When it comes to home audio, Sonos is the kind of go-to name that’s built on years of phenomenal sound quality, intuitive features, and wireless listening. From the company’s smallest wireless speakers to its most monolithic systems, the Sonos experience is underpinned by the incredible Sonos app (available for iOS and Android devices), a control center that provides access to a number of music streaming platforms, audio grading tools and many more.
Sonos is also a force to be reckoned with in the home theater arena. Today we are going to compare the $449 Sonos Beam with the $899 Sonos Bowtwo of the company’s soundbars designed to offer Dolby Atmos virtualization.
Check out our full reviews of the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) and Sonos Arc.
Design and connections
Sonos has always made sure that its products look as good as they look, and that you buy a Sonos One, a Sonos amplifieror a Sonos soundbar, whatever device you buy will be sleek and stylish.
The Sonos Beam (2nd Gen) comes in black and white finishes and measures 25.6 inches wide, 2.7 inches tall, and 3.9 inches front to back. The second-generation beam also carries over the same pill-shaped chassis from the previous iteration, but ditches the fabric grille in favor of a perforated plastic shield that covers the front driver array and wraps around both sides of the rear (with the middle of the rear panel relegated to the Beam’s inputs).
In terms of the actual connections, the Beam keeps things simple, with just a DC power input, an Ethernet port, and an HDMI ARC/eARC port.
The Sonos Bow, available in black and white, features a much wider, spherically angled build than the Beam, measuring 45 inches wide, 3.4 inches tall, and 5.5 inches front to back. Although the Arc can sit on a TV stand, be aware that the slightly taller chassis may interfere with the bottom of your TV screen.
Similar to the Beam, the Arc features an all-plastic grille that covers the entire front of the system and wraps all the way to the rear. And in terms of connections, you’ll be working with exactly the same setup as the Beam: a power connection, an Ethernet port, and an HDMI ARC/eARC port.
Speaking of that HDMI ARC/eARC port: since HDMI Beam and Arc Ditch switching (you won’t find any dedicated HDMI input ports on both soundbars), if you’re willing to use eARC for Dolby Atmos, your television to have to be Atmos compatible, and any AV components (such as streaming devices or Blu-ray players) you plan to use Atmos with will all need to be connected to your TV’s HDMI inputs.
In terms of design, it’s a great example of “different strokes for different people.” The Beam will likely satisfy the vast majority of casual-to-heavy movie buffs and gamers, while the Arc will satisfy die-hard home theater buffs. So, let’s call this category an equality.
Sonos has a great track record of super-simple setup, and with the addition of Near Field Communication (NFC) for the Beam and Arc, getting started couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is plug in both soundbars for power, download and launch the Sonos app on your mobile device, and using NFC, simply tap your iOS device against the top of the soundbar to add to your Sonos system.
Note that we only called iOS devices. Yes, you will be able to download the Sonos app and set up your soundbar using Android gear, but the process becomes a lot less transparent. For starters, this NFC capability won’t work, requiring just a few more simple steps to add either soundbar to your Sonos network.
The real disappointment, however, is missing out on the iOS-only Trueplay feature, which uses your iPhone or iPad’s microphones to calibrate your Sonos soundbar to your listening environment. while you box borrow someone else’s iPhone to use Trueplay (the settings will be saved to your network), it’s a bit of a pain to have to summon an additional device to do this.
When it comes to room-filling sound, the Sono Beam and Sonos Arc set the bar high for performance.
The Sonos Beam is equipped with a single tweeter, four woofers (two front, two curved and side) and three passive radiators. As far as overall sound staging goes, the Beam is near perfect for most conventional listening spaces, including living rooms, entertainment dens, and even some larger bedrooms.
Mids and highs are well-balanced and bold, and there’s plenty of low-end detail too (although some will still want to invest in a subwoofer like the Sonos Sub Mini). Most importantly, the Beam’s dialogue sound is made clear and central, ticking the box for one of the most important criteria for watching movies and shows.
The Beam does a great job of simulating Dolby Atmos virtualization: pitch-based audio for Atmos-encoded movies and shows. Keep in mind, however, that this is not a true Atmos system, and while the Beam strives for the kind of immersion that something like a 5.1.2 arrangement offers, it only gets so close.
But in terms of pure audio, how does the Beam compare to the much larger Sonos Arc?
Well, for starters, the Arc cradles 11 powerful speakers (two of which are angled upwards for high-firing sound), three tweeters and eight curved woofers. Just on paper it’s a much heavier audio system, and in execution the deliverables match the specs. The Arc provides the kind of earth-shattering sound that will have you wondering how a bar without a subwoofer can achieve this level of sonic staging.
The low end is rich and punchy, and the articulation of the mids and highs is wide but balanced. While the Beam does a great job of capturing the middle-of-the-road Sonos experience (caught between the non-Atmos Sonos Ray and the prolific Sonos Arc), if you’re looking for as close a surround experience as possible (especially those of us avid from Atmos), and have the real estate to play with, the Arc is the sound you’ve been looking for.
Winner: Sonos Arc
Sonos Beam and Arc are more than your traditional soundbar. As part of the feature-rich Sonos lineup, you’ll be able to use the Sonos app to control and further customize your listening experience with both speakers. This includes built-in music streaming capabilities from a number of different platforms (including Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, etc.), audio zoning (the ability to have a number of built-in Sonos speakers to play the same source, or have each speaker play a different source) and voice assistant support for Alexa, Google Assistant, and Sonos’ voice control feature.
Additionally, iOS users will be able to stream audio from a mobile device to the Beam and Arc using AirPlay 2. And if you’re looking to add even more punch to your surround sound simulation , you can also use the app to add and link additional Sonos gear (including subwoofers and surround speakers) to the Beam and Arc as well.
Price and warranty
In terms of value, the Beam and Arc are more expensive soundbar offerings that aren’t exactly budget-friendly. The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) currently sells for $449 and includes a one-year limited warranty. The Sonos Arc is much more expensive, selling for $899, and comes with the same one-year warranty.
Of course, the Sonos Arc offers a lot bigger audio experience than the Beam, but since most people will be happy with the latter’s room-filling sound and Atmos capabilities, we’ll award the Beam a point for this category.
Winner: Sonos Beam
It’s a draw for this audio war session. If you need a solid soundbar that punches above its weight class, especially when it comes to Dolby Atmos, the Sonos Beam more than gets the job done. But if money is less of an issue and you’re looking for one of the most powerful soundbars around with room-filling Atmos sound, we wouldn’t hesitate to point you to the Sonos Arc.
A very comforting starting thought is that when you buy Sonos, big or small, you know you’re investing in an audio product that will sound great for years to come.
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