In a first test a few weeks ago we looked at the new Sonos Arc soundbar. On its own, this unit performs well, but what about if you expand the Arc with a Sonos Sub and/or two extra speakers for the back of the living room? Isn’t this cheap upgrade worth it? We will investigate this in this follow-up review.
Sonos Arc with real surround
Because we have just published a very extensive review of the Sonos Arc, we will not go into the new Sonos soundbar all over again in this article. discuss depth. If you have not yet read our Arc test, it is a good idea to first consult . So you are immediately aware of the possibilities of this remarkable device.
Sonos positions the Arc as an all-rounder soundbar that offers a significant upgrade over the speakers built into your TV. The banner is the support for Dolby Atmos the sound technology that complements surround sound with sound effects coming at you in height. There is currently a hype surrounding Atmos, but it is not completely revolutionary. Actually, it’s the next step after Dolby Digital + and Dolby TrueHD, which deliver about the same in lossy and lossless quality, respectively. What does it bring more? Atmos creates a three-dimensional sound image that provides more experience with action films and more atmosphere with other films. The codec is designed for cinemas, where dozens of speakers are sometimes positioned in the room so that you can actually hear spaceships moving through space and whistling bullets past your ears. Of course it is a bit more difficult to do the same at home. The best solution is to work with an AV receiver and equip your room with 11 separate speakers plus a subwoofer (or go crazy: two subs). But that’s not exactly a popular choice, for understandable reasons: expensive, cumbersome, complex. This explains why most people who want better TV sound opt for a compact soundbar. Good news: devices have appeared in recent years that are getting closer and closer to the performance of a surround setup with separate speakers.
So in this test we are going to look at an Arc in combination with a Sonos Sub ( v3) and two Sonos One speakers. Our setup is virtually the same as the “official” surround set that Sonos offers for 2,096 euros. We only use Sonos Ones instead of the two One SLs that Sonos proposes, but in terms of sound those models are identical.
Why extra speakers?
The Arc cleverly attempts to create an Atmos display with various built-in speakers. to deliver. That works quite well and the new Sonos is even one of the better soundbars in this area. But ultimately a soundbar remains a (collection) of speakers at the front of your living room, next to the TV. It is very difficult to realistically reproduce sound effects that should actually come from speakers behind you. Some advanced devices, such as Yamaha’s YSP-1600 or Sennheiser Ambeo Bar try it through sound projection. Effective and convincing, but performance is strongly tied to the properties of the environment. In a large, open living room or a room with a lot of furniture, the projection technology often does not work well.
As a result, more and more soundbar manufacturers offer you the option to expand a soundbar with two wireless speakers that you next to / behind your seat. Since last year, quite a few devices from Harman Kardon, LG, Samsung and others have appeared with this option. We get the impression that additional speakers are popular – and it’s an effective way to provide true surround (and a nice upsell opportunity for retailers).
But actually Sonos is the big pioneer in the field of extensibility. Already at the Playbar (which appeared in 2013) you could add a set of Sonos speakers to get a 5.1 display. The brand released a wireless subwoofer that you can use to improve bass reproduction. That’s important in movies, especially in spectacular scenes where ultra-low bass tones are used to give robots, explosions and spaceships more impact and depth. Those deep tones are just as crucial for mood setting; think of the symphonic works by John Williams that completely determine the atmosphere of the Star Wars scenes. Without low tones, the Imperial March sounds really bland and you would take the marching legions of stormtroopers less seriously. They can’t hit it anyway.
The added value of two extra speakers is that the sound effects that take place behind you come at you in a realistic way, from an angle that your brain expects. Thus, the action of that rectangle that is your TV screen “escapes” and becomes more enveloping, which in turn responds to your brain and allows you to “experience” or simply “watch” a movie. What is also called “suspending your disbelief” in the film world.
Surround is not only relevant for spectacular effects, such as bullets flying past you or vehicles in a chase. In movies, the rear channels are often used for quieter mood music, such as transitions between scenes. A threatening tone when the heroes enter a dark room, a frisky tune as a build-up to a joke, things like that.
