(Pocket-lint) - Sonos introduced the Arc soundbar in 2020, replacing the older Playbar from 2013, likely leaving many wondering whether they need to upgrade.
After all, a lot can happen in the world of tech in seven years, and the Sonos Arc introduced some features that just weren't possible or popular back when the Playbar first came about.
With that in mind, we're looking at the differences between the old Playbar and newer Arc in Sonos' soundbar range in order to help you make your mind up on any upgrade decision. You can also read how the Arc compares to the smaller Beam soundbar in our separate feature.
Design and connections
- Sonos Arc: 1141.7 x 87 x 115.7mm, 6.25kg, HDMI eARC
- Sonos Playbar: 900 x 85 x 140mm, 5.4kg, optical
- Both require broadband and power supply
The Sonos Arc represents a major design rethink in comparison to the Playbar, but not when you consider the rest of the current Sonos speaker family. It adopts smooth curves and elliptical ends, over the square chunky aesthetic of before.
Both are able to work equally as well when wall-mounted or laid flat on a TV stand, with intelligent sensors determining the position for each bar to adjust its sound signature to suit.
The Arc is a little bigger - longer and with fractionally more height, but has less overall depth. The Playbar's shape means that it offers a very different look when flat than when under a TV, whereas the Arc looks similar in both form factors.
They differ when it comes to the connections on the rear. The Arc has a HDMI port that is HDMI eARC capable. In comparison, the Playbar has a single optical digital audio input (TOSlink). You do get an optical audio adapter in with the Arc, in case that is still your preferred connection (from an older TV, say), but most TVs these days support HDMI ARC or eARC from at least one of their ports.
Both speakers can be connected to your home network (and the internet) via Ethernet or Wi-Fi (802.11b/g 2.4GHz).
The Sonos Arc is available in two colours, however: black and white. The Playbar has only ever been available in black (with metallic trimming).
- Sonos Arc: 8 woofers, 3 tweeters - with Dolby Atmos
- Sonos Playbar: 6 mid-range woofers, 3 tweeters
- Both have Class-D digital amplifiers to match speaker drivers
There is a marked difference in sound between the two bars, most notably because the Arc was the first Sonos speaker to adopt Dolby Atmos support.
The Playbar remains an excellent sound system, with a speaker array that features six mid-range drivers, three tweeters and nine Class D amplifiers. Two of the drivers are angled at either end to deliver a wider soundstage, especially when combined with the front-facing drivers left and right. The centre channel is served by two woofers and one tweeter for precise, clear vocals.
The Arc, on the other hand, has been completely reworked and retuned to deliver more of a 5.0.2 experience from the same soundbar. The far left and right drivers are more angled still, to deliver wider side channels, while the front facing drivers work for centre, left and right channels.
There are two extra drivers angled upwards this time, creating the height channels needed for Dolby Atmos. These bounce supported soundtracks off the ceiling to the listening position to provide further immersion in a movie, sporting event or Atmos-mixed music.
There are eight elliptical woofers in total this time, plus three tweeters - each served by one of the 11 Class D amplifiers in total.
Again, you can add extra Sonos One speakers (or older Play:1s) to work as actual (rather than virtual) rear/surround channels and a Sub.
- Sonos Arc: HDMI eARC with HDMI CEC and auto sync, Alexa and Google Assistant on-board
- Sonos Playbar: IR receiver
In many respects, the Sonos Playbar is a fairly dumb system when compared to the Arc. It is a Sonos speaker, of course, so connects to the Sonos controller/app and can play streamed music just like all Sonos devices. However, as it connects to a TV (or AV receiver) via optical it is fed audio and that's all.
With a HDMI connection, the Sonos Arc is much more capable. Especially with HDMI eARC support.
HDMI eARC adds a number of additional benefits. Not only does it support the bandwidth required to deliver a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, it is a two-way connection so the Arc can communicate with the TV too. This allows HDMI CEC to work between devices, meaning you only need the one remote control to use on both. Your TV remote, for example, can control all functionality of the Arc - volume, mute, etc.
The Playbar volume could only be controlled via IR or the Sonos app, while the Arc (also with an IR sensor) provides more options.
Another big feature that comes with the Arc is voice control and assistance.
Like the Sonos One, Move and Roam, the Arc has Alexa and Google Assistant support on board. That means you can use its four far-field microphone array to issue commands and ask questions of either voice assistant.
There's no doubt that the Sonos Arc comes with many more bells and whistles than its older sibling, but you might be swayed by the price.
The Sonos Arc was considerably more expensive at launch than the Sonos Playbar was. And, considering it has now being replaced, you might be able to get hold of a Playbar at a healthy discount.
The Sonos Arc will set you back £799 ($799), while the Playbar was £699 ($699) at launch.
To be honest, we often compare new products with the older version they are replacing or have replaced and rarely do we recommend a generational upgrade. However, in the case of the Sonos Arc, there is a much clearer argument.
As the first Sonos product to adopt Dolby Atmos, and to include actual upward firing drivers, the Sonos Arc has a clear advantage over its predecessor. And, that's without even considering HDMI eARC support, Alexa and Google Assistant, plus a, frankly, sexier look.
Yes it will be a pricey upgrade, especially as the Sonos Playbar remains one of the best-sounding out there, but you do get a whole lot more for your money.
You can check out our full review of the Sonos Arc here.