Sonos Arc – Sonos 5.0 Dolby Atmos soundbar (first look)

Sonos Arc
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The Sonos Arc is a new 5.0 Dolby Atmos soundbar that can use the new Sub Gen 3 to make it 5.1.

GadgetGuy has been using a pre-release model and beta software to get a feel for the Sonos Arc capabilities. But we can’t finish the review yet until we test it under final release S2 software, and we have a Sub (Gen 3) coming. So, take this as a first look, and we will update it in a week or so.

This is the first Sonos product to support Dolby Atmos decoding to 5.0 and points to a new direction for this iconic brand.

Sonos Arc (first look)

Sonos tends to make a product and stick with it. Perhaps we should have given it called it Gen 1 postnominal. Sonos try to build a high level of longevity into their products, focusing on software updates to add more features.

And that is what happened with the new S2 software. Most of its older products will update to S2, leaving a few legacy products that simply don’t have the processing power on S1.

The Sonos ARC has

Sonos Arc
  • Dolby Atmos 5.0 or 5.1 with optional Sub
  • 11 speakers and D-Class amps total (no Wattage RMS provided)
  • Four far-field mics for voice assistants (Google Assistant and Alexa)
  • AirPlay 2 support
  • 1 x HDMI eARC/ARC/CEC port (Optical adapter included)
  • Ethernet 10/100Mbps port and Wi-Fi 3 G 2.4Ghz
  • 250V power and 4.3W idle
  • Speech enhancement mode
  • Night sound mode to reduce the intensity of certain sounds
  • 1141.7 x 115.7 x 88mm x 6.25kg – it is also wall mountable with optional cost brackets
  • No remote but IR mode to use the IR capable TV remote
  • Black with matte finish or white with a matte finish
  • Missing – Bluetooth smartphone streaming – Sonos use Wi-Fi for that
  • Australian website here
  • Price: $1399 – pre-order from Sonos and available from 10 June
  • Country of manufacture: China
  • Sonos is an American Audio company based in Santa Barbara, California. It was founded in 2002 and develops and manufactures smart speakers
  • Warranty: 2-years ACL compliant

So, let’s start by defining 5.0 (or 5.1 with the Sonos Sub)

Dolby Atmos must be 5.1.X format. You typical see 5.1.2 as the entry level) 7.1.2 and 7.1.4 (adds two rear forward-firing and two rear upwards firing speakers). This has

  1. Left front (two full-range elliptical woofers, and a silk-dome tweeter = 3) – This is 1 in Dolby parlance.
  2. Centre front (two woofers and a tweeter for speech enhancement = 3). This is 2)
  3. Right front (ditto to left front). This is 3
  4. Left rear surround (woofer to bounce sound off the ceiling to land behind the viewer) – This is 4
  5. Right rear surround (ditto to left front upwards = 1). This is 5
  6. Optionally the .1 Sub (Gen 2 or the new Gen 3)
  7. And the body acts as a passive bass radiator

To be absolutely clear this has no Dolby height channels e.g. the .X factor. It decodes 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 into 5.0 (5.1 with sub).

Sonos Arc

Offset speakers allow for what we like to call psychoacoustic trickery – hacking your ears to make you think sounds are coming from places all around you. In part that effectiveness requires a certain degree of bouncing off the the ceiling.

Now if you are in the iOS camp (sorry I am Android so not tested) you can use TruePlay software on an iPhone to tune the device to the room acoustics. I am familiar with room calibration, and our media test area does have sound reflective surfaces, so I was pretty happy with the setup.

So, does Dolby Atmos work?

We have written a full Dummies Guide to Dolby Atmos here. We strongly suggest you read it as Dolby Atmos is a much misused and abused term.

To get it you must have

  • Dolby Atmos content to start with – Blu-ray or streaming from Netflix et all.
  • A TV that decodes Atmos or passes it to the soundbar
  • HDMI 2.0 or 2.1 ports and cables
  • eARC return channel

First, let me declare that my daily soundbar is the 2019 Samsung 17 speaker, 512W, HW-Q90R, 7.1.4 and as far as I am concerned it is pretty close to perfect for someone with about $2,000 to spend. It supports both all Dolby and DTS formats as well simulated (Virtual Surround Sound) and upscaled UHQ 32-bit sound to when processing PCM stereo or other formats.

That is not to disparage the Sonos Arc 2020 at all but to say that it also has some tough competition that, on paper has higher specs and more features.

The Sonos Arc 2020 supports via eARC uncompressed PCM stereo (2.0) and all Dolby formats

  • Atmos 5.0 (128 audio objects mixed into a 5.0 channel system)
  • TrueHD (8 channel audio and the default if an Atmos signal is not present)
  • Digital Plus (7.1 used by Windows, macOS and tvOS – no metadata, just audio channels)
  • Digital 5.1 (also called Dolby AC-3).

Sonos is almost puritanical about providing sound as the author intended it – not synthesised sound. So, it does not support ‘simulated’ surround sound like DTS:X, DTS Virtual: X, DTS HD and PCM multichannel audio. When it does not get Dolby content, it reverts to PCM 2.0, and the up-firing speakers produce more low-end frequencies.

When you play Dolby Atmos content (test rig is a Sony UBP-700 Blu-ray and a Sony Bravia OLED A9G), the TV passes the sound via HDMI eARC to the soundbar.

  • Maximum volume is 90dB
  • Bass starts to kick in at 30Hz (good) building solidly to 100Hz. It then fairly flat, gradually peaking at 1kHz (high mid) and then gradually decreases 16kHz (note we will supply a frequency response chart when the S2 software is taken from Beta to release, and we get more familiar with the EQ)
  • Treble is not harsh, but it is not as controlled (could be an EQ issue)
  • The sound signature, in general, is flat – neither adds or subtracts from the original sound. But with the EQ you can get it almost to warm and sweet (bass/mids boosted, treble recessed and great for movies).

Note that it does not have other HDMI inputs so you must connect all content devices to the TV.

S2 setup (Note this is beta software)

  • Download the Sonos S2 software for Android or iOS
  • Sign up for a Sonos account
  • Add the Sonos Arc (it finds it as long as you have connected the power, Ethernet and are on the same Wi-Fi SSID)
  • Optionally add the Sonos One SL (a pair costs $538 and are for rear sound reinforcement – not surround sound). Note that these become linked to the Arc and are not for stand alone or group use.
  • Optionally add the Sonos Sub ($999)
  • Pair to the TV
  • Add music services
  • We did not test voice control as this is beta software

The S2 app controls the setup, and you can then add media servers, music services etc.

We did not test Sonos Radio at this time.

GadgetGuy’s first look at the Sonos Arc

It is an impressive soundbar – great looks, great sound and well made.

For the most part, you will use this with free-to-air TV – 720/1080p, PCM or Netflix FHD PCM/AC-3 content and it is a superb soundbar for that. We have not tested yet with the Sub, but there is plenty of bass – not just the earth-shaking bass that you may expect with Atmos movies.

With Dolby Atmos content in 5.0 (5.1. with Sub) it matches the Samsung HW-Q90R (rear speakers removed for 5.1.2) for fidelity and has slightly clearer for dialogue.

With Dolby 7.1.4 content the Samsung comes into its own (17 speakers versus 11) and you can feel the impact of the extra rear channels and the Sub.

But you do not buy Sonos for the specifications. It is more of a lifestyle choice, and on that basis as part of the wider Sonos family and music streaming, it is a perfect fit.

We will update this to full review once we have fully tested the Arc with the Sub, One SL surrounds and final release S2 software.