The Sonos Beam Gen 2 compact soundbar delivers TV sound with excellent dynamic range and crystal-clear voice. It is part of the Sonos family, so you can add a Sub for more room-shaking bass and a pair of Sonos rear speakers to make this a home theatre kit.
The Beam Gen 2 is not expensive for what it is – at $699, you get five class D amps driving four elliptical mid-woofers (Left and Right front and Left and Right surround) and one centre tweeter for high frequency and clear voice. Top this off with three passive radiators for mid-to-high bass, and it is a very nice surround soundbar.
But the secret sauce is that it has a Dolby Atmos (DA) decoder that takes the DA metadata from a DA enabled content over HDMI eARC and downmixes it to the five channels. Then it uses ‘psycho-acoustics’ to trick your ears into hearing 3D spatial (height) sound. In essence, it phases sound across the speaker array.
Don’t worry, any DA all-in-one soundbar does this, and it is all about how well it does it. For ‘DA effect’ the Sonos Beam Gen 2 blitzes any other brands that I have heard this year – well, apart from the Sennheiser Ambeo all-in-one, but that is $4K.
Now, let’s get the elephant in the room out.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is not actual DA per se because it does not have dedicated 3D height speakers. To do that, it would need at a minimum 5.1.2 (5=Left/Right front stereo, Centre, Left/Right surround), a sub-woofer (.1), and 2 is for the up-firing channels. I have a 7.1.4 system that adds left/right front up-firing, rear left/right forward-firing and left/right rear up-firing. Twelve speakers and amps if you get my drift.
To Sonos’s defence, 99% of what you hear over TV will be PCM or PCM Multichannel (2.0 to 5.1), Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus (up to 5.1) downmixed to the available speakers.
If you connect to a TV with eARC, the Dolby audio formats include TrueHD, MAT, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos (128 sound objects embedded in the DA metadata stream).
I love the Sonos packaging – with speakers wrapped in cloth bags, environmentally friendly packaging and a certain elegance – you know it is a quality product inside. The Beam Gen 2 comes in matte Black or White. It is 69 x 651 x 100 mm and relatively light at 2.8kg.
Download the Sonos iOS or Android app and register (if you don’t already have Sonos gear) and conect to Wi-Fi AC or AX on either 2.4 or 5Ghz bands.
Plug in the Sonos Beam Gen 2 to power (there is an optional Ethernet connection, but use Wi-Fi for now)
The app finds the Sonos Beam Gen 2 and asks you to place your smartphone on it to set up an NFC pair connection. It will then update any firmware. Allocate it to a room (for voice assistance).
Plug the HDMI eARC cable (or ARC or Optical – adapter provided for older devices) into the TV eARC port and the Sonos Beam Gen 2 port. The TV should find it, and you will start to hear sound via the Beam Gen 2. The TV remote then controls the sound.
You can wall mount with the optional $79 Beam mount
That is it – and it is that fool-proof. In years of reviewing Sonos, I have never experienced a set-up issue.
We are also testing the Sonos Sub ($1099) and a pair of rear One SL speakers ($578) – totalling $2376. I am not sure what that configuration really is, but I suspect it makes it a 7.1. When we know for sure we will update this review. Update: Indeed it does become 7.1 if you select ‘Full’ in the app. The other alternative is “Ambient’ which supplements the front sound – similar to the Sonos Arc soundbar.
As usual, the app found the speakers and set them up in home theatre mode – simple.
It is one of the better multi-room music apps that controls all current Sonos products. In saying that, there are heaps of options tailored to each product but don’t worry – it will walk you through them. My advice is to leave them at default and if you make a mistake each setting has a reset button.
One thing the Android app cannot do is use Trueplay as it is for iPhone only. It adapts the sound to the room. If you don’t have an iPhone, get someone who has and install the app, sign in and tune the room. Don’t forget to remove the app after use.
The app also allows you to add a voice service – at this stage Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Siri support is via AirPlay 2 on iPhone. This can do anything that a voice assistant speaker typically does.
As you get familiar with the app, you can do things like
Change the EQ (it’s a simple bass and treble slider)
Turn on/off loudness
Change default start-up levels for music and TV
Change the purpose of the rear speakers (if you have them) from ambient (supplement the Sonoa Beam Gen 2) to full (separate out into rear stereo channels – that is why we think it wil be 7.0)
Alter sub-woofer levels (if you have it), and this is quite effective
Sync TV dialogue (in case lip-sync is not perfect)
Compensate (to a degree) for a slow Wi-Fi AC router by changing the millisecond latency
Set up a TV remote (if not set up during installation)
How does it sound? Brilliant, clear, and clean with good spatial awareness
The maximum volume is 85dB with negligible distortion, although I suspect you can get more out of it. That will fill a small to medium room. In short – it is brilliant – far better than any all-in-one I have encountered. And it is far clearer – no muddy tone or sibilance – perfect for the hearing impaired.
The Beam 2 achieves a beautifully flat (excellent) frequency response, neither adding nor subtracting from the source content. This allows so much scope for different EQs like clear voice or whatever music genre you like – 10 points.
The rear front-firing Sonos One SL speakers add fine details you don’t hear from the soundbar three to four metres away. They also aid in sound phasing, and on more than one occasion, I was ‘ducking’ bullets or looking up for the helicopter!
This review builds on our first look, and we are more impressed with this compact soundbar than ever.
The review is now complete, and our findings are:
The Sonos Beam 3 is an excellent 5.0 soundbar that, in an audio sense, punches well above its weight. Buy it first and see if you need more ‘reinforcement’.
The DA decoding and downmix to its 5 speakers/amps is flawless and does add some 3D spatial height. ‘Some’ being the operative word as it does require the right type of room to bounce that sound around.
The Sub adds room-shaking bass but you can live without it – I like room-shaking.
The One SL rears add fine detail and with 5.1 content (not DA) are a major benefit.
Its clear speech is probably the best I have heard – of any soundbar.
Would I buy the whole kit for $2376? Tricky question because I would want to line up the LG SP11RA 7.1.4 Channel 770W with Meridian & Dolby Atmos Soundbar ($1699) and the Samsung Q HW-Q950A 11.1.4 Channel True Dolby Atmos Soundbar ($2099). Having heard, but not reviewed both, the Sonos clear voice may be the decider.
So far, this is the best 5.0 soundbar (DA or otherwise) we have seen, especially for a compact soundbar. Its clear dialogue is outstanding, so it is suitable for the hearing impaired as well. Its psycho-acoustics are excellent – not as good as dedicated speakers but very good.
I recommend it for media rooms and smaller lounges.
Sonos Beam Gen 2
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 compact soundbar with Dolby Atmos decode delivers TV sound with excellent dynamic range and crystal-clear voice
Value for money
Ease of use
The best 5.0 Dolby Atmos we have ever tested
Does an incredible job with psycho-acoustic Dolby height projection