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Sonos Beam Gen 2 in-depth review
We’ve finally got our hands on the new Sonos Beam Gen 2 and wow, do we have some thoughts.
Hi guys, Lui here from Smart Home Sounds, an audiovisual retailer based in the UK and today I’m back with a highly anticipated review that I know a lot of you have been waiting for. We’ve finally been able to test out the new Beam Gen 2 so make sure you’re comfortable, grab a cup of tea and get ready - it's gonna be a big one. We’ve got everything you need to know to decide if the Beam Gen 2 is the right product for you including… a close look at the new design, a deep dive on the introduction of Dolby Atmos, a sound demo comparing the Gen 2 with its predecessor the Beam Gen 1, a comparison with the Sonos Arc and so much more to find out what Sonos have done to their award-winning soundbar.
<Video trailer of best moments>
Remember, if the Beam Gen 2 does turn out to be of interest to you, we have them available to order on our website either in time for release day on the 5th October 2021 or next day delivery, if that date has now passed. Don’t forget we do offer an extended 6 year warranty on all sonos products and a 30 day full refund policy if you find it’s not the perfect fit in your home. Comment down below any thoughts you have on this new Beam Gen 2 and if you’re into your music and movies then don't forget to subscribe for more content like this. Okay, let’s get stuck into the details then, starting off with a quick overview of the new Beam Gen 2.
So the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is the second version of the multi-award winning Sonos Beam soundbar. It comes with an RRP of £449, a £50 increase on the first generation and is available in the same colour choice of matt black or matt white. It’s Sonos’ compact soundbar option and the most affordable soundbar in their current line up. This new generation of Beam brings some huge enhancements to Sonos’ popular soundbar including support for 3D audio and Dolby Atmos, an upgraded design, a 40% faster processor, improved phased speaker array, improved clarity and more.
Why have they released it now? Well the release of this new generation follows on from the launch of their more premium soundbar option, the Sonos Arc, released back in 2020, which comes in at double the price at £899. Now the Arc is a step up from the Beam (I will address this further in the review) but its release has enabled Sonos to learn from the enhancements and improvements and adapt them for the Beam's smaller form factor. Of course, following on from the past few years there has been an increased number of people creating their own home cinema setups along with more new movie releases going straight to streaming. Naturally this, along with advancements in technology, has led to increased pressure on soundbar manufacturers to step things up to offer an improved performance and enhanced cinematic experience.
Ok let’s take a closer look at the design of the Beam Gen 2 then. So if you’re already familiar with the Beam Gen 1, you’ll notice it looks almost identical. The Beam has been a hugely popular product for Sonos and they spent a long time perfecting the form and size which perfectly compliments either wall mounting or placing on a TV stand. It also fits in well as a more compact alternative to the wider sonos arc. Therefore, they decided to stick with this form factor and offer enhancements in other ways. One of the main changes they have made is the design of the grille. It is now made from a more harder-wearing polycarbonate material, the same as the Sonos Arc, as opposed to the cloth fabric on the Beam Gen 1. The reason for this update is that it won’t trap dust as easily as the cloth, it’s generally easier to maintain and I must say, the grille being solid helps it to feel like a more premium, quality product which you would expect at this price point. Personally I think this straight away is a nice step up from the first gen and the white version is particularly striking. You’ve got the same touch controls we’re used to seeing on Sonos products being play / pause, skip track / previous track, volume controls and a microphone privacy button for muting the voice assistant. In terms of dimensions, we’re talking 65.1cm wide, 6.85cm high and 10cm deep, the same as the Beam Gen 1. Obviously a major point to note is that by keeping the dimensions the same, if you already have a Sonos Beam that’s wall mounted, you can swap it out and use the same wall mount - a big plus for sustainability and simplicity of upgrading if you decide to do that.
