When I first received a Sonos Playbar two and a half years in the past, I used to be so enamoured with the simplicity of the wi-fi streaming soundbar, I instantly removed my current residence cinema system.
Out went the AV receiver and the separate audio system, related to one another with a spider’s internet of cables; in got here a SUB and Play:three speaker for surrounds, all speaking to one another wirelessly.
But lounge audio has gone by way of one other main evolution within the intervening years. Voice assistants assist you to ditch the distant controls and communicate to your units, whereas Apple AirPlay means you’ll be able to beam music to your audio system with out even utilizing an app.
As good because the Sonos Playbar sounds, it’s began to really feel as if it’s overdue an improve.
Enter Sonos’ new soundbar, Beam. Beam isn’t a lot a alternative for Playbar, however extra of a brand new entry degree product for individuals who wish to improve their lounge sound with a product that’s easy to make use of and helps the most recent options we’ve come to anticipate from sensible residence units.
But given its far more compact dimension, does it have the sound high quality we’ve come to anticipate from Sonos?
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Design: Curvy couture
The authentic Sonos Playbar is a monolithic rectangle of a speaker – so large that it actually wants its personal shelf in your TV rack.
Conversely, the Sonos Beam has been designed to sit down beneath your TV on the identical shelf – in lots of instances, it might even be capable to slip in between the legs of the stand.
Take our check TV, for instance – Philips’ attractive 55-inch Ambilight OLED, the 55POS9002. At 8.5cm tall, Playbar cuts off the underside of the image when positioned instantly underneath the TV.
At 6.9cm, Beam doesn’t block any of the picture, that means it mainly disappears when watching TV. As lengthy as your TV is over 30-inches, which most lounge TVs are, then Sonos claims it would sit comfortably beneath with out blocking the picture.
Because Beam is designed for use this fashion, Sonos has positioned the buttons on the highest of the gadget, that means it’s a lot simpler to manage than Playbar, which had them on the facet. They’re touch-sensitive reasonably than bodily buttons, permitting you to play/pause, management the amount, and switch the mic on and off.
Beam can be far more modern-looking than Playbar, following within the design footsteps of the newer Play:5 and Playbase. It has rounded edges, brushed plastic alongside the highest, and a soft-to-the-touch “sock” that goes all the best way across the gadget.
It’s additionally out there in each black and white so you’ll be able to determine what works greatest along with your lounge.
Performance: Punching above its weight
When it involves sound high quality, larger is usually higher, as a bigger housing often means extra sound-generating parts with extra space to breathe.
On paper, that doesn’t sound promising for Beam. It’s 60 per cent smaller than Playbar, has 4 woofers reasonably than six, one tweeter reasonably than three, and 5 digital amplifiers reasonably than 9.
It’s comprehensible, then, that there’s undoubtedly a efficiency distinction between the 2 merchandise. But, given one prices £399 and the opposite prices £699, it’s not as marked as you may anticipate.
In truth, it’s really fairly tough to inform the distinction between the 2 merchandise side-by-side at regular quantity ranges.
It’s solely whenever you’re cranking the music up previous 80 per cent on Beam that you just discover the bass lacks the punch and the vocals lack the readability of Playbar.
Given that value distinction, it’s Beam that’s simpler to advocate for most individuals. Playbar prices almost twice as a lot as Beam, however doesn’t sound twice nearly as good.
Once you add a Sonos SUB (£699) into the combo, which matches a protracted strategy to rectifying Beam’s low-end oomph, it’s even more durable to inform the distinction between the 2 merchandise.
For most individuals taking a look at a Sonos soundbar, you’d be significantly better beginning with Beam after which including a SUB later as you broaden your house cinema setup.
Connectivity: Noah’s ARC
Given Sonos’ sells itself because the “wi-fi residence sound system”, it’s no shock to search out that there aren’t many connections on Beam. Around the again of the gadget, there’s only a figure-of-Eight energy enter, wired ethernet connector and HDMI socket.
This is HDMI’s first look on a Sonos product, and it displays how AV connectivity has modified in the previous couple of years.
Whereas Playbar had an optical enter which was merely a one-way audio connection, Beam helps ARC, which suggests Beam can speak to your tv and vice versa. This means you should utilize your TV distant to manage quantity on Beam, whereas Beam can flip your TV on and off.
This implies that you’re going to want a TV that helps ARC – most large manufacturers have completed so since 2010 or so – and have a spare HDMI socket on the again of it.