What options do you have for rear speakers?
You can expand the Arc with two Sonos speakers and a Sonos Sub. For this test we use a pair of Sonos One speakers for the rear channels (Sonos calls this the surround speakers). You also have other options, because in fact you can use almost any Sonos model for this role. It must be two of the same types. For example, you cannot combine a Sonos One with an older Play: 1. But exceptionally a One SL with a regular One. After all, the only difference between those two models is the microphone for a voice assistant. In theory, you could even set up two Sonos Fives as surround speakers, but that seems like great overkill. Maybe if you live in a big loft or something.
We find the wide variety of models that you can use as surround speakers a huge plus at Sonos. You have several choices so you can find something that suits your interior and situation. For example, we are very charmed by the Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf speakers available in black or white. You can hang them subtly on the wall and they are not expensive (99 euros). The older Play: 1 speakers are also interesting because they are threaded and you can easily hang them. Another option? Few people know that you can use a Sonos Amp for the rear channels. That is a very expensive option, but it does allow you to work with built-in speakers. That is even more subtle. It is also good to know that for Sonos there are relatively many third-party suspension and upright solutions, such as Sanus or Flexson.
However, we opt for the Sonos Ones, which we place on Dali loudspeaker stands that we use for mostly for monitor tests. It is not really ideal. After all, we know from experience that you prefer to place the Sonos Ones at ear height for the best results. However, the stands are too low at our seat, so we have to get a few books out of the closet to place them a little higher. That’s a bit of a mess, but this remains a test rig. We assume that people who permanently go for this solution will take the trouble to place those rear speakers at a good height. At least ensures that they radiate unobstructed sound to the seat (Sonos logo facing you) and preferably at the same height as your ears when you sit. Higher, but preferably tilted towards you.
New Sonos Sub
We also receive a new Sonos Sub for this test, in a beautiful white color. That fits nicely in our interior with white walls and light wooden floor. The Sonos Sub has now also been updated, but as far as we can tell, nothing fundamentally has changed. It remains a dual driver design with a cutout in the center where the two speakers face each other. It is a separate design, not comparable to most subwoofers. For those who doubt it: this is a specialized Sonos device. You cannot use it with other surround equipment from other brands.
One of the things we want to explore in this review is how useful the Sonos Sub is as an upgrade. At the Playbar, we quickly recommend it, despite a relatively high price of 799 euros. Adding the Sub to the old Sonos soundbar really gives you a much better experience. But is that also the case with the Arc? It is true that the new soundbar will also control its speakers differently if you add a Sub to your system. The drivers in the Arc will no longer produce bass (or less so than before), giving them more breathing room to reproduce higher frequencies better. But the Arc on its own is remarkably better in bass reproduction than its predecessor. So we suspect that the step to a Sonos Sub will be needed less soon.
Music is the core
We are not going to discuss in this article about the possibilities of the (new) Sonos app. That is sufficiently covered in the original Arc review and previous tests of Sonos devices. Suffice it to say that the Sonos app excels in user-friendliness and supports unseen many streaming services. It is very easy to listen to music, selected via the Sonos app or from certain music apps (such as Spotify). You can also stream audio from your iPhone, iPad or Apple computer via Airplay 2.
Speaking of music: what about an Arc with additional speakers and subwoofer? The extra speakers therefore play a role – especially the Sub. The two Sonos devices that you place behind your sofa only play limited music information. You hardly notice it and it serves more for atmosphere. You can change this via the app and let the rear speakers play everything. The difference: with the first you still have a stereo feeling, with the second your room is filled with a layer of music. In any case, it is handy that in the app for the surround speakers there are separate volume controls for when you watch a movie (in other words, if the TV is the source) and if you listen to music (read: if you stream). A musical soundtrack in a movie is of course played with the movie settings.
If you use Airplay 2 you will not see those surround speakers appear separately. Only the Arc appears as an AirPlay speaker (and any other Sonos speakers in your home).
Adding surround speakers or Sonos Sub is always possible afterwards. But just after setting up the Arc, you will be asked if you want to add extra parts (Home Cinema installation), so if you immediately bought all the devices, you can arrange it all at once. If you only add a Sub later, you will always be asked which devices it belongs to when setting up that device. After all, you should always combine the Sub with something else.
Setting a full surround setup with Arc as the centerpiece takes a little more than time. It is not extremely difficult, but you still have to go through a few extra steps. The first step is to set up the Sub. The intensity of bass is strongly influenced by where you place the device, so this is important. If you park the Sub in a corner, it should play a little less powerful. We once put a Sonos Sub under a seat; that even worked fine, but the volume had to be higher than normal. Neither was it kind to that glossy coat. You can find a correct volume in the step-by-step plan by playing a (surprisingly high) test sound and then choosing from ten volume levels. It also checks whether the basses are played in phase – a rather technical thing, but not difficult to set up.
Then you go through adding the surround speakers in a few steps. There are graphical directions where to place the speakers, so it’s not really difficult. Sonos may keep the explanation just a bit too limited, because it would have been good to emphasize that the speakers should be at ear height and that they should not be too close for the best results.
The step-by-step plan ends with a question to fine-tune the volume of the Sub. Please be patient, because then the devices still have to be linked together. The surround channels communicate via a dedicated 5GHz connection to the Arc.
Basically you can now watch movies. But actually there are still a few things to do. For example, set up the Trueplay feature. This analyzes the sound in your room and compensates for any problems. Setting up trueplay is not that difficult, but you have to take a few minutes to do it and be prepared to walk around your living room while waving your smartphone or tablet .. Note: you can only do it with an iOS device. Get that iPad or iPhone, or find a neighbor with an Apple device who just wants to visit. The usual fee for this service is beer.
Trueplay is recommended anyway, although we advise you to listen carefully to the sound with Trueplay turned on and off. You may find it without better. You can simply switch the function on or off via the settings. One reason to disable Trueplay is that you can then adjust the balance yourself via ‘Audio from the surround speakers’. Specifically, you can then indicate at what distance each surround speaker is placed from your seat. This is especially relevant if one speaker is much further away than the other, something we don’t recommend. Try to arrange them symmetrically. You can always adjust the volume of the rear speakers (as a pair, not separately) via the Audio screen (found under System / name of room with Arc).
Easy to set up
At what time did we really like the surround speakers? ? When Kylo Ren first hears Palptine’s voice on “The Rise of Skywalker” on Exegol (via Disney +, theoretically Dolby Atmos but due to current corona limitations in DD5.1). The dead-yet-not-so-Emperor greets him in a heavy voice that echoes across space, first coming from the Sonos Ones next to our seat. Also in the scenes on the water planet Kef Bir, those extra speakers at the back dip you in, ahum, water, especially. Water waves when a skimmer hits the sea, streams of water fall when Rey searches the wreckage of Death, walls of water that threaten to flood Rey and Ren in the background. Surround is effectively used here to put you in the middle of the action, which is effectively conveyed in this Sonos setup.
It’s also in this movie that we turn the Sub on and off continuously. , and yet also notice that the disappearance of that subwoofer (set to +2) is noticeable but also not that bad. The Arc itself becomes less subtle and, for example, dialogues lose a little detail without a subwoofer. The lightsabers sound a little too much without Sub, the fine crackling disappears into the background. The Sub: nice to have, but crucial? It says a lot about the qualities of the Arc that it is not indispensable in our opinion.
