Excellent sound and features
Respectable virtual Dolby Atmos
So-so overhead audio
No spare HDMI input
Still no Trueplay for Android
If you're new to Dolby Atmos, the technology uses object-oriented, multi-channel audio to surround you with sound when playing supported content. A big part of that is the "height channels" which add another dimension to the cinematic soundstage. That’s a big ask for a standalone bar with no upfiring speakers, but using some digital trickery and well-tuned drivers, the Beam adds some welcome new dimensionality to its soundstage. While it can’t match the abilities of the better-equipped Sonos Arc, which adds physical upfiring and side-firing drivers, the Beam Gen 2 still provides impressive virtualized Atmos performance from its pint-sized frame.
At $449, the new Beam is pricier than the original at launch, but a $50 price hike is reasonable for the inclusion of improved performance, HDMI eARC, and some Atmos skills. In fact, I seriously doubt you’ll find a better standalone soundbar under $500.
About the Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Here are the vital specs you’ll want to know about:
- Price: $449
- Height x Width x Depth: 2.72 x 25.63 x 3.94 inches
- Weight: 6.2 pounds
- Colors: White, Black
- Speakers/drivers: One center tweeter, four elliptical midwoofers, three passive radiators
- Amplification: Five Class-D digital amplifiers
- Wireless connection: Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2, Sonos ecosystem
- Wired connection: Ethernet, HDMI ARC/eARC
- Smart features: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
- Other features: IR receiver, Trueplay (iOS only), Speech Enhancement, Night Sound
- Audio formats: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Multichannel PCM, Dolby Multichannel PCM
Despite its small stature and compact footprint, the Sonos Beam offers a solid array of drivers, features, and ways to get connected—just the same as the first Beam. Like most Sonos products, the Beam is not Bluetooth compatible, requiring instead that you stream over your home network. Sonos' app allows for easy control of music streaming, as well as the bar itself—but you can also bypass the app via Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2 for expediency.
Regarding the Atmos performance, there's an important distinction to make here between the Beam and soundbars like Sonos' own Arc or Sony's HT-A7000, which are not only larger (and pricier) but also use physical drivers to bounce sound off your ceiling. This helps to create the immersive height element for which Dolby Atmos and other 3D audio formats are praised. Instead of upfiring drivers, the Beam employs virtualized Atmos through "time and frequency-based psychoacoustic techniques." Essentially, it uses enhanced software to create virtualized immersion for Dolby Atmos content.
We received a white Sonos Beam Gen 2 review sample on loan from Sonos, ahead of the product’s official launch on October 5th.
What we like
Commendable baseline audio quality
Before getting into all the nitty-gritty details about the Beam’s Dolby Atmos performance, it’s worth establishing just how good this soundbar is at everything else.
After a painless setup, I got right down to watching and listening. Across a variety of TV shows—including The Last Man On Earth, Strangers With Candy, What We Do In The Shadows, Only Murders In The Building, and Midnight Mass—and a couple of older films, Hellraiser and Black Swan, I have one thing to say about the new Beam’s sound: hell yeah.
My main takeaway from this smorgasbord of content was that the Beam can handle whatever you throw at it. I’m no stranger to quality soundbars, but the soundbar/sub combo I use at home (the Polk Audio Signa S2) only costs around $200 all told, and the difference in quality between the two is striking.
The Beam Gen 2 delivers robust sound, with ample bass for its size, clear dialogue, and a natural but appreciable amount of reverb that gives sound effects, music, and dialogue a rich, organic quality. Sound just breathes in a way that feels three-dimensional. Simply put, it sounds much better than any single-piece bar has a right to—especially one this compact.
Impressive virtual trickery
You know the old saying, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land amongst the stars?” That’s sort of what comes to mind when reflecting on the Beam’s Dolby Atmos performance. You don’t get the kind of performance one can expect from multi-speaker Atmos setups or even those with purpose-built Atmos drivers. But what you do get is still a worthy upgrade.
Before getting into it, I wanted to be sure that readers and prospective buyers are aware that to get Dolby Atmos (out of any soundbar), you have to use an HDMI cable connection. It’s impossible over an optical hookup, so keep this in mind for your connection options.
I started testing the Beam's Atmos chops with Mad Max: Fury Road and John Wick, both of which I’ve watched multiple times across a variety of sound formats. Keanu’s ex-assassin vehicle was the most striking. After a few minutes, I started to notice little details: coffee sizzling on the left side of the room. Rain on the ground during the cemetery scene, seeming to emanate from somewhere in my TV stand below the dialogue.