On the back, you’ve just got your power cove here, a join button which is used for setting up the product and connecting to your WiFi, an ethernet port here for creating a wired connection to your WiFi if you want to and, new for the Gen 2, an HDMI eARC port rather than the standard HDMI-ARC we saw on the Beam Gen 1 which means you’re all set to receive Dolby Atmos when your Beam receives it.
Now i’m going to cover connection quickly as this is by far the most common question you guys have been asking us. Unfortunately, I can’t go through every single TV model and tell you if you’ll be able to get Atmos but I do have some general rules of thumb for you. First things first, if you have an eARC port, you will be able to get Atmos in 99% of cases. If you have a standard HDMI-ARC connection, then it is possible to get Atmos. To know for sure, you need to check in the spec of your TV or reach out and speak to the manufacturer as it’s up to individual manufacturers whether they enable support for it or not. If you’re connecting via optical using the supplied optical adaptor then that’s a straight no. In general, Atmos will provide a better sound through an eARC though as it’s not being carried by the Dolby Digital Plus connection. I hope that’s cleared things up as much as possible.
I’m sure most of you watching are already familiar with the Sonos set up in that you just need to connect the Beam to mains power and it’s a single HDMI cable to your TV. All of your other devices like Sky, Amazon Fire stick, games console, anything like that will connect to the other HDMIs on your TV and the Beam will play audio from any source you’re using at the time. But there is a new feature to the Beam Gen 2 that will make this even smoother to set up and that is the addition of NFC, so all you’ll need to do is put your phone close to the Beam and will set up in the app. Setup was done in a max of 4 or 5 minutes and is the quickest one we’ve done so far for a Sonos product.
Ok let’s take a look inside the soundbar. So you’ve got exactly the same drivers as were in the Beam Gen 1. In total, you have 5 Class D amplifiers that are powering 4 full-range woofers and a single tweeter.You’ll notice the end 2 speakers are both angled out 45 degrees to give you the widest possible soundstage from a compact soundbar. You’ve also got 3 passive radiators for deep but clean bass and then 5 far-field microphones so that if you choose to use the voice assistant, it should hear your voice nice and clearly.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, if they’ve not changed any of the speakers, there aren’t any upwards and sideways firing drivers and there’s a plastic top, how on earth are they now able to give a good 3D audio and atmos effect? Well, first things first I just want to cover what Dolby Atmos is. So Atmos is an audio codec and sound technology. It is a huge step up from 2 channel audio and a step up again from Dolby Digital which was supported by the Beam Gen 1. Atmos essentially puts you in the center of your content and creates a 3D surround sound effect which is object-based rather than channel-based. This gives producers more control and freedom over what you hear and means the audio you experience can replicate what you’re seeing on the screen. So for example if a helicopter flies overhead, you’ll feel the sound travel around the room to replicate it. If you’ve not experienced Atmos before, I would highly recommend visiting the Dolby website and doing a demo with a pair of headphones, it really is a fantastic step up in audio performance and immersion.
Now traditionally, Atmos utilises upwards and sideways firing drivers to direct audio into those spaces and this is what you have with the Sonos Arc. However the Beam Gen 2 doesn’t have upwards or sideways firing drivers so how is this done? Well first things first, Sonos have added a new processor which is 40% faster than the one in the Beam Gen 1. This new chip has enabled Sonos to create 2 new audio paths for a virtual surround sound experience to make 5 audio paths in total, compared with 3 on the Beam Gen 1. These 2 new audio paths are dedicated to processing surround and height information to make audio more spacious and provide a separation between ear level and overhead audio. All of this is achieved using psychoacoustic technology which essentially tricks your mind to make you feel like sounds are coming from above and around you. All of this we have been testing thoroughly so hold on for our experience on how this works.
Along with support for Dolby Atmos for movies and TV, Sonos have also announced that the Beam Gen 2 will support Amazon Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos Music. This isn’t available now for launch but when it comes, we will be able to experience the highest quality lossless audio up to 24-bit 48 kHz with Amazon Ultra HD while Dolby Atmos music is a big step up into spatial audio and a 3D listening experience. And finally, after a long time of customers asking, Sonos have announced they will be offering support for DTS by the end of this year. This will not only be available on this Beam Gen 2, but all Sonos home cinema products running on the S2 App. We’ll make sure we have a video covering this in more depth when it actually launches but for now, it’s positive news!
