Hands-On Review: The 2nd Generation Sonos Beam

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When I was asked to test the new 2nd Generation Sonos Beam, I was excited to see how much soundbar technology has advanced since my last review. With its short width, I was concerned it wouldn’t offer as broad a soundstage as my soundbar or the soundbar I reviewed a couple of years ago―which was a 5.1-channel soundbar system―but as you’ll read, I had nothing to worry about. Whether through driver design, positioning, or other technology, the soundstage of the Beam is much broader than I expected.

Setup

As is customary for Sonos, setup was amazingly easy. When I opened the box, I found the soundbar enclosed in cloth and sealed with a sticker. Eager to get it set up, I ripped open the sticker and unfolded the cloth to find the pristine sheen of the white soundbar. Black is also available, if you prefer; if this is my only complaint (spoiler alert: it is), then I’m still a happy camper.

The soundbar has three rear ports: HDMI eARC/ARC, Ethernet, and power. An HDMI cable and a power cord are included, as is an optical-to-HDMI adapter in case your TV doesn’t support eARC or ARC. The color of the cables matches the color of the soundbar. The adapter is black, but at just a few inches long, it won’t be seen if you’re using it.

I used the HDMI cable that was already connected to my TV for my soundbar, ran the power cord, and opened the Sonos app. The app found the soundbar immediately, then asked me to tap my phone to the soundbar to copy my network information via NFC, then started the software update process, which took about two minutes.

Once the update was complete, I went through the Sonos app to program it for my living room. I selected the Google Assistant as my voice assistant, since that’s what I use on my Sonos One, and my Google Home app automatically opened, prompting me to activate it for the new device. (You could also use Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri if you prefer. Siri is not integrated into the Beam, but compatibility is provided via your HomeKit-enabled devices.)

Sound Quality and Design

I don’t typically discuss these two attributes together, but there are a few tenets of sound quality that Sonos seems to flaunt, if not altogether break. In particular, it’s generally believed that a wider soundbar―or wider placement of a pair of speakers―creates a wider soundstage. The Beam is 25.6" wide, which is considerably shorter than my 40" soundbar, and somehow, the width of the sound didn’t suffer in the least. In fact, on the left-to-right axis, I didn’t notice a difference in the soundstage at all, either for stereo audio like TV shows and music or for movie sound effects.

Speaking of movie sound effects, Sonos added Dolby Atmos compatibility (for use with TVs with eARC compatibility; optical connectivity maxes out at 5.1 channels) when designing the 2nd Gen Beam versus the original Beam. (Dolby Atmos allows for up-firing sound effects to be accurately simulated, making it seem like sounds that should be heard above you, actually are. A helicopter flying overhead really sounds like it’s above you. This adds a virtual third dimension to the soundstage, helping you feel like you’re sitting in the scene.) I watched a few minutes of Outside the Wire on Netflix and was very impressed at how the Beam was able to place effects along the vertical axis as well as the left/right axis. Sound effects like gunshots and explosions accurately seemed to emanate from where the on-screen visual source was, creating a more immersive experience than I expected.

Another key attribute for soundbars is their dialogue clarity. As a 3-channel soundbar, the Beam has a dedicated center channel built in. Dialogue was clear for everything I watched, regardless of ongoing sound effects. Additionally, bass was much more powerful than I expected, though not overpowering. At no point did I feel the need to adjust the EQ (which would’ve been done via the Sonos app) for any reason. Additionally, I didn’t notice any lip-sync delay, though there’s an easy-to-find adjustment for that in the app.

Exceptional sound all around

As positive as my experience was with the sound quality of the Beam, I imagine it would’ve been even better if I had an iOS device with which I could’ve used Trueplay technology to tune the soundbar. My living room is open to other rooms on both the left and right side, but that didn’t seem to affect the soundstage negatively.

Another benefit for iOS users is multiroom playback via AirPlay 2. If you have an existing AirPlay 2 ecosystem, the Beam can be integrated into it as easily as it was into my Google Home.

One physical design feature that it took me a few days to notice, despite having set up the soundbar myself, is the curved top panel. It has a bit of a concave design that catches your eye if you look directly at it, yet it doesn’t pull your eye away from the TV. And speaking of things that can pull your eye away from the TV, you can turn off the status light on the soundbar via the Sonos app; if you also turn off the onboard microphone via the touch button on top of the soundbar, there won’t be any light emitted from the soundbar at all.

Ease of Use

As I already mentioned, Sonos made the setup process very easy. Thanks to CEC compatibility, volume was controlled via my TV’s remote. The app enables you to adjust the treble and bass, lip-sync delay, and volume limit, which would be handy if there are kids in the house that like to test the max volume―which I never did, because it was certainly loud enough in every situation. If you have a multi-room setup, there’s also an option in the app to adjust the group audio delay. If you plan on setting up an expanded system with compatible rear speakers and a Sub, the options to do so are also easy to find in the Sonos app.

Final Words

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. The Beam has a very sleek design, but you simply can’t tell how good it sounds just by looking at it. The adage of wider driver spacing providing a wider soundstage simply isn’t true anymore. Whether Sonos achieved it with careful driver placement, tuning, psychoacoustic technologies, or a combination of the three, the soundstage created by the Beam is far larger than its 25.6" width. In fact, the soundstage produced by the Beam reminded me of that of the Sonos Arc. If you’re considering a soundbar purchase, the Beam absolutely deserves to be part of the conversation; if the Arc is on your list but you have space limitations due to its 45" width, the Beam is a worthy alternative.

They also say seeing―or hearing, in this case―is believing. Ask the advice of the friendly, knowledgeable salespeople via phone at 800-606-6969, chat, or email.

Are you looking for a new soundbar? Are there any specific features about the Beam that pique your interest? Let us know in the Comments section, below, and join the conversation.

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