Sonos soundbars are very well made, sound great and are easy to use, but up until now, have been fairly light on high-tech features.
The new Sonos Beam breaks that mold by offering a bunch of functions, including HDMI and Alexa voice control. And at $399, it could even be considered affordable — something else Sonos has never been known for. But to get all the features in a compact form, Sonos had to make a few compromises on sound quality.
Shaped like a flattened, elongated pill, the 25.6 x 3.9 x 2.7-inch Beam is smaller than most soundbars. But don't let its relatively diminutive size fool you — there's plenty going on inside the unit. It has four woofers and one tweeter, which helps it produce room-filling sound.
The Beam follows the Sonos minimalist aesthetic: A touch-sensitive top lets you adjust the volume, play and pause songs, skip tracks and more. A single LED light shows the soundbar's status. You can also mute the microphone.
You can connect to your TV via HDMI — a first for a Sonos soundbar — or digital optical audio. The Beam uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet for streaming audio and to connect with other Sonos speakers on your network for multiroom audio. You can also used a wired Ethernet cable for network access.
As with other Sonos soundbars, the Beam doesn't come with a remote. You can control it with your existing TV remote, or, if your TV supports HDMI ARC-CEC, you can use Amazon's Alexa and voice commands to control it.
For example, you can tell it to turn on the display or adjust the volume. I encountered some problems with my LG OLED TV and the Beam when using voice controls; the command for turn on TV didn't work. (We've reached out to Sonos about the issue and will update the story when we have more information.) Support for Google Assistant and Apple's Siri (through AirPlay 2) is in the works, according to Sonos.
Alexa was responsive from across a large room to typical requests: it told me the weather, set a timer and turned on a Wemo Switch. If you have a Fire TV connected as well, you can launch a show on Netflix or Hulu; however, there was some lag after commands before the Fire TV actually did anything. For example, when I asked it to pause a show, it took several seconds before the show stopped playing.
Alexa also comes in very handy for controlling music playing through the Sonos app. You can play, pause and skip tracks. But it couldn't find playlists I have on Spotify or Apple Music.
The Beam produces a wider sound than you'd guess from looking at it, and it delivers balanced treble, midrange and bass. But if you're used to the sound quality of a Sonos Playbar or Playbase, you're unlikely to be wowed by the audio. While it has enough bass, it won't rattle the floor without adding a subwoofer. If you need more low end, you can get the Beam bundled with a subwoofer for $999.
Luke Cage's deep voice sounded resonant and clear on the Beam, and the wide soundstage made the battles throughout The Last Jedi encompassing — though I missed the low-end oomph during the action sequences. JBL's SB450, which includes a wireless subwoofer, felt much more engaging thanks to the deep rumble it produced.
The Beam produces a wider sound than you'd guess from looking at it.
Sonos prides itself on music playback, and overall the Beam meets the high expectations. Florence Welch's vocals on Florence + The Machine's "June" were full and warm. On Guns N' Roses's "Shadow of Your Love," the Beam nicely balanced the distorted guitars and crashing cymbals; the cymbals on the same song through the SB450 sounded harsh and too bright. However, the SB450 produced much stronger bass, as did the Sonos Playbar.
As a small soundbar, the Beam doesn't get extremely loud, but it's loud enough to fill a medium-size room.
Sonos makes setting up the Beam relatively painless, even with all the features that are available. You use the Sonos app to get started; if you don't have a Sonos account you'll need to create one. If you connect the Beam to your TV's HDMI ARC port, it can detect your model and settings. You also need to sign in to your Amazon account during set up to enable Alexa.
Few soundbars can match Sonos when it comes to matching sound to the environment. The Beam includes Sonos' TruePlay, which automatically adjusts the speaker's sound to work best in the room in which you've placed it. TruePlay uses your phone's microphone to measure sound throughout the room. You can also manually adjust bass and treble; while watching video, you can also engage Speech Enhancement, which boosts the center channel, or Night Mode, which lowers the bass level.
The Sonos Beam has a lot going for it. At the top of the list, there's Alexa, which brings smart-speaker functions into your living room. With the promise of Google Assistant and AirPlay 2 on the way, this speaker won't become obsolete anytime soon. It delivers wide and balanced sound overall, and you can also adjust the sound to your environment in ways that few soundbars allow. The soundbar's small size can also be a bonus, though in return for the compact form, you give up the booming bass that other Sonos speakers create.
If you're into the Sonos ecosystem and want a real centerpiece for your home theater, you're better off with a $699 Playbase or Playbar. But if big bass isn't important, or you have a smaller room, the Beam will make your ears happy.