A home cinema cousin to the mega successful Sonos One, Beam is an excellent, affordable soundbar with Amazon Alexa built in
Does Sonos’ much-hyped new Alexa-enabled soundbar live up to the song and dance?
The downside of TVs now being thinner than a Jatz is that the sound they put out is not all that impressive. To get the most out of TV audio, something extra is required. And yet multi-speaker surround systems are not ideal for those who don’t live in a stately home or converted warehouse. That’s where soundbars come in – and Sonos Beam is a great soundbar.
Small, light, loud, white
Sonos already makes a soundbar, with the vaguely rude name of Playbar, but Beam is much lighter and smaller than that, and a few hundred dollars cheaper. It’s a short bar that comes in black or white/off-white. It benefits hugely from the addition of an HDMI input, and also adds voice support for Amazon’s Alexa AI assistant and Apple AirPlay 2 audio streaming.
Beam follows very precisely in the footsteps of the Sonos One: it’s affordable and compact, with a processor powerful enough to act as a platform that can be updated and honed over time. As such, as well as AirPlay 2 and Alexa, it could, once the right deals are inked, support Google Home, Chromecast, and platforms and AI assistants as yet unknown in the future.
First and foremost, though, Beam is a home cinema soundbar and music speaker, and for sport and general live TV duties it’s very solid, adding useful volume and presence to the big match or the latest reality show imbecile-fest.
However, whack on a movie from a service or player with a proper Dolby soundtrack, and the Beam delivers a big, adrenaline-pumping boost to the audio. Of course, given its compact dimensions, the bass doesn’t descend low enough to rattle the room, but it has real power, with a surprisingly wide soundstage, too.
Alexa is irritatingly inconsistent, but if you have a compatible Fire TV device, it is useful for searching through the vast quantity of content on there – although not surprisingly, it’s more satisfying to use with Amazon Prime Video than main rival Netflix.
Really, Alexa and AirPlay 2, multi-room and surround sound capability (you could add a pair of Sonos Ones as rear surrounds, and a Sonos Sub for a bigger bottom end) are just bonus features; this is worth $600 as a soundbar alone. Oh yeah, and it’s also a very good music speaker. Not cheap and disposable, yet feeling like quite the bargain, Sonos has got this Beam spot on.