From the second Sonos introduced the second-generation Beam soundbar, it was evident that this sequel is extra refresh than reinvention. The brand new Beam, accessible October fifth and now barely dearer at $449, is identical compact dimension because the 2018 authentic. The speaker drivers contained in the unit are fully unchanged. Sonos has touched up the looks by switching from a material protecting on the primary Beam to the corporate’s signature perforated plastic with finely drilled holes operating alongside the complete entrance of the soundbar. And since it’s outfitted with extra processing energy and eARC, the brand new mannequin helps immersive Dolby Atmos audio.

However the goal buyer for the Beam hasn’t modified one bit: this can be a soundbar for individuals who need to improve their TV’s awful built-in audio — with the attractive facet advantage of native integration with Sonos’ multiroom audio system. At its value, the Beam is dearer than entry-level soundbars from Vizio and the like. And should you’re prepared to spend double, you may get a lot bigger, beefier Atmos soundbars like Sonos’ personal Arc or alternate options from Sony and Bose. The Beam is dwarfed in dimension by the Arc, and its sound efficiency doesn’t method the identical degree. However I can nonetheless see and perceive the attraction of selecting this one as an alternative.

Possibly you’re in an condo the place extra highly effective audio system would agitate the neighbors. Possibly you don’t care about or really feel the necessity to spend money on premium-tier dwelling theater audio: you simply need to make your films and TV reveals sound noticeably higher, and the Beam’s sensible speaker capabilities and huge help for music streaming are simply icing on the cake. If that’s what you’re after, the second-gen Beam does the job equally in addition to the primary. Barely higher, even.

The brand new Beam has a perforated polycarbonate grille as an alternative of cloth, making it simpler to scrub and extra proof against put on.

Simply don’t get your hopes up about the entire Dolby Atmos encompass sound half. When reviewing the unique Beam, Nilay mentioned the important thing was to not overthink it. However by making Atmos a pillar of the second-gen mannequin, Sonos is leaving room for folks to just do that and are available in with unrealistic expectations. As I’ll get into later, for all of the work Sonos has put into virtualization and tuning to attempt to replicate Atmos’ enveloping peak channels, it turns on the market’s actually no substitute for audio system which are pointed, effectively, up.

Except for the sleeker perforated entrance facet, the whole lot else concerning the Beam’s exterior look is equivalent to the unique. You’ve acquired the identical capacitive contact playback controls on high — together with a button to mute the built-in voice assistant mics — and the identical ports on again: there’s HDMI, an ethernet jack, a join button, and the ability enter. What’s new concerning the second-gen Beam is that Sonos has upgraded the HDMI port to help eARC, which permits Atmos and comes with different perks that usually go unadvertised. For instance, should you’ve acquired a TV with HDMI 2.1, you shouldn’t encounter any audio and video sync points (even when gaming), which might be frustratingly widespread on the primary Beam. That alone is a motive I’d purchase this {hardware} over the unique given the selection — even should you can nonetheless discover the previous Beam for some time.

Setup stays a comparatively fast, straightforward course of utilizing the Sonos app for Android or iOS. I plugged the Beam into my LG CX OLED TV, opened the app, the brand new machine was mechanically acknowledged, after which I held my cellphone close to the soundbar to complete linking it to my system by way of NFC. iPhone house owners nonetheless get unique entry to Sonos’ Trueplay characteristic, which makes use of the cellphone’s mic to optimize the soundbar’s audio output to sound finest for any room by which it’s getting used. Contemplating the Beam has its personal mic array, why not simply construct computerized Trueplay into the factor? Android customers can nonetheless take handbook management of sliders for bass, treble, and loudness.

The highest controls are equivalent to these on the previous mannequin.

As are the ports, however now you get an eARC HDMI port.

The Beam’s 40-percent sooner processor allowed Sonos so as to add extra “arrays” — the software program that coordinates the playback and complicated part algorithms between all of the soundbar’s audio system — and the brand new ones are totally devoted to encompass sound and peak results. However keep in mind, the acoustic structure inside hasn’t modified from the primary Beam. There’s a middle tweeter, 4 midwoofers, and three passive radiators that Sonos says assist to boost decrease frequencies. Nevertheless, physics are physics, and we’re speaking a few soundbar that’s barely over two ft huge; in different phrases, you’re going to need a Sub should you want growling, highly effective bass. The Beam received’t get you there by itself, however neither does the Arc or most any standalone soundbar for that matter.

