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Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review: The best-sounding soundbar for small TVs

This compact Dolby Atmos soundbar packs Sonos's signature punch

Sonos Beam Gen 2 soundbar review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) soundbar delivers sophisticated sound in a small package. A bounty of smart features and listening options make the new Beam an attractive follow-up to the original.

For

  • Impressive sound for its size
  • 3D audio with support for Dolby Atmos
  • Reliable TruePlay tuning
  • Best option for 55-inch and smaller TVs

Against

  • More expensive than Beam (Gen 1)
  • Some new formats not available at launch

Tom's Guide Verdict

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) soundbar delivers sophisticated sound in a small package. A bounty of smart features and listening options make the new Beam an attractive follow-up to the original.

Pros

  • + Impressive sound for its size
  • + 3D audio with support for Dolby Atmos
  • + Reliable TruePlay tuning
  • + Best option for 55-inch and smaller TVs

Cons

  • - More expensive than Beam (Gen 1)
  • - Some new formats not available at launch
  • -
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) specs

Size: 25.6 x 2.3 x 3.9 inches
Weight: 6.2 pounds
Speakers: 4 drivers, 1 tweeter
Ports: HDMI eARC, Ethernet
Audio formats:
Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus
Colors: Black, White
Voice assistants: Alexa, Google Assistant
Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n/ac, 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) soundbar is the latest home-theater product promising the company’s signature audio quality for high-fidelity formats and perfectly-tuned entertainment experiences.

So does it deliver? Refreshing the original Sonos Beam (Gen 1), one of the best soundbars on the market, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a smart speaker, music player and Dolby Atmos sound purveyor all-in-one. 

There are no changes to the audio internals, but an upgraded CPU, tweaked profiles, more audio formats and HDMI eARC support are welcome improvements. The Beam (Gen 2) is compact and still rather affordable; though at $449, it is $50 more than the first-generation model.

While the booming Sonos Arc remains the brand’s top option for the best TVs with big screens in big spaces, it's only fair that apartment dwellers or those with smaller sets deserve a stellar Sonos soundbar, too. 

I actually replaced the Arc in my 1,000-square foot apartment for this Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review, and I don’t think I’ll go back. The Beam (Gen 2) is simply a better fit.

Sonos Beam Gen 2 soundbar up close

(Image credit: Future)

Sonos Beam (Gen 2) price and availability

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) costs $449 and is available as of Oct. 5, 2021. You can pre-order the new soundbar now if you want to get your hands on it as soon as it starts shipping.

We wouldn’t consider the Beam (Gen 2) one of the best cheap soundbars, but it’s half the price of the Sonos Arc, which recently saw a price hike from $799 to $899. Because Sonos has discontinued the Sonos Playbar, the Arc and Beam are the company's remaining two soundbar offerings.

Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review: Design

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) design is somewhat of a blend of the Sonos Arc and the original Sonos Beam. While it maintains the elongated-pill shape and slightly concave top of the first Beam, it gets the Arc's perforated polycarbonate grille. According to Sonos, the new grille should make the Beam (Gen 2) easier to clean and more durable over time.

Sonos Beam Gen 2 from side, close up of grille

(Image credit: Future)

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is much smaller than the Arc, measuring 25.6 x 2.3 x 3.9 inches instead of 45 x 4.5 x 3.4 inches. This makes it more suitable for smaller entertainment spaces. It fits my 55-inch Samsung Q80T QLED TV much better than the Arc ever did — I’d say the Beam (Gen 2) is well-proportioned for any of the best 55-inch TVs, best 50-inch TVs or smaller. 

Sonos Beam Gen 2 ports

(Image credit: Future)

Capacitive volume and pause/play controls are on the top side of the Beam (Gen 2), while on the back there’s a concave port array with options for Ethernet and HDMI ARC/eARC connections. When you pair the Beam to your TV via HDMI eARC, you can benefit from high-definition audio formats during movie-watching and gaming. Note some other soundbars have added HDMI, USB or 3.5mm aux ports. 

