Sonos Arc Review
Pros: Exceptional sound, mimics true surround-sound quite well, multiple sound modes, Alexa/Google Assistant built-in
Cons: Expensive, very large
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sonos Arc is the perfect soundbar for those looking for top-notch home theater sound from a simple, single-speaker solution.
Of all the soundbars we've tested the Sonos Arc got the closest to matching the experience of a multi-speaker surround sound system.
An Impressive Surround Sound Simulation
The success of the Arc's surround sound mimicry is largely due to its use of Dolby Atmos — a sound format that makes for greater separation of sounds, allowing them to be more discreetly "spread out" within an artificial soundscape. The Arc makes it seem like all these different sounds are coming from different areas by bouncing them off the walls and other surfaces in your living room. Tuning the soundbar to your specific room using Sonos' Trueplay tuning, which involves walking around the room with an iOS device while the soundbar emits submarine noises, vastly improves the soundbar's ability to do this.
In ideal conditions we found the Arc capable of tricking us into thinking sound was coming from more places than just the soundbar itself. These "ideal conditions" include a standard, flat ceiling and a couch pushed right against the back wall, making it easy for the soundbar to bounce sound this way and that. When we put the Arc in a room with higher vaulted ceilings and listened from a couch placed in the center of the room this surround sound experience was greatly diminished. However, even in these more difficult situations the Arc still felt noticeably more immersive than its competitors.
It is important to note that you'll only experience the full effect of this surround sound when listening to Dolby Atmos enabled media. Luckily more and more streaming services (including NetFlix, iTunes, and Amazon Prime Video) are offering more and more Atmos enabled titles.
Field-Leading Sound Quality
Outside of surround sound mimicry, the bare bones of the Arc's sound are also exceptional. Perhaps most notable is the bass power. Likely thanks to its large size, this soundbar can really rumble. The action blockbusters we watched during our testing shook the room with each explosion. This is one of the few models we've ever tested that we don't think would be vastly improved with the addition of an external subwoofer (though Sonos does make one, if you're so inclined). The Arc manages to keep that bass power controlled, however, with the low notes of music staying powerful yet crisp and well-defined. The mid and treble ranges enjoy similar clarity. Overall separation is also fantastic — dialogue easily cuts through even when backed by loud sound effects.
Ease of Use
The Arc is generally quite easy to use, but some idiosyncrasies of the Sonos ecosystem may annoy some people.
Setting up the Arc is quite easy, if slightly time-consuming-- just connect to your TV via the HDMI or optical inputs (HDMI is better if you have the option) and finish setup through the Sonos app. This is the time consuming part. If you don't already have a Sonos account you'll have to make one. Then you'll have to link the Arc to your WiFi, sign into any music streaming services you'd like to use with the soundbar, choose whether you prefer Alexa or Google Assistant, and finally tune the soundbar to your room. To do this the Arc emits a sonar type sound while the app prompts you to walk around the room, moving your phone up and down. During the process the Arc uses the microphone on your phone to create an auditory map of the room and optimizes its acoustics accordingly. All told this took us about 15 minutes.
This is where the Sonos idiosyncrasies start. In order to tune the soundbar (a process that Sonos has dubbed "Trueplay") you'll need an iOS device. If you're an Android user it's pretty simple to borrow a friend's iOS device just to accomplish the tuning, but it's an extra step that is certainly annoying (you can still use the soundbar without tuning to the room, but doing so improves the overall experience). Additionally, the Arc is one of the few models we've tested that doesn't offer Bluetooth connectivity. Here again iOS users are favored, as the AirPlay compatibility effectively replaces Bluetooth if you use Apple devices.
We should also note that the Arc is quite heavy (nearly 14 pounds) and large (45" long). We felt a bit nervous navigating such a large and unwieldy thing next to a fancy TV, so just be careful when placing it on your TV stand.
The Arc offers a useful set of sound modes and adjustments. First, within the app you can change bass and treble levels using a set of sliders, and can set a maximum volume limit. There is also a speech enhancement mode that brings dialogue to the forefront, and a night mode that dampens loud noises so you don't disturb your neighbors.
The Sonos Arc sports classic aesthetics with cleans lines, a high-quality all-metal finish, and a monochrome exterior (available in balck and white). The only downside to its looks is its size. Measuring a full 45" in length, this bar is wider than any TV that measures less than 55" on the diagonal. Case in point, it looked absurdly large when we put it in front of a 40" TV.
The Sonos Arc is one of the most expensive soundbars on the market. While you can get better values-per-dollar from many of the less expensive models, the Arc is a clear step above pretty much all of them. As long as you're ok paying a bit of a premium for the premium performance, the Arc is worth the money.
The Sonos Arc is one of the best and most capable soundbars ever made, and it is priced accordingly.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell