Sonos Beam

SMALL IT MAY BE, BUT THIS DIMINU­TIVE SMART SPEAKER PACKS A PUNCH IN THE LIV­ING ROOM.

TechLife Australia - - WELCOME - [ ARE YOU LIS­TEN­ING, SCOTTY? ]

THE SONOS BEAM is a smaller, cheaper TV speaker than the Play­bar, with a few ad­di­tions to its spec sheet, in­clud­ing sup­port for Alexa, Google As­sis­tant and Siri. At just 65cm wide and weigh­ing 2.8kg, it’s sig­nif­i­cantly lighter than its older sib­ling, too.Touch con­trols on top of the soundbar al­low you to se­lect vol­ume up/down, pre­vi­ous/next track, play/pause and mi­cro­phone mute, while an LED in­di­cates the soundbar’s sta­tus, mute sta­tus and voice feed­back. Around the back, you’ll find the HDMI con­nec­tion, Eth­er­net port, power con­nec­tion and a pair­ing but­ton. Avail­able in black and white, the Beam looks stylish but un­der­stated — ev­ery bit the Sonos prod­uct. You can wall-mount it, too, al­though the of­fi­cial bracket costs a fairly steep $89.

Inside are four full-range driv­ers, one tweeter and three pas­sive ra­di­a­tors, plus five Class-D am­pli­fiers. As on the Play­bar and Play­base, the driv­ers and ra­di­a­tors are po­si­tioned along the front and the far edges of the bar, help­ing to drive sound around your room for a more im­mer­sive, room-fill­ing sound. Voice con­trol is taken care of by five far-field mics, which en­sure the Beam can hear you wher­ever you are in the room, even when the speaker is blar­ing a movie or mu­sic out.

FEA­TURE RICH

This isn’t sim­ply a soundbar: it’s also a wire­less, multi-room speaker that can play mu­sic from al­most any source: Spo­tify, Ti­dal, Ap­ple Mu­sic, Ama­zon, Google Play, Deezer, your phone, net­work-con­nected hard drives — it’s all sup­ported and all can be com­bined in on-the-fly playlists and queues. The Beam can talk to any other Sonos prod­ucts you have in your home and also sup­ports AirPlay 2, al­low­ing you to build a multi-room sys­tem with prod­ucts from dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers. Of course, the Beam can con­nect to your TV, and deal with TV and movie sound, too.

While the Sonos Play­bar and Play­base of­fer only a dig­i­tal op­ti­cal con­nec­tion, the Beam has HDMI (with an op­ti­cal adapter, too). How­ever, the sole pur­pose of the Beam’s one HDMI port is to re­ceive au­dio from the TV, us­ing ARC (au­dio re­turn chan­nel). If your TV was bought in the last few years, it should have an ARC-en­abled HDMI socket, and the Sonos Beam will help you find it dur­ing the in­tu­itive, app-based setup. The ad­van­tage of us­ing ARC is that it al­lows the Beam a cer­tain amount of con­trol over your TV, as long as it sup­ports CEC (con­sumer elec­tron­ics con­trol). This means that, thanks to voice sup­port on the Sonos Beam, you can turn on your TV and ad­just the vol­ume with voice com­mands.

Those look­ing for deeper voice con­trol should con­sider adding a Fire TV de­vice to their setup. This en­ables more com­mands, such as start­ing spe­cific pro­grammes on sup­ported stream­ing ser­vices (“Alexa, play Stranger Things” will start the show on Net­flix on the Fire TV, for ex­am­ple).

Just as Sonos wants to be plat­form neu­tral when it comes to ser­vices, it also prom­ises to sup­port all avail­able voice as­sis­tants. Alexa is on board at launch, with Siri sup­port set to ar­rive by the time you read this, while Google As­sis­tant in­te­gra­tion is still in the pipe­line.

THIS ISN’T SIM­PLY A SOUNDBAR: IT’S ALSO A WIRE­LESS, MULTI-ROOM SPEAKER THAT CAN PLAY MU­SIC FROM AL­MOST ANY SOURCE: SPO­TIFY, TI­DAL, AP­PLE MU­SIC, AMA­ZON, GOOGLE PLAY, DEEZER, YOUR PHONE, NET­WORK-CON­NECTED HARD DRIVES — IT’S ALL SUP­PORTED AND ALL CAN BE COM­BINED IN ON-THEFLY PLAYLISTS AND QUEUES.

Un­for­tu­nately, you can’t is­sue Siri com­mands to the Beam di­rectly, in­stead you will need to use your iPhone as a mi­cro­phone.

