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Sonos Arc Review: Impressive Dolby Atmos Soundbar with Satisfying Sound

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Sonos announced its new Arc speaker back in early May, the company’s first soundbar to support Dolby Atmos. It’s also one of the first products to support the company’s next-generation S2 mobile app. We’ve had our hands on the Sonos Arc for just over a week, and were able to put its latest capabilities to the test. Here are our thoughts on this new soundbar.

Unboxing the Sonos Arc

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Sonos is up there with Apple when it comes to obsessing over product packaging and the unboxing experience. The Sonos Arc comes in a long rectangular box and immediately after lifting it up for the first time, you realize this soundbar is no joke at nearly 14 pounds.

To open the Sonos Arc box, you just slide plastic notches on each end of the box to the ‘unlock’ icon, which then allows you to lift up the top of half of the box.

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Inside, you’ll see the Sonos Arc tightly wrapped and stitched up with a thin cloth material, while an ‘Arc’ sticker adorns the middle of the soundbar. Sonos tells iPhone in Canada the Arc comes with all-new packaging that is 96% paper-based construction, as the company is moving away from foam-based cushions.

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Included with the Arc is a power cable, HDMI cable, optical audio adapter and quick start guide. There’s just some small plastic pieces holding the cables together and hopefully, in the future these can be eliminated as well (on the Sonos Beam in 2018, these cables were in plastic bags). Your TV will need to have HDMI eARC or ARC for Dolby Atmos audio playback (along with compatible content).

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Sonos says the Arc uses 26% less power than its predecessors, while the soundbar’s status LEDs can also dim automatically. At idle, Arc uses 4.3 watts of power.

Below is the front of the Sonos Arc, which spans 114 cm (45 inches) taken on the ultra wide angle lens of my iPhone 11 Pro Max:

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Here’s the back of the Sonos Arc, revealing vents and also holes for the optional custom designed wall mount ($89 CAD).

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Here’s a closer look at the front of the Sonos Arc; the top are three capacitive touch controls to tap to play/pause and increase or decrease volume. To skip or rewind tracks, just swipe right or left:

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Unlike the Sonos Beam, which has its mic mute button above play/pause controls, on the Arc this mic control button is off to the far right side:

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Here’s a side of the sides of the Sonos Arc, showing a better look at its curved plastic grille, molded from a single sheet and also drilled with over 76,000 holes:

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Setting Up the Sonos Arc

If you’ve owned a Sonos speaker before, it’s really easy to set it up thanks to the intuitive Sonos mobile app and its helpful steps with illustrations. The new S2 app will guide you on how to connect to your local Wi-Fi network and once done, you’ll need to connect Arc to your TV. Sonos says Arc has enhanced Trueplay tuning, as the speaker accounts for height channels. This is always the fun part where you walk around the room waving your iPhone upside down to tune with Trueplay. Automatic Trueplay tuning is only available on the Sonos Move.

After that’s done, you can add music services such as Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, and even the recently announced Sonos Radio. Arc, like the latest Sonos products such as One, Move and Beam, supports Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control.

The new S2 app is required to control Sonos Arc and will be available on June 8. This new app, according to the company, offers a “new experience” for customers and also supports higher resolution audio and comes with an improved design, to go with more personalization such as saved room groups for the first time.

The S2 app is clean and minimalist, while also fairly intuitive to use compared to its predecessor. One of the best parts is it will always tell you when the content you’re watching is in Dolby Atmos or not, as the icon displays on the control interface.

Check out some screenshots of the S2 app below:

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The S2 app will also enable you to turn on Speech Enhancement mode, which amplifies dialogue and also Night Sound, which reduces loud sound effects, handy when you’re watching TV at night. Those with a Sonos Beam will be familiar with these two modes.

Sonos Arc Performance for Music and Movies

Compared to the Sonos Beam, the Sonos Arc is clearly the bigger and bad-ass older brother (or sister). It has 11 Class D digital amplifiers, 8 elliptical woofer and three angled silk-dome tweeters. With the speaker’s wide footprint, it easily filled our living room with sound when testing it with music. Vocals were very clear, mid-range sounds were balanced and bass was easily accessible via the equalizer. This sound can get very, very loud and music of all genres sound fantastic.

I did notice some distortion when playing insanely bass-heavy songs like ‘I got five on it’ by the Luniz at near max volume (but hey, I’m not doing bass tests with 12-inch JL subs anymore like a teenager anymore, so I should revisit my song selections…). If I were to follow the examples songs to test as listed by Sonos, this soundbar really is poppin’ and the Arc’s speakers allow for clear, crisp and balanced sound to fill a room that leaves a smile on your face. It offers the excellent sound for music Sonos customers expect and the Arc delivers.