Even little details, like someone rapping their hand on the roof of a car or placing a nozzle into a gas tank sounded distinct and separate, as though they existed in their own space within the aural “blanket” around them. When two characters were walking and talking, with their waists level with the bottom of the TV screen, their footfalls seemed to emanate from my floor. I could almost imagine their legs out of frame.
Just as I was starting to really appreciate these little details, I was hit with the sonic intensity of John Wick’s “angry-driving around the airport” scene. The roar of Wick’s 1969 Boss 429 screamed from one side of the room to the other, growing closer or further away as it tracked across the asphalt. This proved to be prophetic to the entire film: the Beam was in full regalia for the many sounds of high-octane cars screeching onto the set.
Of course, there are places where the little Beam doesn’t totally keep up, such as the many overhead car and storm effects in Mad Max: Fury Road, and a few in John Wick as well. For a movie that's 60% gun shootouts, the Beam seemed to struggle to place very loud sounds anywhere in the room around me, and almost nothing directly overhead, which is a big part of the Atmos experience.
Yet the rich tapestry of high-quality sound effects was immersive and interesting enough that I found myself wishing I could sit and watch movies all day. That’s well worth the price of admission.
The best-looking thing on your TV stand
While there are many better reasons to buy the Beam, it doesn’t hurt that it’s just beautiful to look at. No offense to my TV, but it has seriously classed up my living room just by being there.
Like the original Beam, the Beam Gen 2 is available in matte white or black finishes. Sonos says it engineered the Beam’s new polycarbonate grill to be “precisely perforated” but beyond helping elucidate its acoustic efforts, it also makes for a handsome product. Around back, you’ll find a simple array of connectivity options in the Beam’s cable cove: power, ethernet, and HDMI ARC/eARC (as well as a sync button for linking up additional Sonos products).
One thing missing here is a spare HDMI port. That means there’s no way to plug in an outboard device directly and the Beam will hog your TV’s HDMI ARC or HDMI eARC port without making up for it. (More on that later.)
That said, the Beam’s minimalist styling is one of my favorite things about it: It feels flawlessly designed; it’s the perfect height not to block the TV; and it’s available in colors that should blend seamlessly into any living room.
A solid array of features
Like other Sonos products, the Beam is quite flexible. You can use the capacitive touch buttons on top of the bar to play/pause, activate voice assistants, change volume, or skip tracks in a playlist (by swiping). With HDMI-CEC, it’s easy enough to simply use your TV remote for power and volume, but since you’ve got to download the Sonos app to set up the Beam anyway, you’ll find the finest degree of control therein.
Once your Beam is connected to your Wi-Fi network, you’ll find the Sonos app becomes a hub for a variety of ways to listen to music. Sonos Radio is available by default, but it’s easy to link an account like Spotify for direct control, or stream straight from Spotify over Spotify Connect.
The app is also your control center for downloading updates for the bar, adding voice assistants, or running Trueplay, which uses a mobile device to tune the bar to your room (though the latter only works on iOS devices). You can also control volume directly from the app, and sync up your whole Sonos ecosystem to play sound throughout the house.
While watching TV or movies, you’ll be able to toggle a couple of TV-specific settings: Night Mode and Speech Enhancement to dull invasive sounds or pump up the dialogue respectively. Everything works just as advertised.
Finally, voice assistant fans will be happy to know that the latest Beam retains its own built-in far-field microphone, allowing you to call up either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant (yet another decision made in the Sonos app).
Easy (if pricey) to sync and upgrade
Gaining access to the Sonos app and its ecosystem means a lot more than accessing Sonos Radio or waving your phone around the room.
The Sonos app also makes it exceedingly easy to sync up with other Sonos speakers you may already own, like the Sonos One smart speaker. You can group them by room (such as Living Room or Bedroom), create multi-room audio, and even add speakers like the Sonos One, Play:1, and even Ikea's Symfonisk wall speakers as surrounds, all controlled by the app.
Of course, if this is your first Sonos product, you may have an expensive road ahead of you. You can add a subwoofer or surround speakers at a future date with the greatest of ease, but like most Sonos products, cheap they are not. It’s good news either way, but certainly better news if you already own Sonos gear.
