(Pocket-lint) - Sonos launched its Beam soundbar in 2018, offering big sound in a compact form. Three years on, it's launched an upgrade to this smaller-scale soundbar - as the bigger Sonos Arc launched in-between the two - in the form of the Sonos Beam (2nd Gen).
Despite the second-gen Beam offering the same sound architecture as the original - and many of the same features too - the 2021 model adds support for virtual Dolby Atmos object-based sound, there's a new processor, and a slightly updated look too.
So is there sense in buying a 2021 Sonos Beam instead of the excellent-yet-pricier Sonos Arc, or should a different brand with more channel outputs for further enhanced surround performance be on your shopping list?
The Sonos Beam (2nd Gen) is an excellent compact soundbar. It offers a lovely design, great sound quality, and a host of brilliant features thanks to being part of the Sonos system.
Like the original, the 2021 Beam is all about choice, allowing you to control your music in various ways from Spotify and Apple Music to the Sonos app and Apple AirPlay, while also giving you voice assistant options too.
The Virtual Dolby Atmos support on the second-gen model is great to have too - even if it is just virtual and not as impactful as some soundbars with more substantial channel arrangements - and the updated speaker grille gives the Beam a little design refresh, bringing it closer in line with the Sonos Arc from a visual perspective.
There are bigger, pricier alternatives that deliver more channels and true Dolby Atmos support if that's what you're looking for (and have the space to accommodate) - the Samsung HW-Q950A being one accomplished example - but those won't fit in as part of the Sonos family, should you already be invested in the system.
So while it's a moderate upgrade over the original - unless Virtual Dolby Atmos object-based surround is very important to you - the Sonos Beam (2nd Gen) is a truly excellent choice if you're looking for a compact yet capable soundbar.
Sonos Beam (2021, 2nd Gen)
- Compact size and excellent sound
- Multiple voice assistants supported
- Virtual Dolby Atmos support enhances immersion
- Adds HDMI eARC for easier setup
- Not as good when at lower volumes
- More expensive than original
- Adding additional speakers for true surround is pricey
Compact, updated design
- Dimensions: 69 x 651 x 100mm / Weight: 2.8kg
- Finishes: Black or white
- Capacitive controls
- Plastic grille
The second-gen Sonos Beam looks almost identical to the original, though the eagle-eyed among you will spot one difference in the two models: the speaker grille. The original Beam has a soft material covering - which loves dust - while the 2021 model has a plastic speaker grille, much like the Sonos Arc.
That plastic grille delivers a much more seamless look - even though we love the original design too - and it is much easier to clean too. Aside from the grille, everything else is just as it was.
The lovely compact design allows the Beam to sit subtly beneath your TV - unless you have one of those particularly low-slung models - and the soft curves around the edges make it a great addition to any living room or bedroom. The slightly tapered bottom also adds to the subtle design, giving the appearance of floating when placed on a TV unit.
On the top of the 2021 Beam you'll find the capacitive controls, which consist of play/pause and volume buttons, and there's also a control to turn the microphone on and off. On the rear you'll find the connections and ports, with HDMI (now supporting HDMI eARC), optical out, Ethernet, and the power port all tucked away in an enclave.
The Beam's design is considered - much like the rest of the Sonos portfolio. A speaker doesn't have to be a big black box. Instead it can look great on display and the Beam achieves this.
Plenty of features
- Virtual Dolby Atmos
- Apple AirPlay 2 support
- Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa
- Support for over 100 music services
The Sonos Beam doesn't just look great though - it is also packed full of features. Starting with everything the original Beam offers, the second-gen model isn't just a TV soundbar, but a standalone speaker too, working brilliantly as part of a Sonos setup. Even if you don't have any other Sonos speakers, though, the Beam will more than hold its own as a music speaker when you're not using it for enhancing your TV sound.
There's Trueplay tuning on board, allowing you to easily tune your Beam in accordance with the room it is in - well worth the three minutes it takes to complete - and there's also support for over 100 music services, as well as Sonos Radio.
The second-generation Beam also offers a choice of Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice assistants, allowing you to control any smart home devices you might have, as well as ask questions or control other Sonos speakers with your voice.
Other standard Sonos features include the ability to adjust the equaliser (EQ) settings to suit your preferences, play different or the same music across various Sonos speakers at the same time, as well as set alarms. There's support for Apple AirPlay 2 as well, and there are a couple of extra functions with the Sonos soundbars, like a speech enhancement feature, and a night mode feature.
In terms of new features compared to the original Beam soundbar, the second-generation model adds support for Virtual Dolby Atmos, which is why it has some extra processing power too, and there's also NFC built-in for quick setup.
Hardware and performance
- HDMI eARC, optical in
- Five Class-D amplifiers
- Four elliptical midwoofers
- Three passive radiators
- One centre tweeter
It's worth mentioning that the support for Dolby Atmos is virtual. You get exactly the same sound architecture as the original Sonos Beam - meaning five class-D amplifiers, four elliptical midwoofers, three passive radiators and one centre tweeter. What's different is the second-generation model has five speaker arrays instead of the three found on the original Beam.
The two additional speaker arrays are dedicated to surround and height information. Time and frequency-based psychoacoustic techniques are applied to distinguish between ear and overhead level, allowing the 2021 Beam to offer Dolby Atmos' height output.
As Sonos hasn't added any upfiring speakers to the Beam, it doesn't deliver the same Dolby Atmos experience you'll get from the larger and more substantial Sonos Arc. Or, indeed, other soundbar setups with even more channel configurations.
That said, the virtual Atmos experience the Beam does offer is brilliant. We tested it with a number of films, including Bohemian Rhapsody, where in the final 20 minutes of the film - the part where Queen's classic Live Aid set at Wembley is recreated - the Beam does an excellent job of delivering both the height and immersion the scene offers. We also watched Baby Driver, which has some excellent scenes that present what Dolby Atmos is able to achieve.
Music wise, we tested the second-generation Beam with plenty of tracks and it does a fantastic job. It's got an excellent soundstage for its size, wide enough to fill the room and coping well not only with high voice tones, but bass too. In fact our only real complaint is that the Beam needs to be turned up to experience its potential - it isn't quite as good at low volumes.
Add a couple of Sonos One SL surrounds and the Sonos Sub to the Beam and you'll be blown away by the experience this compact soundbar is able to deliver, especially when you're watching something with Dolby Atmos support.
Although a moderate upgrade from the original - unless Virtual Dolby Atmos is very important to you - the second-gen Beam is an excellent compact soundbar that'll not only boost your TV viewing, but make your home smarter thanks to smart assistant support, and is easier to setup than before thanks to HDMI eARC support. There are bigger, pricier alternatives that deliver more channels and true Dolby Atmos support if you're looking for a more considerable home-cinema setup though.