Sonos Beam (2nd gen): Unboxing and ears-on first impressions
The new, Dolby Atmos-enabled Sonos Beam is finally on our test bench, and we have some initial thoughts, plus plenty of photos.
By Ben Patterson
TechHiveSep 30, 2021 6:00 am PDT
Image: Ben Patterson/IDG
The revamped Sonos Beam isn’t due to arrive until next week, but we just got our hands on a pre-release review unit. Feast your eyes on our unboxing and check out my first impressions of the new Beam’s performance.
My Beam review unit was originally slated to land on my doorstep last week, but due to shipping delays, I’ve only had the unit for a little more than 24 hours. Because I prefer to spend at least a week with a soundbar before rendering a verdict, I’m going to hold off on a full review until I’ve had a little more testing time.
But since Sonos says we can start talking about the Beam as of today, I thought I’d throw down some unboxing snapshots and let you know how the setup process went, as well as my initial impressions of its audio performance.
Unboxing the new Sonos Beam
Speaking of impressions, Sonos sure knows how to make a good one, even when it comes to packaging. A zip-strip lets you open the interior box without having to slice it open (you will need scissors for the exterior box), and inside, there’s none of the styrofoam packaging that I typically have to deal with when cracking open a soundbar; instead, the Beam ($449, shipping October 5) is nestled in a stiff, two-piece cardboard cradle, wrapped in black fabric and sealed with a small, round sticker. Very classy.
Lifting the Beam 2 out of the box reveals a “Let’s get started” sleeve that contains a quick-start guide. Since the Sonos app guides you through the whole setup process, I never bothered with the paper guide.
Inside the marked accessories box are three cables: an HDMI cable (roughly about five feet long), a power cord (ditto), and a nice bonus: an optical-to-HDMI adapter, handy for those with older TVs that lack HDMI-ARC interfaces.
What you don’t get in the box are any mounting accessories. Sonos does offer a custom mounting bracket for the Beam, but it will set you back $50.
Also missing from the box: a remote control. Instead of a dedicated Beam remote (the Beam’s larger sibling, the Sonos Arc, doesn’t have one either), you control the Beam with the Sonos app, Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands, or your TV’s remote, either via HDMI-CEC or good old-fashioned IR.
The Beam 2 itself feels pleasingly compact. This won’t come as a surprise to owners of the first-gen Beam, but it was novel for me given that the last Sonos soundbar I tested was the massive Arc.
Indeed, the Beam 2 is (similar to its predecessor) just 25.6 inches wide, compared to the whopping 45-inch-wide Arc.
As promised, the Beam 2 replaces the fabric covering on the original Beam with a perforated plastic shell, which looks and feels solid and sturdy, although a few particles of dust have already infiltrated the tiny holes.
The typical Sonos touch controls—play/pause, microphone mute, volume up/down, and skip/back—are on the top of the Beam 2, with the latter four functions sharing the two multifunction buttons flanking play/pause). You can also see the small holes for the Beam’s far-field microphone array, as well the central indicator LED.
In back of the Beam are a pair of interfaces: an HDMI-ARC connector (which supports eARC) and fast (10/100) ethernet. Also in the rear is a socket for the power cord, as well as a button for syncing the Beam with additional Sonos speakers, such as a pair of Sonos Ones (for the surround channels) and a Sonos Sub (for low-frequency effects).
Sonos Beam setup
The Sonos app did a great job of stepping me though the (simple) setup process. Once I set the soundbar down in front of my TV and plugged in the power cord, I opened the Sonos app, and right away, the app prompted me to add the Beam.
I then tapped my iPhone on the Beam so the app could receive a PIN code via NFC (near-field communication), and then the app seamlessly connected the Beam to my Wi-Fi network, just like that.
Once connected to Wi-Fi, the Beam automatically downloaded a firmware update, and then the app showed me how to connect the soundbar to my TV’s HDMI-ARC interface. Again, easy peasy.
Finally, I ran Sonos’s Trueplay room-correction feature, which involves the Beam playing a series of tones, beeps, and blips as you walk around the room slowly waving your iPhone or iPad (Trueplay doesn’t support Android). Trueplay listens to the sounds through your iOS device’s microphone, gauges the acoustics of the room, and then tweaks the Beam’s EQ settings to compensate. This whole process took about five minutes.
Sonos Beam performance (so far)
As I said earlier, I’ve only listened to the Beam for about an hour since I received it. I started with some go-tos, including the Battle of Hoth from the iTunes version of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, as well as the opening titles of 1978’s Superman, both movies with Dolby Atmos soundtracks.
So far, I’m pleasantly surprised. For such a small soundbar, the Beam manages to pack an impressive punch. I thought the Beam’s quartet of elliptical midwoofers (two are front-firing, while the other two are side-firing) sounded full and natural, delivering both warmth and detail, but without being too bright, which was a criticism I had of the Sonos Arc. The narrower Beam does lack the Arc’s wider soundstage, but I didn’t think the Beam sounded overly boxed-in, either.
The Beam doesn’t have its own wireless subwoofer; instead, the low-frequency effects come from three passive radiators. I was expecting decent bass from the all-in-one Beam, but what I heard was somewhat better than merely decent; we’re talking solid, deep bass (or deep for an all-in-one soundbar, anyway), rivaling what I heard from the sub-less Arc. To be clear, the Beam’s low-frequency performance would be much better when paired with the Sonos Sub (now an eye-watering $749 after a recent price hike), but I wasn’t expecting the Beam’s bass response to sound as good as it does.
Finally, what about Dolby Atmos height effects? Unlike the Arc, the Beam doesn’t have upfiring drivers that bounce height cues off the ceiling; instead, it relies on Dolby Atmos height virtualization to trick your ears into thinking they’re hearing sound from above.
From the limited amount of listening I’ve heard so far, I’d say the Beam’s virtualized height effects are pretty much what I expected: decent but not amazing. When particles of ice start falling from the crushed Rebel base on Hoth in Empire, I thought it vaguely sounded like it was coming from above; with the Arc and other soundbars with upfiring drivers, the height effects are much more obvious. This isn’t necessarily a knock on the Beam; other soundbars with virtualized Atmos sound deliver similarly vague height cues. Again, though, I need to do a lot more listening before rendering a final verdict.
Final thoughts (for now)
I haven’t mentioned many of the Beam’s best features at all yet, including the built-in Alexa or Google Assistant (you can pick one or the other, but not both), AirPlay 2, Sonos’ own multi-room audio platform, and upcoming support for high-resolution and Dolby Atmos-enabled tracks on Amazon Music. Speaking of music, I’ve also yet to put the Beam through its paces when it comes to tunes (although a quick sample of Billie Eilish’s “Oxytocin” streaming from Spotify sounded impressive).
But so far, I’m liking what I’m seeing and hearing—a lot. Stay tuned for my full Sonos Beam second-gen review, coming soon.