Back to the Beam then. Sonos have also stated that they have worked on their centre channel clarity which is crucial in a great home cinema experience covering all of the vocals and the main storytelling of your content which is what keeps you engaged and hooked. They haven’t been specific on how this works so again something our team have been testing extensively over the last few days.
So that’s all of the in-depth information on the new changes to the Beam Gen 2 and what they’ve set out to achieve but let’s now cover how well this actually works in real life. We’ve been testing this Beam Gen 2 extensively in the office over the last few days with a wide range of music, movies, TV shows, gaming etc. So i’ve got a lot of thoughts to share with you guys.
Now before I delve into the difference between the gen 1 and Gen 2 for atmos content (which will include a sound test) I want to first discuss our testing of non-atmos content as this is just as important as atmos content as not all content is available in atmos and not all of you can access atmos with your TV.
First things first, the absolute standout improvement is the center channel clarity. Sonos statement on boosting clarity and working with oscar winning sound engineers who helped fine-tune the beam but that doesn’t really say a lot so we weren’t really thinking that all that much would have changed. However, the immediate thought we all had on all content we tested was that the clarity of the vocals have stepped up to a whole new level. It doesn’t overpower the rest of the content but it definitely cuts through the noise and helps keep you hooked. You hear the nuances and details that might have been missed in the Gen 1. For us, centre channel clarity is one of the most important factors in a soundbar as it’s at the core of the storytelling, keeping you engaged and focused on what you’re watching. Everything else is largely the same as the Gen 1 but this clarity increase alone is a step up in our opinion.
So we then moved on and tested the Beam gen 2 with atmos content and this really brought all of the new improvements to the forefront. Now, I know you’re desperate for a sound test and demo of this to hear the differences for yourselves so I’m going to play an Atmos enabled trailer firstly on the Beam Gen 1 which will be reduced down to Dolby Digital 5.1 and then on the Beam Gen 2 which will offer support for Dolby Atmos. However, I have to make a big disclaimer here. You are not going to get the feeling of True Atmos watching this via youtube on your phone, headphones etc. We’re also recording in 2 channel via our binaural microphone which has been positioned at listening height at the appropriate distance from the TV so that’s something to bear in mind. However, I want to include a comparison as hopefully you will get some sense of the difference and be able to pick up the nuances and enhancements. If the sound test doesn’t play then I’m really sorry it might have been chopped out for copyright reasons - we’ve tried to do the best we can! I’ll give you my thoughts afterwards but for now, pop some headphones on and see what you think.
DEMO - Beam GEN 1 the Beam GEN 2
Again, the detail and vocal reproduction are a huge stand out feature which we noticed immediately with all content but you now add to that increased immersion from Atmos. I think going from 5.1 to atmos reiterates how much of an improved codec atmos is. The overall experience of the Beam Gen 2 in atmos was really impressive. Admittedly, we’ve been very skeptical on how well the virtual surround sound and 3d effect would work without any dedicated upwards or sideways firing drivers but this well outperformed our expectations. I think the main note was how wide & detailed the soundstage felt.There’s a clip at the start of raya which I’ll include here but hopefully it shows you the sound continues well past the parameters of not only the soundbar but the TV filling right up to the widths of the room. You’ll notice that the Beam does look very compact under our 65” TV but the sound feels like it comes from far wider. The virtual height channels also did a good job and helicopters felt like they were going above the TV.
We then tested the Beam Gen 2 out with a variety of music including some spatial audio music on apple music. Again, it was the clarity that took the centre stage here. Instruments and vocals sounded really pronounced and of course any spatial audio tracks made the most of the new upgrades with the Gen 2 for a more lifelike, rich and immersive experience.
