Sonos Beam Review
Pros: Great sound, Alexa built-in, Airplay compatible
Cons: Initial setup of Sonos app can be finicky
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sonos Beam is one of the best soundbars we tested, and it ups its functionality with built-in Amazon Alexa.
Should I get the Beam or the Playbar?
In our opinion, the Sonos Playbar is worth the extra money only for truly discerning audiophiles or people that will be using their soundbar in a very large space (we're talking a 1000+ square foot living room with cathedral ceilings). Otherwise, most people will be more than satisfied with the sound quality of the Beam and will appreciate the extra features like Alexa and Airplay that make it a bit more functional.
Beam as a Sonos Centerpiece
We have also tested home wireless speakers, so we are very familiar with the ins and outs of creating a multi-speaker system with Sonos. The Beam is one of their few products that has both Alexa built-in and is Apple Airplay compatible (the ). In our opinion, this makes the Beam a perfect centerpiece for a Sonos system. Not only does the Alexa capability let you control everything with your voice, but Airplay lets Apple users get around some of the small annoyances of the Sonos ecosystem (lack of native compatibility with YouTube being the biggest one).
The Beam did quite well in our testing, scoring well above average in pretty much every metric.
The Beam really shined in our sound quality testing, earning a score of 8 out of 10. Only the Sonos Playbar, which costs nearly twice as much, earned a better score.
The Beam has reasonably deep bass, its bass quality being even with that of the Playbar and Yamaha YAS-108. In fact, the only models we've found with better bass utilize large external subwoofers. The clarity is also quite impressive, falling just between the top-end Playbar and the above average YAS-108. Overall the Beam made movies and music sound substantially better than our TV's built-in speakers, and could almost convince us that we were sitting in a movie theater.
Ease of Use
The Beam was well above average in our ease of use testing, picking up a 7 out of 10.
When looking solely at the Beam's standard soundbar features, it offers basically the same user experience as the Sonos Playbar. If you're plugging it into a TV setup is a breeze, just plug in the optical or HDMI cable, and you're pretty much good to go. If you want to change the sound settings or stream music to the soundbar, you'll have to use the Sonos app. This involves downloading the app, connecting both it and the soundbar to your WiFi network, and logging into all your streaming services (Spotify, Pandora, etc.) within the Sonos app. This process isn't exactly difficult, but it does feel like some extra hoops to jump through. We would occasionally find ourselves wishing the Beam had a simple Bluetooth connection like most other soundbars. This was particularly true when a guest wanted to play some music off of their phone. Bluetooth would make that a 5-second process, but the Sonos systems require a lot of extra setup.
Unlike other most other Sonos products, the Beam is Apple Airplay compatible. This isn't quite as convenient as Bluetooth, but it does mean that any Apple-using guests that visit need only to connect to your WiFi network in order to take over DJ duties at your next party. It also means that Apple users can easily stream things to the soundbar that aren't natively supported in the Sonos app (YouTube being the most significant example).
The Beam is the only soundbar we've tested that has Amazon Alexa built-in. This lets you control any music services that are compatible with your Amazon account with your voice. If your TV is HDMI ARC and CEC compatible, you can even control all the basic TV functions with your voice (turn the TV on/off, raise and lower the volume). Most newer TVs are HDMI ARC compatible (which basically means a single HDMI connection can both send and receive signals in both directions, allowing the TV to talk to the Beam and vice versa).
Sonos offers a healthy dose of sound adjustments and useful sound presets, earning the Beam a high score of 8 out of 10 in this metric.
The Sonos app lets you adjust the bass, treble, and balance with a series of digital sliders. You can also queue up a number of different sound modes, probably the most useful among them being speech enhancement. this mode provides a volume boost and aims to add extra clarity to dialogue, so you can always understand what the characters in your favorite movie are saying. In our experience this also goes a long way towards solving the action movie problem, where you're constantly having to raise the volume during slower, dialogue packed scenes, and then have to remember to crank the volume back down before the big battle scene lest you go deaf. There is also a night sound mode, which cuts off the top end volume of loud sound effects so you don't wake your neighbor during a late night Netflix binge. This is also useful for dampening the sound of those overly loud commercials.
The Beam Keeps it very simple with mostly straight lines, curved ends, and an all-black exterior. Buttons are recessed and hidden on top of the bar so that it doesn't disturb the clean look from the front. We think the black model will blend into any living room. If you've got a modern, clean, minimalistic look to your living room, the white version may work well. Overall this is one of the best-looking soundbars we've tested.
The Sonos Beam certainly isn't cheap, but it likely packs in the most performance and features per dollar of any of the soundbars we tested. If it's within your price range, you're not going to be disappointed by the Beam. If you're looking for good sound for less the Yamaha YAS-108. It doesn't sound quite as good and doesn't have as many features, but is still quite a melodious soundbar.
The Sonos Beam is both a great soundbar and one of the best bases on which to build a multi-speaker Sonos system. If it's in your soundbar budget, we highly recommend it.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata