Sonos beam gen 2 review: A small update elevates the best compact soundbar to new heights

Asia's Tech News Daily

Even without a dedicated upfiring speaker, this device still sounds epic (iStock/The Independent)

Compact soundbars are all the rage right now, and Sonos basically hit a home run on its first go in 2018 when it released the Sonos beam. While the first generation model is still one of the best compact soundbars ever made, it was getting hard to overlook the fact that competitors had since brought out bars of a similar size and calibre, and they supported next-gen Dolby Atmos as well.

Enter the Sonos beam gen 2: A small upgrade that retains everything we loved about the first one and makes it better. It’s had a modern makeover, there’s a more powerful processor on the inside, and yes, it now supports Dolby Atmos for anyone seeking that three-dimensional sound experience.

While it’s not the first Dolby Atmos soundbar Sonos has ever made – that title is reserved for the larger, more expensive Sonos arc (£799, Johnlewis.com) – this is the first Atmos model from Sonos that will fit neatly in a small living room without taking up half the space. But is it any good? We’ve listened to all our favourite tunes and watched a bunch of Atmos films and are ready to deliver our verdict.

How we tested

We plugged the Sonos beam gen 2 up to our 65in LG nano86 TV set via the eARC (enhanced audio return channel) port and watched a range of Dolby Atmos and non-Atmos films and TV shows, such as 6 Underground and Black Widow to get a full sense of the depth, scale and weight of the sound.

We also listened to music in old-fashioned 5.1 audio, from bassier tunes like Massive Attack’s Angel and Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive to radio-friendly pop hits from Adele and Dua Lipa, as well as jazz and our favourite soundtracks to test treble. We’ve thoroughly put it through its paces to determine its sonic quality. We, of course, also looked at how easy it was to set up, control and connect, as well as its features and design.

    Sonos beam gen 2: £449, Sonos.com

    (Sonos)

    • Dimensions: 65.1cm x 6.85cm x 10cm

    • Weight: 2.8kg

    • Speaker configuration: 5.0

    • Connections: Optical, HDMI ARC/eARC, ethernet, wifi, AirPlay 2

    • Sound formats: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby True HD, DTS

    • Voice assistant? Alexa and Google Assistant

    • Separate subwoofer included? Not included, sold separately

    Design

    If you just casually glance over at the dainty second generation Sonos beam soundbar sat underneath our TV, chances are you wouldn’t notice any difference between it and the previous model it replaced. With the same compact dimensions, the same amount of heft, the same strangely pleasingly-curved edges and the same touch controls on the top, it would be hard to tell them apart… with a glance.

    But on closer inspection, there’s a bit more elegance to the second-generation beam, bringing it more in line with the brand’s other, more premium Sonos arc. That’s because the beam gen 2 has done away with the dust-hungry fabric of yesteryear, replacing it with a sleeker polycarbonate grill. It’s not only more practical for your home, but just looks a whole lot slicker too.

    Read more: 8 best Sonos speakers that elevate your listening experience

    It’s a petite little speaker that won’t get in the way of your home’s aesthetic thanks to the fairly minimalist design. On the top, you’ll find the same volume, play and pause buttons as well as one to mute or unmute for Google Assistant or Alexa. There’s also far-field microphones and LED lights too.

    The rear is similar to the first generation beam soundbar, with an ethernet port, the power outlet and optical outlet all slotted into a tidy alcove in the back. The HDMI ARC port is now an eARC compatible port, which is arguably the standout feature of the new beam, giving us access to Dolby Atmos (more on that later). That said, we’re still a little disappointed that there’s only one HDMI port on the rear.

    The soundbar comes in either white or black, and the power cord, HDMI cable and even the alcove matches that colour. It’s a nice little touch that was omitted from the Sonos arc.

    Read more: 8 best budget soundbars for cinematic surround sound from under £100

    Like all Sonos products, it’s a doddle to set up. Just hook the soundbar up to your TV, making sure to plug the HDMI into the eARC port on your TV (if you have one) so that it can receive Dolby Atmos signals, open up the Sonos S2 app and follow the set up instructions.

    We’d always recommend setting your Sonos soundbar up using Trueplay in the app once the beam is in its forever position. Trueplay bounces sound-waves off furniture and walls in your room, ensuring that audio from the bar sounds good wherever you sit. The sound disparity can be night and day. You’ll hear a few Laser-like bleeps and bloops from the soundbar, so don’t be alarmed. This isn’t an alien invasion.

    Sound

    There’s a sleeker polycarbonate grill on the front (Alex Lee/The Independent)

    But how did it all sound once we were all set up? Pretty good for a compact virtual Dolby Atmos soundbar.

    Packed inside the Sonos beam’s polycarbonate frame, you’ll find four front-facing elliptical mid-woofers; a centre tweeter, which has been improved for better dialogue production and three passive radiators to help with the lower frequencies. The drivers are powered by five Class D amplifiers. There’s no upfiring speaker drivers here, so the object-positioning Dolby Atmos sound will be delivered virtually, unlike the Sonos arc which has dedicated upfiring drivers.

    What’s different here is that there are now five speaker arrays, rather than three. The two extra arrays are solely here to deal with height and surround sound, giving the impression that sound is coming from above you as well as from the front.

    Read more: 9 best 4K TVs for a needle-sharp viewing experience

    But was it any good? The first thing we did was bring up our favourite film for testing Dolby Atmos content – 6 Underground – an admittedly terrible film that happens to have some pretty splendid sound design. From the first car chase, we could immediately hear the enhanced sense of depth and space in the room as a car somersaulted into the sky above us.

    While the height of the sound isn’t as extreme as it is on the Sonos arc, we still felt immersed while watching. This was even more evident in the numerous scenes of helicopters in Black Widow flying above, to the side and below us. It’s definitely better at placing objects in front, to the left and right, but without an upfiring speaker, we weren’t too surprised.

    The clarity of the dialogue in the latest series of Doctor Who was also massively improved thanks to the tweeter in the centre of the soundbar. We didn’t find ourselves having to pump up the volume to hear what people were saying, like we did when watching the show when using the TV’s speakers.

    Read more: 16 best Bluetooth speakers for every budget

    Again, there’s a real sense of depth when it comes to music. Although there isn’t a huge amount of rumbling bass when listening to bass-heavy tracks like Imagine Dragon’s Radioactive and Massive Attack’s Angel, there was no ear-splitting distortion as seen on other soundbars of this size. There was some boom to the lower frequencies, but it was overall pretty measured. And if you think it still lacks some kick, you can always pair it with a Sonos sub (£749, Sonos.com).

    Mid and lower frequencies perform as admirably as you’d expect from a Sonos soundbar. The plucked strings on Dan Romer’s Luca soundtrack come across beautifully, and the vocals on pop anthems like Dua Lipa’s One Kiss are clear and distinct within the mix. If you’re thinking about getting a smart speaker, music on the Sonos beam 2 will sound better than any Amazon Echo out there.

    Sonos beam gen 2

    Buy now £449.00, Sonos.com

    The verdict: Sonos beam gen 2

    The second-generation Sonos beam 2 is an excellent compact soundbar that sweeps the floor with its competition. While there aren’t too many departures from the first generation model, the upgrades are pretty significant. Virtual Dolby Atmos just gives this whole speaker system more depth, more warmth and a bigger soundscape.

    Although it costs slightly more than the original Sonos beam did at launch (£449 instead of £359), we think that the small but noticeable upgrades are worth every penny. Of course, the Sonos arc still has more height than this compact soundbar, but the beam 2 appears to do the best job at virtualising it.

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