Sonos has added a compact and relatively affordable soundbar to its range in the form of the Sonos Beam. This model has a price tag of 449 euros and offers everything that you are used to from Sonos, plus the integration of voice control. In this review we look at the Sonos Beam.
What is the Sonos Beam?
The Sonos Beam is a very compact soundbar (68.5 cm x 651 mm x 100 mm, and 2.8 kilograms) which is a small to medium-sized room can provide everything that we are already used to from Sonos. So you can play almost any streaming service via the Beam, you can easily pair other Sonos speakers for a surround setup (with two extra Sonos One speakers for example) and / or a multiroom setup (with extra One speakers and the Sonos Sub) and you can control everything through various apps and accessories.
The Beam supports more than fifty music services, Apple AirPlay 2 and multiple voice assistants in the future, including Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri (thanks to AirPlay 2 support). We have already been able to fully test the Alexa integration through a detour, even if it is in English. You can do this as follows: with the Sonos app, with apps from third parties such as Spotify, Audible, Pandora and Tidal, with smarthomadadgets such as wall switches, with existing remote controls and – in the near future – with your voice.
The Sonos Beam has about four custom elliptical full range woofers and three passive radiators, plus a single tweeter that has to provide intelligible dialogues. In terms of connections we see the ethernet port, HDMI (ARC) and the power input back. The compact soundbar is available from July 17 for a price of 449 euros and comes in both white and black.
Design and connections
First of all, we look at the design of the Sonos Beam, and to start with the to fall into the house; Sonos hits the nail on its head. This compact soundbar looks – like more products of the company – very tight and neatly finished. No screws, no weird covers; just a sleek and premium soundbar with a notch on the back for the necessary connections and on top, subtly a number of touch keys for operation. With these keys you can adjust the volume, turn the microphone off or on (for voice operation), swipe to the previous or next song and pause (power off) playback. The soundbar comes with a fabric covering all around, with the Sonos logo in front. The size of 68.5 cm x 651 mm x 100 mm makes this an ideal soundbar for almost any medium or small space; the small speaker fits exactly and perfectly below the average TV and fits many modern interiors. Incidentally, you can place the soundbar for the TV but with an optional wall bracket also hang on the wall, if desired.
In terms of connections we see one very special back; the HDMI port. In contrast to the Playbar and Playbase, Sonos now chooses an HDMI port, and even one with ARC (Audio Return Channel) and CEC. This means that the soundbar can display the sound of the TV (everything connected to it and the apps of the smart TV platform) and that you can switch the soundbar on automatically as soon as you turn on the TV. You can also control the volume of the soundbar via the remote control of the TV. If you have a somewhat older TV without HDMI ARC then you can use the supplied optical adapter. This is an HDMI-to-optical cable unique and only for the Beam, allowing you to connect the TV to the soundbar via the optical audio output.
Of course there is also wireless streaming of audio possible ; via Apple’s AirPlay, in-house media servers, your mobile devices and the large number of streaming services that you can connect to the Sonos app. AirPlay 2 is now also officially available. This standard is very interesting for Apple users because you can easily group AirPlay 2 speakers and use them as a multiroom system. You can also operate them with Siri, which is further down in the review.
Installation and configuration
As far as the installation is concerned, Sonos also knows exactly how to do it. Actually, you hardly need to put energy in it; you connect the soundbar, download the app and create an account. Next, let the app search for the soundbar and follow the steps that appear on the screen to install the soundbar. If necessary, the latest updates are immediately downloaded and you can start immediately. It is simple, user-friendly and fast.
During the installation (or afterwards, if you skip it initially) you can configure the Sonos Beam completely. All necessary steps are taken during the installation, or you can go through them one by one via the settings. This allows you to add several Sonos speakers directly to the set-up, or add them to the house. For example, a Sonos Sub for the bass or two Sonos One or Play: 1 speakers for surround.
