Sonos Beam Gen. 2
ReviewTech

Sonos Beam Gen. 2: Compact Atmos soundbar — Our editors’ assessment

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9.2
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Sonos Beam Gen. 2

A balanced and detailed sound is basically what is assumed for the Sonos Beam Gen. 2 anyway. It only gets really interesting when a Dolby Atmos soundtrack reaches the soundbar. Then the comparatively small system with the five amplifiers, one tweeter and four midrange speakers can actually create spatial effects for a worthy movie night. Thanks to the additional bass reflex tubes, there is even decent bass. Those who need more here will probably additionally reach for the Sonos Sub. Besides the sound, the software can also convince. The Sonos app works flawlessly, is clearly arranged and helps to listen to the entire music collection. This is mainly done via WLAN. The soundbar, which is not exactly cheap at 500 Euros, only has one HDMI input. An analog connection or the option to loop through an audio signal are unfortunately missing.

Advantages
  • Balanced sound
  • Amazingly effective virtual 3D sound
  • Expandable to a multiroom system
  • Space-saving
Disadvantages
  • Only one physical audio connection
  • Expensive

The Sonos Beam Gen. 2 expands its predecessor with convincing 3D sound, but retains all its good features. This turns the compact soundbar into a chic smart speaker for the best entertainment.

The Baltic Review

With the Sonos Beam, the USA multi-room expert first introduced its smallest sound bar to date in 2018. Since then, the compact soundbar has mainly attracted attention with its surprisingly good sound for its size and the high fun factor. Probably the most exciting update: The Sonos Beam now offers virtual 3D sound via Dolby Atmos. We listened closely.

The Sonos Beam at a glance

A simple upgrade for movie sound and music that can also be integrated into any living room without much effort: That’s what the Sonos Beam is supposed to be. With that, Sonos has the same goals as many other soundbar manufacturers. Virtual 3D sound and integration into the Sonos Multiroom system, on the other hand, are only offered by a few soundbars.

Virtual Atmos means that the soundbar does not need additional upward-facing speakers to produce 3D sound. Instead, complicated software and phase shifts of the sound signal take over this task. This sometimes works better, sometimes worse. So it remains exciting.

If you are looking for “real Dolby Atmos”, you need the Sonos Arc. However, it costs twice as much. This puts the Beam between the Arc and the even smaller Sonos Ray. Sonos charges 500 Euros for the solo Beam soundbar. This is considerably more than the price of the Teufel Cinebar 11 and subwoofer set.

The Bose Smart Soundbar 600 has a similar range of functions, and even has upfiring speakers for almost the same price. So, the competition is not lazy and the Sonos Beam is definitely not alone among soundbars under 500 Euros. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to choose the Sonos Beam. You can find out when it is the right soundbar for you here.

Sonos Beam vs. Beam Gen. 2 – how does the update sound?

We simply didn’t expect anything convincing from such a small soundbar in terms of 3D simulation. Now the Beam Gen. 2 is in the listening room and we lower our gaze to the floor in embarrassment. We seem to have underestimated the developers at Sonos, because the small Beam of 2021 is now clearly capable of virtual Dolby Atmos. And how!

When listening to music, there is hardly any difference to the old Beam. Maybe the 2021 Beam is a little more direct in a direct comparison, but on the whole it sounds very familiar, just as unstrained and solid as before. The Beam continues to bring out voices beautifully. At no point does the soundbar seem overwhelmed, but spreads a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere with music of all kinds. Only the Denon Home Sound Bar 550 can create more virtual 3D effects with similar dimensions, but it costs a good 150 euros more.

Sensible upgrade: With Sonos Sub Mini and Sonos One to a surround set

By the way, you can emphasize this all-around friendly sound character even more by adding the matching subwoofer to the new Beam. In our test, the Sonos Sub Mini proved to be the ideal complement. When it takes care of the low frequencies, the soundbar can obviously concentrate better on the things it does particularly well: The natural reproduction of voices and instruments, for example. The new Beam does this very well, even though it still only has a single tweeter.

Of course, as you’d expect from multi-room experts Sonos, 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. This way, you get real surround sound in addition to the virtual Atmos sound.

In our test, we used one Sonos One for this purpose, which did an excellent job. Besides a convincing three-dimensionality, the satellites could also impress with another bass note, which is missing in the vast majority of rear speakers. Thus, you get a potent surround set that is perfect whenever your living room is a bit too small for the Sonos Arc including the large Sonos Sub. In addition, you can save money without having to forego the simple operation of Sonos.

Good things made better

Not much has changed in the Sonos Beam’s configuration: Four oval midrange drivers are still arranged to the left and right of the tweeter. The two outer ones are located on the sides and thus ensure that a certain amount of sound is emitted outwards. Three passive radiators help the bass if you use the soundbar without a subwoofer.

But how do the same speakers manage to produce room-filling 3D sound all at once? The answer lies in their control. Sonos talks about five speaker arrays that can be shaped by the higher processing power. With the old Sonos Beam, there were only three. These arrays use delay differences between the individual drivers to make the sound come from different points in the room.

Suddenly 3D – Sonos Beam in the home theater sound test

In “normal” operation, the listening impression with movies is initially not very different than before, either. Like its predecessor, the 2021 Beam builds up an astonishingly wide, open sound space for movies and series, which lets you follow the action on the screen acoustically very well. Dialogs are clearly intelligible in the center, and the Sunday crime scene benefits from this sound update just as much as the latest blockbuster.

