Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) Review
After three successful years of Sonos Beam, Sonos is launching the second generation of the compact soundbar. You can find out what’s new with the Beam (Gen. 2) here.
The American multi-room expert presented its smallest sound beam with the Sonos Beam in 2018. Since then, the compact soundbar has attracted attention primarily due to its great musicality and fun. However, the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) is supposed to do better and offers virtual 3D sound via Dolby Atmos.
- Precise bass reproduction up to 25Hz
- Very high-quality processing
- The design allows for flexible placement
- Price intensive
- It can only be used in the SonosKosmos
Sonos Beam vs. Beam (Gen. 2) – how does the update sound?
In the test of the first Beam, we praised Sonos for not having “3D sound in pseudo-Dolby Atmos style. ” We wouldn’t have expected anything convincing from such a small soundbar when it came to 3D simulation. Now the Beam (Gen. 2) is in the listening room, and we lower our eyes to the floor in embarrassment. Unfortunately, we underestimated the Sonos developers because the small Beam from the 2021 vintage can now clearly do virtual Dolby Atmos.
There is hardly any difference to the old Beam when listening to music. Perhaps the 2021 Beam plays a touch more directly in direct comparison, but overall, it sounds very familiar, just as effortless and solid as before. In addition, the Beam continues to work out voices beautifully. At no time does the soundbar seem overwhelmed but spreads a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere with the music of all kinds.
In addition to the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2), we have tested many other soundbar models that can play Dolby Atmos sound.
We need bass! The Sonos Beam (Gen.2) with subwoofer
You can emphasize this round-friendly sound character even more by adding the matching Sonos subwoofer to the new Beam. If this takes care of the low frequencies, the soundbar can concentrate better on the things it is particularly good at, such as the natural reproduction of voices and instruments. The new Beam manages this very well, although it still only has a single tweeter.
Of course, you can still add a pair of Sonos One, One SL, or Sonos Five, as well as the older Sonos Play 1, Play 3, and Play 5 as rear speakers, as you would expect from the multi-room expert Sonos. So, in addition to the virtual Atmos sound, you also get real surround sound.
Good makes better
In general, not much has changed in the configuration of the Sonos Beam. Four oval midrange drivers are also arranged to the left and right of the tweeter. The two outer ones sit on the side and ensure that a certain proportion of the sound is emitted to the outside. In addition, three passive radiators boost the bass if you use the soundbar without a subwoofer.
But how do the same speakers manage to produce a room-filling 3D sound all at once? The answer lies in their control. Sonos speaks of five-speaker arrays that the higher processor performance can shape. The old Sonos Beam only had three. These arrays use skew between drivers to get the sound coming from different points in the room.
Suddenly 3D – Sonos Beam in the home cinema sound test
In a “normal” operation, the listening impression with films is not very different from before. Like its predecessor, the 2021 Beam builds up an amazingly wide, open sound space in movies and series, which allows you to understand the action on the screen very well acoustically. Dialogue is clear in the middle, and Sunday’s crime scene benefits from this sound update just as much as the latest blockbuster.
Things are different if you select a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Then the small Sonos Beam surpasses itself. Not so much in width, the acoustic stage stays in place. But although the new Beam does not have any Atmos loudspeakers that radiate upwards, a very convincing 3D effect is achieved. Even if it can’t be, the small Sonos soundbar suddenly creates the illusion that certain noises are coming from above or from the side next to you.
Okay, of course, the 3D experience cannot be compared to a real Dolby Atmos soundbar. And the larger Sonos Arc conveys even more height and width. But for a soundbar as small as the Sonos Beam.
Well protected – grid instead of fabric
When you look at the 2021 Sonos Beam, the first thing that catches your eye is the redesigned cover. It almost completely encloses the soundbar like a band. The old version had a fabric cover, but the Beam (Gen. 2) now consists of a precisely perforated plastic grid-like big sister Arc. Whether you like it better is a matter of taste. At least the drivers are better protected from prying fingers or objects. And somehow, the greater visual resemblance to the Sonos Arc is also fitting because it was the first Atmos soundbar in the Sonos range. The Sonos Beam resembles the larger Arc even more with the new plastic grille.
