Those of you who have been following me know I am a fan of Sonos speakers. I have quite a number at home.
In case you need a quick refresher on what Sonos is, the Sonos system is a series of wireless speakers that allow you to listen to your music anywhere in the home, controlling your music through their app. You can choose to play the Sonos speaker in the bedroom while another member of your family plays their own music in the living room via the Sonos speakers there.
All this is done wirelessly over a wifi network set up by the speakers themselves.
In my master bedroom, I have a Dolby 5:1 surround sound setup, with the Player as the TV’s main speaker, the Sub for bass, and two Play:1 speakers as the rear speakers.
My living room has two version 2 Play:5 speakers, filling the space with music. Without the need for a Sub, even.
And I have random Play:1 speakers here and there for music in other rooms.
Now, the Playbar in my master bedroom is pretty awesome. As a soundbar, it does the job brilliantly with its nine speakers inside, great for movies and great for music. My only complaint with that model, being older, only came with just one audio input, an optical one. If you are looking for an HDMI port, the Playbar didn’t have it.
Enter the new Sonos Beam.
This is the latest soundbar from Sonos, and boy, have they updated it. It now comes with HDMI with ARC (audio return channel)! So you connect that Beam to your TV’s HDMI-ARC port, and it allows you to automatically pair your TV remote to Sonos Beam. You control everything with the one remote, instead of needing two (the Beam does not ship with one anyways).
If you have an older TV, that doesn’t have an HDMI-ARC port, you can use the optical port to connect the Beam. An optical-to-HDMI adaptor is included.
The Sonos Beam is a good entry point for a user looking to hook up their big-screen tv to a soundbar. It is cheaper than the Playbar but yet comes with some nifty things like a mic for voice control, and AirPlay 2 support. You can use Amazon Alexa and Siri with it, or Google Assistant later this year.
So the most important thing of all: how does the Sonos Beam sound?
I hooked it up to the living room TV and set it up using the app, to add it to my network of Sonos speakers. I know, the living room is bigger than the bedroom. Why set up this smaller-than-the-Playbar speaker in the big living room? To test it, of course!
I was a little skeptical, at first. I mean, this tiny thing, in a large living room of an older HDB flat?
But when I completed adding the Beam to the network and I turned on the TV, boom! Room-filling sound.
The soundstage is wide and the audio is crispy clear. Wider than you'd expect from such a small thing. And trebles, mids and bass are evenly interpreted, in a very balanced way.
It doesn’t sound like a budget soundbar, even though it is (by Sonos standards) the entry-level soundbar of the Sonos range. The only thing I felt a little lacking was in the bass department. But that can be fixed easily with the Sonos Sub (I highly recommend that Sub, it is so good).
Looks-wise, the Beam is minimalist and sleek. No unnecessary buttons or blinky things, no protruding bits. Just a smooth bar with touch-sensitive capacitive buttons for Play/Pause, and Volume Up/Down (also used to skip tracks). An unassuming LED light tells you the status of the speaker. It is just like the rest of the Sonos speakers in looks. Simple and unassuming.
AirPlay 2 support, which allows you to play video and music from Apple iOS and MacOS devices, works with the Beam. The newer range supports AirPlay 2, which is a welcome thing for Apple users like me. You can also find AirPlay 2 in the second-generation Play:5, Playbase and the new Sonos One.
Siri also works with the Beam and its AirPlay 2 cousins. So I can now say, “Hey Siri, play my Japanese City Pop playlist in the Living Room” and the Beam will play Plastic Love, by Mariya Takeuchi, from Apple Music.
I'm just playing games
I know that's plastic love
Dance to the plastic beat
Another morning comes
Like the rest of the Sonos range, the Beam works without wires, except for one cable for power and one HDMI cable to the TV. So adding additional speakers to make it into a full surround sound system is painless.
Get the Sonos Sub and plonk it anywhere in the living room, and the Beam can be paired with it wirelessly. Get two more Sonos One speakers and plonk them behind your sofa, wirelessly pair them with the Beam and you have Left and Right rear speakers. Super easy. No more running speaker cable all over the house and then getting fed up when you want to move speakers to a new position.
Alexa support means you can use your voice to control the Beam, but I think most users are waiting for Google Assistant support to come.
Unlike the Playbar, the Beam can only be placed in one way. The older Playbar can be mounted on a wall. But the Beam is so diminutive, I doubt you will have trouble finding space for it on a TV console/table.
I know what some of you are thinking. Where are the additional HDMI ports? Sonos prefers you connect the rest of your devices to the TV’s HDMI ports, with the sole HDMI port on the Beam to be used to connect to the TV itself. Whether you like this arrangement or not, is dependent on how many devices you own. I am not fussed about this, and frankly, if you really want to have external HDMI ports, you can get a HDMI Switcher box.
The Beam is an excellent soundbar for the money, and works very well in small to medium-sized rooms. For movies and TV stuff, it is more than adequate. For music, it is also very decent. It could use more bass, and you will be tempted to add the full shebang later to make it into a full home theatre, but most will find the Beam alone enough for daily use.
It is rare to find a product that handles movies and music equally well. The Beam is one of those products.
The Beam does not support Bluetooth, but in my years of using a Sonos wireless setup in my home, I have never felt a huge need for Bluetooth support.
The Beam comes in white or black. I chose the black because I am a boring person who worries about getting my speakers dirty. But the white is cooler.
The ease of setup that Sonos speakers are known for, is also found in the Beam. As well as Trueplay, that tunes the Beam to your room size and characteristics.
Personally, I think the Beam is one of the best soundbars you can get right now, at its price point. It is a great entry point into the Sonos range, and it allows you to grow the system at your own pace, adding pieces one by one. You will not regret buying the Beam.
In conjunction with this review, TC Acoustic has given me a Sonos One (NOT a Beam, ok?) to give away to a lucky reader. And not just any Sonos One speaker, but a HAY edition. Sonos partnered with Danish design brand HAY (hay.dk) to create a series of Sonos One speakers in five new colours, vivid red, forest green, pale yellow, baby pink and light grey. HAY Sonos One retails in Singapore for $399, and all you have to do to win one, is to follow the Instagram of @sonos_tca, and then leave a comment below this blog post, or on my Facebook Page under the post for this review), and tell me why you should get one. I will pick a winner from the comments submitted. Closing date is 1st of February, 2019. Contest is open only to Singapore citizens and people residing in Singapore. All the best to you guys!