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Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff
Setup and Software
The Sonos Arc is the best sound bar I’ve ever paired with an HDTV and is quite stylish, to boot. It also costs more than my 65-inch 4K HDTV. Is it worth it? For the music, Alexa smarts, and the amount of time I spend watching TV on my TCL, yes.
We received a Sonos Arc review unit so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
You forget what a poor excuse for audio equipment the speakers on even the newest 4K TVs are until you get a new speaker. That was the out of body experience I had when I queued up Iron Man (one of many Marvel movies in the Disney+ library) and started playback on the Sonos Arc premium soundbar I just connected to my 65-ich TCL 4K Roku TV.
For a moment, my soul exited my body and darted around the room, picking up the sound waves bounding off every corner and surface. Crystal clear voices played over powerful explosions, which mixed deep rumbles with the sharp sound of shrapnel whizzing by our hero’s ear.
This is what I’d been missing. Sound, rich, multi-channel, full-featured audio in all its glory. Sonos Arc brought it back to me.
Sonos Arc is the latest in Sonos’ ever-expanding line of Wi-Fi-friendly sound products and, I would argue, it’s the best thing they’ve ever done to a living room.
Sonos Arc continues Sonos’ tradition of high-quality design and dead-simple set-up. The boxing is secure but simple, and there are precious few pieces to wrangle. There’s the 13.78 lb. speaker, an HDMI ARC cable, an optical cable (optional), a power cable, and instructions.
After positioning the 45-inch wide bar in front of my TV (it’s only 3.5-inches tall by 4.5-inches deep, so it does not block the screen), I plugged in the power and the HDMI ARC cables. (There are also heavy-duty screw holes in the back in case you want to wall-mount it.) After that, I turned on the TV and then followed the Sonos App instructions.
Wait, that’s not entirely accurate.
This is the first Sonos device I’ve tried that requires the new Sonos S2 app (it’s just called “Sonos” in the app). This is the software update that can may not work with some of your much older Sonos equipment. In my case, I just had to install the new app, sign in, add the Sonos Arc by pressing a button on the back of the sound bar, and then let the software discover and update it.
Sonos Arc can work with a Sonos Sub-woofer (approximately $699) and even Sonos One SL speakers ($179) for an even more immersive experience but, for my set-up, I went with the Sonos Arc alone.
Five years ago, Sonos introduced TruePlay, a smartphone-based way to tuning your Sonos speaker for your room space. It’s good technology but is a little wacky to setup. While the Sonos speaker played a bizarre and decidedly non-melodic tone, I held up my iPhone. First, as instructed, I sat on the couch and waited for a circle on my iPhone to close. Then I stood up and walked around my living room, slowly waving my phone up and down. All of this helps the app hear how sounds reflect off the walls and surfaces and lets the Sonos Arc tune itself appropriately.
In all, setup took roughly 45 minutes and, to be honest, it was worth every second.
This isn’t Sonos’ first sound bar and, at first glance, it’s hard to understand why the Sonos Beam lists for $399.99 and the Sonos Arc is almost $800. Some of it boils down to sound components: The Arc simply has more and, as far as I can tell, makes better use if all of them.
Inside the Arc, there are 11 Class D digital amplifiers, 8 elliptical woofers, three tweeters, and a four far-field microphone array (for your voice assistant). Compare that to the Beam’s single Tweeter and five drivers.
It’s not just the number of audio elements, it's how they are arrayed under the Sonos Arc’s plastic grill. Some are placed out front, others long the top edge to bounce audio off the ceiling, and still more placed at each end to send sounds into the corners of the room.
The Sonos Arc naturally integrates with all the existing Sonos hardware on your network, letting you play music from the source of your choice, on it alone or with all the Sonos speakers in your house.
I have the Sonos app connected to Amazon, Pandora, and Apple Music, which makes it easy for me to play my personal song collection on the system. The Sonos Arc is also AirPlay 2 compatible, which means I’m able to stream Apple Music tunes to it directly.
And remember those microphones? The Sonos Arc is basically a giant Alexa or Google Assistant speaker. It only took a few moments to hook my Alexa up to it. There’s a microphone icon on the far-right corner of the sound bar to indicate the speaker is listening for its wake W]word. You can turn off the mics with a touch right near that spot. You can also, through the app, turn off the wake word chime that usually goes off as soon as you say, “Alexa.”
As for the Sonos Arc’s hearing, it’s excellent. One thing I did notice is that if you were playing loud audio on the Sonos Arc, Alexa’s voice will be loud, too. If you don’t want to use your remote to lower the volume, you can use the touch controls right on top of the speaker to bring down the volume.
I played a wide variety of movies, TV shows, and music. Sonos Arc supports the Dolby Atmos surround sound technology and, broadly speaking, the sound is exquisite.
As I mentioned, Iron Man sounded cinematically rich. In scenes from Netflix’s The Witcher, fire-tipped arrows sounded as if they there were being shot from behind me.
In Our Planet’s The Jungle, ambient jungle sounds filled the room, making it feel like I was sitting next to the alternately lovable and intense gorillas.
Car racing in Formula 1 Drive to Survive sonically recreates the feeling of a car pulling around a turn to your left, driving by you, and then careening off around another bend on the right.
The opening minutes of Stranger Thing’s Season 3 Episode 1 (which does not have Dolby Atmos support), where the Russians have built some sort of device to breach the wall between us and the Upside Down, is insane. It’s not just a cacophony of sound, it’s crystal-clear symphony of auditory experience that seems to move from one corner of the room to the other.
Even without the benefit of a subwoofer, the base is rich and deep. It didn’t rattle my chest or bounce my feet like a good subwoofer would, but it was strong, nonetheless.
High audio elements across all content is sharp and clear as a bell.
Perhaps most important, I never strained to hear or understand a voice. My experience with previous sound bars and HDTV built-in speakers is that if they handle sound effects well, they also tend to override or muddle the dialogue. The Sonos Arc keeps it all separated and clear.
I also played a lot of music through the Sonos Arc, which, thanks to its listening abilities (I can simply ask it to play my music) and the connection to the Sonos App and Apple Music, I can play without turning on my TV.
Lady Gaga’s fantastic Chromatica is a joy on the speaker. I also enjoyed Sometimes by H.E.R. and Shoelaces by Malia. In each instance, the artist and the instruments accompanying them sounded as if they were in the room with me.
The Sonos Arc is the best sound bar I’ve ever paired with an HDTV and is quite stylish, to boot. It also costs as much as my entire, old-school, wired, 7:1 Onkyo sound system and more than my 65-inch 4K HDTV. Is it worth it? For the music, Alexa smarts, and the amount of time I spend watching TV on my TCL, yes. It’s the sound quality I want to pair with my 4,096 pixels of content.
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