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Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos 5.0 – the final review of a superb soundbar
4.3Overall Score
Name: Sonos Arc, Sub and One SL
Price (RRP): $1399/999/538
Manufacturer: Sonos

We have properly tested the Sonos Arc now that the new S2 software is out of beta testing. The verdict – very good for the right use cases. But you need to understand the design rationale before deciding on Sonos over any other brand.

The new Sonos Arc and S2 app portend the new direction for Sonos. We covered that in our first look article here. I will only repeat salient points in this final review.

We discovered a few things about the Sonos Arc after adding the Sub Gen 3 and One SL ‘rear’ speakers. Things that prospective buyers need to consider as this shines in specific use cases.

Sonos Arc is for

  • Those with a recent 2019/20, 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos TVs
  • Access to adequate 4K Dolby Vision/Atmos content (Blu-ray and premium 4K streaming services)
  • Want to invest in this as part of a larger Sonos multi-room audio system.

For everyone else who have a typical non-Dolby TV, watch free-to-air channels and HD streams it simply is an expensive 2.0 stereo soundbar. There are far less costly alternatives.

Sonos Arc, Sub and One SL home theatre system

‘Multi-room’ sets Sonos Arc apart from Samsung, LG, JBL and other soundbars – EXCEED

My strongest advice is that is it probably overkill. That is unless you are looking for a whole-of-home Sonos music and voice assistant experience. By all means, buy it, but there are lower-cost TV soundbars that can match it for sound fidelity.

Speaking of fidelity – EXCEED

When Sonos was born in 2002, CD-quality 16-bit/16kHz was the bee’s knees. So Sonos added support for 22, 24, 32, 44.1 and 48kHz (sample rates).

To be fair, most MP3 music is still 16-bit/128kbps radio quality (otherwise the files are too large). If this does not mean a lot to you, read our Sound Signature tutorial here.

The new S2 software adds 24-bit, 44.1/48kHz, and FLAC/ALAC 1536kbps support for higher-resolution sound. And if you have the Sonos Arc – Dolby Atmos decoding (it downmixes any extra Dolby channels to 5.0).

What is a Sonos Arc 5.0 or 5.1 system?

Sonos Arc

A quick Dolby Atmos overview (number of Sonos Arc speakers/amps in brackets)

  1. Left-front (two full-range elliptical woofers, and a silk-dome tweeter = 3 speakers)
  2. Centre-front (two woofers and a tweeter for speech enhancement = 3)
  3. Right-front (ditto to left front = 3)
  4. Left-front up-firing (woofer but simulates the rear left speaker = 1)
  5. Right-front up-firing (ditto to left front upwards = 1)
Sonos Arc

That is the ‘5’ part. Its body acts as a pretty effective bass radiator, e.g. 5.0. Adding Sub ( Gen 2 or 3) makes it 5.1 and adds ‘room-shaking’ to movies.

Adding two rears (like Sonos One SL or other Sonos speakers) does not make it a 5.1.2 (as most reviews have incorrectly assumed). These just reinforce the front left/right channels, and you can independently adjust the volume and balance. This may be handy to add extra volume for hearing impaired.

Sonos One SL
One SL does not have voice assistance which is good for rear speakers!

The decoder sends the Dolby metadata (up to 11.1.8) to one or more of the five channels. So, if you hear a helicopter flying overhead, then it is moving ‘objects’ from one speaker to another. Sonos refers to this as five phased-array channels. We call it (as we do any soundbar that has all speakers in the one bar) ‘psycho-acoustic trickery’ to hack your ears to thinking that it hears 3D sound objects flying around you.

If you are interested, you can test the effectiveness of Dolby Atmos spatial sound here (requires Windows or macOS)

Why bass (Sub), mid-range, and treble (Tweeter) are not Dolby Atmos channels

Human hearing maxes out from a low of 20Hz (bass) to high of 20kHz (treble). Many older Australians may only hear to 3kHz, so they hear more muffled sounds!

Few speakers can reproduce 20-20 so dedicated speakers to help fill in either end. These are not Dolby audio channels but simple frequency cut-over.