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Sonos Beam review: Smart, compact, awesome sound

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
400
inc VAT

The Sonos Beam is the smartest soundbar around and a great multiroom TV speaker

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Soundbars are popular for a couple of simple reasons. One, because most TVs produce absolutely terrible audio quality from their internal speakers, and two, because they’re neat and unobtrusive, sitting below your TV on the wall or AV cabinet. Most are still a little old-fashioned in their approach, though, sticking with the tried and tested methods of control and setup. Not so, the Sonos Beam.

Drawing on the company’s extensive experience with multi-room audio, the Beam is the firm’s second soundbar and it’s one of the smartest TV audio products I’ve had the pleasure to test.

READ NEXT: The best soundbars to buy

Sonos Beam review: What you need to know

At its heart, though, the Sonos Beam does the same job as all other soundbars. It has an HDMI port at the rear with ARC (audio return channel) support for piping audio from your TV (or you can use the optical input if you prefer) and it’s designed to sit below your TV and produce better quality audio than your TV’s integrated speakers.

It’s a much more sophisticated product than that, though. Via Wi-Fi connectivity you get both Apple AirPlay 2 and Alexa voice control support. The Beam also integrates seamlessly with the rest of the Sonos product range and its excellent app, which supports a huge number streaming audio streaming services plus the ability to stream from connected music servers.

It is possible to use the Sonos Beam on its lonesome if you want but it’s designed to work in concert with the rest of Sonos’ smart speakers and AV audio products in a multiroom system. And although the Beam comes as a single unit, with no rear speakers or sub included, you can add a pair of Sonos Ones and a Sonos Sub for a complete 5.1 surround-sound system.

Sonos Beam review: Price and competition

At £499, the Beam is a little on the pricey side for a single box soundbar and at that price competition is fierce. Our current favourite is the Samsung HW-MS650 – another one-box soundbar – which you can pick up for around £400 but there’s also the Q Acoustics Media 4 for around £350 and, for customers of Sky TV, the incredible Sky Soundbox, which costs from £250.

Sonos Beam review: Features and design

On paper, the Beam doesn’t look great value, then, and to look at the specifications, it’s not all that impressive either, particularly on the connectivity front. Aside from an Ethernet port for a wired connection to your home network and the figure of eight power cable, the only audio input you get is a single ARC-enabled (audio return channel) HDMI socket. There’s no stereo phono or 3.5mm jack (or Bluetooth connectivity, for that matter).

In fairness, you do get an HDMI-to-optical adapter in the box, which allows those whose TVs don’t support the ARC standard to connect to the Beam but, even taking this into account, this is a hugely restrictive selection.

Essentially, it means you can’t connect any other external source to the Beam that doesn’t go through your TV and it means you lose an HDMI input on your TV, too, since there’s no HDMI passthrough on the soundbar. That’s a shame because the Sonos Beam is sensibly designed. It’s not so tall (100mm) that it impinges on your viewing and it’s not so wide (651mm) that it looks silly if you pop it in front of a smaller 37in telly.

This is not the speaker for you, then, if (gasp) you have an old CD player you want to use or a TV with only a couple of HDMI inputs. Neither is it for you if you prefer to have a physical remote control for each of your devices because the Sonos Beam does not come with one in the box.

In compensation, during setup, the Beam does take you through the process of learning the volume controls of your TV or set-top box so you don’t have to fire up your smartphone just to change the volume or walk over to it and use the touch-sensitive controls on the top.

Sonos Beam review: App and voice control

As with all other Sonos speakers, everything else is controlled via the app or your voice via the speaker’s top-mounted five microphone array. And Sonos’ app is the best in the business. It supports a huge array of audio and music services right off the bat, including all the big names such as Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play Music and Tidal (go here for a full list). And, importantly, all services are hosted within the confines of the Sonos App; no other company’s streaming integration is as platform agnostic.

And the voice control feature works well, too. Currently, only Amazon’s Alexa is supported and, though Alexa Skills and general voice functions are supported, some features do not work on the Beam. You can’t, for instance, use the calling or drop-in features with the Sonos Beam.

But Sonos promises that Google Assistant is on the way and, with AirPlay 2 support, you can also use Siri, although not directly through the speaker itself. On third-party speakers, you can only use “Hey Siri” via an iPhone or HomePod.

I can’t tell you how much of a revelation it is to be able to ask the speaker to “turn the volume down by 10%” while lounging on the sofa in front of a movie in the evening. It’s the ultimate in laziness, I agree, but not having to hunt around for the right remote control is an absolute godsend.

Settings are controlled via the app and there are plenty on offer here. A couple of sound profiles are available, as with most soundbars: a night mode that dials back on the bass for late night viewing and a dialogue mode that emphasises voice for those shows where the mix has gone all moody and muffly (Westworld, I’m looking at you). And for those times when the sound gets ahead of, or behind the pictures, there’s a lip sync slider in there, too.

Sonos Beam review: Sound quality

Beneath the Beam’s finely tailored fabric grille covering is a decent selection of drivers: one tweeter, four full-range drivers and three passive radiators to reinforce the bass. And these produce an agile, yet muscular sound that’s able to span the worlds of music and movies with surprising ease.

You’ll only get the best out of the Beam, though, if you set it up using Sonos’ Trueplay tech. Just like the adaptive technology in the Apple HomePod, Trueplay scans the room via the Sonos app on your smartphone (alas, only iPhones are supported currently) and it then tunes the sound output to suit. The aim here is to iron out issues that may exist with the build-up of certain sound waves in your room – bass in particular.

It’s also designed to set up the treble, mid-range and bass frequencies so that everything’s in balance and largely, this works well. I listened to music and watched movies before and after and there was a clear difference. The bass was tighter, the mid-range more forward than before. Great stuff.

What Trueplay cannot combat is the Sonos Beam’s Achilles heel: it’s lack of support for DTS:HD. All you get is PCM stereo, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital 5.1. That’s it. And, yes, this can have a negative effect because the soundbar will have to convert from DTS to another format and often something is lost in the conversion process.

While watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Captain America: Civil War, I found I had to punch up the dialogue enhancement control to hear any of the conversations without cranking the volume all the way up.

If this doesn’t work, there are adjustable bass and treble controls but I’d rather have support for all the prevalent standards and not have to tweak levels by hand.

With the right audio content, though, the Sonos Beam does sound good. It delivers movie soundtracks with a surprising amount of forcefulness and scale considering how small the speaker is and there’s plenty of detail on show, too. Its key weakness is that the bass isn’t quite as tight as I’d like it to be and a little on the uncontrolled side but aside from this it’s a fine TV speaker and will fill all but the largest rooms with detailed, musical audio.

Sonos Beam review: Verdict

This is a tricky verdict to write because the Sonos Beam is such a different type of soundbar from your run of the mill TV speaker. On the one hand, it’s limited. It has only one input, there’s no remote control and it has no support for DTS:HD. On the other, it sounds great, it’s compact and discrete, it’s extendable into a full 5.1 setup and the app, tuning software and Alexa voice control all work brilliantly.

In the end, whether the Sonos Beam is the right sound bar for you will depend on your current AV setup. If you already have everything going through your TV and you’re looking for something smarter than average, it’s a great choice. For anyone else, just choose a normal soundbar. Something like the Samsung HW-MS650, perhaps.

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