3D sound via HDMI eARC
Nothing has changed as far as the number of HDMI sockets is concerned. Even with the Sonos Beam (Gen.2), you must be content with a lonely HDMI input. However, this has undergone a technical upgrade and is now up to date with years’ support. The update was necessary because only the new eARC standard can transmit Dolby Atmos soundtracks via the audio return channel.The ARC-HDMI connection became an eARC interface. Otherwise, nothing has changed in the connections of the Sonos Beam.
For the soundbar to adequately convert the increased flood of data via eARC into noise, a powerful chip is also needed. The new one has 40% more computing power than its predecessor. If you want to connect older televisions or other devices to the soundbar, a Toslink to HDMI adapter is included. However, you would have to do without 3D sound with this optical digital connection.
Sonos Beam – usability and app
As is usual with Sonos products, the Beam is also completely designed to be controlled via the latest version of Sonos’ app for iOS and Android. This starts with the initial setup, which you can do quickly with the app. The NFC function is particularly useful here. The app and speaker can be found within a few seconds with it. The integration then takes place via the delivery of test tones, which the microphone of your smartphone or tablet picks up.
The app recognizes the Sonos Beam immediately via NFC. First, you need to give the app access to your smartphone’s precise location services and Bluetooth settings. All further steps to set up the Sonos network for the automatic measurement of the room acoustics called “Trueplay” then run easily and almost automatically. With the restriction that Trueplay is still only available on Apple devices.
Room calibration with SonosTrueplay is worthwhile but requires an Apple device. There are too many microphones on the market for Sonos to rely on for sound analysis with Android devices. As an Android owner, you can also use all other functions of the Sonos app.
The calibration, however, requires a little cooperation from you; while the Beam is playing test tones, the app sends you around the room to move the smartphone up and down at different points for the measurement. After a few minutes, the procedure is complete, and the Sonos Beam is optimally tuned to the sound of your living room.
Most relevant streaming services are integrated via the app for music lovers. So you don’t have to switch from one application to the next constantly; you can fill your Sonos playlist with music from Spotify, Tidal, or Amazon Music and control it via the Sonos app.
Sonos Beam (Gen. 2)- Smart streaming soundbar
If that’s not enough for you, you can also access your music wirelessly via AirPlay 2 to the Sonos Beam or via the network to your music server. And you can operate your soundbar without a tablet or phone. Like most Sonos devices, the new Beam supports Alexa and Google Assistant. Both voice assistants are integrated directly into the Sonos Beam and the microphone. So the smart Sonos soundbar is also a real smart speaker. By the way, an LED shows you whether the microphone is activated. If you value your privacy, a short press of a button is enough to turn off the microphone.
Nothing has changed on the control panel of the Sonos Beam in Generation 2 either. In addition to the music playback commands, you can also use the micro button to deaf the device.
Differences to the Sonos Arc
Even if the new Beam is now more based on the Sonos Arc in terms of design, there are still some differences between the two soundbars. One is very obvious of the two main ones, and the second is hidden inside. At 114 cm, the Sonos Arc is almost twice as wide as both generations of the Sonos Beam.
This is, of course, due to the additional speakers built into it and bring some advantages in terms of sound. Especially with films, you will notice that the Arc creates an even wider stage in front of you. But the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) plays very harmoniously and as if from a single source. This is especially good for her when it comes to music. With a width of 1.4 meters and a height of 8.7 cm, the Sonos Arc is considerably larger than the small Beam.
Point two concerns how the 3D sound effect is created. The Sonos Arc relies on so-called up-firing speakers. These radiate the sound upwards so it can then be reflected from the ceiling and sent to your seat. With the small dimensions of the Sonos Beam, additional speakers would not be an option. Here Sonos helps with virtual 3D sound. The sound signals are passed from the more powerful chip to the speakers so that they suggest to your ear that the sound is coming from above or the side, although they are still coming from the front.
Outlook into the future
With the Sonos Beam from 2021, however, Sonos has also prepared for another update that is expected to come this year. The soundbars should also be able to play 3D audio formats such as Dolby Atmos Music. All you need is a subscription to Amazon Music Ultra HD. Then you not only benefit from the songs that go beyond the normal stereo image, but you can also look forward to high-res audio.