This was a small drawback for us, as we had a satellite tv for pc field, a media participant and a few video games consoles taking on the 4 ports on our check TV. Thankfully you’ll be able to decide up an HDMI swap for a few quid in the event you’re struggling.
Once plugged in, it’s very simple to arrange – the Sonos app instantly recognised we had been utilizing a Philips TV, and gave directions on the right way to activate ARC within the settings. And in the event you’re utilizing an previous TV that doesn’t help ARC, then you’ll be able to nonetheless use the included optical adaptor.
Another small change on Beam is that it doesn’t have a second ethernet port like Playbar – one thing that’s solely going to be a ache for hardwiring SUB homeowners who additionally wish to hardwire the Beam to their router.
For absolute stability, or for households with patchy wi-fi, utilizing wired over wi-fi is really helpful, however we’ve by no means had any hassle with Sonos’ wi-fi connectivity. It’s additionally lower than £20 for a wired swap if want be.
Features: Beam me up
While Beam can’t fairly match Playbar in relation to sound high quality, it blows its older brother out of the water in relation to options. Beam is filled with fashionable tech from a built-in voice assistant to new streaming requirements and the flexibility to speak to your TV.
Let’s begin with the headline characteristic: voice help. Beam launches with Amazon Alexa built-in, and can help Google Assistant sooner or later in future (though don’t maintain your breath – it’s been a very long time coming and nonetheless doesn’t have a launch date at time of review).
Once you’ve up to date the Sonos app in your cellular gadget and linked Beam to your Alexa app, you’re good to go.
Almost something you are able to do with different Alexa units you are able to do with Beam – ask her for the climate, the information headlines or her favorite member of The Beatles, and he or she’ll obligingly provide you with a solution.
Not each Skill works simply but – resembling voice calling – however we anticipate newer options will filter by way of with time.
The smartest thing about having Alexa baked in, in fact, is enjoying music utilizing your voice. Simply ask Alexa to play music by Leon Bridges, or BBC Radio 4, or a playlist on Amazon Music and he or she’ll fortunately serve it proper as much as your Beam.
The aforementioned ARC help additionally means Alexa can management your TV, so you’ll be able to say issues like “flip off the TV” or “flip it up” to manage the amount.
If you’re absolutely purchased into Amazon’s ecosystem and have a Fire TV gadget, you may also request TV programmes and flicks too, saying “present me motion pictures starring Tom Cruise” or “play Stranger Things”.
Using this setup, you’ll be able to just about eradicate the necessity for a conventional TV distant. It’s fairly cool.
Thankfully, the 5 far-field microphones on Beam do a very good job of choosing up the management phrase “Alexa” over the noise of music or TV exhibits. Sure, you’ll want to shout it a bit when you get previous 80 per cent quantity ranges, however we didn’t encounter any intelligibility errors in testing.
It’s higher than even Amazon’s personal Echo units. However, it’s value noting that current Sonos residence cinema customers needn’t purchase a Beam simply to get Alexa – you’ll be able to add a £50 Echo Dot to your lounge to attain all the similar options other than TV management. But it’s good having it multi function gadget.
If you’re an Apple gadget person, you then’re going to like AirPlay 2 help. It means that you would be able to sidestep Sonos’ app and play no matter’s popping out of your telephone on Beam, whether or not it’s music, audiobooks or one thing on YouTube.
It’s all the time been a little bit finicky enjoying music in Sonos’ app, so this can be a welcome new characteristic for Apple customers.
The solely difficulty we discovered was getting Apple’s Home app to search out the Sonos Beam so we may use Siri to manage what was enjoying on it, however we anticipate this to be ironed out for launch.
Again, it’s value mentioning that current Sonos residence cinema homeowners will get Airplay if they’ve a Playbase, or add Sonos One or Play:5 (gen 2) audio system as rears.
Sonos Beam verdict
Sonos’ residence cinema gear has all the time been a little bit costly, however with Beam, it’s created a terrific worth soundbar.
It sounds ace, comes with a great deal of options, and is compact sufficient to suit into the common lounge AV setup with out taking up.
If you need the very best sounding system then Playbar or Playbase are nonetheless the merchandise to go for, however they’re much more cash, they don’t have Alexa, and so they don’t management your TV in the identical slick method as Beam does.
As it stands, Sonos Beam is simple to advocate for anybody who loves watching TV, and a high-value intro to the good world of Sonos residence audio.
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