You can also connect the TV via HDMI ARC (or actually HDMI CEC). Pairing is simple, provided you have a TV that supports HDMI ARC and CEC. You put the HDMI cable between the soundbar and the TV (on the ARC port), activates ARC in the TV menu, makes the CEC settings on (each manufacturer calls it different, LG calls it SimpLink) and lets the soundbar retrieve the information from the TV. Within seconds you will be notified that the TV is successfully connected and you can adjust the volume of the Sonos Beam with the remote control of the TV. The soundbar also automatically switches on when audio is detected via the HDMI cable. Incidentally, if the audio does not synchronize with the image (which in our case was not the case) then there is a handy lypsync function with which you can set the delay.
An institution that you also certainly not forgetting TruePlay, though this feature is only available for iPhone users. With TruePlay, the audio output is automatically tuned to the room’s acoustics and the listening position. Simply put, the system is calibrated by this. The calibration is simple; you use your iPhone as a microphone and start at the listening position. The Sonos plays some tones while you hold the microphone up, and after a second or 30 the first part of the calibration is successful. Then you walk for about a minute through the room where the Sonos is, again with the microphone pointing upwards and at the same time you make undulating movements with your arms. In this way, the entire space is mapped and ‘Beam’ sees how it can best send the audio into space. In my view, this definitely yields better audio reproduction, so this is a step that you definitely have to go through. Incidentally, you can always work with a simple equalizer, for example by adjusting the trebble and bass.
If Sonos is known for something, then it is the broad support services (third parties) and ease of use. This is also immediately apparent in our own experience. The device is easy to operate and the Sonos app is a well-structured and well-organized application that allows you to get started immediately. In the Sonos app you have direct access to all services and media, and you can also create favorites so you can quickly access your favorite content.
The Beam can be operated in various ways. For example, you can (as indicated above) operate the soundbar with the remote control of your TV, you can use the Sonos app, you can use the third party app (streaming services), you can use smartroom accessories (for example a smart switch or a Logitech remote) and you can use voice control. The voice control is not yet officially activated in the Netherlands, but we already discuss our experiences below.
Voice Control and AirPlay 2
The Sonos Beam supports voice control, which means that in principle you can control all functions of the soundbar with your voice. To make this possible, there is integration of Amazon Alexa present, we expect the Google Assistant in time and limited operation by Siri is available thanks to AirPlay 2.
To start with the standard of Apple: With AirPlay 2 you can play music through Siri on the Beam, but there is no integration of Siri in the Sonos app and you want to control other HomeKit products, you can not do this via the Sonos Beam. You still need an Apple HomePod for this, or an iOS / MacOS device. Siri is therefore very interesting to play music quickly via the Beam and / or other AirPlay 2 speakers, for example via your iPhone or iPad. The operation runs smoothly, according to our first experiences, although Apple has again managed to close its ecosystem well. For example, it is only possible to stream music from Apple Music to AirPlay 2 speakers. That works fine, however; Manually or via a Siri command you can quickly search for music and play it on one specific AirPlay 2 speaker or a group of AirPlay 2 speakers that you have created. This can be created via the AirPlay settings in the Sonos app. In iOS, AirPlay 2 controls are present in every app and in the control panel so you can quickly access what’s playing in every room and on every speaker. You can also ask Siri to play different songs in different rooms or everywhere the same song.
Although Alexa is not yet officially available in the Netherlands and only speaks English, we have already succeeded by a detour to activate Alexa, but in English and moreover it is a beta function from Sonos. We previously worked with the Sonos One, with Alexa, so the experience is as good as the same. The installation and activation is via the Sonos app but to link Alexa the Amazon Alexa app (with Amazon account) is also required. Here you can adjust the settings specifically for Alexa, install skills for smarthome products (including Sonos) and also link streaming services to Alexa. Thanks to the Sonos skill, Alexa can handle the Sonos Beam and so you can address the Beam. The installation takes a few minutes and it pays to go through the settings for Alexa equally well so that the voice control also runs smoothly.
