Sonos Beam Gen 2 review: Is it any good?
Quick verdict: The Sonos Beam Gen 2 levels up from its predecessor by adding eARC support. This in turn brings it up to speed with Dolby Atmos and next-generation consoles, with improved processing, speaker arrays and mic support making the most of it. However, the lack of passthrough reduces its use case for many Australians.
- Big sound from a compact design
- Good 3D audio with an easy set-up
- Integrates well with streaming services
- eARC support makes it next-gen ready
- Lack of passthrough means it relies on new TVs
- Reliant on the broader Sonos ecosystem
- Android users miss out on Trueplay
- Struggles a bit in higher ranges
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.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is therefore not the company's premium solution for home theatres. However, such is the size and price of the Sonos Arc, it's prohibitive for many people. The Beam Gen 2 is best described as a mid-level soundbar. You can certainly get much cheaper and much more expensive soundbars.
The first thing you notice about the Sonos Beam 2 is how small it is. From wrist to armpit, it's smaller than the length of my arm. However, its discrete size doesn't mean small sound. Quite the contrary – the Beam 2 pumps, to use the technical audio terminology of my mates.
But it's also not the all-in-one speaker solution for full cinephiles or party goers. Instead, it's angled at being a good fit for people with small TVs or tight space availability, who want to step things up – way up – from their TV speakers. So, does it hit the mark? Is the Sonos Beam Gen 2 any good and one of the best soundbars of 2021?
While the Sonos Beam Gen 2 retains the smaller footprint of its predecessor, there's a lot more going on inside. The 5 Class-D amplifiers sit in a 5-array formation (as opposed to 3 on the original) 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, too. 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. This is important, as it means you don't have to use your phone to change the volume. A far-field microphone provides voice control support via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Beamforming and multi-channel echo cancellation technology help improve voice control performance.
Set-up is made easier with the inclusion of NFC support – this is a new feature. This is supposed to do more than just make for an easy sync by pulling information like your Wi-Fi details. However, it didn't work for me; I still had to enter my local network.
Touch controls on the surface mimic smartphone functionality – for example, swipe to change tracks. Again, while a nice addition, most people aren't going to want to get up from their couch every time they want to interact with the soundbar.
Smaller can be better
The key attribute of the Sonos Beam Gen 2's design is its small footprint. It's only 65cm long, 10cm wide and 6.85cm tall. It's only marginally bigger than a PS5. There are very few homes that won't be able to fit it in somewhere on their entertainment unit under their TV. However, the Sonos Arc is 114cm and the LG SN11 is a whopping 144cm. They're just too big for some homes, and look terrible when under a small TV.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 does a solid job of bringing the Beam up to spec with 2021 entertainment standards; and indeed, futureproofing it against upcoming services launching later in the year.
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 later in 2021.
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 better computed.
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, while still allowing you to hear dialogue clearly.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 supports Trueplay, the Sonos software that dynamically adjusts the sound by sensing the acoustics of your room. This maximises the sound quality. Trueplay works well, but unfortunately it's still limited to use via an iOS device. There's no Android support. It's worth noting that Trueplay is less useful with a soundbar – which is unlikely to move – than it is with something like the Sonos Roam, which is frequently used in different locations.
There's no remote, but thankfully there's IR support, so you're not reliant on your phone to change the volume. You also don't get another remote to think about. Your existing TV remote will control the Beam.
My first impressions when I turned on the Sonos Beam Gen 2 related to volume. It can deliver sound much louder than I would have expected given its size and it does so without distortion. I started by pairing Spotify to the device through the Sonos app and playing some music. While this is a soundbar most likely used for those gaming or watching TV, it's also a wireless portal into your music library.
Playing richly detailed music from the likes of Booka Shade sounded great.
While I was happy with the volume and the clarity of sound, I did feel like it was a little tinny in the higher range notes. And while the bass is admirable for a product this size, it's still some distance from a dedicated sub. You can, of course, pair this soundbar with the Sonos subwoofer, but if you're hoping to feel the engines of a Star Wars spaceship rumble past your couch while you munch on popcorn, the Beam Gen 2 doesn't have that kind of muscle in-built.
Indeed, with Dolby Atmos support, I used Star Wars via Disney+ as one of my key testing tools. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 certainly does a good job of ensuring voices aren't drowned out by the rest of the soundscape. And the soundbar does a decent job trying to provide a 3D spatial soundscape. Again, it's not on par with the bigger soundbars and nor should it be, but there's a noticeable improvement there on your TV speakers.
The passthrough issue
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 also upgrades from HDMI ARC to HDMI eARC compatibility. This 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. Just note that for gaming, your TV will require an eARC port to pass the audio through to the soundbar.
Indeed, my main disappointment with the feature suite 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 (although an optical to HDMI adaptor is included in the box).
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.
I think the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is going to be picked up by people who don't have the latest and greatest home theatre set-ups. They will have smaller TVs (which means older TVs in most cases) or otherwise be on a budget. They are unlikely to have this passthrough technology on their TV system. If these people want to be able to connect a video game console or something like an Apple 4K TV and get Dolby Atmos, they're immediately left in the cold.
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 slides 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. That's just one example.
More useful is the ability to 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. But 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 number of global radio stations. Additionally, the Amazon Music Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos Music services coming later in 2021 will be supported by the Sonos Beam Gen 2.
The app itself does an admirable job of trying to corral this ecosystem into one portal. Set-up is simple and intuitive, and there are some nice features in there – I particularly like how you can get it to turn on music at a certain time each morning. Just note that if you have an Android phone or tablet, you can't use Trueplay, leaving you with limited options in how you can play with the sound to get it just right.
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 dialling 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, you're definitely going to hear an improvement in the Beam Gen 2 versus 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, as well as NFC support, which makes it slightly easier to 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 arrays of its speakers, closing the gap in sound performance.
However, the Sonos Arc 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.
Should you buy the Sonos Beam Gen 2?
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is a noticeable step-up from the original Beam, and it stands out for offering volume and punch in a very small form factor. It doesn't compete with the bigger and more expensive soundbars for range and bass, but for those looking to step things up from their TV speakers there's plenty to like. And if you're already part of the Sonos ecosystem, it should shoot right to the top of your list.
However, I do feel that the Beam Gen 2 may be too reliant on the fact it's part of a broader ecosystem. Could it deliver better bass and range (especially at the high end) if it wasn't hoping you'd get other Sonos speakers involved in the set-up? And why would you limit your big feature – Dolby Atmos support – by not providing on-device passthrough?
These head scratches aside, Sonos has established itself as being an audio supplier focused on quality. And the Sonos Beam Gen 2 sounds, looks and behaves like a quality product.
How I tested the Sonos Beam Gen 2
I set the Sonos Beam Gen 2 up in 2 separate rooms in my home; 1 closed-off and 1 open plan, to test out the 3D audio and Trueplay in different environments. I listened to music, played next-gen video games and watched both TV and movies, as well as extensively exploring the app. I also compared it to other soundbars I've owned and tested in the past.
Pricing and availability
In Australia, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 launched on 5 October 2021 and costs $699. By comparison, the original Beam launched in June 2018 for $599. The Sonos Arc costs $1,499 on its own, or $2,598 with a sub, which is more than double the price.
Where to buy
Images: Chris Stead