The Sonos Beam is an unassuming soundbar. Small, with just a few buttons, it looks like it would be easily drowned out by a party, and struggle to keep up with a blockbuster movie or a legendary game soundtrack… but that’s just not the case.
Staying true to the Sonos brand, the Beam pumps out a loud, rich sound no matter the task you set it. Bass-heavy songs, Hans Zimmer soundtracks and lively action scenes are easily taken on, but unsurprisingly, that kind of performance doesn’t come cheap.
Setting the speaker up
As part of the packaging experience, Sonos has improved its use of eco-friendly materials. Inside the box, you won’t find any of the usual Styrofoam packaging that’s usually holding a speaker in place. Instead, Sonos uses a combination of cardboard and a nice black fabric wrapped around the Beam.
Getting the Beam set up isn’t as simple as just plugging it in. You’ll need to download the Sonos app and go through a set-up process. This includes configuring your TV, changing a few settings and connecting the speaker to the Wi-Fi.
This wasn’t the quickest process for me but after some searching on forums, it turns out that this came down purely to the very specific TV I had. Once set-up, I was able to connect my Android phone, iPad and TV, as well as activating it via Google Voice assistant (Siri is also available).
There are only a couple of ports on the speaker. Along with the charging cable input, there’s an HDMI ARC and an ethernet port.
If your TV has a HDMI ARC port, you will be able to plug the speaker straight in. If you don’t have this option (more likely on an older TV), Sonos includes an optical adaptor which allows you to connect to a different port in your TV.
If you connect via HDMI ARC, you can then control your soundbar with the volume button on your TV remote. Otherwise, the Sonos app allows you to change the volume on any connected device (like an iPhone, tablet or Android device). It is worth noting that you do need to sort the app to use this soundbar, even if you’ve plugged it into the TV.
If you buy the Beam and then decide down the line you want more of a surround sound feel, you can invest in other Sonos speakers and pair them with the Beam. A Sonos Sub and a couple of Sonos One speakers can all be paired easily to spread the sound across a room.
The key features
One of the biggest factors that makes the Sonos Beam stand out is its versatility. Because it isn’t just a soundbar for your TV, you can connect your different devices and use the Beam to play music through your favourite streaming service.
While a lot of the best soundbars can only be used on their own, the Sonos Beam can be connected to other Sonos speakers. This means you can continually expand your home studio, adding a Sub speaker, or a couple of Sonos Ones to play sound from other points in the room.
The Sonos Beam can be set up with Google Assistant or Siri, allowing you to activate it with your voice. This can only do relatively simple commands around music unless you pair it with a streaming stick like Amazon Fire or Google Chromecast.
With certain films, songs, games and TV shows, you’ll also be able to use the Sonos Beam’s Dolby Atmos quality audio. This is a surround-sound technology that expands the height channels of your audio, making it sound like it is surrounding you, coming from above and around.
Normally, Dolby Atmos is offered in cinemas or from a full surround-sound system, but certain soundbars can condense it down. This works differently to most Dolby Atmos speakers and uses psychoacoustics to trick the listener into hearing a more impressive soundstage.
While the Sonos Beam can’t offer the same immersive experience as bigger Dolby Atmos speakers or surround sound, it does a pretty solid job for its size and price.
Apple users get the added feature with a Sonos Beam of TruePlay. This allows you to calibrate the speaker to your room using its built-in microphones. This will improve the audio for your exact set-up. However, you do need an iOS device for this.
As the 2nd generation of this speaker, it is noticeably more expensive than its predecessor. However, that comes with a more premium build for the front grille of the speaker, better sound and connectivity, and an overhaul of the Dolby Atmos experience.
The most important factor of any speaker is how it sounds, and whether you’re listening to music or watching a film, the Sonos Beam excels.
Everything from the deepest bass of a song to the screech of tyres and explosions in films were crystal clear. Despite its size, the speaker packed enough power that I could at times feel the bass vibrating across the room.
As mentioned above, the Sonos Beam makes use of Dolby Atmos. For a lot of shows and films, this didn’t make a massive difference but occasionally I found it hugely improving my viewing experience.
