A brilliant standalone soundbar that sounds wonderful but is sorely lacking in physical connectivity
- Atmos improves sound quality
- Phenomenal audio
- Neat and compact
- Atmos requires eARC
- Not much height effect
- No DTS:X support
For a long time, the Sonos Beam has been among our go-to recommendations for anyone looking to boost their TV sound without the clutter or fuss of a full-size soundbar or surround-sound system. For its size, the Beam’s sound is incredible, delivering audio with detail, authority and a surprising sense of space.
Sensibly, the Sonos Beam 2 does little to mess with this successful formula. Much of the design, both exterior and interior, remains the same; only the processor has been upgraded, which has enabled Sonos to add a few key new features.
Sonos Beam 2 review: What you need to know
In passing, the Sonos Beam 2 looks exactly the same as its predecessor. Indeed, the only thing Sonos has changed is the grille, which is now made from perforated plastic instead of fabric. Inside the chassis, the drivers and amplification are identical, and connectivity remains the same, too.
So what exactly is new here and why should you consider buying a Beam 2 over the original? First on the list is support for Dolby Atmos, which means better sound quality and a more convincing surround-sound effect when that audio format is being used.
In fact, surround sound in general should be improved thanks to an upgrade to the number of audio “arrays” the Beam is now able to process. Where before, the beam was able to process three of these arrays, the second-generation Beam can cope with five simultaneously: the left and right front channels, the left and right surround and height channels and the centre channel.
Next up is support for Amazon’s 3D Audio spatial audio and, finally, there’s now NFC for faster, more reliable setup. Otherwise, the Beam 2’s features and capabilities remain unchanged. It still supports both Alexa and Google Assistant voice control, Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay 2 streaming via Wi-Fi, as well as Wi-Fi streaming via the Sonos App.
Just like before, the Beam 2 can still be expanded into a full surround-sound system by adding a Sonos sub and a pair of Sonos One speakers to form the rear satellites.
Sonos Beam 2 review: Price and competition
For these improvements, Sonos is asking more than before, although it’s only £50 extra at £449. That might seem like a lot for a compact soundbar, but trust me when I say that (with some caveats) it justifies every penny.
You can, of course, spend less than this and still get yourself a decent-sounding TV audio system. If it’s Dolby Atmos you absolutely must have, we rather like the Sharp HT-SBW460 at £299. It comes with a subwoofer and delivers big, beefy audio with plenty of bass but, in smaller rooms, you might need to bring the bass under control via port stuffing.
Sonos Beam 2 review: Design and connectivity
With pretty much the same design as its predecessor, most of the same positive and negative comments can be made about the second-generation Beam. On the positive side, it’s very neat, measuring a mere 65cm wide and 10cm tall, and will sit unobtrusively in pretty much any living room environment on any AV stand. You can also wall-mount the Beam 2, although that’s a rather pricey £59 extra.
My main criticisms are that connectivity is just far too limited for a soundbar at this price. Aside from Wi-Fi streaming, the Sonos Beam 2 has only one way of getting audio in and that’s via a single audio return HDMI input. This has been upgraded to eARC for this generation since that’s required in order to support Dolby Atmos.
This works well enough, it’s neat and elegant and lets you control the volume seamlessly via your TV’s remote control. If you don’t fancy asking Alexa or Google Assistant every time, that’s a nice bonus, especially as Sonos doesn’t include a physical remote with the Beam.
The omission of HDMI passthrough, however, is a crazy limitation in my opinion. While I understand Sonos’ reasoning – it keeps cable clutter to a minimum and connection as simple as can be – it means owners of older TVs miss out on the Dolby Atmos upgrade; eARC has only become prevalent on TVs since 2019. It also means the Beam 2 will occupy one of your TV’s precious HDMI ports, thus reducing the number of sources you can have connected at any one time.
Sonos does include an HDMI to optical S/PDIF adapter in the box but, again, you’ll miss out on Atmos compatibility if you use this, since optical S/PDIF doesn’t support Atmos audio transmission.
Finally, it’s worth noting that, although support for DTS Digital Surround has been added since launch, DTS:X remains off the menu.
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Sonos Beam 2 review: Sound quality
Initially, I wasn’t convinced Atmos would make that much of a difference to the Beam 2; after all, with no up-firing speakers, there’s a limit to how effectively any speaker can deliver Atmos’ extra height audio channels in a convincing fashion.
