Sonos Beam Soundbar Review
Smaller, cheaper, better
What is the Sonos Beam?The Sonos Beam is the latest soundbar from the company that is synonymous with wireless multiroom audio. It's Sonos's second soundbar after the larger and more expensive Sonos PlayBar, with the new model using a compact design and finally adding an HDMI output with ARC, which is sure to please AV fans.
Sonos has seen its dominance of the wireless multiroom market take a major hit with the advent of smart speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple. So the company has wisely taken an open platform approach to voice assistants, with built-in support for Amazon Alexa now and Google Assistant coming in a future update.
There's also support for Apple's AirPlay 2 and Siri, giving the Sonos a hat trick as far as the competition is concerned. Naturally, the Beam includes all the features you would expect from a Sonos product, including its excellent remote app, clear dialogue feature, night sound mode, and expansion options.
The Beam retails for £399 as at the time of writing (August 2018), which is fairly hefty for a single soundbar with no separate subwoofer. The Sonos will need to deliver in terms of features and performance if it's to justify its price tag, so let's see how it does in our tests.
DesignThe Sonos Beam uses an attractive and compact design, making it considerably smaller than the fairly big PlayBar. This makes sense, recognising that many people have fairly small living rooms in the UK and that the average TV size is still only 42-inches. In terms of its dimensions, the Beam measures 651 x 69 x 100mm (WxHxD) and you have the option of placing it in front of your TV or purchasing the optional custom-designed wall mount.
The Beam is not only compact, it also uses an unobtrusive design with a simple black or white finish. There are rounded ends to the cabinet, a cloth grille that covers the front, sides and rear, and the overall build quality is very good. That's about it apart from the Sonos logo on the front, a few basic touch-sensitive controls on the top, and the connections at the bottom rear of the soundbar.
The compact design is attractive but unobtrusive, and the soundbar is very well-made
Connections & ControlThe Sonos Beam isn't big on connections and despite adding the HDMI output that was missing on the PlayBar, it has lost the optical digital input included on the previous model. Sonos do include an optical to HDMI adapter, for those who still want to use an optical connection, but the company essentially expects you to use the Audio Return Channel (ARC) on your TV for the majority of the audio connections.
What this basically means is that you connect all your HDMI devices to your TV and then connect the HDMI-ARC output on the Beam to the HDMI-ARC input on your TV. The HDMI-ARC port syncs audio and picture, including live TV from the built-in tuner and any video streaming apps, between the Beam and your TV. Of course, that's assuming your TV supports ARC, but if not, you're going to need that optical adapter.
The advantage of just using HDMI-ARC, rather than having additional HDMI inputs, is that it avoids the need for the Beam to be compatible with any video formats. It also enables the soundbar to take advantage of the CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) feature, which allows you to control the soundbar using your TV remote. This is a very handy feature because the Beam doesn't come with a remote control of its own.
In terms of other connections, there's a LAN port for an ethernet cable, although the Beam also has built-in Wi-Fi, but surprisingly no Bluetooth. There's also a two-pin connector for the provided power cable, and a Wi-Fi button.The Sonos Beam doesn't come with a remote control, which means you have a number of different ways of controlling the soundbar. Firstly, there are some basic controls on the soundbar itself with a four dot square on the left for volume down, and the same on the right for up. There's a play/pause button in the middle, and above this is the ability to turn the speaker mic on and off.
As just mentioned, you can use your TV remote thanks to HDMI-ARC and CEC, but if your TV doesn't support the feature you will be looking for alternative methods of remote control. The main one is the Sonos app, which allows you to setup and control the soundbar. It's a slick app but is more about multiroom than AV, so it isn't perfect. I'll cover this in more detail in the setup section of this review.
Since the Beam supports voice commands with Amazon Alexa, you could use that as an alternative method of control. This would allow you to start music and content with Spotify, TuneIn and Audible. You could also control other services started with the Sonos app, request for popular Alexa features, and even control your TV or Alexa-enabled video streaming devices like Fire TV.
Sonos has recently added support for Apple's AirPlay2, which means the Beam also has voice control via Siri, and Sonos plans to add Google Assistant at some point. So there's no shortage of control methods but if I'm being honest, I'd like there to be a simple remote control included, especially at £399.