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Sonos Arc in white below a 55-inch LG C9 4K Television with Mantelmount MM340 (the Sonos Ones were not part of this review; please forgive me for the visible cables; I’ve been planning to flush mount my previous soundbar beneath the TV)

When it comes to movies, this is where Arc really shines, with newly added support for Dolby Atmos. What exactly is Dolby Atmos? The technology essentially creates 3D sound with upward-facing speakers firing and bouncing sound off your ceiling back down to you, allowing for the creation of height channels. Below are the positions of speakers within the Sonos Arc:

We tested a variety of titles within Netflix and Disney+ that supported Dolby Atmos, via an Apple TV 4K (update: we viewed and tested Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos using an Apple TV 4K and our LG C9 OLED TV). We can confirm Dolby Atmos showed within the S2 app while watching various shows and movies using an Apple TV 4K.

The first time you experience 3D sound it just really tricks your brain. To hear sounds coming from the far corners of your room and other directions can really change the movie viewing experience.

The latest Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos content, including Aladdin (2019), Lost in Space, Our Planet and Formula 1 all sounded amazing with the Sonos Arc. I cannot stress how loud and balanced this soundbar can be, to the point where you will need to close your windows when testing (I had bass and treble settings at +5 (the max is 10) and it was more than enough for my ears).

Sonos Arc + Sub (Gen 2) Really Knocks Your Socks Off

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What if you really wanted to step up your Sonos Arc setup? Well, just throw in the company’s Sub, which we also had on hand to test with. We did not have the latest Gen 3 Sub, but the previous Gen 2, which is essentially the same design, aside from the increased memory, processing power and new wireless radio found in the latest version.

The elegant design of Sub, despite remaining the same, is one that is simple and works. Sub can be positioned vertically or placed lying down, essentially allowing the subwoofer to be placed anywhere, such as under a couch or bed, without any loss in performance, according to Sonos. It’s just as easy to add to your existing Sonos set up by pressing the single button on the side.

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With the Sub EQ settings just at 7 or 8 (the max is 15), it’s easily too much bass, as the subwoofer takes over the lows from your Arc, so the latter can focus on mid-range sounds. Watching Top Gun with bass settings at the max level made me emotional, teary-eyed (#RIPGoose) and giggling like a little school girl at times (#SonYourEgoisWritingChequesYourBodyCantCash). One should simply never have this much bass available (with no rattles or distortion to boot). If you’re in a condo or townhouse, I’m pretty sure your neighbours will hate you if you own a Sonos Sub.

Okay, so the Sonos Arc on its own doesn’t really need the Sub. But for those who demand and crave chest-thumbing and startling bass, Sub will do you just right. Throwing even the Sub (Gen 2) into the mix for music and movies changes the game even more. Once you listen to your Sonos system with Sub, removing it makes your system feel ‘naked’. It really is the cherry on top if you’ve been holding out, and rightly so with its $899 CAD price tag for Sub Gen 3.

Conclusion

The Sonos Arc is a wicked soundbar and that is easy to set up and use, especially if you’re an existing Sonos customer. The new S2 Sonos app has a fresh design that doesn’t stray far from its predecessor, making it still feel familiar to use.

Dana Kreiger, Director of Design and Hardware at Sonos said, “Arc is one of the most technically complicated products we’ve ever made, but still results in a simple experience that just focuses on a great listening moment.” This couldn’t be more true, as Arc brings Dolby Atmos content and music to life, alongside a frictionless Sonos experience supported by Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and also AirPlay 2.

Downsides of the Arc? The obvious factor is the price, as the soundbar is $999 CAD and that doesn’t include the new Sub (Gen 3) at $899 CAD. But if you’re considering other high-end Dolby Atmos soundbars, prices can be comparable or higher. Also, if your TV is smaller than 55-inches, the Arc may be wider than your display, if that matters to you. Sonos said the longer design of Arc is made for today’s larger televisions.

With Sonos, you get an incredibly easy listening experience, as you can control your system from an app on your Mac, PC, smartphone or tablet, while a plethora of streaming music services are supported. There’s no better feeling than being able to turn down the volume on your soundbar from your iPhone or Mac when Paw Patrol episodes are blaring far louder than they should be (relax, Ryder).

Sometimes it may be worth paying extra for convenience when it comes to excellent sound, easy speaker management and frequent software updates–and that’s what you get when you invest in a Sonos speaker. If you have a 4K TV that supports Dolby Vision, having a soundbar with Dolby Atmos support is a must for the best viewing and listening experience. For those that don’t care, the predecessor of the Arc–the Sonos Playbar–has been deeply discounted to $699 CAD and is still a worthy consideration.

The Sonos Arc launches on June 10 in Canada (and globally) and retails for $999 CAD, conveniently out before Father’s Day on June 21st (*cough cough* *hint hint*).

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