Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review: More immersive sound into the same great design

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Sonos kicked off the year with its most affordable product yet — the portable $179 Roam — and now we have the next generation of its entry-level soundbar. Generation two of the Beam doesn’t change much, but it still cements itself as a powerful option for booming rich sound across music, radio, TV shows and movies.

And like other Sonos products, it keeps a simple setup and intuitive controls. It’s also getting a $50 price increase along with a minor redesign, more processing chops, a better HDMI port and Dolby Atmos support. We’ve spent over a week with one and have been tirelessly taking in content — much to our neighbors’ disappointment — to see how much better the new Beam is.

To quote President Skroob from “Spaceballs,” let’s figure out this beaming stuff.

More immersive sound in a familiar build

If you’re looking for a connected soundbar that doesn’t bore you with wires, demanding setups or painful interactions to get it working, the Beam is a terrific option. For $449, it’ll sound a hell of a lot better than your TV, act as a connected speaker and deliver a rich, powerful punch of sound.

Who this is for: The Sonos Beam is an excellent choice for those who want bold, rich sound with plenty of smarts in a relatively small build for $449.

What you need to know: The new Beam is nearly identical to the original Beam, with the same speaker hardware inside and a very similar design. That being said, if you have the first Beam there isn’t really a need to immediately upgrade. Beam generation two focuses on more immersive sound and features Dolby Atmos. Its clearer and richer audio is placed more appropriately around you for 3D sound.

How this compares: The Sonos Beam is likely more than enough for those who want an improvement over the sound your TV can produce with a boatload of extra smarts. For $449 it casts a wide soundstage that adds depth to almost any mix. In comparison to our overall pick — the $179 Roku Streambar Pro — the sound is better, with more clarity around dialogue, and doesn’t blend a packed audio track together. Roku’s option doesn’t feature Dolby Atmos, but it does double as a 4K streaming player.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Unlike the flagship Arc, the Sonos Beam is downright pint-size at just 25.6 inches long and just under 4 inches in depth. And if those dimensions sound familiar, it’s because the build is identical to the original Beam. It’s still a long oval-like design with rounded edges on the left and right sides. You’ll find volume up, volume down, play or pause, a microphone mute and an LED indicator centered on the top.

It’s a pretty sturdy build all around that’s derived from polycarbonate materials. And that’s the design change — it trades mesh sides for plastic ones. It makes the Beam feel a bit more rugged and modern. Sound is still pushed out and generated through the sides and there are a plethora of drilled holes and circles that let that sound through. It’s now in line with the build quality of the larger and longer Arc soundbar.

Like every other Sonos product, you can get Beam in white or black. We’ve been testing the latter and it’s a lovely shade that blends easily into any space. The Sonos logo is built into the front grille and fades quickly into the black background. The top of the Beam is still slightly dipped in, which adds a little flair and makes it easy to use the capacitive touch buttons. The Roam still stands as the only Sonos product with physical and tactile controls.

The rear of Sonos Beam Gen 2 is where all the ports and a pairing button live. You’ll plug it in on the back for power, connect it to a TV via the HDMI eARC port and an Ethernet port for a hardwired connection. The HDMI eARC port is the other physical change between generation one and two. It’s a newer port that will give this soundbar a longer shelf life.

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So how does this look under a TV? Well, it’s pretty tiny and dwarfed by 65-inch and larger TVs — especially with a Sony A90J that sits flat on a surface. The Beam is right at home with 55-inch models and smaller.

It’s also a bit taller than some other competing soundbars in this size range at 2.72 inches. This is an important factor if you end up resting it directly in front of a TV with minimal height off the home entertainment cabinet, dresser or table it lives on. The Beam can also easily be wall mounted with a range of third-party options.

Similarly, the internal hardware powering the sound is identical. Sonos Beam leads with a center tweeter, four woofers, three radiators and five class-D amplifiers. The change with sound, though, is from a new processor and software tricks. Essentially the Beam now has five speaker arrays against the three found in the original. And each of these is processing for audio and how the Beam can present it — the two new arrays focus on sound placement, specifically at higher heights and surround sound. This is the software magic that brings Dolby Atmos — a proprietary mix for more immersive audio — to the Beam.

Keep in mind, though, there aren’t physical speakers that point upward on this soundbar, which is usually a vital part of a setup for Dolby. Though after a week, we’re feeling more immersed, and it’s thanks to the Sonos software — a big part of this product and the broader ecosystem.

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Here’s just how quickly you can set up the Sonos Beam — it’s much faster than calling tech support, and we’d hedge quicker than making a sandwich.

  • You’ll need to download the Sonos S2 app and create an account or log in to your account.
  • Find a spot for the Beam, give it power and connect the included HDMI cable to your TV.
  • Open the app and bring your phone close to the Beam when prompted. It will use near-field communication (NFC) for a quick pairing; this is new in generation two.
  • Follow the on-screen prompts and you’ll be quickly underway.

