Sonos Beam Speaker Review – Four years after the launch of the Playbar soundbar, a year after the Playbase sound base and hot on the heels of the Sonos One smart speaker arrived a brand new slice of Sonos hardware. The Sonos Beam is a smaller, cheaper TV speaker, with a few additions to its spec sheet, including an HDMI connection and voice control assistant, initially Amazon Alexa, but also Google Assistant and Apple Siri. Can the Beam deliver the goods? Or would you be better off saving some extra money and buying the bigger, newer, Dolby Atmos-enabled Sonos Arc?
Sonos Beam Speaker Review
Build and design
Touch controls on top of the soundbar allow you to select volume up/down, previous/next track, play/pause and microphone mute, while an LED indicates the soundbar’s status, mute status and voice feedback. Around the back you’ll find the HDMI connection, ethernet port, power connection and a pairing button.
Available in black and white finishes, the Beam looks stylish but understated – and every bit the Sonos product. It’s even better looking than either the Playbar or Playbase, although the Arc probably now has the most convincing claim to the crown of best-looking Sonos product.
But the Beam is small, light and will fit easily into most living rooms – unlike Sonos’ other TV speakers, which require a lot more space. You can wall-mount the Sonos Beam, too, although the official bracket costs a fairly steep £59 ($59, AU$89).
Inside are four full-range drivers, one tweeter and three passive radiators, plus five class-D amplifiers. As on the Playbar and Playbase, the drivers and radiators are positioned along the front and the far edges of the bar, helping drive sound around your room for a more immersive, room-filling sound. Unlike the Dolby Atmos-enabled Arc, the Beam has no upward-firing drivers.
Sonos Beam voice control
There is, of course, another way to control the Sonos Beam, and that is with your voice. One of the big features of the Beam is its Alexa integration. This is something that was first seen on the Sonos One (where it works extremely well), but using Alexa to control a part of a television is a whole other matter. It’s something that’s happening more and more – Alexa voice control is now available with the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick and it is also available in the Amazon Fire TV Cube.
There’s a thread here: all of these products are Amazon based, and you will need an Amazon Fire TV or Fire TV Stick to get the most out of the Sonos Beam’s voice functionality. If one of these are plugged into your TV, then the Beam offers up the power to search Netflix and Amazon Prime – something which is fun, if still a little awkward, to do.
Without Amazon’s back-end tech, you can still use the voice controls for things like volume (Alexa, turn it up 30% etc), to request radio stations and to pause and play whatever you are listening to. You will also be able to turn your TV on and off with Alexa if you are using HDMI ARC.
Sonos Beam review: Performance
The Beam produces a wider sound than you’d guess from looking at it, and it delivers balanced treble, midrange and bass. But if you’re used to the sound quality of a Sonos Playbar or Playbase, you’re unlikely to be wowed by the audio. While it has enough bass, it won’t rattle the floor without adding a subwoofer. If you need more low end, you can get the Beam bundled with a subwoofer for $999.
Sonos prides itself on music playback, and overall the Beam meets the high expectations. Florence Welch’s vocals on Florence + The Machine’s “June” were full and warm. On Guns N’ Roses’s “Shadow of Your Love,” the Beam nicely balanced the distorted guitars and crashing cymbals; the cymbals on the same song through the SB450 sounded harsh and too bright. However, the SB450 produced much stronger bass, as did the Sonos Playbar.
As a small soundbar, the Beam doesn’t get extremely loud, but it’s loud enough to fill a medium-size room.
Sonos Beam review: Setup
Sonos makes setting up the Beam relatively painless, even with all the features that are available. You use the Sonos app to get started; if you don’t have a Sonos account you’ll need to create one. If you connect the Beam to your TV’s HDMI ARC port, it can detect your model and settings. You also need to sign in to your Amazon account during set up to enable Alexa.
Few soundbars can match Sonos when it comes to matching sound to the environment. The Beam includes Sonos’ TruePlay, which automatically adjusts the speaker’s sound to work best in the room in which you’ve placed it. TruePlay uses your phone’s microphone to measure sound throughout the room. You can also manually adjust bass and treble; while watching video, you can also engage Speech Enhancement, which boosts the center channel, or Night Mode, which lowers the bass level.