling rates higher than the current limit (24-bit/48kHz), but Sonos says they have nothing more to announce on that front at this time.
The Beam stays in the Sonos lineup
As with similarly designed soundbars, you’ll want to set up the Arc in front of your TV (on a credenza or other piece of furniture), or mounted to the wall beneath your TV. Putting it in a hutch-style entertainment center will interfere with or fully defeat its ability to deliver an immersive audio experience. Sonos tells me it has developed special mounts for the Arc that feature sensors designed to reduce bass resonance when the speaker is mounted to the wall, but this optional accessory will cost an additional $79.
The Arc is outfitted with a single HDMI port that supports both ARC and eARC, plus a Toslink digital optical connector to support older TVs. You can read more about the differences between the two types of Audio Return Channel in this story. Most people will connect the Arc to their home network over Wi-Fi, but it’s great to see the company continue to offer 10/100Mbps ethernet ports for customers who have the wiring infrastructure to take advantage of it.
A new version of Sonos’ Trueplay speaker-tuning software will customize the Arc’s audio output to compensate for imperfectly shaped listening rooms, introducing small delays in its audio output to ensure that surround-sound signals arrive at the listeners’ ears at the right times. You can combine any newer-generation (i.e., S2-compatible) Sonos speakers for surround sound (with the exception of the battery-powered Sonos Move). And if you pair Arc with a Sonos Sub (all three models are compatible), the Arc’s amplifiers will produce more mid- and high-end frequencies.
Sonos probably didn’t need to replace its excellent second-generation Play:5, but the Sonos Five has more memory, a faster processor, and a new wireless radio. It’s not a smart speaker, surprisingly enough, but it can be controlled with voice commands spoken to a compatible Amazon Echo or Google Home device. Like its predecessor, the speaker is designed to operate horizontally or vertically when paired with a second Sonos Five.
The 14-pound speaker contains three tweeters—one angled left, one center, and one angled right—and three midwoofers, each driven by a discrete Class D amplifier. This phased array enables the Five to deliver a stereo sound stage from a single enclosure. Capacitive touch surfaces on top of the speaker control play/pause, track forward/track back, and volume. A 3.5mm analog audio input is provided so you can connect sources such as a turntable. As with all other modern Sonos speakers, the Sonos Five supports AirPlay 2 on iOS devices.
Sonos Sub (Gen 3)
The third generation of the Sonos Sub doesn’t look appreciably different from the first two iterations: It’s a squarish and relatively narrow design with a pair of force-cancelling drivers facing each other in an opening in the middle of the 36.3-pound enclosure. Each driver gets its own Class D amplifier, and the Sub delivers frequency response down to 25Hz. Sonos makes one of the best subwoofers I’ve ever listened to, so I’m looking forward to hearing what this new model’s increased memory, processing power, and wireless radio bring to the party.
As stated earlier, all three speakers will be available on June 10, and Sonos is accepting pre-orders now. We’ll conduct in-depth reviews as soon as we can get our hands on the new products.
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Michael covers the smart-home, home-entertainment, and home-networking beats, working in the smart home he built in 2007.
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Sonos' latest surround sound solution is contained entirely in a single soundbar it calls Arc. While we’re not sure if the device gets its name from the HDMI interface it uses, the curved sound it pitches or the fact that it is perhaps, metaphorically, a vessel delivering impressive surround sound to the modern minimalist home, whichever the case this system is hell-bent on short circuiting the surround sound game.
The Sonos Arc draws on Dolby’s latest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound codecs to deliver the best quality lossless audio found on cutting edge Blu-ray disks and some of the leading streaming services. It then enhances the 3D soundscape using Dolby Atmos object tracks to bounce certain sounds off the walls around you so they feel like they’re coming at you from all angles.
While all this might sound complicated, the Sonos Arc setup couldn’t be simpler, involving just a couple of steps on the smartphone app. The minimalist cable connections and all-in-one system construction add to this no-fuss feeling and streamlined aesthetic.
If you’ve got a media room with 4 walls and a roof then the Sonos Arc is really all you need for great surround sound. The 11 high quality drivers work together to deliver everything from powerful warm bass to clean and precise high notes during both music and media playback. Better still, it can do all this while mimicking the soundscape of true multi-speaker surround sound.
There are some caveats for those with expansive TV rooms, but the Sonos ecosystem offers additional speakers for anyone wanting to bolster the bass or add true surround sound… as long as you have the cash for it.