There are no changes in terms of bass compared with the gen 1. On the whole, the bass on the beam is good, it’s not blowing you away but it’s good for a medium sized room. If you’re listening to a lot of bass heavy tracks or you want the deep rumble of bass when you’re watching a movie then you might want to consider adding a sub or looking at the Arc.
Speaking of the Arc then, let’s chat about how the two compared in our testing. Now we will be doing a full comparison between the Beam Gen 2 and Arc in a future video but I’ll share our initial thoughts now. On the whole, we were really impressed with how close the beam gen 2 comes to the experience you get with the Arc. I would say there is a celar jump in performance between Beam Gen 1 and Arc but Gen 2 has closed that gap quite considerably. However, even though we were impressed with the virtual atmos on the Beam gen 2, it’s not ever going to be the same as having dedicated drivers and the Arc does do a better job, particularly on the height channels. In le mans 66 there’s a moment where they speak through a tanoid and on the Arc it feels like that’s coming from right above you. On the beam, the sound did sound like it’s coming from higher than the TV and the separation was great but it’s not quite the same so we have noticed a difference on things like that. The bass is also still the main differentiator. Bass on the Arc is more powerful and does offer the experience bass enthusiasts would be looking for.
Some of you have also asked us to test how the Beam gen 2 sounds compares with the older Sonos Playbar. A lot of people will still have their Playbar and for good reason because it was the best selling soundbar of all time. So, your wish is our command and we put these two to the test. For us, the playbar does offer a deeper sound and the bass has more of an impact so, again, if you listen to a lot of bass heavy music in a bigger room or you’ve got a bigger space to fill then stick with the Playbar. However, if you’re looking for an upgrade, you will find that you get more detail and more clarity from the Beam Gen 2. You’re obviously also accessing support for atmos too which will help deliver a wider soundstage and more immersive listening experience.
Right before I get too carried away with comparisons there are still a few more points I want to cover with the Beam Gen 2.
Ok there are still some other key features that we need to cover if you’re considering the Beam Gen 2.
In terms of controlling the Beam day to day, when you turn the TV on, the sound will automatically play out of the Beam itself, there’s no button pressing required thanks to a feature called Autoplay. And you can actually pair your existing TV remote with the Beam for volume control using its built in IR sensor.
If you want to stream music to the Beam, you can either use the Sonos app where you can import all of your music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music etc, or some services like Spotify are supported natively so you can cast directly from Spotify to the Beam. Or if you have an Apple device, you can take advantage of AirPlay 2 so if you want to cast any audio from your iPhone, iPad or Mac, you can do that. And then finally, you have built in voice control so if you want to go completely hands free to control your streaming services using Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, those options are available to you, but if you don’t want to enable voice, you can skip this part of the set up and the microphones will never be activated.
What’s also nice is that you have Speech Enhancement and Night Mode options in the Sonos app so if you’d like to make the speech even clearer, you can tap on this speech bubble icon. Obviously we’ve highlighted that the vocals are already incredibly clear and we actually preferred the listening without having this setting on for a more authentic experience. On the Gen 1, we had speech enhancement on most of the time. If you’re listening late at night and don’t want to wake anybody up in your home, tap this Moon icon and it will suppress the more imposing sounds in the content while enhancing the quieter sounds.
Also notable in the Sonos app is the ability to customise the the bass and treble on the Sonos app which is good to know. I’d also like to touch on TruePlay tuning which I’m sure a lot of you have already heard of but it is particularly important in a home cinema setting because there’s a lot of differences in the sound depending on where you place the soundbar like if you’re wall mounting it, whereabouts you’re positioning it, how large the room is etc. The Beam will make some very important spectral corrections when you do the TruePlay tuning phone dance. Spatial correction is a very difficult thing to get right so you’ll find that if you take a soundbar and plug it in straight out of the box, it will sound different room to room, so TruePlay is a big advantage especially with addition of Atmos. Now, you do have to have an iOS device to do this because these microphones are universal whereas the Android ones are not but if you don’t have one, just borrow one from someone who does as it’s just a one time process.
