Sonos Beam Review: Excellent Compact TV Sound Bar with Smarts
Sonos announced their new Beam sound bar back in June and launched sales in Canada just over a week ago. The new Sonos Beam, according to the company, is a product which has emerged based on what they’ve done with their Playbar, Playbase and Sonos One. We had some time to check out the Sonos Beam, so here’s our quick review of the company’s latest sound bar.
Unboxing the Sonos Beam
Aside from Apple, Sonos definitely is a strong contender for another excellent unboxing experience (Nest also comes to mind), as there are small details which make it easy and enjoyable. For example, pull tabs on the tape holding the box together, plus perforated plastic bags to access cables without scissors. Everything is neatly placed and presented, reassuring buyers this isn’t just some regular unboxing experience.
In the box, you’ll find the Sonos Beam sound bar itself, along with a power cord, HDMI cable, Optical Audio Adapter, and a QuickStart Guide.
The Sonos Beam, like other Sonos speakers and products, is wrapped neatly in a cloth-like material, which again upgrades the unboxing experience. The sound bar itself weighs a hefty 6.2 pounds (2.8 kilograms), so it won’t be going anywhere once you place it on a shelf, table or on the wall.
The top of the Beam sound bar—which also is powered by Amazon Alexa—is a concave surface, with touch controls to mute the mic, pause/play music, volume controls and skip forward/reverse controls. There’s an LED on the top which acts as a status indicator when setting up and using Beam.
Surrounding the Beam is soft cloth fabric which hides the speaker four full-range woofers, tweeter, three passive radiators, five Class-D digital amplifiers and five far-field microphones for advanced beam forming and multi-channel echo cancellation.
On the rear of the Sonos Beam, there’s the power port, setup button, ethernet port and HDMI port. The power cable, when plugged into beam, sits flush with the unit—a nice touch despite being at the rear of the speaker, which you can’t see.
Setting Up Sonos Beam
To setup the Sonos Beam, all you need is the Sonos iOS app, which will detect your speaker. Press the button on the back your Beam, and you’ll hear the pleasing Sonos setup tone. The app will connect your speaker to your Sonos account, then you’ll choose a room for Beam.
The app makes it simple and next asks if you want to setup a home theatre with your Beam, such as adding the company’s Sub or other surrounds speakers, such as Sonos Ones or Play:1 units. Once that was a done, an update was installed over the air for Beam.
It is possible to wall-mount Beam, but you’ll require the company’s $79 custom-designed mount, which is made to have the sound bar sit an inch or so away from the wall. Sonos says third party mounts are coming as well.
Setting Up Sonos Beam with your TV
The compelling feature of Sonos Beam is the ability for users to control their television with their voice, thanks to Amazon Alexa. Those with newer televisions should have an HDMI-ARC (audio return channel) port, which lets your TV communicate with Beam. Our older TV (from 2013) does not have an HDMI-ARC port, so we had to connect our Beam to our TV using the optical adapter, which the setup will inform you whether you were successful or not. With the optical adapter, you lose out on the ability to turn your TV on and off with your voice and Alexa.
The Sonos app then asks you to disable your TV speakers so all sound is routed through Beam. Once you’ve done that, the app then asks you to setup your remote control, by pointing it at Beam and then pressing the volume up button. In our case, Beam connected with our Apple TV remote seamlessly.
So now, when we turn on our Apple TV (which also turns on our TV), all sound is now routed through Beam. Unfortunately, we don’t get on-screen volume indicators on our TV when changing the volume with our Apple TV remote.
Tuning Your Sonos Beam with Trueplay
To tune your Sonos Beam or other Sonos speaker, users need to go through the Trueplay tuning process which involves using the company’s app on your iPhone. With Beam, you need to perform the process twice: once from the sitting position on your couch for the sound bar; the second pass is walking around the room waving your iPhone up and down for the speaker part. Do note Trueplay does not work if you’re running a beta version of iOS.
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve used Trueplay to tune your Sonos speakers—you still feel a bit silly walking around the room waving your device. Regardless, it’s worth the quick effort to help calibrate your speaker for your room. But the manual effort makes you appreciate the automatic calibration found in a speaker such as Apple’s HomePod (which costs nearly as much as Beam at $449 CAD).
To setup Amazon Alexa, the Sonos app asks you to ‘Sign in to Amazon’. Once setup is complete, the default language is set to English (CA), but can be changed in Settings > Room Settings.
Listening to Sonos Beam for the First Time – Movie Sound
Our experience with sound bars are limited, as we picked up a basic Philips model with subwoofer over five years ago. The sound bar did the job to replace the horrible TV speakers on our Sony TV. So with that in mind, just how well did the Sonos Beam perform—with its $499 price tag—to replace this entry-level sound bar? The Sonos Beam knocked it out of the park.
We first tested the Sonos Beam by watching Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, on Netflix. The sound was noticeably better than the basic Philips sound bar, as the centre channel delivered audio that was crisp and clear, and much bolder.