All up, the Arc is a pretty amazing bit of kit that can mimic true 3D sound from a sleek and self-contained unit – and that's why it's our best soundbar of 2021.
Read on to see what really separates it from other soundbars.
[Update: The Sonos Arc is no longer the only Sonos soundbar with Dolby Atmos. The new Sonos Beam (Gen 2) boasts Atmos technology as well as HDMI eARC compatibility, and is available to preorder now.]
Sonos Arc price and availability
The Sonos Arc soundbar launched globally on June 10, 2020 and cost $799 / £799 / AU$1,399 as a standalone unit. However, after Sonos announced a nearly product-wide price hike, it now costs $899 / £899 / AU$1,499 - make of that what you will.
While this Atmos-enabled speaker is perfectly capable on its own, you can also add the Sonos Sub (Gen 3) for $749 / £749 / AU$1099 for a bit of extra bass, or a pair of One SLs for rear left and right surround sound which will set you back $199 / £179 / AU$289 each. These speakers have also increased in price since their launch.
The Arc has been designed to sit on the tabletop beneath your TV, but you can also mount it below a screen using the Sonos Arc compatible wall mount ($79 / £79 / AU$99).
Design and features
- Width of a 55-inch TV
- Simple setup
- Dolby Atmos requires lots of high spec tech
There was a time where you wouldn’t consider anything other than a multi speaker array for the best quality surround sound, but Dolby Atmos is leading the charge to deliver 3D audio effects from a more streamlined system — and there's no better example of this than the Sonos Arc.
The self contained single unit has only two essential inputs: a power cable and a HDMI in, and while an Ethernet socket and a Digital Optical to HDMI adapter are available out of the box, it’s only recommended you use them if you absolutely have to. Sonos doesn’t even include a remote, suggesting you instead connect the soundbar to your TV via the Audio Return Channel (ARC) and just use your TV remote or control it through the new Sonos S2 smartphone app.
Speakers: 5.0.2, 11 Class-D amplifiers, 8 woofers, 3 tweeters | Dimensions: 45 x 3.4 x 4.5 inches (1141.7 x 87 x 115.7mm), 13.78 lbs (6.25 kg ) | Finish: Matte Black or White | Connections: HDMI input (ARC), optical digital audio to HDMI converter, Bluetooth, Ethernet port, 802.11b,g Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay 2, IR receiver | App: Android (no Trueplay), iOS | Subwoofer included: No
Even the colour choices are simple with the Arc, being available in just Black or White. And while you can of course pair the Sonos Arc soundbar with the Sonos Sub or a pair of One SL speakers for deeper bass and true surround sound, it’s been created to be an excellent audio solution on its own, which cuts down on overall clutter.
Since the Arc is intended to bounce audio off the roof and walls of your room to create a 3D soundscape, it’s wrapped on the top, front, and either end by metal, hole-punch speaker grilles that cover the various orientations of the Atmos driver array.
The soundbar sits a little higher than some at 3.4-inches (8.7cm), but the built in IR repeater means it won’t block your remote connection and this extra headroom gives a little more space to the upward firing Atmos drivers. At 45-inches (114.17cm) wide it’ll line up roughly with the edges of your average 55-inch TV, but it also looks fine with anything bigger.
There is a simple status LED light that self-adjusts brightness according to ambient light and the subtle capacitive play/pause, volume and mute buttons help it blend into the background.
There’s two rear reinforced holes to wall mount the 13.78 lb (6.25 kg) unit for a forward facing mounting setup, but naturally the bass response is a little more concentrated when it can reflect off a tabletop surface.
In order to get proper Dolby Atmos surround sound, you’ll need your media to be encoded in DolbyTrueHD or Dolby Digital Plus, and you’ll need your app, TV and receiver to be able to process, or at least pass-through, these formats.
While there is a Digital Optical converter included with the Arc, Atmos can only be carried over HDMI 2.1, so by connecting it you’ll be sacrificing top quality sound. Dolby Atmos still isn't ubiquitous in terms of availability so making sure you have all the right bits can be a bit of a process. To see if your other current components are Atmos-ready check out our Dolby Atmos explainer.
Much like everything else with the Arc, the setup process is designed to be as simple as possible, all done through the new Sonos S2 smartphone app. After the initial plug in, you’re asked to download the app from the App store or Google Play Store (if you don’t already have it).