Now I know a lot of you out there use your soundbar and TV setup to provide the audio for the gaming. The addition of the HDMI eARC connection also helps out here. This Beam Gen 2 can now receive and decode even more surround sound formats from your games console so Dolby Atmos obviously but also Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Digital Plus, uncompressed LPCM and of course DTS later this year. The addition of the 40% faster chip will also improve performance for gaming AND there is a dedicated 5 GHz WiFi radio which will connect to surrounds or a sub and that will ensure there is minimal lag when gaming or just when watching movies. I’ve done a bit of testing in gaming and have found that the added immersion from the BEam Gen 2 and the clarity is awesome for gaming. Due to its compact size and these enhancements, I can see this being a very very popular soundbar for gamers.
Should I upgrade to the Beam Gen 2 from the Beam Gen 1?
So, should you upgrade from the Beam Gen 1 to the Beam Gen 2? I would say If you do want to make the upgrade, the main thing you’ll notice is a better overall sound quality because of that tightened centre channel and extra clarity. However, the most noticeable differences are going to be when you’re watching Atmos content. Ask yourself the question: are you going to watch a lot of Atmos content specifically? Can your TV support Atmos? If yes, the Beam Gen 2 would be quite an upgrade for you, but if not and your TV can’t support Atmos, you’re not going to notice a major step up for your content. Of course, you will be futureproofing yourself for when you upgrade your TV or when Atmos content becomes the norm but until then, I still wouldn't be rushing out in those circumstances. The Beam Gen 1 is still a very capable soundbar. Of course the choice is yours to make, we’re just here to offer a soundboard and help you make a more informed decision.
If you do decide to upgrade, the beauty of the Sonos ecosystem you can add to your home ecosystem. So you could move the Gen 1 Beam into a secondary space and have a new Gen 2 Beam in your main living room.
Beam vs Arc
Right, next question then. Beam Gen 2 or Sonos Arc? Now as I mentioned earlier we will be doing a full comparison of these 2 soundbars so make sure you subscribe for that or check the description below as I’ll link that when it goes live.
Your room size and TV screen size are also a big part of the story. You’ll need to ask yourself, can the Arc fit in your room and amongst your furniture or can you at least wall mount it? The Arc will look better under a larger TV, say 65” and above. Whereas the Beam is a more compact product than the Arc and so is for more compact rooms. Due to its more compact size, it can pretty much fit anywhere in your home where you want to supercharge your TV’s internal speakers. The Arc on the other hand is more suitable for your dedicated TV rooms.
Truthfully, we can’t believe how close this Gen 2 is pushing to the performance of the Arc and we can actually see that this might end up taking some sales from the Arc when customers Demo both products Especially since the price rise of the Arc from £799 to £899 I think people will be really tempted by this second generation of the Beam. I think the decision between the two will come down to budget, room size and how important bass is for you as for us, that’s the real differentiator now.
Is it worth adding a Sub and surrounds?
Is it worth adding a sub and surrounds? Now this is a very interesting question. We actually sat down and had a chat with Jeff Derderian, Sonos’ Vice President of product programs and the head designer on the Beam Gen 1 and he had some great advice on this. This comes back to the psychoacoustics that I spoke about earlier. So if you were to add 2 rears, could be 2 Ones, 2 One SLs, 2 Fives or even 2 speakers powered by the Sonos Amp, the Beam will automatically adjust and won’t use the 2 arrays for surround. Instead, the processors in the rears will take over the surround channels, freeing up the processor on the Beam to maximise the height channels instead. A similar thing happens when you add the Sub so the Sub will take over the bass from the Beam where it’s best suited to handle it. It’s easy to forget that in a full surround sound system, you have 4 processors working together to create a cinematic experience which naturally will enhance the experience.
