Sonos Beam Review & Rating

Sonos Beam Review & Rating

July 6, 2018 0 By admin


The Sonos One was one of the first third-party smart speakers to support Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, letting you treat it like a bigger, better-sounding Echo. The $399 Sonos Beam takes that voice assistant experience and puts it in front of your TV. This small soundbar offers hands-free Alexa, can play audio from your TV or wirelessly stream from the 50 different services Sonos supports, and gets surprisingly loud for its size. It’s an ideal one-piece sound system for anyone looking to add audio power and a voice assistant to their living room without dealing with lots of different devices at once, earning it our Editors’ Choice.

A Small, Streamlined Soundbar

The Sonos Beam is downright puny compared with the company’s previous home theater speaker systems like the Playbar and the Playbase. It’s a 2.7-by-25.7-by-4.0-inch (HWD) bar that combines stark right angles and flat surfaces for the front, back, and top with semicircular curves on the left and right sides. It’s available in black or white versions, with the color choice applying to both the smooth top panel and wrap-around cloth grille on the front, sides, and back.

Sonos Beam

A molded Sonos logo sits in the center of the front of the soundbar, the only design breaking up the grille until you see the small recess for ports on the back. The recess holds connectors for the included power cable, the included HDMI cable, and an Ethernet cable (not included) if you want a wired network connection instead of relying on the Beam’s 2.4GHz wireless connectivity. A setup button between the ports puts the soundbar into setup mode, activating an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network for configuring the system with your smartphone or tablet. No optical audio input is present on the back of the Beam, but you can still use an optical audio connection with the included optical-to-HDMI adapter.

The top panel of the Beam holds the soundbar’s touch-sensitive controls, which are nearly identical to those on the Sonos One. A row of three simple icons offers basic playback and volume controls: Tap the center icon for play/pause, tap the left or right icons for volume up/down, and swipe from left to right or right to left for track forward/back. A status light above the play/pause icon shows when the Beam is on and connected to your home network. A microphone icon above the status light toggles the soundbar’s microphone, with a smaller light above it glowing white when the Beam is listening for the Alexa wake-up word.

Like the Playbar and the Playbase, the Beam doesn’t include a remote. This isn’t a problem, because the soundbar can be configured to work with your TV remote control. If using an HDMI-ARC connection, the TV remote should adjust volume automatically. If using the optical adapter, you can manually set your TV remote by teaching it the remote’s infrared commands through the Sonos app. Both control systems were simple to set up in testing.

Sonos Beam

Setting Up the Beam

Setting up the Beam is just like setting up the Sonos One or any other Sonos speaker. Plug it in, open the Android or iOS app, and follow the instructions. When prompted, press the setup button on the back of the Beam to make the soundbar generate its own Wi-Fi network, which the app will connect to in order to tell the Beam how to connect to your own home network. You’ll need to create a free Sonos account, which lets you manage all of your Sonos devices and set them up in groups. After that, the app will ask you to sign into your Amazon account to link the Beam to Alexa, and you’re ready to use it.

Depending on your home theater setup, you might need to take a few extra steps to get the Beam working with your TV and, possibly, media streamer. If you use the optical adapter, you’ll have to teach the Beam your TV remote’s commands to let you adjust volume (HDMI-CEC control through your TV’s HDMI ARC port should automatically get everything working together if you just use HDMI). If you want to use the Beam’s hands-free Alexa to control your Fire TV media streamer, you’ll have to link the Beam to your Fire TV device through the Alexa app; this integration is all on Amazon’s side of the fence, and out of Sonos’ hands.

Sonos is one of the most well-established names in streaming multi-room audio systems, and that shows in everything you can do with the Beam. As part of the Sonos ecosystem, you can use the Beam on its own or group it with other Sonos speakers as part of a given room’s sound system (including the home theater-specific additions of surround sound satellites). You can then control the Beam through the Sonos software on your smartphone (Android or iOS) or computer (Windows or OS X). Of course, once the Beam is connected to your network you can also just ask Alexa to play music through it, and the wired audio connection from your TV works without using the app. Apple’s AirPlay 2 will also be added with a firmware update in the near future. Bluetooth isn’t available, so you can’t set up simple, point-to-point music streaming from your phone without the Sonos software.

Sonos Beam

Sonos’ platform is robust, with support for 50 music streaming services including Apple Music, Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Pandora, Sirius XM, Spotify, and Tidal. Some services require signing in through the Sonos app and using that to navigate your music libraries, but several big names are much simpler to use. Apple Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Tidal, and several others support streaming directly to the Beam from each service’s app, letting you effectively treat the soundbar like a Google Cast or Apple AirPlay speaker in those cases. These connection and streaming choices help make up for the lack of Bluetooth, even if it would have been nice to see as a backup option.