There's HDMI-ARC for control, but there's also the Sonos app and support for voice assistants
Sonos Beam Features & SpecsThe Sonos Beam headline feature is its eminently sensible and surprisingly agnostic support for all three main voice assistants. In fact as far as I know, the Beam is currently the only soundbar that will support Amazon Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Assistant, once the latter is added. The Beam has five far-field microphones and multi-channel echo cancellation, which means your voice can still be heard even while music is playing.
However there are other features worth mentioning, with an obvious one being that the Beam supports Sonos's multiroom audio network. So if you already own any Sonos speakers you can add the Beam to your existing system. Conversely you can buy the Beam then gradually add to it, as and when you feel the need. This modular approach has been a cornerstone of Sonos's business strategy for years, and the company is a market leader in this area.
This experience shows, and Sonos's multiroom platform is easy to setup, simple to control and highly effective, primarily thanks to the excellent and very slick Sonos app. The app supports more than 60 streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, SoundCloud, Audible and TuneIn. The fact that the Beam can deliver all this over WiFi, probably explains why Sonos didn't feel the need to include Bluetooth.
Sonos's multiroom system includes another handy feature for the Beam, and that is the ability to create a full 5.1 wireless system. You can use the Sonos app to pair the soundbar with two wireless rear speakers and a wireless sub, resulting in a seamless 5.1 system. It's certainly easy to do, but it's not exactly cheap, with a pair of Ones and a Sub adding over £1,000 to the cost. That would basically put the Beam 5.1 system in the same price bracket as the Samsung HW-N950, which is a full 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos/DTS:X speaker package. Which reminds me, the Beam obviously doesn't support Dolby Atmos or DTS:X.
If you're running the Sonos app on iOS, not only do you get AirPlay2 and Siri support, but you also get Trueplay. This feature analyses your room’s characteristics and optimises the sound according to where the speaker is positioned. The analysis is done by the Beam playing test tones as you hold out your iPhone and move it up and down as you walk around the room. The app uses the microphone on your phone to analyse the acoustical characteristics of your room, and then applies frequency response adjustments and spatial calibration to allow for the soundbar's location. The room correction can be turned on or off using the Sonos app.
In terms of the actual performance, the Beam uses four elliptical full-range drivers combined with a central tweeter. All of these were developed in-house, with the full-range drivers designed to maximise the radiation surface area. The full-range drivers are positioned with two either side of the central tweeter, which is intended to deliver a wider front soundstage while also being capable of a well-defined stereo image and clear dialogue. There are also three passive radiators for improved low-end performance, and the entire soundbar has been carefully tuned by Sonos.
Sonos have taken an agnostic approach to voice assistants, with support for Alexa, Google and Siri
Setup & TestingThe Sonos Beam should be placed directly in front of your TV, although not blocking the screen, either on a table or an optional wall mount. The easiest way to setup the Beam is to connect it to your TV using HDMI-ARC. This should only take a few minutes, and once completed you can send all the audio from your TV back to the soundbar, and control both from your TV remote. This is very useful because to be honest, I'm not a fan of having to rely on an app to control a device and the Sonos app isn't really designed for AV products. If your TV doesn't support ARC, then you'll need to use the HDMI to optical audio adapter and you'll have no choice but to use the Sonos app for control.
For testing I connected various devices via HDMI to my LG 55B7 TV, such as the LG UP970 UHD Blu-ray player, a PS4 Pro, and a YouView set top box. I then connected the Beam to my B7, so that I could send the audio back to the soundbar via ARC. I also installed the Sonos app on my iPhone X and used that to setup the Beam, integrate Alexa and run Trueplay. In the app are room settings and here you'll find an EQ option (with bass and treble sliders and a loudness button), and TV dialogue settings which allow you to sync the voices if they're a little off when using the optical connection. Finally you can use the app to select the clear dialogue and night sound mode features if you need to use them.
Setup was easy but to get the best results, you really need to use HDMI-ARC
PerformanceThe big selling-point of the Sonos Beam is it's compact size and smaller footprint compared to the much larger PlayBar. So it was a pleasant surprise to discover that the Beam sounds so big, especially considering its diminutive dimensions. I was also pleased to discover that the Beam manages that rare task of sounding good with TV shows, movies and music, which is often a difficult task for a soundbar to achieve. The Trueplay room correction also helped, clearly improving the audio performance when I switched between on and off.
Sonos is certainly to be congratulated on putting so much thought into the design of the Beam, and its bespoke wide-range drivers certainly deliver a big and open front soundstage. The Beam is definitely capable of enhancing the audio of the kind of screen sizes it was designed for, and it was even capable of handling 55- and 65-inch TVs. The Beam also has enough power to fill an average-sized living room with sound, making it a great choice of anyone looking to beef up the audio on their TV.