However the Beam remains to be a robust performer that tends to genuinely shock folks for its dimension, and this one fares even higher. It might fill most smaller to midsized residing rooms (or bedrooms) with out straining itself. And the quantity of presence and nice stereo separation of the primary mannequin has carried over to the brand new machine. The final encompass virtualization impact is sort of good: you may get misplaced in films with out it being apparent that each one the sound is originating from the soundbar beneath the TV.

Watch a automobile chase or some fighter jet sequences, and also you’ll hear that the Beam does a powerful job having audio “swoop” in from the left and proper sides of a room — assuming your partitions aren’t terribly far aside. The sensation of spaciousness could be very actual, and in A/B testing with the unique Beam, that is the place these new arrays are making the largest distinction. I’ve seen Sonos describe it as panoramic sound, and that appears proper on.

The corporate has additionally made some tweaks that end in even clearer dialogue in common listening, and the “speech enhancement” mode remains to be there should you want much more emphasis on what’s being mentioned.

The precise speaker drivers inside are additionally unchanged.

However as for the Atmos half? Meh. My bed room has pretty low ceilings, however even when sampling go-to Atmos motion scenes in films, I can’t say I typically picked up on any standout peak results. Don’t purchase the Sonos Beam in hopes that it’ll legitimately sound as if audio is coming from above. It simply doesn’t get there. You’ll be able to bounce fastidiously phased sound waves off partitions all you need, however it received’t maintain a candle to a correct Atmos system with in-ceiling audio system. Even some house owners of premium soundbars just like the Arc that do have up-firing audio system don’t take into account the Atmos side to be a game-changer. In case your room circumstances are superb, you may get some hints of verticality, however there’s no actual phantasm of 3D.

Even when it’s low on Atmos magic, the Beam will be the beginning of a extremely nice encompass system should you tack on a Sub and different Sonos audio system as rear surrounds. (Choosing the Ikea Symfonisk bookshelf audio system is a well-liked method to save on the latter.) You’re effectively over $1,000 to construct a correct 5.1 setup, however should you see your self staying within the Sonos ecosystem for a very long time to return, it’s value contemplating. Including in further audio system can rapidly make you neglect concerning the Beam’s dimension constraints. And you may all the time improve to an Arc down the road and preserve the whole lot else in place.

You should utilize both Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice instructions.

Every little thing else concerning the Beam can already be discovered on the primary mannequin. It’s nonetheless completely competent as a music speaker (and the improved virtualization helps right here too), although not as well-matched for that as one thing just like the Sonos 5. You’ll be able to select to make use of both Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa as your most popular voice assistant — however not each directly, even when it’s technically attainable. (You can even simply skip establishing a voice assistant should you’d fairly keep away from them). The soundbar helps Apple’s AirPlay 2, so you possibly can play music, podcasts, or different audio to it from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. And you may as well ship TV audio throughout your different Sonos audio system should you’re so inclined.

On the heart of the whole lot is Sonos’ compatibility with just about each streaming audio service below the solar. The corporate has mentioned it’ll add help for high-resolution audio and Dolby Atmos tracks from Amazon Music later this 12 months, and hopefully the identical will pan out for Apple Music. Sonos can also be granting a longtime buyer request with the introduction of DTS decoding, one other characteristic coming to all of its soundbars within the coming months.

Sonos’ addition of Dolby Atmos to the second-generation Beam doesn’t magically flip it into some mind-blowing $450 soundbar. However it’s nonetheless an excellent one made higher by the brand new virtualization upgrades and its seamless integration along with your different Sonos gear. That, mixed with the corporate’s spectacular dedication to software program help, are nonetheless the largest causes to spend the additional money on this as an alternative of shopping for a wonderfully good Vizio bar for much less. The improve to eARC makes for a smoother, extra reliable listening expertise with none latency points, and the brand new design will look higher in your lounge. However a scarcity of correct up-firing audio system limits the Atmos potential, and the truth that Sonos has reused a lot of the {hardware} right here makes the second-gen Beam really feel like a half-step towards one thing extra formidable. I anticipate to see greater issues every time the third era comes alongside.

Images by Chris Welch / The Verge

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