Sonos continues to expand its product portfolio and with the Sonos Beam, its the second product from them with a built-in voice assistant, clearly building on the success of the Sonos One. This is the third product from SONOS designed to sit under your TV. First the Playbar, then the Playbase and now the smaller, cheaper Sonos Beam.
While some of us are lucky enough to have large 4 bedroom homes and a big living room and rumpus, plenty others live in smaller spaces, like apartments and this smart speaker for your TV could be perfect for you. Sonos products firmly land in the premium audio category and as such have meant the price points are always approachable by everyone. Thankfully the Beam addresses that, being the most affordable sound bar solution yet.
After spending a couple of weeks with the Beam, its now time to break it down and let you know if you should add it to your existing Sonos collection, or if you haven't bought Sonos before, if this should be your first.
Efficiently sized for smaller rooms
When it comes to the design of the Sonos Beam, you'll notice the premium feel of the soundbar the instant you unwrap it. Beautifully crafted beveled edges, curved ends and a very complimentary combination of black materials like hard plastic and fabric. These continue the very premium feel you expect from Sonos.
The top is a matt black only broken by the capacitive control interface on top, feature small, subtle, purposeful white icons and a couple of LEDs. Around back, you'll find the business end of the Beam, with its new HDMI port, the standard pairing button, ethernet port and power connector. These are recessed to allow the Beam to sit flat on top of your low-line unit.
Available in both black and white, the Beam is designed to do exactly what you want from a piece of audio electronics, fade into your setup, rather than be big, bold colours that screen for attention. This speaks to Sonos' confidence in their products, allowing the sound performance and features of their devices to do the talking.
The only real branding you'll find on it is the standard SONOS logo on the front. As a Sonos owner myself, I'm happy to proudly display the Sonos logo to friends and family who come to visit.
25.625 x 3.94 x 2.70 in. (651 x 100 x 68.5 mm)
White with white fabric grille; black with black fabric grille.
Connected and capable
Voice assistants and getting better over time
With the addition of microphones and voice assistants, its easy to forget just what you get with any Sonos device. Being a Sonos speaker, you get a speaker that you can connect to via your smartphone, tablet or PC and stream audio from a growing list of audio streaming services. Additional Sonos Speakers can be added for multi-room audio and in the event you have a party, you can group them all together and have the same music playing inside and out.
With the Sonos Beam, you get Amazon Alexa included and like a Tesla, the great thing about owning Sonos products, is that software upgrades in the future will enable new functionality. A great example of that is AirPlay 2 support, coming in July via a free software update and the company has also committed to adding Google Assistant, 'later this year'. With AirPlay 2, iOS users can play music and podcasts from their iOS devices directly on their Sonos speakers, just like a bluetooth speaker. Once you initiate that playback from a single supported speaker, AirPlay content can be streamed to other Sonos speakers in the system. Siri support will also enable you to start a track from Apple Music and play it in any Sonos speakers around your home.
On the rear connection panel of the Sonos Beam, you'll notice the omission of a standard optical audio port, contained on almost every AV product in the past decade. Sonos wanted more functionality than the optical could provide. Instead, there's a HDMI port which connects to your TV, projector or receiver that hopefully has one of the new HDMI-ARC ports. The Audio Return Channel (along with CEC), can simplify your home theater setup. HDMI ARC offers the ability to use one remote. Previously I've had to use a Logitech Harmony to achieve the home automation dream of saying 'Alexa, turn off the TV', but with HDMI Arc, your Sonos Beam can do just that.
When Sonos Beam is connected via HDMI-ARC to your TV, the two negotiate and automatically pick the best audio format that both systems can support. Sonos Beam plays audio from PCM stereo, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital 5.1 sources.
You can use Beam with the latest Alexa-enabled video streaming devices such as Fire TV to unlock more hands-free control. You can find, launch and control video streaming content using your voice and even change channels within supported apps.
All you have to do is say, “Alexa, turn on the TV”, “Alexa, find adventure movies on Netflix”, “Alexa, open Fox Sports”, “Alexa, pause”. During the time of review, I found the on and off commands the most useful, especially with my hands being tied up holding a baby.
If you don't want any part of this new connectivity option, Sonos have thoughtfully included a HDMI to optical dongle to enable just that. This means if you're replacing or upgrading from an existing soundbar, it's as simple as connecting power and optical and you're up and running again. If you do use this connection, the Sonos Beam supports PCM stereo and Dolby Digital audio.
