Sonos Beam Soundbar Review

If you’ve seen my Sonos One review, you know that I’m a big fan of what you get for the dollar when it comes to sound quality and features like Amazon integration and Apple Airplay support.  The Sonos Beam is trying to strike that same chord with a mid-sized, mid-priced sound bar for your television, that has Amazon Alexa and Airplay 2 built in, and the promise of Google Assistant sometime later this year.  Add to that the ability to control your television set, volume, and if you have a Amazon Fire TV, have a fully remote-less setup.  Everything can be controlled with Alexa.  It’s a lofty promise, but does it achieve that promise?

Setup

The Beam has a couple of options for hooking it up to your television set: an optical cable input and HDMI port.  Most TVs built over the past few years have HDMI Arc on at least one input on the TV.  All you have to do is hook an HDMI cable between the Beam and the HDMI Arc input on your TV and you should be good to go, but this will vary based on your TV.

In typical Sonos fashion, they have a top notch setup experience.  Plug in the speaker, load the Sonos app on your phone, and follow the step by step instructions.  In a matter of minutes you’ll be up and running.  

Setting up a Sonos home theater speaker, like the Beam, has some additional steps compared to the Sonos One within the app setup.  You’ll be asked if you have additional Sonos speakers to use for surround sound, or if you already have some that you’d like to convert into surrounds.  

In my case I had one existing Sonos One speaker and was adding another for a full surround sound set.  Setting up the new Sonos One, pairing it with the existing speaker, and then linking them to the new Sonos Beam was very easy.  I have to tip my hat to Sonos for their user experience design around setting up their speakers within the app.  

Once you have the speakers added to the system, you’ll be asked to run through the audio calibration setup.  And if you saw my Sonos One review, you know how I feel about walking around the room waving my hands in the air to calibrate the speakers.

The final step is activating Alexa.  I was curious how Sonos would handle multiple Amazon enabled devices in a surround sound group, and was pleasantly surprised at how they handled it.  You don’t have to worry about Alexa battling it out with herself across these speakers.  Sonos automatically turns off the microphones on the Sonos One surrounds and the Beam becomes the sole “listening” Amazon device in the room.  

The Sonos Beam volume should be automatically controlled through your television if you’ve plugged it in with HDMI Arc.  However, you can also setup remote control support in the app, which will walk you through pointing your TV remote at the Beam and it will learn your TV remotes IR signal.  

Sound

The Sonos Beam is meant for small to medium sized rooms.  If you try to use it in a larger space, you’re going to be disappointed, but if you use it in a smaller living room or a bedroom, you should be pleasantly surprised.  I’m using mine in a bedroom above a wall mounted TV and wasn’t expecting it to fill the room as well as it did.  

There’s no comparison between the built in TV audio and the Sonos Beam.  It’s night and day.  Comparing to another small soundbar, I was replacing a Bose SoundTouch Home Theater system in my bedroom, which sounded very good.  That system didn’t have surround sound speakers, but it did have a subwoofer that really helped to add to the full-ness of the audio.  While the Sonos Beam doesn’t have as rich a low end without a subwoofer, I was shocked at how close it came to the fullness of the Bose system.  If I added the Sonos subwoofer to the mix, I’m sure it would overtake the Bose handily.

The real strength of the Sonos Beam audio is in the mid-range, specifically voices.  Dialog is crisp and clear.  You definitely feel like dialog is coming from the center, while music and ambient sounds are spread throughout the listening area.  The soundstage is much wider than I was expecting.  It’s not to say it’s perfect though.  I wouldn’t hold this up as audiophile speaker or as a replacement for a true full-fledged home theater system, but for improving up a smaller setup like in my bedroom, it sounds really good.

Listening to the Sonos Beam with the Sonos Ones as surround sound speakers changes that dynamic even further.  The sound stage is truly room wide, as you might expect.  But I’m a little disappointed at the lack surround sound control you have in the app.  

In the advanced audio room settings, you can tweak to the TV dialogue and surround sound settings, but it’s very subtle adjustments.  I’m used to being able to really dial in these settings on a full surround sound system, so I haven’t been able to tweak this to my exact preferences.  I really wish they’d give some more granular controls here.

Alexa

If you want to know some of my complaints around Sonos and Amazon, be sure to watch my Sonos One review.  When it comes to how Sonos Beam works with Amazon, I’m very pleased.  The Beam is able to pick up my voice from the other side of the room while the TV is playing.  You can have Amazon turn on your TV or adjust the volume.  If you have an Amazon Fire TV, you can even have it start playing a specific show, or play/pause a video.  At this point, it’s not easier to use your voice to control your TV over using a remote control.  In fact, I’d argue that it’s worse in a lot of cases.  In the time it takes to say, “Amazon, pause my TV,” I could have hit the pause button my remote in a fraction of the time.  For me TV voice control is still only useful for turning on the TV, so by the time you walk over to your remote control, the TV is turned on and ready to go.  As much as I might want to live the Star Trek lifestyle, voice controls aren’t always the way to go.

Final Thoughts

Sonos has created a home theater speaker at a price point that’s a little more mainstream than their other offerings.  If you’re using the Beam in an appropriately sized room, it will give you a rich, room filling sound.  And with Amazon and Apple Airplay support out of the box, you can tie this speaker into home automation and get some extra control for your television set.  There’s a lot of value packed into this little bar … or … beam.  Add to that the ability to add additional speakers to your setup over time, and you’ve got a great little home theater package.  Highly recommended.

AudioMatt FerrellArchive