If you find your TV sound bad but don’t want multiple speaker systems in your living room, we have a solution for you. We finally tested the Sonos Beam, a very compact connected soundbar.
Sonos is a brand specializing in multi-room audio. It’s a whole ecosystem of speakers that connect to each other through an application. This probably reminds you of what many manufacturers offer now, but Sonos has been a pioneer in the field and made it its specialty.
We recently tested the Sonos Arc, the high-end soundbar of the American brand. This time, we tackle the accessible sound bar of Sonos. It is a product that was unveiled in 2018, featured in our guide to buying the best soundbars.
Sonos Beam, un design compact
The Sonos Beam is neither Sonos’ best speaker nor its best soundbar. Unlike the more massive Arc (114 centimeters), the Beam is only 65.1 centimeters in length. As you can see, the Sonos Beam fits in my TV cabinet. Which is a performance, because I can’t fit the Xbox Series X into it (for the PlayStation 5 that’s barely).
The idea behind the Beam is that it replaces your TV’s (very average) built-in speakers and eliminates the need for a massive home theater kit. I was just discussing this with a friend who had an expensive Yamaha multichannel AV receiver and a pair of Technics floorstanding speakers. The Beam is the opposite of this kit, a tempting simplification even for an audiophile.
The Beam soundbar is therefore an all-in-one device: it integrates connected assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. When connected to a compatible TV (HDMI eARC / Arc), it acts as a powerful speaker, but it also allows you to ask Alexa to turn the TV on and off, or to play one of your favorite songs on Spotify or Apple Music. The Beam is therefore a connected speaker and a modern sound bar.
At the back of the bar are the sockets and connectors, for power, Ethernet (Wi-Fi is also integrated) and HDMI. The Beam uses the Audio Return Channel capabilities of its HDMI input (called HDMI-CEC) to pick up sound from your TV, of course, but also to facilitate voice control of your TV’s basic functions. Note that there is also a digital optical adapter (S / PDIF) in the box, along with a power cord and an HDMI cable, for those whose TV does not have an ARC compatible HDMI.
As for its quality, the Sonos Beam exudes quality, it seems very sturdy and solid. However, its fabric cover tends to tear or get dirty. On our white version, we quickly grabbed a bit of dust and I haven’t managed to clean it yet (even with a damp wipe). We would have preferred the metallic design of the Arc which will age much better.
Regarding the physical interface, no remote control, it works with the Sonos app, your TV remote control (via infrared) and the buttons on the Beam. There are two LEDs: the main LED blinks and changes color depending on your input source while the second is above the microphone icon and lights up when you activate the microphone. Touch controls are basic and include play / pause, volume up / down, track change, and microphone on / off.
Performance at the rendezvous
Sonos is known for the design of its speakers and their technical characteristics. On the Beam, without adding other accessories (satellites and “subwoofer” subwoofer), it is a 3.0 configuration. Despite its compact size, there are four woofers that reproduce midrange, a tweeter to reproduce high sound frequencies, i.e. high tones, and five class D digital amplifiers. As a reminder, the purpose of an audio amplifier is to ” increase the source signal level in order to provide the loudspeakers with sufficient intensity and voltage to make them vibrate and deliver a sufficient acoustic level.
This trio is accompanied by three passive radiators which contribute to the good circulation of the air and help to reinforce the range and the response of the bass. Finally, there are five microphones, which are used by connected assistants, but also for advanced beam forming and multi-channel echo cancellation.
The speakers are arranged in a left-center-right configuration, intended to mimic the three front channels of a traditional 5.1 surround sound system. You can set up two Sonos speakers as rear channels (and add a subwoofer – Sonos Sub discussed in this paper – too, if you have understanding neighbors or live in a house) for a home theater experience.
Now that we know what’s in it, let’s talk about how this soundbar performs. If you have 5.1 PCM, DTS: X, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Atmos in mind – none of your high resolution or Dolby Atmos surround sound will work here. At least, it’s clear. The Beam only supports Dolby Digital (5.1), an already old format that is still quite common.
But is that a bad soundbar? Not at all. For music, the Beam delivers powerful, focused sound with lots of detail. The music nevertheless reveals problems with bass reproduction. But is this apparent when using the Beam to watch a movie or a series?
This is less the case, the bass feels deeper and more powerful. There’s a lot less power than larger soundbars – but for a soundbar with such modest dimensions, the Beam gets the job done to the point of wondering if it’s really necessary to add a subwoofer. If you like to turn up the volume, know that the Sonos Beam can sound quite loud, which is ideal for large rooms.
The spatialization is wide, but lacks details. Fortunately, its side speakers help create a wide soundstage that can give you a more immersive listening experience. The absence of Dolby Atmos is nevertheless damaging, because soundbars at the same price, as at LG, have this function.
The Beam also has several notable features, including voice enhancement and a night mode to adjust the volume level based on content. It even offers a function that adapts the sound to your room (TruePlay), however this application only requires the iOS application. On the other hand, no equalizer, you can nevertheless adjust the bass and treble if you want to modify your sound.
Alternatives to the Sonos Beam
It is difficult to attack Sonos by copying and pasting the strategy of the Californian brand, the competitors had to differentiate themselves. Either with a flamboyant design, high-resolution audio compatibility, or integration into a larger connected home ecosystem.
For three years, Sonos has made a big effort not to be left behind. The specialist brand multiroom integrated Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and made it compatible with Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay 2. They also designed a Dolby Atmos compatible sound bar. They finally marketed a portable Bluetooth compatible speaker. They have created their own content with radios for their clients, including a radio for French song as well as a premium offer with high definition sound.
We have selected three alternatives to the Sonos Beam which are in the same price segment (between 400 and 600 euros). These are three larger soundbars, but they offer more versatility.
Bose Smart Soundbar 500
Sure, the Sonos Beam is a better soundbar than the Bose Soundbar 500. The sound is better on the Beam, however the Bose 500 supports eARC and it is also Bluetooth compatible.
The Sony HT-Z9F is a better performing soundbar than the Sonos Beam and much more versatile. It is less compact than the Beam and offers a less neutral sound than the latter.
The LG SK10Y stands out with its support for virtual surround and Dolby Atmos effects. It also offers more complete connections, with two HDMI inputs.
Sonos Beam price
The price of the Sonos Beam is 449 euros, it is available in white and black.