Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
RRP $ 449.00
“Dolby Atmos adds a dash of 3D fun to an already excellent soundbar.”
Immersive, room-filling sound
No HDMI inputs
Requires compatible TV for Dolby Atmos
Since debuting in 2018, the $ 399 Sonos Beam has been one of the best small soundbars you can buy thanks to its great sound, compact and sleek design, easy integration with Sonos’ sound platform for the whole house and home its ability to double as a smart speaker for Alexa or Google Assistant.
But in recent years Dolby Atmos – the 3D surround sound format that makes movies and music much more immersive – has become hugely popular, not least due to its acceptance by streaming giants like Netflix, Disney +, Amazon Prime Video, and both Apple TV + as well as Apple Music. This means that most new soundbars, including Sonos’ $ 799 flagship Arc soundbar, are now Atmos compatible, and the second generation Beam is no exception.
The new Sonos Beam is more expensive at $ 449. So the questions are whether existing Beam owners should even think about an upgrade and what prospective Beam newbies can expect from it.
A couple of small changes
First things first, before reading this hands-on test, be sure to check out our review of the original Sonos Beam. Sonos made very few changes to the second generation version. From now on, I’ll just discuss what these changes are and how they affect the beam’s performance.
I am a fan of the grid. It’s much easier to clean and doesn’t attract as much dust in the first place.
Some of these changes are relatively minor, such as the decision to replace the fabric speaker grille with one made of rigid plastic. The biggest change is in the sound, which I’ll get into in a moment. It’s worth noting, however, that while I am discussing the changes Sonos made to the Beam, this is not an attempt to figure out which one is better because, aside from remaining Gen 1 inventory, the second generation Beam is now the only one that you can buy.
What’s in the box?
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
Sonos has always been the king of simplicity, and that goes from setup to software to packaging. The new Beam comes in a plain printed, fully recyclable box, and the only plastic you’ll find are the two small poly bags that protect the included HDMI cable and optical-to-HDMI adapter. If Sonos finds a way to erase those bags, it will have some of the most sustainable packaging in the business.
In the box you will find the beam, color-coordinated power and HDMI cables, the adapter I mentioned and some printed matter for guarantees, etc.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
I like the traditional look of cloth grilles on a speaker. But as the owner of two cats, I can confirm that fabric grids are more like dust and fur magnets that have to be cleaned pretty much all the time. I don’t know if that was the idea behind Sonos when it decided to replace the fabric grille on the first generation Beam with a perforated plastic version, but I’m a fan. It’s a lot easier to clean and doesn’t attract as much dust in the first place at.
Setting up Sonos products has always been remarkably easy. The new beam is even easier.
The white Gen 2 test device Sonos sent me looks great. And if you’re a die-hard fan of white products, this new Beam goes with every other white Sonos speaker you might own, from the Sonos One to the tiny new Roam.
A (even) simpler set-up
Setting up Sonos products has always been remarkably easy. Plug it in, open the Sonos app, tap some settings, and press a button or two on the speaker. Two minutes later and that’s it. The new beam is even easier to set up thanks to near field communication (NFC) from Sonos. As soon as I put the beam on the wall and started the Sonos S2 app, the app recognized the beam and asked me to complete the setup.
This would have been as easy as tapping my iPhone against the top of the beam, but my phone case is ridiculously thick (it was designed to attach the phone to a motorcycle) so this part didn’t work. The app cleverly saw that I was having problems and asked if I would like to switch to an audio-based setup. When I said yes, I was asked to hold the phone next to the speaker while the speaker played an encoded audio tone. Five seconds later I was done. I have to give Sonos crazy props – the company just keeps making its products easier to work with.
The connection to my TV was also a breeze. Once the HDMI cable is plugged in, the Beam will automatically detect your TV and determine the commands it needs to control it, which is especially handy if you opt for Alexa’s TV control capabilities.
Is it atmos?
