Music streaming

Sonos Beam Gen 2 review: Atmos, Alexa and the best music streaming just got better

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

With the right movie or TV show, a soundbar with Dolby Atmos on board can help you get out of your living room and into another world, from the nuclear wasteland of the Outback to the battlefields of Europe. Yet not all Atmos soundbars are created equal. Some include physical drivers and others, like the Sonos Beam Gen 2, rely on sophisticated processing to create Atmos effects. After listening to the new Beam, I was surprised at the quality of this treatment.

The $ 450 Sonos Beam Gen 2 is a tweak of the company’s original Sonos Beam soundbar and adds Atmos compatibility as well as a better processor. Without changing the physical design beyond a new grill, or adding additional speakers, the Beam Gen 2 does indeed sound bigger than before. Not worth upgrading if you have the original – save for the Sonos Arc instead – but for people looking to explore Dolby Atmos who want one or more built-in voice assistants and the best music streaming for all. at home, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is a great choice.

As

  • All-in-one system delivers incredibly wide sound
  • Choice of Alexa or Google Assistant on board
  • One of the best music streaming apps

Do not like

  • Dear
  • No dedicated Dolby Atmos speakers
  • Unable to compete with submarine systems

However, Sonos isn’t for everyone, as it can be expensive to build a whole house system, especially if you have to buy the $ 449 port adapter for an existing stereo. The Sonos ecosystem is excellent, however, and no other company offers the same level of support for music streaming services. As an alternative, you can buy a complete 5.1.2 system with “real” Dolby Atmos for just $ 50 more – the excellent one. Vizio M512a. It sounds better, but it involves a lot more boxes with wires and no built-in Wi-Fi or voice assistants.

What it is

Aside from a few key improvements, the Beam Gen 2 is very, very similar to the original Beam. It has the same size (2 feet wide), the same shape and the same number of speakers. These speakers consist of four elliptical midwoofers, a center tweeter and three passive bass radiators. The actual upfiring drivers, which are necessary for “real” immersive playback, are absent on the new Beam.

Instead, the main Gen 2 upgrades are inside with a more powerful processor and a new phased array (which can run five separate audio zones compared to the original three). The two new matrices are dedicated to ambience and pitch information and provide simulated Dolby Atmos playback.

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The Sonos Beam (fabric grille) sits on Gen 2 (plastic grille)

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The other notable improvement over Gen 2 is HDMI eARC compatibility that brings with it HDMI 2.1 and Dolby Atmos streams. If your TV does not have an HDMI port, you can use the HDMI-optical adapter in the box for Dolby Digital 5.1 decoding.

The Beam is also a smart speaker and offers a choice of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The on-board microphone array appears to be the same as before and was reasonably responsive to my commands, even when the movie is thundering.

Why would you choose this speaker over a bunch of cheaper soundbars? Because it’s Sonos. Whether you have an existing Sonos system – let’s say one or two – or are looking to get started in home streaming, Sonos still offers one of the most robust music platforms available. There are dozens of supported services from Apple Music to TuneIn to Sonos HD Radio. The speaker also boasts Spotify connection and Apple AirPlay 2.

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Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Beam 2 comes with a night mode to reduce the impact of explosions when you don’t want to disturb the neighbors, in addition to a voice improvement characteristic. Unlike most of its competitors, the Sonos doesn’t offer a music mode – instead everything is “wide”.

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Adding a Sonos subwoofer and Sonos One rear channels to the Beam brings the total to $ 1,600.

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Setup is simple and straightforward and the app walks you through each step. If you have an iOS device, you can take advantage of Sonos TruePlay, which requires you to shake the phone around the room for 2 minutes to calibrate the beamforming technology. You may look and feel silly, but in my testing it works.

Like all Sonos soundbar systems, the Beam can be supplemented with additional speakers. The most cost-effective upgrade is a pair of Ikea Symfonisk surrounds for $ 198 – they add the ambiance needed for surround soundtracks and are quite understated at the same time. Adding a pair of Sonos Ones ($ 419) is overkill – especially since using them as surround turns the microphones off anyway. You can buy the One SL without a microphone, but it would still cost $ 398.

You can also forget about the Sub – at almost twice the price of the Beam, the $ 800 Sub is a better match for the Arc (which ironically doesn’t need it as much as the Beam). The company is in dire need of a $ 400 subwoofer – and a $ 100 adapter for existing speakers while it’s at it.

For my tests, I used a Samsung QN65Q80T TV connected via HDMI eARC with an Oppo UDP-205 as well as a Roku Ultra.

How it sounds

The question I wanted to answer the most was “Does the Beam Gen 2 justify the $ 50 increase over the original Beam?” The simplest answer is “yes”.

The idea of ​​any home theater system, Atmos or whatever, is to create a sound bubble. The Beam managed to do this despite having all of its speakers housed in one housing.

Compared to the original Beam, the Gen 2 was certainly able to generate more atmosphere with Mad Max: Fury Road, for example, it threw effects all around and apparently from behind me which is quite a feat without physical rear. The original Beam also offered a large bubble but the sound was more focused towards the front of the room. On the other hand, neither speaker was able to generate overhead effects, which occur in the scene where the little girl asks “Where are you?” ” for example.

The Gen 2 offers clearer sound than the original, which helps make it more understandable during TV shows and adds a lightness when watching movies. While the sound of the Beam changes as you add a sub – offering the appearance of an instant upgrade – the Gen 2 looks more like the sub-connected Beam all the time, whether the sub is turned on or off. .

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The top panel of the Beam

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

I also compared the Gen 2 to the Vizio M512a-h6, a multi-speaker Atmos system in the same price range. The Vizio offers great music and movie playback and its impact was obviously helped by the included sub. I started with Turnstile’s Alien Love Call – with Blood Orange – and found the unusual psychedelic track to be suitably swirling on the Vizio, while the bass drum right there was quick and quick. The track was also surprisingly good on the Beam, where the whirlwind suited the speaker well, and while the bass wasn’t as deep, the vocals were clearer.

Then, I moved on to the audiovisual production of the 1917 film in Dolby Atmos. While it was able to deliver a sense of height, as a front-only system, the Beam couldn’t compete with the Vizio in surround effects. There was no back and forth movement in the flares flying over at 1:08, for example. However, the pings of the gunshots as our hero sank deeper into the ruins had a greater sense of urgency on the beam.

So far, the Beam has kept pace, but when I gave them both a meaty soundtrack – the shootout scene in the Matrix lobby – the Vizio shone. The ambiance was better, the immersion was better, and I could hear the synth bass soundtrack throughout, as it only occasionally peaked on the Beam. If you want home theater punch and don’t worry about the rest, get the Vizio.

Should we buy it?

If you own the Sonos Beam, unfortunately you won’t be able to get the upgrades that Gen 2 offers via a software update and it’s not worth buying it again just for a little more atmosphere. The Beam is certainly a great upgrade for people who own a Sonos One and want to expand their systems, although the real upgrade is in the bigger and better-sounding Sonos Arc.

The Sonos Gen 2 benefits from the addition of Dolby Atmos while retaining everything I love about the original. If you want a compact and attractive system with a bunch of useful features, this is my top pick at this price point. That said, Vizio’s M512a is still the leader for the money, with better sound and more inputs to play.


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