A Fantastic Soundbar for Movies and Music

Soundbars have come a long way. While they started off as barely providing better sound than your TV speakers, now they support surround sound and even Dolby Atmos. Sonos is ready for the challenge, upping the game on its compact soundbar, the second-generation Sonos Beam.

The new Beam is a major upgrade to the original model. This time around it provides five speaker arrays compared to the original’s three, features a much faster processor, and supports HDMI eARC in addition to the standard ARC. That said, the biggest feature in the new Beam is the addition of Dolby Atmos support.

All these features sound great, but they’re packed into a small package that costs more than some complete soundbar systems on the market. Is the Sonos Beam worth the extra cash? Based on the sound quality, it just may be.

Build and Design

Sonos Beam on desk
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

  • Dimensions: 69mm x 651mm x 100mm (2.72in x 25.63in x 3.94in)
  • Weight: 2.8kg (6.2lb)
  • Colors: Black, White

Like the original, the second-generation Sonos Beam is small for a soundbar, measuring just over 25 inches wide. This can be useful, even if you have a large TV, as it’s much easier to place or mount the Beam compared to your average soundbar.

The Beam doesn’t aim to be flashy, either. Available in either black or white, the soundbar uses a matte finish that looks classy compared to the glossy look of some other Sonos products. To match this, the soundbar is subtle with branding, with a small logo on the front that’s hard to spot unless you’re looking for it.

One major change from the original Beam is the grille. While the original Beam used a cloth grille, the new model opts for the same plastic used for the rest of the exterior. No matter what you think of the new look, one benefit is that the newer version attracts less dust and is easier to clean than the original.

On top of the soundbar, there are a few buttons and two LEDs. One indicates that the soundbar is turned on, while the other lets you know whether the built-in microphone is enabled.


Sonos Beam (gen 2) ports
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

  • Ports: HDMI, Ethernet
  • Supported formats: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos (Dolby Digital Plus), Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos (True HD), Multichannel PCM, Dolby Multichannel PCM, DTS Digital Surround
  • Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz 802.11/b/g/n

Sonos takes a limited approach to how it connects to your TV in that it only supports an HDMI ARC connection, though it now also supports HDMI eARC. If your TV doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port, you can use the optical output with the included optical to HDMI convertor, though with this method, you won’t be able to control the volume with your TV remote.

Some soundbars include multiple HDMI inputs that let the soundbar sit between your source devices and your TV, but that isn’t the case here. If you don’t have a TV with HDMI ARC, this may not be the soundbar for you.

Sonos uses Wi-Fi for all communication, but there is an Ethernet port if you need a more stable internet connection. This reliance on Wi-Fi means that there is no Bluetooth connectivity. That said, you can stream directly from most streaming services directly to the Beam, and this makes for better sound quality than Bluetooth, including hi-res audio support.

The Sonos Beam has a hidden NFC zone on top of the soundbar that makes for easy setup. Another benefit of using Wi-Fi instead of another type of connection is that it’s easy to connect and add other Sonos devices to your system.

Setup and Integrations

Setting up the Sonos Beam

Setting up the Beam is a simple process. Plug in the power and plug an HDMI cable between the HDMI port on the soundbar and the HDMI ARC port on your TV. If you’re not sure which port is your ARC port, check your TV’s manual. The Beam turns on automatically, so you don’t need to power it on.

Everything else takes place in the Sonos app (available for Android and iPhone/iPad), formerly known as the Sonos S2 app. Once you’ve downloaded the app, launch it and sign in to your Sonos account or create one. Follow the setup process until it prompts you to pair the Beam.

If your phone has NFC, you can make this part of the process even easier by waving your phone over the section of the Beam that the app shows you. If this doesn’t work, the soundbar can play a series of sounds that the app recognizes using your phone’s microphone. Finally, if none of these work, you can enter a PIN found on the soundbar.