I started off with some regular TV programmes like the news, cooking shows and documentaries, and the Beam immediately impressed. The audio was spread across the front of the room but despite the width, it retained great stereo imaging and separation. Dialogue was clear and focused on the screen, while the music and any sound effects were also well-rendered, retaining clarity and good localisation. There was also a reasonable amount of bass under-pinning the audio thanks to the passive radiators.
I then moved on to Luke Cage on Netflix, which has an excellent 5.1 soundtrack. The Beam handled the audio well, especially the extensive musical performances at Harlem's Paradise that often close out an episode. Sonos's experience when it comes to music reproduction was obvious, and I was very pleased that all the dialogue was not only clear but that Luke Cage's voice had the necessary depth to it. The effects were spread across the front and the soundbar did a great job of giving some weight to the punches thrown in the numerous fist fights.
After that, I switched to a more complex soundtrack like Mad Max: Fury Road, and once again the Beam was extremely successful at picking out and highlighting the numerous effects, then placing them across the front soundstage. Immersion was limited but the big soundstage that the Beam could create certainly helped sell the visuals, even on a larger screen. The presentation was accurate and detailed but it was during certain scenes that the Beam's limitations in terms of bass became more obvious. Explosions and the like simply lacked the impact that a soundbar with a separate subwoofer can deliver, although there is the option to buy one for £699.
In terms of its musical performance the Beam really impressed, and this soundbar can certainly hold its own as part of a multiroom audio system. Listening to some tracks by Nick Cave, I was impressed by how the Sonos handled Cave's gravely vocals on O Children, especially when counterpointed by the female vocals towards the end. The same was true of Red Right Hand, where the Beam managed to deliver the deeper notes with some skill.
The higher frequency vocals of Kate Bush on the album Hounds of Love sounded excellent, with no sibilance or other issues, while the mid-range handled the complex arrangements on The Ninth Wave admirably. Finally, the recently reissued Appetite for Destruction by Guns 'n' Roses sounded suitably aggressive, with the songs being propelled by a solid rhythm section, precise guitar solos and Axl's wailing vocals. Wherever your musical tastes may lie, the Beam should have you covered.
The Sonos Beam impresses with great audio quality and a surprisingly big soundstage
- Excellent audio quality
- Sounds bigger than it is
- Flawless Alexa integration
- Superb remote app
- HDMI ARC
- Attractive and compact design
- Bass is slightly lacking
- Limited AV options
- A bit pricey
Sonos Beam Soundbar Review
Sonos Beam VerdictThe Sonos Beam soundbar is an excellent new addition to the manufacturer's line-up, delivering a surprisingly big soundstage from a compact cabinet. It's considerably cheaper than the larger PlayBar, and now includes an HDMI connection for ARC. There are plenty of features, such as Sonos's highly effective multiroom system and the option to expand the soundbar to a full 5.1 system if you wanted. The manufacturer's agnostic approach to voice assistants is sensible and the Beam is already integrated with Amazon Alexa and, thanks to AirPlay 2, Siri. Google Assistant will be added later in the year.
The Beam is easy to setup, although the lack of a remote control means you either use the Sonos app or your TV remote via ARC. Thankfully the app is well-designed and easy to use, but hasn't been fully optimised for AV products. The Beam's overall performance is impressive, with great stereo imaging, clear dialogue, good localisation of effects and a nice musical quality. The only area where the soundbar reveals its limitations is in terms of its low-end performance, which lacks the bass for today's big blockbuster movies. However, the Sonos Beam certainly makes for a great all-rounder and is worthy of a recommendation.
What are my alternatives?The Sonos Beam might be cheaper than the Sonos PlayBar but at £399 it's still quite expensive for a single unit soundbar with no separate subwoofer. To put things in to perspective, you can buy the Yamaha YAS-107 for just £249 and that includes an HDMI input and output, along with a small remote control and support for DTS Virtual:X. Other soundbars worth considering are the Q Acoustics M3, which is a real bargain at £299. It only has an HDMI output and a credit-card sized remote, but it's extremely well-made and sounds excellent. There's also the Samsung HW-MS650 at £389, which sounds superb thanks to distortion-cancelling technology and also includes an HDMI input/output and a proper remote control.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £399.00
Ease of use9
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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