Sonos has announced a new compact soundbar, Sonos Beam, that plans to bring a more cinematic sound to your living room without the large sometimes clumsy size of a bigger soundbar.
Pocket-lint was at the San Francisco launch event ahead of the device going on sale in July to see how it performs and whether this will be the must-have upgrade to your living room listening experience.
- 651 x 100 x 68.5mm, 2.8kg
- Black or white
Sonos already offers a soundbar, called Sonos Playbar, but Beam looks to create a much smaller experience in a compact design form. Tiny compared to the Playbar, Beam measures 651 x 100 x 68.5mm and weighs 2.8kg.
In will come in white or black with a fabric grille. That makes it perfect for sitting on your TV stand in front of your TV without getting in the way, or wall mounting discreetly under your TV.
The compact soundbar is something of an emerging trend; while larger bars are moving towards offering Dolby Atmos like the LG SJ9 - or carry an integrated subwoofer like the Samsung MS650 - some companies like Sony have been looking at boosting TV sound without taking over the whole room. Sonos very much takes this approach with the Beam, presenting a smart but compact unit that can easily be integrated into any living room setup.
- Alexa built-in
- Google Assistant coming
- Siri via AirPlay 2
As with other Sonos products, the controls found on the top are minimal with touch-sensitive play and volume buttons controlling the action if you've lost your voice or don't have a smartphone or tablet to hand.
Like Sonos One, Sonos Beam will support Amazon's Alexa out of the box, Google Assistant in the coming months, and Apple's Siri, thanks to AirPlay 2 support from Apple. That means you don't really have the choose a team - supporting the big players in voice control means that Sonos can essentially appeal to all customers.
In our demo, we were able to test voice control via Alexa for some smart lights and turning on the television to music playback from an iPad via Siri. This ability to drop in and out of ecosystems and platforms certainly makes things very easy to control and means you should be able to have the best of both worlds when it comes to controlling your content and your music.
Exactly how the experience will play out when integrated into a wider, more established setup, we'll have to test once we have the Sonos Beam in for a more thorough review.
We like it a lot but do wonder how confusing it will be remembering the various names of the digital assistants you have set up for different devices or services. Was it Siri that controls my lamps, or was that Alexa? While we said you don't have to pick a team, we're reaching a point with connected smarthomes where you really need to decide how you want to control things, and build that system.
Innards and connections
- HDMI ARC
Sonos Beam will come with Ethernet for a wired connection to your network, but more useful for the TV, an HDMI ARC connection to sync the audio, picture and remote with your TV. It's this latter connection that really sets this new soundbar apart from Sonos' older model, the Playbar. The Beam also offers optical (which powered the Playbar), but HDMI enables all those other functions, granting the Beam wider control over the TV you connect it to.
There is also Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and other Sonos speakers you have in the home.
Beam has a five far-field microphone array for listening for your voice commands and for setting up Sonos TruePlay, Sonos' technology that will let you tune the speaker specifically for the room that it is in, to ensure great sound quality.
Sound is produced via five Class-D digital amplifiers, four full-range woofers, one tweeter, and three passive radiators, so lets move on to talking about the sound.
It might be compact in size, but it's not compact in sound
- Wide sound stage
- Support to add more speakers to create 5.1 system
We've so far only experienced a 15-minute sound demo of Beam in a staged environment designed to replicate a medium-sized living room.
On the music front, we listened to a couple of tracks including Reckoner by Radiohead, as well as watched a number of video clips including a scene from the TV show Westworld, scenes from films Wall-e and Arrival, and an opening to an episode of Stranger Things.
Our Reckoner by Radiohead listen showed off Beam's really good soundstage that was big enough to fill the room. It coped with the Thom Yorke's high voice tones, while the wide sound stage meant that it doesn't suffer from a narrow sweet spot as found on some soundbars at this price point.
The bass is strong, not as punchy as the Apple HomePod, but well balanced, and certainly enough for most living rooms. Given the home cinema approach, this makes it much better suited to dealing with dialogue and creating a surround sound experience.
Music is only part of the story, and as you would expect, given Sonos' heritage with the Playbar, watching movies or TV is exceptionally good.
Watching the space dance scene from Wall-e really showcased the spatial capabilities of the speaker. Wall-e and Eva zipped from one side of the room to the other. Watching a scene from Westworld showcased how well the dialogue is handled, while the first encounter of the aliens in Arrival proved that it can deliver a decent bass for movie watchers.
The beauty here is that those looking for an even bigger soundstage can add more Sonos speakers to create a 5.1 sound experience. We listened to a clip from Netflix's Stranger Things with two Sonos One speakers added as the rear channels. It really make a difference, but if you really wanted to go for it, you could add Sonos Sub too.
From our brief time so far it's clear that Sonos looks to have created a fabulous speaker for the price and one that certainly sounds great.
What we really like though is not just the sound, but the openness of it all. If you want to use the Spotify app to control your music you can, if you want to use Apple Music, that's okay too. Then there's voice control via Alexa, and if none of those work for you the Sonos app has you covered too.
It's this unfettered approach that's not trying to lock you in that will ensure that the Beam is future-proofed and has wide appeal. From what we've heard so far, it certainly delivers, and priced at it is, the Sonos Beam could be the must-have speaker to not only boost your TV's sound, but make your living room smart too.
The Sonos Beam is available for pre-order now and will be in stores from 17 July.