Sonos make some of the best sounding home speaker products on the market, while also offering simple and easy connectivity to your favourite audio services. The Sonos Arc is replacing the Playbar and the Playbase, and as a Playbar owner, I was really keen to see what’s changed and if the Arc is a serious step forward.
The reason we need sound bars at all is a result of TV manufacturers continuing to skimp on great audio. There are exceptions, but for the most part, TV makers understand that most people will invest in external speakers, so it’s one area they can save on cost.
Having an amazing audio experience traditionally came with a requirement to have a number of speakers around your lounge room, however soundbars like the Arc, attempt to offer surround sound in one, simple package. Naturally, you can expand the soundscape by adding a Sub and Sonos One’s as rear speakers. While you can, I fully expect for most people, to just add an Arc and be done, the audio from this thing, really is that good.
It’s also hard to beat the simplicity of unboxing and connect the Arc, firing up the mobile app, go through a quick setup and you’re up and running in minutes.
So many dots.
The Arc looks very different than any soundbar from Sonos, it’s longer than the Playbar, and features 72,000 holes drilled into the body. These holes wrap the device in 270 degrees, or in an arc, giving the product its name.
The back of the Arc is flat to allow for wall mounting, something commonly done by Playbar owners. There’s now a new Magnetic Wall Mount and when the Arc is mounted this way, the soundscape is actually adjusted to leverage additional bass, resonating from the wall its mounted to.
In previous Sonos products, you got an option to have the LED indicator on, or off. With Arc, Sonos had a rethink on that and improved things by introducing a light-sensitive LED. This means the Arc knows if you’re trying to watch a movie in the dark, where an illuminated LED would be distracting. It can them dim the LED automatically which is just smart.
How does it perform ?
The performance of the Sonos Arc is all about it’s audio quality and if this is your first Sonos soundbar, you’ll be incredibly impressed. To be honest, as someone who owns a Playbar and have reviewed the Playbase, I expected the Arc to be a fairly incremental improvement. I was wrong.
The Arc features 8 elliptical woofers for mid-range and vocal frequencies in addition to rich bass, as well as 3 silk-dome tweeters which produce the higher frequencies and crystal-clear speech.
The standout feature is Dolby Atmos support and while those who’ve never heard a proper Dolby Atmos speaker playing an Atmos enabled movie or even a demo clip, are seriously in for a treat.
This single soundbar creates such a powerful and rich soundscape that it feels like the audio experience you wish your TV came with. The sound that comes out of the Arc is so impressive on its own, that I really think many will buy it and not even worry about adding a Sub or rear speakers.
Dolby Atmos enables the action on-screen to be translated into audio that moves up-down, left and right, thanks to upwards-firing drivers and some software magic. The sound is powerful and loud, so loud that it’s unlikely you’ll get anywhere near the top of what this thing is capable of.
Probably most impressive is the diversity of performance on offer here, from rendering every whispering conversation to the massive explosion it does exactly what you want an audio investment to do, complete the movie experience.
Stand out features of this display.
The Arc features a lot of new features, representing the time since the Playbar shipped back in 2013. One of my favourites is a new ability to automatically configure the audio to based on your specific room. This process previously required a fairly lengthy tuning process and required a lot from users to set it up. Thankfully Sonos have really improved the out of box experience now, with just a couple of taps in the app to setup the Arc before you’re up and running.
Connecting the Sonos Arc is super simple, just add power and connect the Arc to the HDMI (ARC) of your TV. This Audio Return Channel on HDMI is now required to acheive the Dolby Atmos support.
Voice assistant support is another key feature of all new Sonos speakers and that’s also true of the Arc. Thanks to 4x far field microphones, you can yell commands at it from across the room. Arc supports both Google assistant and Alexa, giving you the flexibility to chose. This dual-support is great, something Sonos was first to offer and given the diversity in opinions on which is the best, its great that both fan clubs are supported.
While your phone is the remote for all things Sonos, the Arc also supports capacitive touch buttons on top for direct play/pause and volume controls. After first using their digital buttons on the Sonos One, I liked it a lot and it’s great to see them also replicated here. While these are located on the top-rear edge, even wall-mounted I don’t think you should have problems accessing these.
Not everything’s perfect
Timed with the release of the Sonos Arc, was the big software division. If you owned an existing product, your Sonos mobile app was turned into what’s known as Sonos S1, while new devices live in a new ecosystem known as the new Sonos app.
This division feels really arbitrary. While I accept the underlying hardware has changed, but I feel the software could have been a single app that supported both platforms, even if they were different. When you try to add an unsupported speaker to your surround sound home theatre setup, it doesn’t work and I feel the same could be done if you tried to add a series 1 device to a series 2 setup.
While I first thought the lack of an optical port was a big miss by Sonos, another check of the Arc box and there is indeed a HDMI to optical adapter to support those people who have an older TV. Imagine you have a TV that’s 4 years old, and plan on having it for a couple more, then you would then use the Sonos Arc via optical audio, then when you upgrade your TV in 2022, remove the adapter and your audio would also get better as a side benefit of then having ARC support.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
During my time with the Sonos Arc, I’ve been seriously impressed with its audio performance. Ideally, you’d pair the Arc with a Sonos Sub and two rear speakers, for the ultimate experience. For those that are chasing an upgrade on their TVs build-in speakers, you will be incredibly happy with just the Arc by itself.
The audio quality alone could have justified the price tag, but having all the smarts of the Sonos services, allows you to stream music from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Audible, and many, many more. Personally I think the support for dual-voice assistants put this over the edge and is now easily my favourite soundbar.
I’ve got no problem recommending Sonos, it’s a really solid upgrade on what was already a great soundbar, the Playbar. The Playbase seen a shorter life, but it goes known the successor is better in every way.
The final challenge is price. Given you can buy a great 65″ 4K TV for under A$1,000 today, there’s two ways to look at that. Either you then have a struggle justifying to yourself (and your spouse) that spending more on a soundbar than you did on the TV. The other way to look at it is this, the cheap TV actually frees up more of your home entertainment budget to invest in audio. Personally I have a TV on both sides of the equation, one that cost more (almost double) and one less than the price (almost half) of the Sonos Arc.