Sonos Beam Gen 2 (above, in white) and Sonos Beam Gen 1. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
Dolby Atmos can be a difficult technology to understand. In an ideal world, we would all buy dedicated 5.1.2 or better home theater systems with at least two ceiling speakers to give us all of the juicy hemispherical sound effects that Atmos is known for. That’s not realistic for most of us, which is why Dolby Atmos soundbars have become so popular. With built-in upward-pointing drivers that radiate sound from the ceiling to our ears, the best Atmos soundbars provide a compelling replacement for the installed ceiling speakers. But here’s the thing about Dolby Atmos: thanks to sound virtualization, which uses some very clever tricks to simulate the presence of upward or ceiling-based height channels, it can actually be delivered over just two channels.
With the addition of virtualized surround sound, it’s an even more impressive addition to your TV.
How well virtualization works depends on a number of factors, including the size of the soundbar, the number of drivers it can use to create the simulated sound, the size and shape of your room, and even whether you have the soundbar Have turned on on a tabletop or mounted on the wall.
In general, this kind of virtualized Atmos sound just can’t compete with what you get from dedicated speakers, and the new Beam is no exception. However, Sonos managed to get a surprising amount of additional immersion out of what is exactly the same driver setup as the first-generation Beam under that perforated grille.
Sonos Beam Gen 2 (above, white) and Beam Gen 1. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
To get a feel for the difference between the first and second generation models, I stacked them vertically and played a variety of content with the HDMI cable toggled between them. The sound stage of the new beam is significantly wider and when playing Atmos content you get a small but noticeable height effect. The Beam has always outperformed its weight class when it comes to filling a room with great sound, and with the addition of virtualized surround sound, it’s an even more impressive addition to your TV.
For fun, I tried the recently remastered classic Top Gun from the 1980s. Indeed, those epic aerial combat scenes and the iconic opening sequence on board an aircraft carrier sounded fantastic. The beam still lacks the deep, low-end rumble of sound bars that come with their own subwoofers, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well it mimicked a full surround system. Even more surprising is how well this effect carries over to standard 5.1 content.
There have been a couple of occasions when I thought the first generation Beam was providing a bit more understandable dialogue, but the difference was small.
The one port problem
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends
The new Beam has a single HDMI ARC / eARC port for connection to a television. The eARC part is new – it allows HDMI-eARC-enabled TVs to send a high-resolution, lossless 24-bit audio signal to the soundbar, while the first generation Beam was limited to lossy digital audio. That single port wasn’t a serious limiting factor for the first-generation Beam, as the speaker couldn’t decode more than Dolby 5.1, which meant that every TV over the past 15 years could use its full capabilities, even if it meant having an optical- to use HDMI adapter.
But with the Dolby Atmos capabilities of the new beam, this is no longer the case. To hear Dolby Atmos from the new Beam, your TV must also support Dolby Atmos. If you want to hear Dolby Atmos from your other devices (such as streaming boxes, game consoles or Blu-ray players), they must also be connected to the HDMI inputs on your TV. There is simply no other way to transfer Atmos content to the new beam.
If you have a Dolby Atmos TV with lots of HDMI ports, this should work fine. However, if your TV isn’t Dolby Atmos compatible, you will never be able to take full advantage of this speaker. Many other Atmos sound bars come with at least one HDMI input so you can connect an Apple TV 4K or a Roku Ultra. This would send the Atmos content straight to the speaker while the video goes to the TV, but that’s not an option with the new Beam.
For Dolby Atmos Music, Sonos plans to support this format later this year. It starts with Amazon Music HD, but hopefully other services that offer Atmos Music and lossless music like Tidal and Apple Music will be added soon.
The Sonos Beam is a little more expensive now, but it’s worth it. The additional immersion offered by the speaker’s virtualized Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround sound makes an already powerful soundbar for movies and music even better. If you have an Atmos-enabled TV, it’s worth upgrading to take advantage of the better sound. Even if your TV isn’t Atmos-enabled, the new Beam may offer improved immersion over its predecessor, but the difference will be less noticeable.