Once the Beam is connected, you’ll most likely be prompted to update the firmware to the latest version. After this point, you can start using the soundbar with your TV or you can set up a voice assistant.

The Beam supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, though you can only use one. If you don’t integrate one of these, you can still use voice commands using the built-in Sonos voice assistant.

Controls and the Sonos App

Sonos Beam capacitive controls
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

On top of the soundbar, you’ll find a few capacitive touch controls. You can’t do too much with these, though you can adjust the volume, pause and resume playback, and enable and disable the onboard microphone.

Frankly, you’re probably not going to use these controls very often, as it’s almost always easier to use the mobile app, your TV remote, or voice commands. The good news is that you can disable these touch controls in the Sonos app, which is handy if your cat keeps walking on them and turning up the volume.

Adjusting the volume with your TV remote requires HDMI-CEC, which is available on the vast majority of HDMI ARC/eARC connections. If this doesn’t work by default, you may just have to enable HDMI-CEC in your TV’s settings. Once this is set up, adjusting volume is as easy as using your TV’s built-in speakers (which, by the way, you should turn off when using a soundbar).

The Sonos app is where you control everything about the Beam. This includes EQ settings, pairing other devices, and setting up which rooms certain devices are in. The app is also where you’ll set up Sonos Trueplay, which we’ll look at more in-depth later on in this review.

The app also has two handy features for use while watching TV: Night Sound and Speech Enhancement modes. Night Sound lowers the volume of loud sounds and raises the volume of quiet sounds for watching while others are trying to sleep. As the name implies, Speech Enhancement changes EQ settings to make voices easier to hear.

You can also integrate your music and other streaming services in the Sonos app and stream them to the Beam directly. This lets you easily play music using voice commands, though you may also need to integrate the services with your voice assistant of choice.

Sound Quality

Sonos Beam (gen2) side angle
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

  • Drivers: Four elliptical midwoofers, one tweeter, three passive radiators
  • Microphone: Far-field microphone array with advanced beamforming and multi-channel echo cancellation

The Sonos beam contains four elliptical midwoofers for midrange, a single tweeter, and three passive bass radiators. This may not sound like much, but thanks to the new processor in the Beam, the soundbar can get some impressive results from these speakers.

One of the first things that impressed me about the Beam was how much bass it was capable of producing. I didn’t feel like there was a subwoofer in the room with me, but the soundbar was much more full-sounding than the previous standalone soundbars I’ve used.

That said, I tested the Sonos Beam alongside the company’s new Sub Mini subwoofer. You could definitely hear the difference with the subwoofer connected, but turning it off while listening, I was frequently surprised. The most noticeable difference of adding the subwoofer was midrange clarity thanks to the Sub Mini handling the low end, freeing up the Beam.

Related: Sonos Sub Mini Review: More Bass For Less Money

There was a moment while I was listening to King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s “Ice V” that I forgot I wasn’t listening to my usual stereo. I often find soundbars not to work well for music, but the Beam is an exception. Even without a subwoofer, the bass in the song was well-represented.

Next up, I turned to the Felice Brothers’ “Jazz on the Autobahn,” which is a recording with a lot of space and room sound. This is the type of music that rarely works well on a soundbar, as they tend to exaggerate reverb. Here that wasn’t the case, and the sound was perfect.

To test surround sound without Atmos (that gets its own section up next), I watched Ford vs. Ferrari. Various elements of the movie, particularly the score, convincingly seemed to come from all around me, and occasionally even behind me.

That said, with movies, I noticed the lack of a subwoofer much more than I did with music. The sound was still impressive, but there is a weight to certain sounds that don’t translate as well without a subwoofer.

Dolby Atmos and Sonos Trueplay

Sonos Beam underneath TV
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek

Unlike Sonos’s larger soundbar, the Arc, the Beam doesn’t contain upward-firing speakers, meant to bounce sound off the ceiling. These precisely aimed speakers are key for convincing Dolby Atmos height effects, and it left me wondering how well Atmos would work.