But during battle scenes, the Beam delivered booming sound you could feel with deep bass, while left and right channels filled the room. Sound coming from the Beam felt like it was coming from different sides of the television, delivering fuller sound than what you would imagine coming from a compact sound bar.
Watching movies with Sonos Beam was just pleasing. Sound was warm, voices sounded natural, and the system packs some good bass, more than enough for our needs. The best part about the Beam is its ability to deliver sound around the room, not just from the centre speaker itself, as the sound field goes beyond your television screen, offering a 3.0 setup for movies out of a single sound bar.
We never had our volume set to max for movies, as having the volume up to half way and three-quarters was very loud.
Dolby Atmos is a feature which currently mimics surround sound in sound bars—but it’s not supported by the Sonos Beam. When I asked the company about this, their product creation lead, Jeff Derderian, explained Dolby Atmos would not bring any benefit for the customer Sonos Beam is targeting, as the new sound bar offers the “right balance of sound versus size”. He added Sonos is always keeping an eye out on the trends, but they’re not ones to throw something in because “it’s the hot buzzword.”
Regardless, given the size of the Sonos Beam, it’s quite impressive the way it can project sound and provide a movie theatre experience at home. At times, you forget all of this amazing sound is coming out of its small footprint, as you get the feeling there are speakers up by your TV and beyond.
Sonos Beam as a Music Speaker
What about listening to music with Sonos Beam? The sound bar has four full-range woofers along with one tweeter and three passive radiators to deliver warm sound to bass. There are also five Class-D digital amplifiers and five far-field mids for advanced beam forming and multi-channel echo cancellation when you summon for ‘Alexa’, when a movie or music is already playing.
By default, the Sonos Beam and its bass was pretty good, but I found the treble lacking for my personal tastes. But a quick jump into the speaker settings in the Sonos app allows you to increase or decrease bass and treble levels. A couple quick adjustments and I had music playing just the way I wanted, with crisp room-filling sound and some bumping bass.
The Sonos Beam delivered music nicely, but I still did prefer music coming from a pair of Sonos One speakers, which pack more of a punch, for those wondering. But given its size, the Beam can still hold its own when it comes to music, and will still be great for any party.
According to Sonos, they tuned the sound of the Beam for music and movies by bringing the speaker to music producers and film studios, to ensure sound played exactly as they were made to sound by creators.
With recent support for AirPlay 2, iOS users can send any audio directly to Sonos Beam, without the need to turn on your television.
Using Sonos Beam with Alexa
If you’re familiar with the capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa, you can get the assistant to play music from a handful of services, such as TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Spotify, Deezer and Audible. As for the 59 total music services supported by Sonos, you can use the company’s iOS app to control the rest.
I can tell you, starting and stopping music with your voice is slowly becoming the norm for speakers, as it reduces the friction required to get tunes pumping. You don’t realize this until you revert back to non-smart speakers, which require fumbling with Bluetooth and such.
Later this year, Sonos is set to add support for Google’s Assistant for its smart speakers, and Beam will also benefit from this addition, expanding the capabilities of the sound bar.
Conclusion: Awesome TV Sound in a Compact Package
The Sonos Beam is geared towards those contemplating an upgrade to the lacklustre speakers that come with their television, bringing three products in one: a sound bar, music player and smart speaker with technology from the company’s Sonos One.
The speaker will elevate your home theatre and music experience, offering superb sound from a relatively compact sound bar. I’ve been using the Beam for a couple weeks, and every single time it still brings a smile to my face with its room-filling capabilities when watching movies.
Sonos customers are very passionate about their speakers, and after experiencing both Beam and the Sonos One, I now know why. The company takes the entire speaker experience seriously, from unboxing to setup and delivering high-quality sound.
Being a Sonos product, customers also have the option to expand their home theatre by adding the company’s high-end sub and a couple rear speakers for a full 5.1 setup, albeit with an expensive price tag (nearly $1,800 CAD).
As for some downsides, if your TV does not support HDMI-ARC, you lose out the full voice capabilities such as being able to turn on and off your TV with your voice. But that’s a limitation of your television, which people don’t necessarily upgrade that often. But even with an optical connection, Beam can still do the job of delivering the great sound part, which is the most important in our opinion.
The Sonos Beam also is a high-end speaker at $499, so if your budget is limited, you better start saving up or consider alternatives. But if you’ve got the cash, the Beam is a strong contender to easily and immediately elevate your TV sound in any small to medium-sized room.
Also, if we’re being picky, the Sonos iOS app has so many settings and options, it can be overwhelming for those in the non-techie field. But Sonos does a great job of holding your hand step-by-step during any speaker setup, which is really nice.
At the price of $499 CAD, Sonos Beam may seem expensive compared to other sound bars available, but it also performs admirably and is downright impressive with its ability to deliver big sound from its compact size. Watching TV, movies and listening to music will be much more enjoyable in your home, as Sonos Beam delivers upgraded TV audio, as advertised, in a well-designed and elegant package.