Much like the Play­bar and Play­base, you can con­nect two smaller Sonos speak­ers (One, Play:1, Play:3 or Play:5) to act as rear speak­ers in a cinema sys­tem or add a Sonos Sub. The for­mer is worth con­sid­er­ing if you’re af­ter proper sur­round sound from a dis­creet sys­tem, but at an ex­tra $999, we’d say the Sub is overkill for the Beam.

Sonos hasn’t up­graded the au­dio codecs it sup­ports, so it’s PCM stereo, Dolby Dig­i­tal and Dolby Dig­i­tal 5.1, with no sup­port for DTS or loss­less au­dio for­mats. There’s also no Dolby At­mos sup­port here — the com­pany be­lieves that sound­bars don’t de­liver At­mos sound to a qual­ity level it is happy with.

GET CON­NECTED

As is the norm for Sonos speak­ers, you will be prompted dur­ing in­stal­la­tion to tune the Beam’s sound us­ing the com­pany’s True­play sys­tem, which uses your iPhone’s mic to tai­lor the sound to your room and usual lis­ten­ing po­si­tion (An­droid phones are not sup­ported). While the Beam sounds bet­ter when ‘True­played’, the dif­fer­ence isn’t as marked as with the com­pany’s other speak­ers. This means you should get rel­a­tively close to the Beam’s best per­for­mances even without an iPhone. Sonos’ Loud­ness fea­ture is also en­abled by de­fault, adding a bass weight and scale that’s miss­ing when you turn it off. Other modes in­clude Night Mode and Speech En­hance­ment, both of which can be left off un­less spe­cific needs arise.

TURN IT UP

So how does the Beam sound? For its size, ex­cep­tion­ally good. Sonos has man­aged to over­come two of the usual lim­i­ta­tions of com­pact speak­ers: scale and weight. Given its di­men­sions, the width and spa­cious­ness of the sound­stage are as­ton­ish­ing. The Beam can go loud, too — few will ever com­plain about it not be­ing loud enough. Di­a­logue is clear and di­rect, and never drowned out by the rest of the ac­tion.

But it isn’t per­fect — there’s a lit­tle tre­ble bright­ness and sibi­lance is present, par­tic­u­larly at higher vol­umes or with poorly recorded au­dio. We also had this is­sue with the Play­base (which sug­gests it’s a symp­tom of the way the com­pany tunes its speak­ers), but it’s far less of a prob­lem with the Beam. In fact, with de­cent con­tent and every­day vol­umes, it’s barely no­tice­able at all.

And while the Beam is al­most un­be­liev­ably spa­cious for its size, it doesn’t quite fool you into think­ing you’re lis­ten­ing to a proper sur­round sound sys­tem. Ef­fects stretch right across the front of the room, well be­yond the di­men­sions of the screen. They don’t, how­ever, stretch up the sides of the room. It’s a deep, spa­cious, at­mo­spheric de­liv­ery, with echoes and re­verb and three-di­men­sion­al­ity, but, un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s not ‘sur­round sound’. For that, you’ll need to add a cou­ple of Play:1s.

The Beam is, though, about as mu­si­cal as a dis­per­sive soundbar can be. You sac­ri­fice some di­rect­ness due to the an­gling of the driv­ers, but for a de­vice de­signed first and fore­most as an AV prod­uct, the Beam makes for a solid mu­sic sys­tem, with good tonal bal­ance, bass weight, rhythm and punch.

This is an af­ford­able soundbar that most could find space for, and that could trans­form your lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The width, depth and three-di­men­sion­al­ity of the pre­sen­ta­tion smashes ex­pec­ta­tions. This sys­tem is more than enough for most peo­ple, to the ex­tent that spend­ing the ex­tra $400 to get the Play­bar could, in many cases, be en­tirely un­nec­es­sary. Sonos’ larger soundbar sounds fuller, richer and gen­er­ally more so­phis­ti­cated, yes, and it still has a place for peo­ple with larger liv­ing rooms and bud­gets who don’t want the full sur­round sound, but for the av­er­age per­son in the av­er­age lounge space, the Beam is a su­perb choice.

Sleek in de­sign, the Sonos Beam could be best de­scribed as ‘just an­other Sonos prod­uct’ — high praise in­deed.

Pair­ing the Beam with an­other of Sonos’ speak­ers is sim­ple and def­i­nitely worth con­sid­er­ing to get that true sur­round sound ef­fect.

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