A few weeks ago Sonos announced the 2nd Generation of Beam soundbar, which is their lower end unit that has received quite a few upgrades. We have been testing it for a little while now and have some thoughts to share. It still remains just as small, but how does that reflect on the sound it produces? Let's check it out!
Before we get into the main review, let me tell you what’s included in the box. Of course we have the star of the show - Sonos Beam Gen 2 in black, wrapped in a nice protective bag. There is also documentation with a quick start guide as well as some cables (these include power cord, optical audio adapter and 1.5m HDMI cable).
I really like that Sonos has gone that extra step and used sustainable packaging, which includes uncoated kraft paper, and not a single bit of foam.
On the surface the new generation of Sonos Beam looks basically the same. It still takes up about the same amount of space, comes in the same two colours and even has all the same ports - single HDMI, power and Ethernet. But once you look closer there are some subtle and not so subtle differences.
First one is more physical - the original Sonos Beam had fabric covering the speakers which has now been upgraded to the plastic grill, resulting in easier cleaning and likely will help with longevity as well.
Other than that, there are no more cosmetic differences. The top of the soundbar still contains the capacitive controls that you can use to play/pause, adjust volume and mute the microphones. It seems Sonos has gone down the route of - if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
Where they spend most of their time is internals. The original soundbar had a 3-speaker array, now this has been increased to 5 to provide a wider soundstage. This is paired with a new processing chip that, according to Sonos, is 40% faster than last generation. Because of these changes, it now supports 3D audio with Dolby Atmos.
The other improvement is actually at the HDMI port, or rather what it supports. While it is still only HDMI 2.0, it now supports eARC rather than just standard ARC, which should help eliminate any audio sync issues and provide support for most devices out there.
I personally would prefer a soundbar with multiple HDMI ports so it could be used as passthrough to ensure your source devices have full support. Example of this could be older TV that has no support for Dolby Atmos. In that scenario, the soundbar would do all the heavy lifting and output the audio while relaying the video signal to the TV without any limitations.
Anyway, that is probably enough on-paper comparisons, time to set it up! This is one area where I am really impressed. The set-up was super simple. I downloaded the Sonos app and plugged in the soundbar (in the app press to add the device, follow the wizard and in the end touch the phone on the NFC to finish). With this done, you can now configure it to the TV, just ensure you connect it to ARC or eARC port, and moving forward you can control volume using your TV remote.
You have a bunch of settings in the app such as EQ and volume limiter, as well as other more general settings. The two settings I found the most useful while watching movies were voice enhancement and also night mode. Voice enhancement comes in really handy to bump up those vocals and night mode has dual use - first and most obvious is night time watching to ensure you don’t disturb the neighbors.
The second use is a bit different: if you are like me and have a wife that gets scared when there is a sudden loud fight scene in the movie, then this mode reduces that and makes it slightly more muted. Personally, I prefer more immersive experience which from time to time scares me, but I must admit that I prefer keeping my wife happy.
While we are on the subject of sound - the 5 speakers do have a considerable amount of kick and certainly give you a very immersive experience. What was surprising - even without a separate subwoofer you have plenty of bass. This would probably be preferred in smaller apartments so your neighbors don’t complain.
And when you feel like you're ready to expand your system - you can add up to two separate subwoofers as well as surround speakers. We actually tested that and I must say - this works really well, the added sub shakes the room and surround speakers add that extra bit of immersion.
One thing I would really recommend doing with Sonos is use Trueplay to tune the speakers for your listening location. In a household where your listening position is perfectly balanced and there’s nothing reflecting the sounds - this may not matter, but in a more realistic example like a standard living room with things all over the place, tuning improves the experience significantly. In our case without tuning the sound was a bit muffled, but after calibration it got noticeably clearer.
Do be warned - this can only be done on a compatible iPhone or an iPad so if you don’t have any Apple products, you will need to bring a friend over to set it up. And if you decide to re-organise the room, the calibration will need to be redone as well, other than that - it is set up and forget.
One more thing that really impressed me is integration with different services as well as home assistants. It is really nice to have full control of all your Sonos devices directly in the Sonos app or through a home assistant like Google Home. This way you can use this great movie watching machine as a primary speaker while getting ready in the morning or hosting a party and control it through the central system using voice commands.
All in all, this is a pretty good entry into the Sonos eco-system with options to upgrade to a full size home theater system in the future. As mentioned before, there are limitations such as a single HDMI port and no additional audio ports so you would have to route any input devices like consoles straight to the TV. Sonos is definitely focusing on simplicity and doing the one thing that matters - sound. Considering its price, I would call it a budget premium soundbar for general consumers who need something for their content consumption on the TV as well as a great living room speaker for music.