Dolby Atmos is not always about spectacle, but perhaps even more about creating a realistic atmosphere. To test this, we turn to “Roma”, the Netflix movie that rightly received an Oscar for its great sound design. Almost all the music you hear in this movie comes from thin sounding radios playing in the background. It’s great when suddenly watching these movies draw attention to a detail to your left or right, such as those radios, chirping birds, children laughing when watching TV or shouting far away on the street. It really conveys that enormous wealth of city life – proof that sound in a film is indeed fifty percent of the experience, as George Lucas once noted. This soundtrack is so packed with detail that it becomes really challenging for a soundbar to display it all correctly. And indeed, the Arc cannot put this as spatially as the 5.1.4 surround setup in the test room, but compared to many rivals it does deliver a good result. At the scene where the father of the family drives into the just-big-enough hall with his bulky American sleigh, the Sonos Sub makes the engine rumble of that V8 sound really loud in the room.  Too much rest is not good either, so we go back to ‘6 Underground’ by Michael Bay (Netflix, Dolby Atmos). The Arc with surround and Sub conveys the hectic action well, but because Bay puts so much bass noise in its soundtracks, we have to turn the subwoofer a bit quieter. The director constantly switches between very quiet and very loud, a trick that can work well if you don’t overdo it. Unfortunately, he is exaggerating. s It would be a bit counter to Sonos’ user-friendly approach, but it wouldn’t be bad if you could reach this setting faster. Now it’s a lot of steps.
In our original Arc review we noted that Sonos decided not to support DTS formats. We charged that Sonos is not too heavy, mainly because the company may be right that most Arc owners will watch their movies via Netflix. But when it comes to an Arc surround setup, we find that gap more important. That is because we assume that people who spend approximately 2,000 euros for an audio solution (may) be more demanding. Some of them may want to watch their Blu-rays in surround, via a player hanging on the TV. Unfortunately, if that movie has a DTS MA HD soundtrack (and many Blu-ray movies do) then there is no sound from the Arc. The solution is to change the digital output on your TV to PCM and be satisfied with a stereo display. Afterwards, you should not forget to set this TV setting back to “automatic” or passthrough “if you want to watch Atmos content. Not all that complicated (although with some TV interfaces you really have to dive deep into the settings for this setting), but it would have been more convenient if Sonos had purchased that DTS license. Hopefully that’s something that will be considered.
In addition, Sonos has not provided an upmixing feature to bring Dolby Digital 5.1 to a pseudo-Atmos. The manufacturer told us that we did investigate this, but found the results to sound too artificial. There is something to be said for that point of view, although it would have been better if the consumer could just decide for himself via a toggle function. Still, after testing we find it oddly less of a problem with an Arc with surround speakers. For example, when we watched “Red 2” via Netflix, with DD 5.1, we missed those height channels with a single Arc, but not at all with the Arc surround setup. By the way, this is a movie par excellence where you can see the cast enjoying it immensely, even Helen Mirren and John Malkovich – two actors who usually wear the label ‘seriously’, but willingly the one dry one-liner here after other fires.
The upgrade we recommend with the Arc: the surround speakers. If you are a movie fan or like to eat series via Netflix in one go, then those two extra speakers really deliver a lot more experience. The condition is that you take the time to give them a good place and set them up via the app. Especially that first is really important: if one speaker is placed very close and the second behind the curtains, the effect will be broken. The great thing about this upgrade is that you do have some options. Even with two affordable Ikea Symfonisk speakers you can already achieve a lot. Depending on which models you choose, the cost of this upgrade is not too bad for what you get.
Should that Sonos Sub also be included? We think this is a more difficult issue. In our 25 m2 living room we dare to doubt that (while we recommended it at the Playbar in the same room). The need is less and we found when switching on the Sub that the Arc sounded a bit more nasal. Of course, in exchange you get a heavier, more spectacular display with action films and some music immediately sounds much more powerful. It remains a relatively expensive device (800 euros). We think the price tag is solid. Actually, the Sonos Sub is overengineered for the role it should take in the modal living room. We’ve said it before: a Sub Mini that costs less would be a smart idea.
So we would recommend Arc owners to upgrade to surround speakers, but advise thinking about the Sub. And what if you look at competitive sound bars with extra speakers at the back? We will be conducting wider comparative tests with these types of devices in the autumn, but based on the systems we have heard, the Arc in surround seems to be excellent. But if one brand always impressed, it would be Samsung with its top model. It has surround speakers that each supply two channels, making it the only one that delivers 7.1.4, so also with Atmos rear height channels. What we would now like to see at Sonos is a dedicated rear speaker that is also capable of delivering the rear Atmos channel. That would be the icing on the cake.