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) also comes in two color options, like the rest of Sonos' products of the last few years. If you've coordinated your Sonos Move, Sonos Roam or Sonos One colors, you can keep the pattern up for your new soundbar. 

Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review: Audio quality and compatible formats

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is nearly identical to the first-generation Beam on the inside. It features one tweeter, three passive radiators and four elliptical midwoofers, two of those forward-firing and the other two angled to either side. But an upgraded CPU improves the soundbar's height and surround abilities, even with the same speaker hardware. 

Sonos says the Beam (Gen 2) has been retuned, creating a crisper central channel that prioritizes vocal clarity and vocal dialog. Users will also benefit from 3D audio with support for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus and most leading home-theater sound formats.

Once the new soundbar was tuned to my living space, I tested the Beam’s abilities with a variety of music, show and movie formats. I turned on Whiplash and felt each percussion scene as though I was sitting in Shaffer Conservatory watching a manic Miles Teller live. 

Sonos Beam Gen 2 stacked on the Sonos Arc soundbar

(Image credit: Future)

The Beam (Gen 2) delivers some of the depth and height perhaps absent in the first-generation model. But I will say that when viewing the same scenes using a Sonos Arc, I could have been on stage with the studio band thanks to the larger soundbar’s 11 drivers compared to the Beam’s four. 

The Beam also doesn’t get nearly as loud as the Arc, which I actually appreciated because I couldn’t use the Arc to its full capacity in my New York City apartment. The Beam’s tempered volume alleviates some of my self-inflicted stress about being a courteous neighbor.

That’s not to say this small speaker doesn’t pack a punch. Kayne West and Jay-Z's "No Church in the Wild'' infectiously thumped just like it should, causing my compact living room to vibrate and complementing the song's cinematic style. It’s decided — I’ll be using the Beam (Gen 2) to DJ next time I have some friends over. 

Sonos Beam Gen 2 review

(Image credit: Future)

Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review: Smart features and streaming services

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) will initiate setup easily in the Sonos S2 app, thanks to its added NFC chip. With the ever-reliable TruePlay tuning feature, you’ll also be prompted to curate sound to your space and optimal couch position. 

The new Beam doesn’t have Auto TruePlay (that’s only found on the company’s portable speakers), so you’ll need to walk around your living room, or wherever you’ve hooked up the Beam (Gen 2), with your phone upside down for a minute.

Sonos Beam Gen 2 set up with TruePlay on iPhone

(Image credit: Future)

When you're watching a blockbuster movie, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) works as a regular music speaker. In other situations, you can either AirPlay from the music apps on your iPhone or use the Sonos S2 app to add and control your music and podcast services. 

Sonos even offers its own online radio service with guest hosts and curated content. Sonos Radio recently added 20 new stations, too. In other software updates, support for Amazon Music Ultra HD is coming to all S2 compatible Sonos speakers before the end of this year. Sonos should also add support for decoding DTS Digital Surround Sound later this year.

Sonos Beam Gen 2 controls and mic buttons

(Image credit: Future)

Like most of Sonos's other devices, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) supports Alexa and Google Assistant. It can act like many of the best Alexa speakers or best Google Home speakers, letting you control your smart-home devices, get answers to queries or simply change the soundtrack hands-free. 

Sonos Beam (Gen 2) review: Verdict

Creating the ultimate home-theater experience has become a top consumer priority in the past year and half. While the Sonos Arc stood out in 2020, not everyone can fit (or afford) the massive soundbar. With its smaller footprint and smart features, the $449 Sonos Beam (Gen 2) could be an attractive choice for urban dwellers or for those who just want a soundbar for their mid-size TVs. 

We do wish the company had kept the Beam price under $400. I can imagine some scenarios where the soundbar will actually be more expensive than the TV. Still, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) has everything you could want from a soundbar, from audio prowess to thorough smart-speaker functionality. 

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is a senior writer at Tom’s Guide covering wearables, TVs and everything smart-home related. When she’s not in cyborg mode, you can find her on an exercise bike or channeling her inner celebrity chef. She and her robot army will rule the world one day, but until then, reach her at kate.kozuch@futurenet.com.