We are enthusiastic about voice control and Amazon shows with Alexa how this can run smoothly and accurately. It is childishly easy to ask Alexa (in English) to play the music of artist A via Spotify on the Sonos Beam. Then you can adjust the volume with voice commands or have another number searched for. Alexa supports many music services, just like Sonos, so you can play your favorite music directly with your voice. In addition, you can ask Alexa many questions, you can use Alexa (through the app and skills) linked smart home equipment and you can even read your diary and update. Provided you know a little about what commands Alexa understands you can come a long way.
An important part of the voice control is that the Sonos Beam actually hears you. There are five microphones for this and you notice that. Even if the music is loud or you are a little further away in space, a command is picked up quickly and accurately.
Now the design, the use and the possibilities are good, but what about the perhaps most important function of a soundbar, the audio quality? After all, we are dealing with a very compact speaker without an external subwoofer, so can the Sonos Beam convince with both music and TV content?
First let’s say what the Beam can not do. The soundbar does not support Dolby Atmos or DTS: X and is therefore not a speaker with which you can also create a surround effect. If you want to surround yourself then you can go for two extra Sonos One speakers or (cheaper) Play: 1 speakers in the back of the room and for the low tones you can purchase a Sonos Sub. However, it must be said that the entire system will receive a hefty price tag in this way. The real Sonos fan will not shy away from that. The Beam also does not play DTS tracks; only Dolby and PCM material is supported.
Although the Sonos Beam is a relatively small speaker and therefore does not have an external subwoofer, we are surprised by the audio reproduction, especially if we use TruePlay to optimize audio playback. The audio content is not very wide – which we can not expect in view of the format. This particularly struck us with music but also during competitions during the World Cup. But, on the other hand there is a tight, detailed and dynamic view. Thanks to the wide sweetspot (place where you hear the sound optimally), the Beam delivers a lively sound, with plenty of subtle details, clear dialogues and even a nice tight bass. We do not vibrate from the couch – for that you can pair the Sonos Sub – but the low tones that are produced are tight and do not fiddle around. The Beam comes out best when you turn up the volume a bit further; then the audio field seems to open a little further, the whole comes to life more and more details come to light. At a low volume it is all somewhat hidden and flat.
The Beam also has two additional modes to optimize the audio output. With the night mode you can reduce the range so that the neighbors or sleeping family members do not bother in the evening, and with the speech enhancement you can let the voices come out a bit sharper and clearer at somewhat tricky dialogues. Both modes do what they have to do, although they are modes that I would only activate if you really do not want to disturb someone or really do not understand the voices properly. After all, it is at the expense of general audio quality.
All in all, we are impressed by the audio quality that comes from this small speaker. The stereo spread is somewhat limited and the bass may be too minimal for some but apart from that you get – especially at good volume – a detailed, tight and dynamic audio reproduction that you absolutely improve the TV sound and you also good enjoy music. The Sonos Beam offers overall a very good experience for the money you pay for it. In addition, you still have the (expensive) possibility to expand to surround and / or extra bass.
Sonos goes with the Beam for compactness, high quality, flexibility and ease of use, and that mission has succeeded. This soundbar not only has a nice and sleek design that will not look out of place in many rooms, the soundbar is also very easy to set up and use in the way you want. You have the choice of apps, voice assistants, accessories and remote controls to operate the device, plus the freedom to use the music services of your choice to the left or to the right. In addition, the (freedom of choice in) voice operation is a big plus, although it must be said that all three options must be officially released in the Netherlands at the time of writing. Sonos also shows that a small soundbar does not mean that you have a moderate sound. The Beam is a mature speaker, which can easily provide a small to medium sized room with a lively, detailed and warm sound. Yet the compact size does have its influence. The stereo spread is obviously less and at low volume the speaker is a bit flat. But, these points fade with the overall quality and that’s why we label the Sonos Beam as an absolute must for those who want a compact all-in-one soundbar, do not want to pay the main prize and yet in terms of ease of use, functionality and audio reproduction.