What we don’t like
Not much for overhead sound
While I heartily enjoyed the expansive sound created by the Beam Gen 2's Atmos virtualization, I couldn't help but notice a distinct lack of height-based audio through much of the content I watched. While the best experience requires in-ceiling speakers, that's a whole different ballgame than most soundbars are playing, but upfiring speakers—such as what you'll get with the pricy Sonos Arc—can go a long way toward that "hemispheric" immersion that Dolby Atmos promises.
Even with upfiring speakers in tow, however, height effects are often the subtlest part of the Atmos experience, and it can depend heavily on content. It's not that surprising that the Beam—using phase array shifting and psychoacoustics to emulate Atmos as it does—struggles with this difficult but integral part of the Atmos equation. It was less noticeable during John Wick, but there are many scenes with famed overhead effects during Mad Max: Fury Road that just didn't land.
If you want something with truly striking overhead effects, you'll need to invest in something like the Vizio Elevate or, gong further, the Samsung HW-Q950A, both of which deploy multiple components and four upfiring speakers to rain down sound overhead. But that'll cost you.
I still think the addition of Dolby Atmos is a boon for the Beam Gen 2, but it would be truly marvelous if it managed to emulate the upfiring experience with more aplomb.
A lack of spare HDMI inputs means fewer options
Many higher-end bars, especially higher-end Dolby Atmos bars, include spare HDMI inputs as well as an HDMI eARC connection. This is important not just so you don’t lose an HDMI input on your TV, but also so the bar can directly decode high-resolution audio from a source device like a Blu-ray player or game console that’s plugged right into it.
If your TV is newer and equipped with an HDMI eARC port—which passes Atmos (and other valuable audio formats) unaltered and uncompressed directly to your sound system—you should have no problem getting top quality Atmos to your Beam. Not everyone has upgraded their TV in the last couple years, though.
This means that how you can source Dolby Atmos is limited to what your TV can do. My Vizio TV, for instance, wouldn't allow me to source Dolby Atmos from most onboard apps. I could have possibly done so with a separate streaming device, but there goes another HDMI input. If the Beam had a spare, I could plug in a streaming device or gaming console like an Xbox or PS5 directly, and then send the video up to the TV over HDMI ARC. (Though there still might be issues with features like VRR.)
This is likely to be a commonly encountered problem until HDMI eARC is ubiquitous on TVs, and it would have been nice if Sonos added at least one input here. This and other limitations will persist until you upgrade your TV. The good news is, though, that having HDMI eARC makes the latest Beam more flexible for the future of home theater.
No Trueplay for Android
Sonos has claimed that Android microphones are too inconsistent to use its Trueplay acoustic adjustment, but that feels like it could be a simple warning in the app rather than outright banishment. I was luckily able to borrow an iPhone to finish my Trueplay setup, which tuned the Beam in a subtle but palpable way to sound better in my living room, but if my fiancee wasn’t an Apple user I’d be out of luck.
Trueplay most certainly works to help the Beam understand your room layout—including where your walls and floor are, and how much virtual Atmos reflectivity it might garner from each. Simply put, we don't think Android users should be excluded.
Should you buy it?
Yes—if you want good sound and cinematic immersion in a compact package
Just like the original, the Beam Gen 2 is an awesome product that's worth the $450 price tag. Sonos’ streamlined app and Wi-Fi integration, the clean design, and the Beam’s excellent acoustic performance (Atmos or not) each play their part to create a real symphony of a soundbar. While it might not be perfect for everyone (the lack of an HDMI input may sting), this is still one of the best soundbars in this price range.
If you’ll have nothing but the best at-home Atmos, it’s going to cost you: our top-ranked Atmos bars start at twice as much as the Beam Gen 2 and go up from there.
If you want bigger bass and a more reliable overhead Atmos experience in this price range, it's worth looking at the Vizio M512a-H6 which brings dual upfiring drivers, a subwoofer, and surrounds for similar pricing—but lacks Wi-Fi connection. If you love the look and features of the Beam Gen 2 but aren’t so interested in Atmos, you can still find the original kicking around (but it’s being replaced by this one, so act fast). Finally, if you’ve got even deeper pockets and love Sonos' versatility, the Sonos Arc is essentially just a bigger, better version of the Beam.
But when it comes to a great mix of compact design, cinematic immersion, and loads of flexible features, the Beam Gen 2 is the new gold standard.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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