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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Solid sound response
Reasonably good value
Limited input/output ports
Somewhat lacking in sonic detail
Simplistic physical controls
The Sonos Beam is a relatively affordable option for those who want the Sonos sound and design without the massive price tag of the bigger Playbar.
The Sonos Beam is one of the latest offerings from a brand well known for its audio products. It isn’t the only soundbar in the Sonos line (there’s the much larger Playbar, and the more substantial Playbase), but in our opinion, it offers the best value in form factor, price, and all-around versatility. It does lack a little in polish on the sound quality front, and some of the flashier projection offered by the larger Sonos speakers isn’t present here. But if you want a sleek soundbar with a good feature set, the Beam is a great option.
The design is arguably the best feature of the Sonos Beam. That might not be a saving grace, considering this is a speaker, and sound might be the more important category. But, we just can’t get over how nice and modern the form factor looks and feels on this soundbar. The whole edge of the soundbar is wrapped in a soft mesh grill. Aside from this, the soundbar looks unassuming, folding into your entertainment setup without being too intrusive.
At right around 2.5 inches tall and 25.5 inches long, it’s one of the smallest soundbars we’ve we’ve tested that still offers a standalone bass response befitting a home theater. The Beam is designed to sit flat below your TV or mount flush against the wall. A minor design touch that we really appreciated is the fact that the Sonos logo is a palindrome. This means whether it’s sitting flat on your TV stand or mounted on the wall, the logo will appear correctly.
We just can’t get over how nice and modern the form factor looks and feels on this soundbar.
The corners are rounded, and, observed from the top, the soundbar is shaped like a big pill. The very few buttons that do exist here are actually just flush capacitive touch controls on the top of the unit. While this makes for a really nice, simple design, we did find it a little difficult to control if you prefer using buttons.
While it might not seem necessary to dig into the build quality of something that’s just going to sit on your entertainment center, it’s an important indication for how much care a brand has put into its manufacturing process. With a sturdy feeling plastic and a soft mesh grill covering the entire outer perimeter, the construction of the Sonos Beam feels top-notch.
And, weighing in at more than 6 pounds, it’s clear that the soundbar has a substantial material makeup and will withstand years of heavy vibration from loud soundtracks. In short, the quality is befitting of the price tag.
When you fire up the soundbar and download the app to connect it, the Beam takes you through a guided process that aims to tune the far-field microphones to better map your space—a feature it calls True Play. The speaker achieves this by using your phone’s microphone to figure out how the speaker sounds from where you’re standing.
First, you allow it to play a series of tones while you sit in the spot from which you’ll mostly be listening to the speaker. Then, it asks you to walk around the room slowly, waving your phone in slow concentric circles. This felt a little silly, but it ostensibly helps the Beam to figure out where it is in relation to the walls and various sections of the room.
Beyond this flashiness, the input/output here is pretty basic. There’s an HDMI ARC port, plus the standard optical digital cable for passing through full surround mixes. Sonos achieves optical compatibility by offering an optical-to-HDMI ARC converter, rather than including optical port itself.
Like many of the other products in the Sonos line, you’ll have to pay a premium for the Beam.
There’s also an Ethernet port for a more stable connection to your network, which is important because wired Internet and Wi-Fi are how the Sonos system operates, rather than Bluetooth. This is a mixed bag, because it provides a much more stable connection for streaming playlists and easily mixing multiple speakers and their levels, but it does mean that someone has to have the app downloaded to control the speaker.
As we mentioned before, those capacitive touch controls are a bit awkward, and there’s no included remote. Another quirk here is that the speaker works best—and in some cases only works—if you play music through the app. There is AirPlay support, but we found this to be a bit flaky, so it’s best to sync up streaming and media services through the dedicated Sonos app. That’s mostly okay because the app is pretty intuitive while helping make the setup process very simple. Overall, it provides a nice experience once everything is up and running.
Sonos is a little like Bose in that there’s a lot of weight in the brand name alone. Sonos hires some of the best sound technicians in the world to research speaker makeup, enclosure acoustics, and develop software that helps you tune your space for the best response. This particular system is made up of four full-range woofers that cover a good deal of bass and one tweeter that aims to recreate the higher ends of the spectrum. All of that is powered by five dedicated class D amplifiers.
Sonos has also included five far-range microphones to help you do some of the room tuning we mentioned before (we’ll get into that in more detail later). Since the enclosure is so small, there are three passive radiators built-in to help push the sound out in the right directions. This all amounts to a really solid response for such a small speaker, a fact that is particularly impressive on the bass end of the spectrum.
This speaker offers a really solid response for such a small speaker, a fact that is particularly impressive on the bass end of the spectrum.
If you’re just using the Beam in its out-of-the-box state, then you’re missing the real value of Sonos. Adjusting the bass/treble using the accompanying app helps when it came to tailoring the Beam to the specific media we were throwing at it. For music, the speaker is solid and would work nicely for parties or general listening. We also thought that the wide dynamic range and impressive sound projection helped to create a nice, pseudo-surround-sound for movies. Where it lacked a bit was in the detail of more complicated soundscape (i.e. for video games or less dynamic media like TV shows). These are minor gripes though, and we’d still count sound quality as a “pro” here.
Where Sonos makes up for some of the sound detail issues is in the customization offered by the Sonos app. The goal of most Sonos speakers is to help you control your music and audio, throughout your house, customized to each room, with the tap of a dedicated app. The Beam fits nicely into that ecosystem, because of its sound versatility, but also because of the unique, spatialization it offers.
The setup process was easy, and the surround emulation was pretty good, particularly with standard movie soundtracks. The accompanying Sonos app is also really versatile, allowing you to select a specific speaker in a specific room, and play media there. You can enable it to play in individual rooms, or in different rooms throughout your house.
This makes the Beam a particularly powerful soundbar when paired with the smaller Play series, giving you Sonos’s impressive “whole home” audio setup. Plus with Alexa capabilities built right in, there’s some added voice-control value. Finally, there’s a Night mode option that, when activated from the app, sets the volume to a lower, more courteous setting, while boosting dialogue and voices. It lets you keep track of important moments in your movie, but won’t wake up your family.
Like many of the other products in the Sonos line, you’ll have to pay a premium for the Beam. And because Sonos is such a premium brand, you won’t see the retail price deviate much from $399 (MSRP). In our opinion, the price is warranted for the Beam. It’s one of the cheaper offerings from Sonos, and because the soundbar does provide a nice, full response, most users will be happy with it. If you’re on a budget, there are soundbars from other brands that will get you most of this quality for less. Just remember, if you want a whole home setup, any Sonos product will run you a high price tag.
Sonos Playbar: The Playbar is the obvious competition is the other main entry in the Sonos soundbar lineup. At almost double the price, the Playbar is a decidedly nicer option, with bigger drivers and a much bigger response.
Bose Soundbar 500: With a similar feature set, right down to the Alexa functionality, the Soundbar 500 is a solid alternative if you prefer the Bose brand and have an extra couple hundred dollars to spend.
Yamaha YAS-207BL: With the added convenience of Bluetooth, and an included wireless subwoofer, you’ll get much more bang for your buck with Yamaha. But you won’t get the intuitive software or the versatile sound profile.
A great, customizable soundbar for the living room
The Sonos Beam checks a lot of boxes, ranging from brand name to software integration. The sound quality is going to be really great for most applications, but if detail and sparkling highs are your preference, you might need to shell out a bit more money for a higher-dollar option. The real value of the Playbar comes from its compatibility with the Sonos ecosystem, making for a really impressive living room unit.