Then, you'll need to follow a couple of prompts to connect the TV to Wi-Fi, any audio streaming or internet radio services you may already be signed up to, and your choice of Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Other than this there’s not much else to the setup, it’s a relatively painless process (especially if you already have a Sonos account).
There is one last task you’ll want to perform before firing up your favourite high definition audio, however: Trueplay Tuning. Trueplay is Sonos’ proprietary adaptive soundscape tool which analyzes the shape of a room in order to best balance the sound output for everyone in it.
We got a feel for how capable Sonos was in this department when it released its Move portable speaker which was able to compensate for acoustic environments as hostile as being covered by pillows. It’s the feature that really distinguishes the Arc from your average soundbar.
There is one pretty considerable hitch, however: Trueplay is only compatible with iOS devices. This is a big inconvenience for non-Apple users and Sonos says that the diversity in Android hardware means it isn’t planning on developing it anytime soon.
Fortunately, you can borrow an iOS device to run the calibration in the soundbar’s final location and it’ll remain true as long as you keep things in vaguely the same place. It’s a bit of an inconvenience, but on balance it’s probably simpler than having to store a dedicated tuning microphone somewhere memorable after setup.
The one area we did have some issues was integrating our smart assistant into the Sonos Arc. While a number of Sonos systems have already featured integrated Google and Amazon smart assistants, they have offered capped experiences and because we weren’t able to quickly set this feature up we haven’t been able to see if there’s been any development here yet.
The most notable of these limitations is that you can’t use them in third-party multi-room Wi-Fi speaker arrangements, but since we suspect Sonos does this to encourage investment in additional Sonos speakers, we don’t expect this to change anytime soon.
- The 8 woofers and 3 tweeters create great music and media audio
- Amazing surround sound for a single source speaker
- Having the right shaped room is critical for this product
The Sonos Arc’s audio capabilities are pretty amazing all up. Eight elliptical woofers combine to deliver a solid overall bass response and the tuning balances a nice amount of warmth through the mids with an impressive level of clarity.
This precision is matched by the three silk dome tweeters that deliver particularly crisp highs with an impressive level of control. We were particularly taken by the unit's ability to deliver soundscapes that distinguished sound from individual instruments during particular arrangements without feeling disjointed.
This type of spatial precision makes sense when you consider that the Sonos Arc was designed to make the most of Dolby Atmos, an audio codec which separates sounds into object based audio tracks, so particular sources can be quickly shifted between speakers and bounced around the room more easily. So unsurprisingly, the Arc is very capable once you’ve tuned it to the room and it’s able to bounce effects around and behind you.
It’s worth pointing out that because the system uses your room to actually get the sound around you there’s going to be some variation in the Arc’s ability to deliver surround sound.
We tested it in a room with a 20 foot (6 meter) vaulted ceiling and a nib wall behind the sofa, which makes it essentially impossible to bounce audio around behind you.
So while we were able to experience excellent height and left/right soundscape movement, we definitely didn’t get the same surround sound experience as a multi-speaker array.
That said, the speaker’s audio positioning was good enough that in a boxier media room we’d expect you’d be able to get surprisingly close to multi-speaker surround sound using just the Arc soundbar.
We really didn’t see any need to add a Sub to the Arc soundbar, there was more than enough powerful bass to allow you to feel those on-screen explosions or beat drops when turned up loud. We even felt the night mode settings that lower the bass EQ would be a useful feature for those in apartments with thin walls.
Should I buy the Sonos Arc?
Buy the Arc if ...
You want Dolby Atmos sound
The Sonos Arc is one of the best speakers we’ve heard for audio separation, making it great for enhancing your surround sound experience.
You want the simplest surround sound system possible
The Arc is the best sub-less soundbar we’ve heard, so if you just want your TV and a soundbar connected with the bare minimum of cords and clutter, it’s an excellent choice.
You’re already a part of the Sonos multi-room speaker ecosystem
For anyone with a Sonos speaker at home (or those planning on investing in one) the speakers work well to create easy to use multi-room audio.
Don't buy it if...
You don’t have access to an iOS device for Trueplay Tuning
Trueplay is critical for getting good 3D sound on the Arc. While you can achieve Atmos sound without it, you may want to borrow a friend's iOS device to get the best from the Sonos Arc.
Your room isn’t right
Because the Arc relies on your room to achieve surround sound, if the couch is in the middle of a big expansive room and you don’t intend to buy One SL rear speakers you won’t get good surround sound.
First reviewed - 12/6/2020
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