The Sonos Playbar featured in many promotional shots where it's hung on the wall below your TV. This works well under a TV of size, lets say a 65" TV given the Playbar's length. But what about the Beam? Being much shorter, it's likely going to look a little small, compared to the width of your big TV. Now for those in smaller rooms, like appartments, its reasonable to expect you'll have a smaller TV maybe around 50", so the ratio there would work. Thankfully Sonos have also made wall-mount option for the Beam to keep the top of your low-line unit clean.
Thanks to True Play support, you can tune the Sonos Beam to sound its absolute best, accommodating for acoustic factors in your room, like the size, layout, décor and speaker placement.
The wall mount is available in white or black, to complement your Beam and is designed with 2.5 cm of clearance from the wall to achieve the best acoustics.
Capacitive touch controls
The Sonos mobile app is great, but there are times when you need the ability to just walk over to the speaker and mute it, adjust the volume up or down and skip to the next or previous track.
The capacitive touch buttons on the top of the device enable just that, along with play/pause, add to group and an option to mute the microphone should you have that uninformed, paranoid friend come over. A flush mounted LED indicates the status, mute status and voice feedback. This is also used during the connection process.
Does it sound any good ?
The Beam sound fantastic and understandably Sonos were never going to release a product with anything else but great sound. Naturally the Beam is smaller than the Playbar, so naturally you should expect a little less potency than it's big brother. There's more speakers, larger speakers in the Playbar, so don't be confused, for larger spaces, the Playbar (or Playbase if your TV needs to go on top of it) is still your answer.
These differences get a lot less severe when you make the Beam part of your surround sound setup, with the deep bass offloaded to the Sonos Sub and rear speakers handles by a pair of Sonos One's (also featuring Alexa).
Five far-field microphone array used for advanced beamforming and multichannel echo cancellation.
Five Class-D digital amplifiers perfectly tuned to match the speaker drivers and acoustic architecture.
Four full-range woofers ensure you’ll hear the true playback of midrange vocal frequencies plus deep, rich bass.
One tweeter to create crisp and clear dialogue.
Three passive radiators make surprisingly deep and warm bass for the compact-sized speaker.
Room for improvement
There's really not a lot to criticise the Beam on. It works as advertised and will work really well for the target audience.
If I had to make a couple of criticisms, it's the matt black surface on top of the Beam, is a massive dust collector. There's really no winning here as a glossy black would have equal difficulty staying clean. Maybe for this reason alone you should consider wall-mounting it.
The other potential room for improvement the limited colour availability of Sonos products. Black and white will suit most homes, but as we've seen in mobile phones, personalisation or at least a broader set of options is usually welcomed by customers.
One final thing is the lack of a bundle for those entering the Sonos world with a Sonos Beam. The Playbar, Sub and a pair of Sonos One's have a bundle that discounts the total investment of a full living room setup and we'd love to see the same for the Beam.
PRICE & AVAILABILITY
How much and when can you get one ?
The Sonos Beam is schedule to ship globally starting July 17th, and if reading this review has tipped you into the camp of 'must have', then you'll be glad to know its available for pre-order today on www.sonos.com.
The Beam costs A$599.00 which represents great value for the premium design, features and sound quality you get from the Beam. It's a significantly more affordable price than the A$849.00 (sale) for a Playbar or A$999.00 for a Playbase.
Despite this being Sonos' third product to fight for the space under your TV, they've found a way to make the combination of features, design and price, something that will really appeal to a lot of people. Thinking through the potential market for who should buy this device, it's actually a lot broader of an audience than those with small apartments.
Those who already have Sonos setups in their living room, may be after a second Sonos setup in a rumpus, games room or theatre room. For this, the more affordable Sonos Beam would perfectly fit the bill. At the end of the day the reason we need a soundbar at all is because the speakers that come with our TVs or projectors are really insufficient for a decent entertainment experience. Given sound makes up so much of the experience, it really is worth investing in upgraded audio and the price tag here makes that a lot more approachable for more families.
I actually think there could be another market for this device, one Sonos never intended and that's for PC audio. If you've got enough space on your desk, PC speakers are basically all ugly and terrible and the Beam would work brilliantly as a speaker for your desk.
As with every post about Sonos, I'll give you the warning now. Sonos is addictive and before you know it, you'll want one in every room of the house, so the Beam may be the perfect gateway drug.