With Sonos doing a great job of making exceptional speakers that fit in almost every situation in your home, three further battlefields remained - becoming a less proprietary option so you can stream music from any device to the speakers without having to go through the Sonos app all the time, smart speakers and home theatre setups. All of those have been addressed over the last year or so as the Santa Barbara-based company has revised most of their range. The Sonos Beam is their second home theatre product. Here's what I've found after using the Beam in my lounge room.
What Is It?
The Sonos Beam is a 650mm wide soundbar that connects to your TV over HDMI ARC. It also supports AirPlay 2 so you can easily stream audio from iOS devices and it boasts Amazon Alexa support as well, if you choose to enable it.
If you also spring for a Sonos Sub or have a pair of Sonos Play:1 or Play:5 speakers, you can set them up to work with the Beam to create a complete wireless surround sound system.
In theory, the Sonos Beam should be a plug and play device. As long as your TV supports HDMI ARC and you enable the appropriate settings on the TV to send audio out over HDMI then everything should be a breeze.
That's been the experience of many of my colleagues who have also reviewed the Beam. In my case, things were a little trickier. For some reason, my Hisense TV didn't want to retain the appropriate CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) settings although, it did mysteriously save them after several attempts.
HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) allows you to use the TV's remote to control the volume of the Beam. This is a good thing and helps reduce the number of different things you need to fiddle with to get your TV working with the Beam.
With the Beam, or any other speaker setup, the proof of the pudding is in the listening.
After listening to some TV, movies streamed from Netflix and the catchup services from a couple of the networks, content from the iTunes Store and some Blu-ray movies I was surprised at the quality of what came from this little speaker.
The bass was a little thin at times - something I didn't notice with the Beam's bigger and more expensive brother, the PlayBar.
Sonos' strategy of not making their own smart speaker but supporting everyone else's standards is clever. There's about-of-box support for Amazon Alexa now, and the AirPlay 2 support gives some degree of Siri integration as well for the iOS crowd. Google Assistant is the missing link but the company says it's coming soon.
Aside from the somewhat weaker-than-expected bass, I couldn't help but feel that the Sonos Beam is a "gateway" product. In order to really get the best from it, a SUB and a couple of smaller speakers from the company are needed to create a wireless surround system.
But, as a standalone product, there's not a lot to criticise.
Should You Buy It
At $599, the Beam is not an inexpensive purchase. But it's price is comparable to other high-end soundbars. It also has the benefit of integrating with other Sonos gear and works with Apple's and Amazon's digital assistants with Google support to come.
There are some bits of review kit that are easy for me to return. The Sonos Beam is going to hurt when I disconnect it from my lounge room.