Sonos Beam Gen 2: What’s new and is it worth upgrading?
Sonos has announced the Beam Gen 2, delivering an improved soundbar experience. But how does it compare to the original Beam and Arc?
It has been over 3 years since the original Sonos Beam arrived, and in that time, the streaming TV market has boomed. Thanks, COVID! As such, Sonos is returning to the market with a Beam Gen 2 device. It promises better quality sound and more features while retaining a more compact size and affordable price than the Beam's big brother, the Sonos Arc.
So, is the Sonos Beam Gen 2 any good? What new features does it bring to the table? Can it become one of the best soundbars in Australia? Here is everything you need to know.
When is the Sonos Beam Gen 2 release date?
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 will release in Australia on 5 October 2021. Pre-orders have opened today through the Sonos website.
How much is the Sonos Beam Gen 2 in Australia?
In Australia, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 will cost $699. By comparison, the original Beam launched in June 2018 for $599. So, there's a $100 premium there. The Sonos Arc costs $1,499 on its own, or $2,598 with a sub, which is more than double the price.
5 best features of the Sonos Beam Gen 2
The new Sonos Beam looks to do a solid job of bringing the range up to spec with 2021 entertainment standards. And indeed, futureproof it against upcoming services launching later in the year. Here are the key takeaways.
- You now get Dolby Atmos support, which offers a 3D-audio surround sound experience. Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Multichannel PCM and Dolby Multichannel PCM are also supported. DTS Digital Surround support will also be coming in the future.
- The internal processor has been upgraded and is now 40% faster. This allows for better decoding of streamed audio, which in turn broadens the depth of sound. It also allows for a grander speaker array, as correct positional instructions for spatial audio can be understood.
- The Sonos Beam Gen 2 upgrades from HDMI ARC to HDMI eARC, which brings it up to the HDMI 2.1 bandwidth standard. This is particularly good for gamers using the Xbox Series X or PS5 or for lossless audio applications like Tidal, which use larger audio data packets. Note that for gaming, your TV will require an eARC port to pass the audio through to the soundbar.
- It supports Truplay, the Sonos software that dynamically adjusts the sound by sensing the acoustics of your room. This maximises the sound quality. Truplay works well, but unfortunately, it's still limited to use via an iOS device. There's no Android support.
- Specific attention has been given to dialogue, driving greater clarity of speech in movies, TV and games. You can control this in the app by turning the Speech Enhancement option off and on. It's nice combining this feature with Night Sound mode. This allows you to deaden big sounds and effects in the evening while upping softer sounds like dialogue. As in, it keeps the peace with housemates and neighbours, but you can still keep up with the story.
Joining the Sonos ecosystem
Sonos is all about the Sonos ecosystem of speakers and how they can work together. This is managed through the Sonos app. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 will slide straight into that ecosystem, which means if you have the footy playing on the inside TV and a Sonos Roam out by the pool, you can easily allow for the commentary to come through to the outside speaker as you have a swim.
It also means you can add in the Sonos sub or surround speakers to level up your home theatre experience now or in the future. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 uses a dedicated 5GHz Wi-Fi signal for a low-latency connection to its wireless speakers. Bluetooth still isn't included unfortunately.
Over 100 services can be activated and controlled through the Sonos app, including the Sonos Radio experience. This acts as a discovery portal to new music, original content and a near-endless amount of global radio stations. Additionally, the Amazon Music Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos Music services are coming later in 2021, so will be supported by the Sonos Beam Gen 2.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 design
While the Sonos Beam Gen 2 retains the smaller footprint – at least compared to the Sonos Arc – of its predecessor, there's a lot more going on inside. There's now an array of 5 Class-D amplifiers, with the 2 new additions focused on surround and height audio. They're joined by 4 elliptical midwoofers, a centre tweeter and 3 passive radiators.
On the outside, the external polycarbonate grille has been updated so it's more in line with the Sonos Arc design. This improves the acoustic performance of the Sonos Beam Gen 2 over its predecessor. And it's just a nicer finish overall. It comes in a monochromatic black or white design as suits your feng shui.
Elsewhere across the body, you'll find an IR receiver on the front that allows it to work with existing TV remotes. A far-field microphone provides voice control support via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Beamforming and multi-channel echo cancellation technology help improve its performance.
Set-up is made easier with the inclusion of NFC support – this is a new feature. Key information, like your local Wi-Fi, can then be pulled directly from your phone. Touch controls on the surface mimic smartphone functionality – for example, swipe to change tracks.
My main disappointment with the design is the lack of HDMI passthrough on the Sonos Beam itself. There's only one HDMI port, which means it will rely on your TV to handle the passthrough. The optical port is gone altogether! Considering the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is pushing itself as being a great soundbar for Dolby Atmos, it's heavily reliant on the owner having a modern-enough TV (2020 or newer really) to have an eARC port. That's not good enough in my opinion.
Sonos Beam vs Sonos Beam Gen 2: Is it worth the upgrade?
The inclusion of Dolby Atmos support is the key to answering this question. It's made possible by buffing up the phased speaker array from 3 to 5, upping the processor speed by 40% and including the more modern eARC port. If you're streaming or watching movies, TV or sport in 4K with Dolby Atmos, then you're definitely going to hear an improvement in the Beam Gen 2 vs the Beam.
The same can be said for gamers on the new Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 consoles. Although it's worth noting the latter uses 3D Audio as opposed to Dolby Atmos, we're still talking big data here, which the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is built to handle.
Other use cases that will benefit from the Beam Gen 2 are audiophiles into lossless music. This is a growing scene, pioneered in many ways by Tidal. However, Amazon Music Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos Music are taking it further and are coming to Sonos later in 2021.
For those of you already with other Sonos speakers in your ecosystem, it's worth noting that the Wi-Fi has improved from 2.4GHz to 5GHz. This provides faster transmission over short distances, such as across your lounge room.
The only other notable improvement is the updated grille, which is cool… I guess, as well as NFC support, which should ensure an easier set-up.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 vs Sonos Arc
Perhaps the more interesting question becomes whether the Sonos Beam Gen 2 eats into the market of the Sonos Arc, the much longer, better featured, far more expensive bigger brother of the Beam range. The answer is yes, it does.
One of the main separators of the Arc from the original Beam was that the Arc offered Dolby Atmos support and big data eARC functionality. The Beam Gen 2 offers that now, too. Plus, it has upped the ante with an additional 2 speakers, closing the gap in sound performance.
The Sonos Arc, however, still offers far grander sound thanks to 8 woofers (compared to the 4 in the Beam Gen 2) and 3 tweeters (compared to the 1 in the Beam Gen 2). Although they share the same Class-D amps, the Arc has 11 compared to the 5 in the Beam Gen 2 as well.
The Beam Gen 2 is not going to deliver better sound than the Arc, that's for sure. However, if you have a smaller TV and want a more compact soundbar, the gap between the two is much smaller now. You're getting less sound, but it's still modern sound. This makes the Beam 2 much more worthy of consideration than its predecessor for entertainment lovers in 2021 and beyond.
I recently reviewed the Sonos Roam, which is the first ultra-portable speaker in the Sonos range. Is it a worthwhile addition to your Sonos ecosystem?