Sure enough, when I fired up my trusty Dolby Atmos test Blu-ray, I wasn’t able to make out much in the way of height extension: a Boeing 747 taking off sounded less like it was flying over my head than out of the top of the TV and the audio was stuck very much in front of me.
Soundtracks delivered via Atmos did, however, sound that little bit extra special, with more separation, clarity and presence than the same mix delivered via Dolby Digital 5.1. And, despite the fact that there isn’t much of a sense of height, there is a palpable sense of space within soundtracks, with the Beam 2 deftly positioning audio effects to the left and right and in the centre.
Again, the action happens largely in front of you – there isn’t much sense of sound coming from the sides or rear – but I’ve not come across a standalone soundbar yet that can perform that feat of audio gymnastics effectively.
This is not to understate the Sonos Beam 2’s capabilities, however. It’s a wonderfully agile, powerful performer and delivers everything from simple stereo music mixes to big movie soundtracks with aplomb. At one point after cranking up the volume I had to check that I hadn’t left my “big” sound system and subwoofer switched on and connected – the Beam 2 is that impressive.
No test clip shows off the sense of scale and sheer brute force this soundbar is capable of than the opening to Mad Max: Fury Road. You don’t quite get that cut-glass clarity with the Beam 2 that more expensive soundbars can exude – or the deep, visceral rumble that a dedicated subwoofer can generate – but it isn’t far off, with the sound of Max’s boots on the parched earth evoking the dry heat of the desert with terrifying realism, and the deep gravelly tones of his voice resonating with power and presence.
As with the Beam 2’s predecessor and the bigger Sonos Arc, you’ll only be able to make the most of its awesome capabilities by tuning it to your room using Sonos’ TruePlay feature. This tweaks the EQ automatically by playing a series of tones while you wander around the room waving your phone around, using the microphones in your handset to capture the way soundwaves reflect off surfaces and objects. TruePlay only supports Apple devices, however, so if you’re an Android user, make sure you invite an iPhone-owning friend over before setting the Beam 2 up for the first time.
Sonos Beam 2 review: App and voice control
The only other thing that could be an issue for some is the lack of a remote control. As I’ve said, one of the benefits of the HDMI eARC connection is that you can control the volume via your TV’s remote control, so adjusting the volume isn’t really a problem.
And if you can’t find that, you can always control the Sonos Beam 2 via the Sonos S2 app or with your voice, via the soundbar’s far-field microphone array and the help of Alexa or Google Assistant. It’s also worth pointing out that you can use the Beam 2 as you would any other voice-assistant-powered smart speaker, asking it to play music, radio, answer questions, set timers and alarms and control smart home devices. If I’m honest, though, the novelty of using my voice to control the volume soon wore off.
Most settings are controlled via the Sonos S2 app and there’s plenty to play around with here, with a couple of sound profiles to choose from (a dialogue mode and night mode) plus a lip-sync slider, although I didn’t find that to be an issue during testing.
The app is also where you can add and browse your music-streaming services. Most of the major names are supported and, unusually, they’re mostly fully integrated into the app. If you’re old-fashioned enough to have music files stored on a drive somewhere, you can also use the app to link to those, although you’ll have to do that via the Sonos desktop app.
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Sonos Beam 2 review: Verdict
The Sonos Beam 2 gets lots of things right but, let’s face it, it also gets some fairly major things wrong. It doesn’t matter how much Sonos bleats about simplicity and ease of use, it just doesn’t make sense to limit key functionality by insisting on connection via a single eARC port.
It means anyone with a TV older than 2019 will in effect be missing out on the Beam’s big upgrade this year and, in a world where most TVs still only come with four HDMI ports, the lack of passthrough is a pain.
The flipside to this is that anyone who does have eARC won’t care at all and, if they’re also looking for a neat, elegant way of improving their TV audio, there aren’t many better solutions than the Sonos Beam 2. Sure, you can pick up a bigger-sounding system with more bombastic bass for the same money, but none offers the Beam 2’s neatness and simplicity. Plus, if you want to expand it further down the line you can do that, too.
In short, the Beam 2 is everything the original Beam was but better. It’s a brilliant soundbar that sounds phenomenal for its size. I just wish Sonos had added an extra HDMI port.