While watching Netflix’s Drive to Survive, the Beam did a fantastic job of translating the power of the cars, engines roaring over the tense music. With Dolby Atmos, it really felt like you were there as a car crashes into a barrier at 200mph, the noise bouncing around you.
The same goes for the final fight in Avengers: Endgame. Lasers, bullets and rubble sound like they are flying past you as the ultimate battle unfolds. While a full surround system or larger speaker with Dolby Atmos will work much better, for its size the Beam utilises Dolby Atmos surprisingly well.
There doesn’t have to be lots of action for the Beam to perform. While watching the Oscar-awarded climbing documentary Free Solo, heavy breathing, rocks falling, and a tense soundtrack flew across the room in crystal clear quality.
I had a similar experience while gaming. During my tense and challenging playthrough of From Software’s Elden Ring, the soundbar captured every terrifying screech of a dragon, sword swing and the sound of my out-of-breath character running for his life – all while amplifying the beautiful soundtrack behind.
While this is designed first and foremost as a soundbar for your TV, you can play music through the Sonos Beam. Of course, this is by no means going to beat out similarly priced speakers designed purely for music, but the Beam is still an excellent performer for songs.
Unless you’re very much an audiophile trying to squeeze every drop out of your speaker, the Beam will double up as a more-than-capable speaker for music, especially when it comes to bass- and drum- heavy songs.
With Muse’s Knights of Cydonia, the horse-trot inspired drum pattern and sci-fi guitar sounded fantastic through the speaker, even when the sound was smacked up to deafening levels.
The aggressive bassline of Morning by Beck felt powerful without being overpowering, and the same goes for Thundercat’s Heartbreaks + Setbacks. Try out the pristine and well-recorded Get Lucky by Daft Punk or Radiohead’s Weird Fishes and you’ll get a blemish-free experience, enjoying the music as it was meant to be heard.
Fitting the speaker in
Most soundbars tend to look good, especially at this price point. Sleek designs can be found across the majority of brands, but the Sonos Beam has the benefit of not being absolutely huge.
If you don’t have a large TV unit or are hoping to not take up too much room, the Beam will fit in your home better than the average soundbar. It spans a total width of just 65cm which is smaller than most mid-size to large TVs.
That means you can put it in front of the TV, on a shelf, TV unit or somewhere slightly more tucked away than larger soundbars.
It comes in either black or white. Both colours look sleek, but those who like a more unique or colourful design might be slightly disappointed.
There are a lot of soundbars out there, and the Sonos Beam sits firmly in the middle. It is by no means affordable, but it is also nowhere near the priciest one you can pick up, even within Sonos’ own range.
While it takes a few extra steps to get set up, it is an easy speaker to use from then on and offers some nice additional features like voice assistants, TruePlay for iPhone users and Dolby Atmos.
However, the Sonos Beam feels hard to critique. Music, films, games, TV shows – whatever task you throw at it, this speaker seems capable of it all. The fact that it performs so well despite its more compact size also makes this a pretty obvious choice for those with less space in their home.
The bigger brother to the Sonos Beam, the Arc takes a lot of what works about the Beam and improves on it. Yes, it does cost a lot more at £799, but that price secures you a far larger speaker, a much more convincing Dolby Atmos experience, and obviously an improved audio experience.
If you don’t mind how much money you’re spending, there are few soundbars that can offer a better performance than this.
While the Sonos Beam is a great all-round soundbar, it is still quite expensive. Sony’s HT-X8500 speaker comes in at a lower price while offering an audio experience that isn’t that far behind the Beam.
It has Dolby Atmos, is easy to setup, offers a fantastic audio experience, and like the Sonos Beam, is relatively compact compared to a lot of soundbars these days.
JBL Bar 2.1
The JBL Bar 2.1 soundbar crams a lot of value into its more affordable price tag. Along with the Dolby Atmos soundbar, you also get a subwoofer to go with it. Getting this kind of combination would normally require a much larger investment.
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