The Sonos Beam is a smaller, cheaper TV speaker, complete with some notable additions to its spec sheet - namely an HDMI input and Alexa voice control.
Support for Apple AirPlay 2 streaming and Apple's Siri voice control will also feature, though you will also be able to enjoy those features on some existing Sonos speakers.
Sonos says it wants to help people "listen better", offering an affordable upgrade on devices that it says weren't built for the purpose of delivering great sound for both movies and TV as well as streaming music. Can the Beam deliver the goods? Read on for our first impressions.
Build and design
Sonos bills the Beam as a "3-in-1" proposition, marrying great audio with voice control and compact dimensions. And it's certainly hard to argue on that last premise.
The Sonos Beam measures 65cm wide x 10cm deep x 6.85cm high, and weighs just 2.8kg. This makes it around 60% smaller by volume than the Playbar. By comparison, the Playbar is 90cm wide, while the Playbase is 72cm.
There are capacative touch controls atop the soundbar allowing you to select volume up/down, previous/next track, play/pause and microphone mute. An LED on the Beam will indicate the soundbar's status, mute status and voice feedback. Around the back you'll find the HDMI input, Ethernet port, power connection and a pairing button.
Available in Sonos' familiar black and white finishes, the Beam certainly looks every bit like a Sonos product, which is no bad thing.
It's small, light and it's hard to imagine it not fitting into your living-room - perhaps unlike the bigger Sonos TV speakers, which certainly need a lot more room. Is your TV on the wall? You can wall-mount the Sonos Beam, too.
Inside are four full-range drivers, one tweeter and three passive radiators, plus five class-D amplifiers. As on the Playbar and Playbase, the drivers and radiators are positioned not just along the front but also on the far edges of the bar, helping to drive sound around your room for that immersive, room-filling sound.
You can turn the mics off and, with the increasing focus on data security in the wider technology world, Sonos is happy to point out that it isn't “in the business of selling data and never will be”.
If you're reading this, you're almost certainly aware of what Sonos is all about - if you're not, you could read our complete guide to Sonos - and the Beam ticks all the boxes when it comes to the basic Sonos functions.
It's a wireless, multi-room speaker that can play music from Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and pretty much any streaming music service on the market. It can also talk to any other Sonos products you have in your home. It can connect to your TV, too, and deal with TV and movie sound.
While the existing Sonos TV speakers - the Playbar and Playbase - only offer a digital optical connection, the Beam has HDMI (there's an optical adapter if you want to use optical here). It's an HDMI ARC (audio return channel) connection, which means it can sync audio and video, and control your TV (as long as your television supports CEC, consumer electronics control).
Thanks to voice support on the Sonos Beam this means you can turn on your TV and adjust the volume with voice commands, which is pretty smart.
Just as Sonos wants to be platform agnostic when it comes to music services, it promises to support all available voice assistants. Amazon Alexa is on board at launch, while Siri will arrive with a wider Sonos AirPlay 2 update just in time for the July launch. Sonos says it's working on Google Assistant integration, too.
Amazon Alexa brings extra functionality, and adding a Fire TV device allows for even more commands to be powered by the Sonos Beam, such as starting specific programmes on supported streaming services ("Alexa, play Stranger Things" will start the show on Netflix on the Fire TV, for example).
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More after the break
Much like the Playbar and Playbase, you can connect two smaller Sonos speakers to act as rear speakers in a cinema system or add a Sonos Sub.
Sonos hasn't upgraded the audio codec support, however, so it's PCM stereo, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital 5.1, with no support for DTS or lossless audio formats. Sonos points to content support and user demand when it comes to DTS, saying it's confident Dolby Digital surround sound is sufficient for the vast majority of people.
There's also no Dolby Atmos support here, with Giles Martin, Sonos's sound experience leader, effectively saying it was overkill for such a small speaker, while also suggesting existing Atmos soundbars on the market weren't really delivering Atmos sound to a quality level that Sonos would be happy with. In truth, it's easy to agree Atmos on a speaker this size isn't really what Atmos is about, even if it is nice to see these new sound formats on spec sheets.
Sonos' Trueplay room equalisation technology is here, allowing the Beam to tailor its sound to your room, and there's a Night Mode so you can binge on one more episode without disturbing the rest of the house.
Sonos has naturally taken learnings from the Playbar and Playbase to focus the design and build on delivering the best audio quality possible. But there are always compromises, not least when it comes to making things smaller and cheaper.
Pushed on the differences in sound, Hilmar Lenhart, director of audio systems engineering at Sonos, said: "The Beam has a little less output, and doesn't go quite as deep or quite as wide as Playbar and Playbase." Perhaps unsurprisingly, we came to a similar conclusion from our brief demo.
Sonos has aimed for an open, unblemished midrange with the Beam. This is great for music but arguably even more crucial when it comes to TV shows and movies, where being able to hear the dialogue is crucial - and not always a given, not least with modern flatscreen TVs.
Listening to a track by Leon Bridges, vocals are clean and clear. The LCR (left, centre, right) array - rather than just left and right - makes for a focused delivery, and there's plenty of detail in his voice. It's also apparent the Beam can go pretty loud, even if the treble threatens to sound a little bright (the makeshift demo room doesn't help so we'll reserve judgement, though we did have a similar gripe with the Playbase).
Radiohead's Reckoner has jangly drums that jump around the soundstage and the Beam does a good job of placing them all accuarately without sounding splashy or confused. There's a real sense of space, too, with impressive breadth to the sound considering the compact chassis.
We switch to movies and again dialogue is a focus. A moody scene from Westworld shows the Beam can deliver speech with clarity while still adding enough weight to give Anthony Hopkins' character the necessary gravitas.
We do notice a slight sync issue with the dialogue in this clip, but as with previous models, the audio delay can be adjusted in the settings.
A Wall-E demo shows how the Sonos Beam can sweep sounds around the room, from left to right and even front to back, and while we can imagine we'd get a bigger, more room-filling sound from more expensive rivals, it's leagues ahead of what you get from the average TV.
The final demo not only calls two Sonos One speakers into play as rear surrounds, it also showcases how an Alexa command can set the mood. "Alexa, it's movie time" dims the lights (which must also be connected and Alexa-compatible) while also selecting the film and video service. That said, we can't help but notice how, "Alex, start movie time" doesn't work. It appears that precise commands are still required here.
Adding rear channels adds a subtle step change in the sense of scale but the excellent clip, from Arrival, gives a good impression of tension and drama with a fair amount of power. It doesn't seem to sound as solid nor go as deep in the bass as some similarly-priced speakers we've heard but Sonos would perhaps say that's the trade-off for the size and clarity.
Sonos is proud of its agnostic approach when it comes to music services and voice platforms, aiming to simply support all of them to give the consumer choice. This outlook now seems to apply to its hardware, too - there's a Sonos product for every person, and every use case.
The Sonos Beam aims to fill a hole in living rooms where a full-size soundbar or soundbase is too big or too costly. And while it's not the first speaker of this size to try and do TV sound and music, it's undoubtedly one of the best-specified.
The addition of an HDMI input, voice control and Apple AirPlay 2, plus that more affordable price tag, not to mention all the standard Sonos smarts, make the Sonos Beam a compelling package. While some may have hoped for Dolby Atmos from a new Sonos soundbar, or even DTS, the company's logic around its feature choices does seem sound enough, though it will of course leave some disappointed.
Most importantly, based on our brief first impressions, Sonos doesn't appear to have taken its eye off the audio quality, even in a smaller, more affordable product. We look forward to getting our hands on a Sonos Beam for a full review very soon.
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