Arc vs Beam & 2 x One SL
Now a few of you have asked, should you go for the Arc on its own or the Beam and 2 x One SL speakers as rears as they come in at a very similar price point - £899 and £807. This is a great question. First things first, consider your room. See whether you have the space for an Arc, see if you’ve got the space for rears as this will play a big part in your experience. If you think you could accommodate either then it comes down to personal preference. All things considered, the Arc is a better experience and if you have the money then you should go for it. But adding surrounds to the Beam for a comparable price point does put a spanner in the works. Personally I would now go for the Beam and 2 x SL’s with the introduction of Atmos and that enhanced clarity but if I had a bigger TV & room I would probably still go for the Arc. its worth noting I would have gone for the Arc over the Beam Gen 1 & SL combination.
Strengths and weaknesses
Ok onto the main pros and cons of the new Sonos Beam Gen 2 soundbar.
Let’s look at the positives first. Firstly the Gen 1 Beam was a fantastic product already so any upgrades will be well received. The Gen 2 is certainly a feature packed soundbar with voice control, touch controls, access to the Sonos app etc. The support for Dolby Atmos is a big big step up from the previous model and brings that more advanced technology into a more affordable Sonos soundbar. The upgraded grille is an improvement to the overall design in terms of practicality and aesthetics and finally that centre channel clarity has been the most pleasantly surprising upgrade for us.
Now no product is perfect and there are a few negatives to mention. Firstly, there is only 1 HDMI port. This won’t be an issue for a lot of you, but a second HDMI port would have been nice for those with a lot of different bits of tech. Like other Sonos TV speakers there is no bluetooth option which may be a downside for some but I would say I personally wouldt use this feature if it was included as wifi streaming offers a far better experience in a home environment. And lastly, without the upwards firing drivers, it is a virtual surround sound experience. Of course we felt this did a great job in our testing but it’s not quite the same as having dedicated upwards firing drivers like you have in the Arc.
Atmos in a Sonos product is no longer a premium
Centre channel Clarity
No 2nd HDMI port
Virtual surround sound, not as true as Sonos Arc
So what did Sonos do then? Well they took an already popular product and made it even better using a combination of tuning, processing power & psycho acoustics. This is a great example of a manufacturer upgrading a successful product without losing its identity. For us, this is a much bigger step up from the Beam Gen 1 than we were expecting which comes not only from the support for atmos but from that centre channel clarity. Going off previous Sonos product generation upgrades such as the Sonos One & Sub Gen 2 to the Sub Gen 3, we maybe weren’t as hyped for this release as we should have been so this one has taken us by surprise a bit.
Ultimately, we can’t tell you if this product is right for you but hopefully we’ve helped give you an insight into what’s new, helped you weigh up your options whether that’s upgrading or purchasing a new soundbar.
We appreciate sometimes you need to experience products like these in your own home. So if you feel like this product could be for you, then make the most of our 30 day listen better promise which gives you that opportunity to test it out for yourself and if it’s not right then send it back to us for a full refund! We do think you’ll love this product if you decide it’s right for you but you’ve got that reassurance if it’s not. Link in bio as always.
We will be doing a comparison of other soundbar options in the sub £500 market very soon as well which should be very interesting as the Beam Gen 1 was market-leading in this category. Comment below any models you think we should be including in that.
But that brings us to the end of this review guys. I hope you’ve found this one helpful. If you did then give it a like and if you’re a fan of all things audiovisual then hit the subscribe button to see more from us and join the community. Make sure you’re also following us on instagram as we post lots of behind the scenes content there, Q&As and that sort of thing so you can stay up to date with us! Comment down below any thoughts you have on the new Sonos Beam Gen 2, we’d love to hear what you guys think. If you’re interested in the Beam then head over to our website to check it out, don’t forget we offer that 6 year warranty and 30 day returns policy. Our staff are also more than happy to help you out with any questions you have. That’s all from me today then guys, thanks for watching until the end. See you in the next video.