Our love of the Sonos Beam is far from a secret. It’s been a worthy winner in its What Hi-Fi Awards category three years in a row, impressing with the quality of its sound, diminutive design and aggressive price tag.
Given its tried and tested prowess, it’s no wonder that the official announcement of its successor and direct replacement, the Sonos Beam Gen 2, has caused quite the stir. Despite returning in a seemingly identical package, the Gen 2 has an impressive collection of new tricks up its sleeve, most notably support for Dolby Atmos, as well as eARC connectivity and enhanced processing power.
While we haven’t yet had the pleasure of going ears-on with the new Sonos Beam Gen 2 (pre-orders begin on 14th September with availability from 5th October), we can still compare its design and features with the original Beam, to see how things could potentially stack up.
With all that in mind, let’s see how the OG stacks up against its fresh-faced, eager usurper.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 vs Sonos Beam: price
At its launch in 2018, the Sonos Beam was £399 / $399 / AU$599. Today you can snap it up a bit cheaper — John Lewis in the UK, for example, is currently offering it for £379, making it an even more compelling choice for those looking for the best budget soundbar around.
In contrast, the new Sonos Beam Gen 2 has a noticeably more expensive launch price of £449 / $449 / AU$699. Obviously we know which one of the two models your wallet is going to prefer, but given the extra features that the Gen 2 has, it might be more than a little sensible to fork out the extra cash for some all-important future-proofing.
If you do fancy saving some money and want the still-excellent original Beam, you'd best act fast because it's officially been discontinued. Who knows how long the stock will last?
Sonos Beam Gen 2 vs Sonos Beam: design
At first glance the Beam Gen 2 and original Beam appear to be identical. Featuring the same 6.9 x 65 x 10cm dimensions, 2.8kg weight, and capacitive controls built into the top, you’d be hard pressed to spot a difference.
Peer a little closer, however, and you’ll notice that there is one significant cosmetic change: while the Beam features a fabric speaker grille, the Beam Gen 2 apes the more premium Arc with a polycarbonate grille with precise perforations.
Which one you prefer will be down to personal preference, but we imagine that the fabric grille could look and feel a little more premium. Having said that, the newer polycarbonate grille will make it easier to clean, as well as being less susceptible to wear over time.
As with the original Beam, the Beam Gen 2 will also be available in both black and white, but this time you also get appropriately coloured power and HDMI cables to match.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 vs Sonos Beam: features
This is where the differences between the two Beam models become more significant. Let’s kick off with Dolby Atmos support — the Beam Gen 2 has it (thanks, in part, to a CPU that’s 40% more powerful), while the original Beam doesn’t — opening up the door for a more immersive audio experience.
In addition, the new Beam Gen 2 will also land with eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) connectivity. The main benefit of eARC is its substantial boost in bandwidth and speed compared to that found in regular ARC connections – it means that Dolby Atmos signals can be delivered in the advanced Dolby TrueHD format, rather than the Dolby Digital+ format to which standard ARC is limited.
Truth be told, that's likely not a huge benefit here, as all streaming services currently deliver Atmos in Dolby Digital+ anyway, but if you also use a 4K Blu-ray player you might appreciate knowing that your soundbar is capable of handling its full-fat Atmos signal. Whether you'll actually be able to tell the difference via an affordable device such as this is another matter entirely.
Elsewhere, other features remain the same, including support for Sonos’ TruePlay room calibration via the Sonos S2 app, which also allows you to adjust treble and bass, and access the Loudness, Night Sound and Speech Enhancement features. Apple AirPlay 2 support remains, too, as well as built-in smart assistants in the form of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
While some people will be disappointed to note that there’s still no HDMI passthrough in the Gen 2, Sonos insists that resisting having multiple HDMI inputs and sticking to a single ARC/eARC connection keeps things as simple as possible, though we suspect that keeping costs down is also probably a factor.
On the subject of simplicity, the Beam Gen 2 also gains NFC so that you can tap your phone to initialise the wi-fi setup.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 vs Sonos Beam: sound
It’s obviously impossible to categorically state whether or not the Beam Gen 2 sounds better than the Beam without having tested the newer model ourselves. We can, though, have a closer look at the newer features the Gen 2 brings to the table, which can provide an idea of what we can realistically expect ahead of our in-depth review.
As mentioned, Dolby Atmos is one of the Beam Gen 2’s biggest draws. It’s able to support Atmos (in both Digital+ and TrueHD formats), despite sharing the same core acoustic architecture as its predecessor. Sonos has managed this by combining the newer, faster processor with radically improved speaker arrays.
For comparison, the Gen 2 has five speaker arrays compared to the three found in the original Beam. These two new arrays are dedicated to sound and height information, applying time and frequency-based psychoacoustic techniques to provide separation between ear level and overhead audio. But will it sound better?
Given the original Beam still blows us away with its sound quality, the addition of Dolby Atmos support should provide a more immersive, spatial soundscape in which to enjoy richer, more detailed audio for movies. What will be interesting to test is whether Sonos has had to sacrifice any of the original model's directness or general musicality in order to achieve that extra spaciousness and immersion.
The other question is whether the new Beam can produce really convincing height effects and precisely place sounds in three-dimensional space without the use of upward-firing drivers.
Things are bolstered further by the Gen 2’s eARC support. Its larger bandwidth and speed will allow it to deliver up to 32 channels of audio, including eight-channel, 24bit/192kHz uncompressed data streams at speeds of up to 38Mbps.
This means that high bitrate formats currently available on things such as Blu-ray discs and 4K Blu-rays and some streaming services will all be compatible with the Sonos Beam Gen 2. Again, we have to wait for our review to see what impact this makes on the listening experience.
One feature that will be retroactively added to the original Beam in addition to being featured on the Gen 2 model is Amazon Music’s Ultra HD audio. The Gen 2, in addition to the Sonos Arc, will also get Dolby Atmos Music support.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 vs Sonos Beam: the early verdict
The Award-winning Sonos Beam has consistently fended off all the competition in its price bracket every year since its release. Now, just over three years later, its successor appears to have crammed more tech and features into the same sleek shell that we’ve come to know and love.
On paper, the Beam Gen 2 should deliver a wider, more immersive listening experience, thanks to all of the improvements and new features covered above, but has Sonos sacrificed the original model's musicality to make its successor more cinematic? And is the Gen 2 going to be held back by its re-use of the older model's chassis and a lack of upward-firing drivers? We're very much looking forward to finding out.
Read our Sonos Beam review
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