Things look different when you select a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Then the small Sonos Beam really outgrows itself. Not even that much in width, the acoustic stage stays in place. Even though the new Beam does not have any Atmos speakers that radiate upwards, the 3D effect is quite convincing. Even though it can’t really be, the small Sonos soundbar suddenly creates the illusion that certain sounds are coming from above or from the side next to you.

Okay, the 3D experience cannot be compared with a real Dolby Atmos soundbar, of course. And the larger Sonos Arc also conveys even more height and width. But for such a small soundbar like the Sonos Beam, the result is really impressive.

Well protected: Grille instead of fabric

When you look at the 2021 Sonos Beam, the first thing you’ll notice is the redesigned cover. It almost completely encloses the soundbar like a band. The old version had a fabric cover, but on the Beam Gen. 2, it now consists of a precisely perforated plastic grille, just like its big sister Arc. Whether you like that better is a matter of taste. At least the drivers are better protected from curious fingers or objects. And somehow the greater visual similarity to the Sonos Arc is also fitting, since it was the first Atmos soundbar in the Sonos lineup.

3D sound via HDMI-eARC

As for the number of HDMI jacks, nothing has changed. Even with the Sonos Beam Gen. 2, you have to make do with a lone HDMI input. However, this has undergone a technical upgrade and is now up to date with eARC support. The update was necessary because only the new eARC standard is able to transmit Dolby Atmos audio tracks via the audio return channel.

In order for the soundbar to be able to adequately convert the increased flood of data via eARC into sounds, a powerful chip was also needed. The new one is supposed to have a 40 percent higher computing power compared to the predecessor. In case you want to connect older TVs or other devices to the soundbar, an adapter from Toslink to HDMI is included. However, you will have to do without 3D sound with this optical digital connection.

Sonos Beam usability and app

As usual with Sonos products, the Beam is also completely designed for control via the latest version of Sonos’ own app for iOS and Android. This already starts with the first setup, which you can quickly do with the app as usual. The NFC function is particularly convenient. It allows you to find the app and the speaker within a few seconds. The integration is then done by emitting test tones that are recorded by the microphone of your smartphone or tablet.

First, you have to give the app access to the exact location services and Bluetooth settings of your smartphone. All further steps to set up the Sonos network for the automatic calibration of the room acoustics called “Trueplay” are then easy to follow and almost run by themselves. With the restriction that Trueplay is still only available on Apple devices.

For Android devices, there are too many different microphones on the market for Sonos to rely on for sound analysis. However, you can also use all other functions of the Sonos app as an Android owner.

The calibration requires a bit of cooperation from you: While the Beam plays test tones, the app sends you around the room to move the smartphone up and down at different spots for the measurement. After a few minutes, the procedure is completed and the Sonos Beam is perfectly tuned to the sound in your living room.

For music lovers, most relevant streaming services are integrated via the app. So you don’t have to constantly switch from one app to the next, but 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 stream your music wirelessly to the Sonos Beam via AirPlay 2 or access your music server over the network. And you can also control your soundbar without a tablet or phone at all: Like most Sonos devices, the new Beam supports Alexa and Google Assistant. Both voice assistants are directly integrated into the Sonos Beam along with the microphone. The smart Sonos soundbar is also a real smart speaker. By the way, an LED indicates whether the microphone is activated. If you value your privacy, a short press of a button is enough to turn off the microphone.

Differences to the Sonos Arc

Even though the new Beam now looks more like the Sonos Arc in terms of design, there are still some differences between the two soundbars. Of the two most important, one is very obvious and the second is hidden inside. The Sonos Arc is almost twice as wide as both generations of the Sonos Beam with its 114 centimeters.

This is, of course, due to the additional speakers built into it, which also bring some advantages in terms of sound. Especially with movies, you will notice that the Arc sets up an even wider stage in front of you. Like its predecessor, the Sonos Beam (gen. 2) plays very harmoniously and as if from a single source. This is particularly beneficial for music.

Point two concerns the way the 3D sound effect is created. The Sonos Arc relies on so-called upfiring speakers. They radiate the sound upwards so that it can be reflected from the ceiling and sent to your seat. Given the small dimensions of the Sonos Beam, additional speakers would be out of the question. This is where Sonos comes to the rescue with virtual 3D sound. The sound signals are transmitted from the stronger chip to the speakers in such a way that they suggest the sound is coming from above or from the side, although it is still coming from the front.

Our conclusion on the Sonos Beam: More features for less money


Sonos Beam Gen. 2 Technical Specifications


Loudspeaker power (manufacturer’s pecification)
220 Watt
Channels quantity5
Connectors / InterfacesHDMI-eARC, Ethernet
Supported sound formatsPCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Multichannel PCM
NetworkYes
AirPlay 2Yes
Voice commandAlexa, Google Assistant
Color optionsMatt Black, Matt White
Dimensions (WxHxD)651 x 69 x 100 mm
Weight2,8 kg
Included accessoriesHDMI cable, Toslink HDMI adapter
Price499 Euro

Here you can find more Sonos soundbars that have been tested by our experts in our test lab:

Andrzej Vilenski
Andrzej Vilenski, the Baltic Review correspondent is a PhD student at the University of Vilnius, studying policy.

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