Sound bars have always held an odd place in the audio landscape for me. While they push what can be achieved with your TV speakers, and you won’t need to drape your house in wires, they never had the impact of a full receiver 5.1 setups. At least, that was my thinking before testing our the latest speaker from Sonos, the Sonos Beam.
Sonos have made a name for themselves with their multi-room audio speakers with high-quality, room-filling audio. The speaker range offers a slew of options for every budget, with some of the higher end of the range achieving near sublime levels (see our review of the Sonos Play:5). It is to this landscape the Sonos Beam must make a name for itself.
The Sonos Beam is a $499 soundbar that fills the void of mid-range home theatre audio, with all the bells and whistles of Sonos. Even with the lower price point, the Sonos Beam feels has just as high of a quality as many of the other devices in the Sonos range.
Design wise, the Beam measures 650 x 100 x 68.5mm, making it much smaller than many other soundbars on the market, and is close to 60% smaller than the Sonos PlayBar – it’s more expensive bigger brother. It also includes a few more ports than its sibling, offering HDMI along with the optical audio in.
The controls on the top of the device are reminiscent of the Play:5, with a trio of touch-sensitive buttons that work for fast forward, play/pause, and volume. It also includes an array of speakers for use with Alexa or another voice assistant. The simple LED light will flash on when the Beam is listening, although this mic can be turned off with a simple press of a button.
These all sit in a slight concave section of the top of the speaker, ensuring the lights and buttons do not interfere when resting or watching a movie but are ever-present should you need them. It also adds to the sleek design Sonos have managed to achieve with the Beam as a whole.
The versatile design of the Sonos Beam makes it look right at home in front of your TV or mounted on the wall just behind it. With it being only 100mm thick, the Beam will fit underneath or in front of most TV’s without it blocking the media you want to enjoy.
Under the hood, the Sonos Beam boasts four Full-range drivers, a center tweeter, and three passive radiators that add to the bass. The quality and sound profile make it feel a bit weaker than what you can find in the Sonos PlayBar, while still offering a deep, impactful sound for movies, media and music.
Like most Sonos devices, the setup starts with the Sonos app. After plugging the speaker in and connecting it to the internet, the app will guide you through the process of getting your TV connected to the Beam. Now, there are two methods of connecting the Beam to the TV. If you have a newer TV (built in the last ten years or so), you can make use of the ARC HDMI port; if not, there is the option to use optical audio.
After the 15 minute or so set up, and following the latest update downloads if needed, you should be ready to enjoy your new Sonos Beam. As mentioned, if you had to go the optical route, there will be a few extra steps to get everything working. Although, in our tests, the Sonos App makes things very easy, and it only added another minute to the full process.
It is clear Sonos wants you to control the Beam from the app, like all Sonos devices. There are a few interesting settings that can only be accessed via the app. Features like Night Sound (removes booming bass for night time watching) and Speech Enhancement, a feature I have left on for any movie watching experience.
If you dig a little deeper in the app, you will also find all the fine-tuning controls. These include EQ options, and TV Dialog settings that will allow you to tune the audio delay should it get out of sync, something we did not see at all while using the HDMI Arc setup for the device.
This being a smart speaker, you can do all the things you would hope from a voice assistant, including launching an audio stream, asking it questions or changing a setting of your house. Throughout our tests, the Sonos Beam worked as well, if not better then our second generation Echo, and had fewer issues understanding even when a movie was playing.
With the TV being the center of most peoples home setup, the Sonos Beam with voice assistant is a great touch and only adds to the usefulness of an already fantastic audio product. Of course, all of these features would be useless if the speaker did not deliver on the promise of solid audio. Thankfully, the Sonos Beam carries forward the level of quality we have come to expect from the Sonos brand.
When using the Sonos Beam as a stand-alone unit, the sound was impressive, to say the least. Hopping into The Dark Knight, the score and dialogue shown though, offering an immersive and memorable movie watching experience. The audio engineering was always audible, with each small detail on the soundtrack coming through clear even at higher volumes.
Pairing the Sonos Beam with a set of Sonos One’s, and the sound of the Sonos Beam was truly remarkable. The sound filled the large living room we used to test, with it even achieving a level of surround sound I did not think possible on such a small sound bar with two additional speakers.
Jumping into some TV shows, the Beam managed to project a soundscape with a clear differentiation between speakers, with the Vocal Enhancement managing to clarify even the most muffled of dialogue.
Running through our usual gambit of musical tastes, including a mix of electronica, classical Jazz, and rock, the Sonos Beam impressed at every turn. The sound it produced was crisp, clear and enjoyable. At higher volumes, we did find the bass could get a little muddy, although this was only on some of the deeper tracks, which can push even the most expensive speakers.
Sonos has to push the envelope on each new product, and the Beam is no different. What could easily have been a budget product from another manufacturer has proven to be an exciting and valuable addition to the Sonos family. If you are looking for a sound bar and are already invested in the Sonos ecosystem, then the Sonos Beam is a no-brainer. It’s a fantastic speaker, with a voice assistant that blows away the competition.
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