Alexa On Your Soundbar

As an Alexa device, the Sonos Beam offers most of the same benefits and functions as an Echo speaker. You can use Amazon’s voice assistant simply by saying “Alexa,” followed by a voice command. Alexa can offer general information like weather forecasts and unit conversion, play music from a variety of streaming services including Amazon Music, and control Alexa-compatible smart home devices like Philips Hue lights and Nest thermostats. If you link the Beam to a Fire TV device, you can also access streaming video through Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu, and other Alexa-compatible services. Several apps even support voice commands to control playback and navigation.

Alexa on the Beam isn’t quite as full-featured as you get on Amazon’s own devices like the Echo and Fire TV Cube. You can’t change the wake word from “Alexa” to an alternative like “Echo,” “Amazon,” or “Computer,” and you can’t use Amazon’s Drop In voice call system. Also, while some streaming video services can be controlled with voice, you can’t use Alexa to bring up non-media visual information on your Fire TV, like showing on-screen weather forecasts or accessing live feeds from Alexa-compatible home security cameras like the Amazon Cloud Cam.

Movie Performance

Considering its small size, the Sonos Beam packs a surprising amount of cinematic audio power. It doesn’t reach into the ultra-low sub-bass frequencies to rattle your walls (unless you pair it with a $699 Sonos Sub subwoofer to do the heavy lifting on that end), but it will easily fill the room with powerful sound from low-mids to highs. It also doesn’t attempt to simulate directional surround sound, but the speaker’s four woofers, three passive radiators, and single tweeter produce a nice, large-sounding audio field.

The swelling, epic soundtrack of Pacific Rim comes through with plenty of force, and the sounds of giant robots fighting and monsters screeching give the sense of a much larger sound system than the small soundbar would indicate. The bigger and more expensive Playbar and Playbase both produce significantly more low-end rumble, but the Beam manages to sound appreciably loud and bombastic. Voices also come through clearly against the sounds of rain and rubble, demonstrating very balanced, sculpted audio that suits action movies well.

Sonos Beam

Casino Royale also sounds surprisingly large and satisfyingly clear on the Beam. The high-stakes poker scenes get plenty of high-mid and high frequency presence, making every spoken line easy to hear and bringing out every clink of poker chips hitting each other. In the short car chase scene after the game, the roar of the engine is loud and exciting, giving the sense of power even without making tables or walls vibrate with sub-bass.

Music Performance

The Beam also handles music very well, though without the optional subwoofer it shares similar frequency and response limitations to the Sonos One. Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” distorts a bit at maximum volume when the woofers try to reproduce the kick drum hits. Reducing the volume to about two-thirds keeps the track loud while avoiding the crackle.

The low bass sounds in Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” come through with a solid amount of force, giving the kick drum beats presence to stand out in the mix despite not getting a wall-shaking amount of sub-bass response. The beats start to distort with volume pumped up to maximum, but cranking it down just a little reduces any crackle or popping. Just as importantly, the vocals on the track come through with plenty of clarity and texture, and even the quiet harpsichord can be heard against the heartbeat-like drums.

Peter Gabriel’s “Burn You Up, Burn You Down” sounds full and rich on the Sonos Beam, with some caveats. The bassline gets plenty of low-mid presence to fill the room, while the snare and high-hat hits stand out in the high-mids and highs to balance it out. Gabriel’s voice fights with the steady ride of cymbals for attention in that frequency range, and doesn’t rise above the beat as much as we like to hear. It’s a full, exciting mix that doesn’t give the vocals quite enough presence to faithfully reproduce the track.

A Do-It-All Speaker System

The Sonos Beam is a compelling soundbar that puts out surprising power for its size. Movies sound large and exciting, and music comes through very nicely, with a generous amount of bass response even without a subwoofer. The addition of hands-free Alexa makes it an even more useful speaker system, giving you Echo-like voice commands in addition to the wired TV audio options and Sonos’ loads of supported streaming services. It doesn’t have the sheer power of Sonos’ Playbase, but its smaller form and price tag combined with Alexa make it much more tempting for most users looking for some extra audio power for their TVs.

If you want lots of rumble for a little more money, and don’t mind losing the voice assistant, the JBL Bar 3.1 includes a subwoofer and can put out even bigger sound thanks to its bigger size. For a one-piece Alexa-equipped sound system, though, the Sonos Beam sounds excellent for a reasonable price, and earns our Editors’ Choice.



Source link