Sonos announced a new model of its Beam smart soundbar on Tuesday.
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2), as it’s called, doesn’t change much conceptually from its three-year-old predecessor. Sonos is still positioning the unit as a cheaper and much more compact alternative to its more expensive Arc soundbar, one that’s better suited to smaller rooms or secondary TVs. It’s pretty much the same size as before (25.63 x 3.94 x 2.72 inches and 6.2 lbs.) with an almost identical minimalist design, although the fabric-covered front of the first-generation model has been removed in favor of a naked, perforated plastic grille that wraps around the device. Sonos says the new grille will be easier to clean over time. The big addition here is support for Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound. Notably, the Beam (Gen 2) uses the same internal acoustic architecture as before — including five Class-D amplifiers, four mid-woofers, three passive radiators, and a center tweeter, but no upward-firing speakers to physically give the illusion of audio “height.” Atmos promises. But Sonos says the new model comes with a faster CPU, allowing it to improve the software that coordinates the soundbar’s audio output and directs it around a room. There are two new virtual “speaker arrays” for height and surround audio information; the setup ensures that Atmos content still sounds like it’s coming from above and around your head, in addition to the usual left, center and right channels. However, it’s hard to say how effective the system is without hearing the new Beam out in the wild. The original model had a nicely balanced sound that played quite loudly due to its handy compact size (if not the price), but it was a small soundbar so it had to fight the physics. For example, it couldn’t go very deep in terms of sub-bass. Supposedly this kind of hardware can only deliver so much of that spacious, immersive sound that makes Atmos work, but we’ve yet to hear the device for ourselves, and supporting the format at some level is better than not having it at all in terms of future-proofing. . Sonos says it will also add support for DTS Digital Surround audio to all soundbars using the Sonos S2 app “later this year,” including the new Beam.
Furthermore, the HDMI-ARC port on the old Beam – which allows for more unified connectivity through your TV – is now a higher bandwidth eARC port. Having other HDMI 2.1 devices in your home theater should help reduce audio syncing issues. However, port selection is generally still limited to just HDMI and an Ethernet connection. However, there’s now 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi instead of standard 802.11n, as well as NFC support for a seemingly faster setup process. Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol is still there for beaming audio directly from iOS devices, and you can set up the device using Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant. Sonos’ handy “TruePlay” function, which corrects the sound from the speakers for the acoustics of a particular room, is also on board. The company says the new Beam will also support higher-resolution audio formats from Amazon Music’s “Ultra HD” layer and Dolby’s Atmos Music format.
Unfortunately, the new Beam comes with a new price: it will cost $449 when it ships on October 5, which is a $50 increase over the original model. This jump appears to be part of a sweeping series of price hikes from Sonos that took effect this week, including a $100 increase for the Arc (now priced at $899) and $10-50 increases for many of its portable and home speakers. . The company said it “always assesses market dynamics,” including component costs and supply and demand factors, in a statement to The Verge last week about the reasons for the price increases. That increase is likely to hurt the Beam’s value proposition, as there were already countless soundbars out there that could offer comparable, if not more expansive sound for less than the price of the original model. Ultimately, though, the reasons for considering the Beam will likely remain unchanged: if you’ve already invested in a Sonos system and can’t afford the more traditional Atmos-ready Arc or fit into your home theater setup, or if you just want a compact and clean-sounding soundbar, be willing to pay a premium for easier controls and music streaming thanks to the handy Sonos app, and don’t mind the sparse port selection – the second-generation Beam may still be worth keeping an eye on, especially if it can effectively handle Atmos.
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Listing image by Sonos