In place of those missing upward-firing speakers, the Sonos Beam uses psychoacoustics for Atmos. This means it uses electronic trickery thanks to the new processor to convince you that you’re hearing height effects in Dolby Atmos movies.

For this to work properly, you’ll want to set up Sonos Trueplay¬†so that the speakers are properly tuned to your space. This uses the built-in microphone on your iPhone (sorry Android users, this feature remains Apple-exclusive) to measure the acoustics of your room. Then, the processor in the Beam adjusts audio for your room’s measurements.

Setting up Trueplay is simple. First, you sit in the position you’d typically sit in while watching a movie while the Beam plays a sequence of sounds that your iPhone listens to. Then, you stand up and wave your phone up and down throughout the room while the Beam plays the same series of sounds.

With Trueplay enabled, I was surprised at how effective the Sonos Beam’s take on delivering Dolby Atmos audio was. Turning Trueplay on and off, I noticed that sounds seemed to come from better-defined locations with Trueplay enabled.

Dolby Atmos content sounds enveloping, and Atmos movies felt more immersive than standard surround sound. That said, while I could hear height effects happening, I never heard sound coming from above me the way I would with upward-firing speakers. Instead, it felt like height effects were limited to the area between roughly ear height and the floor.

Considering how much of an improvement Trueplay is, and not just for Dolby Atmos but in general, it’s a shame that it’s reserved for iPhone owners. That said, even Sonos recommends borrowing a friend’s iPhone to set up Trueplay, and I agree that the feature is worth it.

Expanding Your Sonos System

The Sonos Beam certainly works well standalone, but a big part of the reason many people choose Sonos is how easy it is to add more Sonos products to your lineup. Whether you’re looking to set up a whole home audio system eventually or just to add another speaker or two, it’s easy to do.

As mentioned above, if you’re buying the Sonos Beam for home theater use (which you almost certainly are), it’s hard not to recommend pairing it with a subwoofer, at least eventually. Sonos makes two: the third-generation Sub, and the newer, more affordable Sub Mini. For most rooms, the Sub Mini pairs perfectly with the Beam.

Related: Don’t Go Overboard With Your First Whole Home Audio Purchase

If you want even more convincing surround effects, you can also add a pair of satellite speakers. They’re not cheap if you’re only buying them as satellite speakers, but the Sonos One SL work well, especially if you already happen to have a pair.

Of course, this all adds up, and your simple soundbar can end up turning into an expensive hobby. That said, for the price, you get a system that competitors still struggle to match when it comes to sound quality and ease of use.


Sonos Sub (Gen 3)

Add bass and low-end audio to your Sonos speaker setup.

Should You Buy the Sonos Beam (Gen 2)?

The second-generation Sonos Beam is a great soundbar on its own, but it’s also a great entryway into the Sonos ecosystem. Sure, the soundbar is great for enhancing your TV shows and movies, but it’s also great for music, making it a great choice for an all-in-one speaker system.

As we’ve mentioned already, you can upgrade the Beam by adding other elements. I’d say adding a subwoofer like Sonos’s new Sub Mini is nearly essential for big-sounding movie audio, but that adds extra costs. While adding a pair of speakers for surrounds would likely be nice, it certainly isn’t necessary.

Sonos speakers aren’t cheap, and this could quickly turn into an expensive hobby. That said, if the cost isn’t a problem, the ease of use, compact nature, and fantastic sound from the Sonos Beam make it one of the best soundbars you can buy.


Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

  • Sounds surprisingly big, even on its own
  • Dolby Atmos works, even without upward-firing speakers
  • Setup is simple and easy
  • Trueplay makes a meaningful difference
  • Expanding is very easy

  • Only really supports TVs with HDMI ARC/eARC
  • Needs a subwoofer like the Sub Mini to sound its best

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