Sonos Beam review: A more-affordable, smarter soundbar option
- Great price-point
- Easy setup
- Comprehensive compatibility
- Not as big impact as the Playbar or Playbase
- No Google Assistant (yet)
If you’ve been reticent or reluctant to buy a soundbar until now, the Sonos Beam is a product that does everything it can to push you over that line.
With their Playbar and Playbase, Sonos’ took their audio expertise to new fronts. They attempted to cement themselves as an upstart alternative, not just to the established audio brands out there, but also to those residing in the home theatre space. Now, a year or so later, they’re looking to lower the barrier to entry.
The new Sonos Beam might be a smarter soundbar than its predecessors, but it’s not really trying to displace them or even go after the same kind of target consumer. If you’re perched on the edge of becoming a first-time soundbar owner, Sonos are positioning the Beam as an ideal introduction to the category. It’s leaner, smarter and more-affordable than Sonos’ previous soundbars and, like the Sonos One, the Beam promises to become even smarter over time in ways that reach beyond the usual hotfixes.
If you’ve been reticent or reluctant to buy into the hype up till now, the Sonos Beam is a product that does everything it can to push you over that line.
Speaker type: Soundbar.
Speaker specs: Four full-range woofers, one tweeter, three passive radiators, five Class-D digital amplifiers
Dimensions: 68.5mm x 651mm x 100 mm
High-Res audio support: No
Voice Assistant support: Alexa, Google Assistant (coming soon), Siri via AirPlay 2.0
Streaming services supported: Google Play Music, Deezer, Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, internet radio and 80 other streaming services
4K passthrough: No
Built-in Chromecast: No
Ports: HDMI ARC, 10/100Mpbs Ethernet port
Weight: 2.8 kg
Color: Black, White
The Sonos Beam fits right in with the company’s pre-existing stable of audio products. It’s unapologetically minimalist and almost pill-shaped when it comes to form-factor. Compared to other soundbars I’ve reviewed in the past, it’s noticeably more compact than these things usually come. However, depending on how much space you have to work with, that might not necessarily be a drawback. In my experience, the Beam made for a snug-but-snazzy fit in my living room setup.
The Beam itself is covered in mesh-fabric and the only physical features to speak of come in the form of a trio of ports on the back-side of the unit and the touch sensitive control keys mounted atop the Beam. These cover the basics - volume up, volume down, mute and summon your voice assistant - but you’re not necessarily locked into using them.
As with last year’s Sonos One, Sonos are trying to pitch themselves as a service and platform-agnostic sound brand. n this perfect world that the Sonos are selling, everyone could be a Sonos customer and it all “just works”. What this ideal actually means is that, eventually, the Sonos Beam will play nice with pretty much everything. Spotify. Apple Music. Youtube and Google Music. Audible. Prime Music Streaming. Google Assistant. Siri. Alexa. Potentially even stuff like Cortana and Bixby, assuming consumer demand rises for their inclusion.
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Fortunately for everyone involved, the reality arriving ahead of this final destination isn’t all that far off the mark. Yes, at the moment, Alexa is the only fully-fledged voice assistant available for the Beam - but the rest will come in time. And if we’re talking about music streaming service support, there just aren’t many audio brands out there with the same breadth of support as what you’ll find on Sonos - even if the app binding them all together can occasionally be a bit clunky.
In terms of the possibilities that on-board Alexa integration opens up, it all works much the regular Echo or Echo Dot. You can use your voice to tell the Sonos Beam to to play music, give news and sports updates, check the weather and remotely control any connected (and compatible) smart home devices. However, much like the Sonos One, this integration just isn’t quite as seamless as I’d like.
Due to the software restrictions around what voice services Alexa can integrate with, you may well run into issues with your streaming service of choice. I could tell the Sonos Beam to play music with Spotify using my voice, but not with Google Music. Of course, if you’re already an Alexa-devotee who’s bought into Amazon’s suite of online services - this isn’t necessarily going to be a huge deal-breaker but if you, like me, have one foot in either corner of the smart assistant and streaming worlds - it’s a bit of a pain.
The Beam also often picked up names or words that sounded similar to the Alexa hotword coming whatever we happened to be watching - which was an infrequent and irksome (but not necessarily deal-breaking) occurrence.
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Ultimately, until those other parts of this picture get colored in, the voice control aspect of the experience is going to feel a little limited, inconsistent and incomplete. At the moment, interacting with my voice assistant using the Beam is generally a good experience - but it’s hard not to see the ways in which it could be better.
From the outset, it feels very apparent that the Sonos Beam is being pitched as a product for first-time soundbar buyers. It plays nice with every other Sonos product you already own and setup is just as easy as any other speaker in the company’s ecosystem. You plug it in, load up the Sonos app and add it to your home network. If you’re a first-time Sonos user, you’ll have to create an account and download said app - but that’s pretty much it.
The Beam is also equipped with a few core features which serve to make it a compelling option over the competition. Chief among these is the automatic speech enhancement, which we found did a surprisingly impressive job of centering and adding clarity to the dialogue in TV series like Westworld, Preacher and Battlestar Galactica and games like Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. The absence of the bundled-sub-woofer does give it less bass to play with than both its Sonos and off-brand competition but, as someone who’s very much looking for a soundbar that sounds better enough on its own to be worth the purchase, I came away satisfied with the results.
Of course, if you already own either a Sonos Playbar or Playbase, it’s worth noting that the Sonos Beam is not really going to be a product for you. Though they lack the built-in smart assistant support, both of the company’s previous soundbar offerings are significantly beefier and more capable when it comes to audio fidelity than the Beam is. Ditching either for the latest in this case would be an undeniable downgrade.
Additionally, without having it side-by-side to compare against beefier or more heavy-duty soundbar offerings from LG and Samsung, I can’t really speak in too much detail as to how the Beam compares. My more general impression was that I found I noticed the Beam’s speech enhancement a lot more than I did similar features encountered in other soundbars but also felt like the smaller size of Sonos’ latest held it back when it came to delivering more brassy or bombastic soundscapes.
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Still, to me at least, it doesn’t really matter how much better or worse it sounds. The Beam comes in at a lower-price and while it isn’t necessarily going to bring best-in-class sound to your living room, that price-difference still represents a significant advantage over a lot of the competition.
Sonos already went after consumers who desire “the best” soundbar experience with the Playbar and Playbase, the Beam is about going after everyone who hasn’t yet jumped aboard the soundbar bandwagon. In that context, the price and the difference between what the Beam delivers versus a set of built-in TV speakers is substantial enough to make an easy recommendation.
The Bottom Line
Sure, if you’re an AV fanatic, the Sonos Beam might not live up to your expectations - but that’s kind-of by design. Conforming to the usual Sonos tenets and verses, the Beam is very much a soundbar that “just works” for everyone else. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does package the soundbar experience in a way that’s fresh, modern-looking, extremely easy-to-use, and more affordable than before.
The Sonos Beam isn’t a revolution but that’s to say it doesn’t sound good.
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