Our only qualm is that it won’t automatically complete audio tuning for the room. Sonos calls this TruePlay, and while the $899 Arc will do it on its own, you’ll need to pull out your iOS device to complete TruePlay on Beam. And yes, it’s still iOS only (iPhone or iPad), so Android users are out of luck and will need to use the equalizer in the application to customize the experience. For $449, it would have been a nice touch to have this done automatically. The tuning process consists of walking around your space with your iPhone upside down so that microphones can hear the pings from the Beam. It’s essentially mapping the audio for your space and takes a few minutes.

After that, you’re officially good to go and the Beam is a part of your broader Sonos ecosystem if you have other products. It could also be your first Sonos product and the start of a system. Either way, all those components will live in the app, and Sonos makes it easy to corral your streaming services together.

While the Beam is connected to your TV via HDMI, it’s also a connected smart soundbar. Thanks to built-in microphones, it can also act as an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant smart speaker — you’ll decide within the Sonos app. And the Beam is quite responsive and just as fast as any other connected smart speaker.

And as we’ve said before, Sonos is really the ultimate for multi-room audio. Since all the speakers are connected, you can easily create groups from within the apps and send tracks or playback to specific rooms. Even different songs from the same source across those spaces. It’s nifty.

If you don’t want to control it with the Sonos app, the Beam supports Apple’s AirPlay 2 standard for easy casting from an iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac or Apple Watch. It’s also a great way to broadcast sound to a HomePod, HomePod Mini and Sonos speakers at the same time. In our testing, it’s easy to group and play audio in this fashion, with playback starting in about a second or two. Just be careful with volume, since Sonos at 50% is likely different from another speaker at 50%.

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As we expected, the Sonos Beam sounds really good, and it’s roughly on par with the original Beam. Audio tracks along with TV shows or movies sound richer, clearer and a bit more in focus. It all adds up to a balanced mix that is really enjoyable to listen to. It’s classic Sonos with more accuracy.

The biggest change is a wider soundstage, which gives off the effect that you can hear more within a given track. A larger orchestral track has more of the elements — aka instruments — front and center, but also spread out throughout the room. A denser track like “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen lets you hear the varying instruments: Guitar, bass, saxophone, piano, drums and vocals all have a spotlight. With “Hesitate” by the Jonas Brothers, you can hear the transition between mid to high vocals along with a deep bass line in the back with various instruments on top.

The Beam can also easily fill a room to the point that we’re pretty sure it pissed off our neighbors several times during our testing. It doesn’t go as far or get as loud as the Arc, which was room-shaking, but at full blast Beam can raise the hairs on your arms.

The other big addition is more processing power for Dolby Atmos mixing, when the content is made for it. Big motion blockbusters like “Star Wars” and “Avengers” get this special mix, and the whole point is to put you in the middle of the action. With a typical 5.1 system, you have rear speakers, front speakers and a physical bass unit. The Sonos Beam uses software and really mind tricks you (not unlike the Jedi mind tricks in “Star Wars”) to place sound around you. There are no up-firing speakers, which makes the task a bit more difficult.

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Sonos has managed to at least take us a step in the direction of audio immersion, and honestly for most people it gets the job done. The result is more immersion when watching content. In an episode of “The Mandalorian” on Disney+, you’ll hear and see the Razorcrest zoom past you. With “WandaVision,” the positional sound matches the visuals of a world expanding to create a sense of immersion. Similarly in “Avengers: Endgame,” the climatic ending is felt in full force to a degree that goes past a regular old soundbar or TV speakers.

It’s seriously impressive, but not quite as good as a traditional system from the likes of Sony or pairing the Beam with two Sonos One SL speakers ($199 each) and a Sub ($749). That will give you a system that has the physical hardware, but most will not need that. When the time comes, though, it’s a big benefit of Sonos in that you can feel free to grow the system when the time is right for you.

So with all that beaming done, it’s fair to say that Sonos Beam does punch above its weight. It’s not a complete redesign or even a radical change; Sonos is still delivering pretty remarkable sound from a pint-size soundbar that can now place that audio in different ways around you.

If you have an original Beam, there’s not an immediate reason to upgrade. And we’d recommend not getting it solely for the Dolby Atmos feature — you can get more mileage from the likes of a cheaper soundbar plus two rears and sub setup.

But if you’re looking for a connected soundbar that doesn’t bore you with wires, demanding setups or painful interactions to get it working, the Beam is a terrific option. For $449, it’ll sound a hell of a lot better than your TV, act as a connected speaker and deliver a rich, powerful punch of sound. It’s a delight and, for many, will deliver a next-level experience. It’s not outpacing the Sonos Arc, though.