Sonos Beam review: Compact in size, but not in sound | Tech News
This is the new Sonos compact soundbar. Called Sonos Beam, the idea is to bring a more cinematic sound to your living room without the size of many soundbars.
Compact soundbars are nothing new, of course, but many tend to result in poorer sound quality, something Sonos is keen to ignore.
We’ve been living with the new voice-controlled compact speaker to see how it performs. Is this the must-have living room upgrade?
- 651 x 100 x 68.5mm, 2.8kg
- Black or white
Sonos already sells a comprehensive soundbar called the Sonos Playbar, but Beam looks has a much more compact design. Tiny compared to the Playbar, the Sonos Beam measures 651 x 100 x 68.5mm and weighs 2.8kg.
It comes in white or black with a fabric grille. That makes it perfect for sitting on your TV stand, cupboard or a wall mounted bracket in front or under your TV. The white model is very easily lost in among décor.
The compact soundbar is something of an emerging trend; while larger bars are moving towards offering Dolby Atmos like the LG SJ9– or carry an integrated subwoofer like the Samsung MS650 – some companies like Sony have been looking at boosting TV sound without taking over the whole room.
Controlling the Sonos Beam
- Alexa built-in
- Google Assistant coming
- Siri via AirPlay 2
As with other Sonos products, the controls found on the top are minimal. There are touch-sensitive play and volume buttons.
Like the excellent Sonos One, Sonos Beam supports Amazon’s Alexa out of the box and will support Google Assistant in the coming months. Then there’s also support for Apple’s Siri, thanks to AirPlay 2 support from Apple.
That means you don’t really have to choose a team – supporting the big players in voice control means that Sonos can appeal to all potential customers.
One minute you can be using Alexa to turn off your lights, the next you can be asking Siri to AirPlay something to the speaker.
Alexa is controlled via the Sonos app but Apple’s Siri isn’t. Apple users could, in theory, never have to use the Sonos app after setup, blending the Beam into their existing or growing AirPlay 2 speaker collection. It’s been nice being able to simply “cast” music from an Apple device without having to go into the Sonos app.
What is clever is that even if you start playing from the Apple Music app via AirPlay 2, you can still take over control via the Sonos app even on a different device as everything is automatically synced on the fly.
This ability to drop in and out of ecosystems and platforms certainly makes things very easy to control and means you should be able to have the best of both worlds when it comes to controlling your content and your music, but if you want to have your cake and eat it with your digital assistants it can get a little confusing.
We’re reaching a point with smart homes where you really need to decide how you want to control things and build one system and stick to it.
Innards and connections
- HDMI ARC
Sonos Beam can use Ethernet for a wired connection to your network, but there’s Wi-Fi support of course. An HDMI ARC connection is also vailable to sync the audio, picture and remote. It’s this latter connection that really sets this new soundbar apart from Sonos’ older model, the Playbar.
HDMI ARC, standing for Audio Return Channel, isn’t supported by all smart TVs, so you’ll need to check first.
It’s not that the speaker becomes defunct if you don’t have ARC, it’s just you won’t be able to benefit from some of the clever features like turning on your TV with your voice (yes, really).
For those without HDMI ARC, the Beam also offers optical audio to connect Beam to your TV’s optical audio port.
When Beam is connected via HDMI (ARC) to compatible TVs, you can turn on the TV simply by asking Alexa. If you take things a step further you can unlock more hands-free control with the latest Alexa-enabled video streaming devices, such as Fire TV.
Although it doesn’t work with services like Sky Q, if you only use Fire TV you can ditch the remote completely.
Beam has a five far-field microphone array for listening for your voice commands and for setting up Sonos TruePlay, Sonos’ technology that enables you to tune the speaker specifically for the room that it is in.
The Sonos Beam is good at picking up voice commands, better than the Sonos One was at launch, but still not as good at the Apple HomePod. An audio beep helps you know when Alexa is ready for your command.
Sound is produced via five Class-D digital amplifiers, four full-range woofers, one tweeter, and three passive radiators.
It might be compact in size, but it’s not compact in sound
- Wide soundstage
- Support to add more speakers to create 5.1 system
We’ve listened to the Sonos Beam in two rooms in our house, the bedroom, and the lounge, both TruePlay and non-TruePlay tunned.
The Beam works best at louder volumes, the TruePlay tunning helps immensely, and the Sonos’ Night Time mode and Vocal mode do help you hear without disturbing the kids trying to sleep in the next room.
But if you are only ever going to listen at low volumes, then it’s probably not worth the upgrade over your current TV speakers.
You really do need to turn it up to benefit and enjoy what Sonos is delivering here.
On the music front, we listened to a number of tracks ranging from classical to rock to pop, and everything in between. Tracks worth particular mention are Reckoner by Radiohead, Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, and Lovesong by Adele.
Reckoner by Radiohead shows off Beam’s excellent soundstage that’s big enough to fill the room. The speaker copes with the Thom Yorke’s high voice tones, while the wide sound stage means that it doesn’t suffer from a narrow sweet spot as found on some soundbars at this price point.
Likewise the Beam coped well with Wish You Were Here and Lovesong. Both tracks show off the Beam’s stereo capability. The bass is strong, not as punchy as the Apple HomePod, but well balanced, and certainly enough for most living rooms or bedrooms.
The Sonos Beam is much better suited to dealing with dialogue and creating a surround sound experience. As we mentioned, we found, as we have previously with Sonos speakers, you do need to turn up the volume for it to really sing.
Music is only part of the story, and as you would expect, given Sonos’ heritage with the Playbar, watching movies or TV is exceptionally good.
Watching TV shows and movies
We’ve watched a number of different films, TV shows, and thanks to the World Cup, football games during our time with the Beam so far on a number of services including Sky Q, Apple TV, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video.
Standout tests for us include watching the space dance scene from Wall-e that really showcases the spatial capabilities of the speaker. You really get a sense of Wall-e and Eva zipping from one side of the room to the other. We also enjoyed the roar of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park when testing the bass capabilities.
As mentioned, the in-app Sonos volume enhancements make a big difference when listening late at night, and makes the dialogue of any Marvel film, for example, much easier to hear.
The speaker on its own does a fantastic job. However, those looking for more can expand the system quickly and easily by simply adding more Sonos speakers to create a 5.1 sound experience.
You can add two rear channels (Sonos One or Sonos Play:1) and a Sonos Sub.to really make a difference to the sound. We tried that of course, and you’ll be impressed, but then at an extra cost of over £1000 you can see why.
It is clear that Sonos has created a fabulous speaker for the £399 price point and one that not only sounds great but should, as long as you’ve got HDMI ARC support on your TV, go some way in enabling you to ditch your remote control too.
What we really like is the openness of it all. If you want to use the Spotify app to control your music you can. If you want to use Apple Music, that’s okay too. Then there’s voice control via Alexa or Siri and if none of those work for you then the Sonos app has you covered.
It’s this unfettered approach that’s not trying to lock you in that ensures that the Beam is future-proofed and will have a wide appeal.
From what we’ve heard so far, it certainly delivers and priced as it is, the Sonos Beam is easily a must-have to not only boost your TV’s sound but make your living room smart too.
The Sonos Beam is available for pre-order now and will be in stores from 17 July.