Sonos Beam Review: Support for Alexa in a Great Soundbar

There are two distinct methods of wanting on the new Sonos Beam soundbar: from the angle of an individual who already owns Sonos audio system, or as an individual who doesn’t have any Sonos audio system.

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The former, the speaker-rich amongst us—that is Sonos’s candy spot. The firm says almost 40 % of Sonos purchases inside the previous 12 months had been made by individuals who already personal a Sonos speaker, and that when individuals purchase a Sonos product, they use it for years.

In that context, the Sonos Beam is not only a TV soundbar, however a WiFi-connected, fabric-wrapped hypnosis machine. You will suppose you might be listening to Beyonce or Childish Gambino or “Chill Hits” on Spotify. But what you are actually listening to is “Buy extra Sonos.” You will get up with no recollection of getting purchased the factor, and you’ll have some explaining to do.

However, in the event you’ve by no means owned a Sonos speaker and also you occur to be searching for a TV soundbar that permits you to use Amazon’s Alexa to regulate the expertise, then the Beam is value contemplating. At $400, it is a lot cheaper and smaller than Sonos’s earlier house leisure audio system. But it is nonetheless a powerful compact soundbar on your TV. And in fact, while you’re not utilizing it to boost onscreen visuals, it makes a very good all-around lounge speaker that sits comfortably by itself, or as a part of a multi-room system.

Shape of Sound

Notably, the Beam was designed to assist a trio of voice assistants—Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s Siri—all on the identical machine. That’s no small feat; every firm’s voice service has its personal guidelines of engagement for smart-home {hardware}. If the entire speaker factor does not work out, Sonos’s executives could very nicely have futures in diplomatic relations.

While assist for all three companies is the promise, the fact is that the Sonos Beam does not truly work with all of these digital assistants on the time of this evaluate. Its shrunken dimension additionally means Sonos has made some sacrifices within the sound division. But we must always speak about its design first, because the Beam is one thing that you will most likely be taking a look at a complete lot after you place it below your tv.

This is the third Sonos speaker meant to function a companion to your TV, and the smallest. If the Sonos Playbase and Playbar (each $700) are, respectively, a truck and a mid-sized sedan, the $400 Sonos Beam is a coupe. It measures 26 inches throughout and a pair of.7 inches tall, and weighs round six kilos. That’s heavier and longer than one thing just like the Polk Audio MagniFi Mini, however that soundbar can be taller and, like a number of soundbars, is visually uninspiring. The Sonos Beam is a delight to behold, a superbly baked breadstick complementing an countless buffet of video and audio content material. It ships in black and white, and it may be mounted on the wall if that is the place your TV lives.

The physique of the Beam is wrapped in a single piece of knitted polyester. The speaker’s guts embody a single heart tweeter, three passive radiators, 4 custom-designed full-range woofers, and a five-microphone array for voice management. On high are some capacitive contact controls: a play/pause button, quantity up and down, and a microphone icon, to show the voice assistants on and off.

In again, you will discover three ports: energy, Ethernet, and HDMI-ARC. If your TV does not assist HDMI-ARC (my previous Sony Bravia TV doesn’t), there’s an HDMI-to-optical adapter you should utilize. But you undoubtedly lose a few of the magic of Sonos’s promised content material management when you need to revert to optical. The “ARC” in HDMI-ARC stands for Audio Return Channel, and it signifies that audio alerts will be despatched from the TV to an exterior audio machine utilizing a single HDMI cable. And in the event you’re utilizing HDMI, meaning the Sonos Beam can be tapping into CEC, or Consumer Electronics Control, to allow you to management the TV’s quantity or toggle the ability via the Beam.

Ear Candy

The newest speaker from Sonos performs music and works as a soundbar on your TV. It additionally helps you to management your good house together with your voice.

Beth Holzer for Wired

Sonos is positioning the Beam as “Not Just a TV Soundbar,” however nonetheless, its major operate is supplying the audio for films and exhibits. And as a soundbar, it performs nicely. It lacks a few of the deep, heavy bass of its bigger rivals. But it does improve dialogue, results, and soundtracks to counterpoint the entire leisure expertise. It strikes me as one thing that will not bowl over audiophiles, however will add worth for informal listeners—and on the very least, even audiophiles may respect what Sonos has carried out with the Beam’s bodily constraints.

As a part of my testing I watched John Wick, a particularly family-friendly film a couple of man who’s unhappy in regards to the loss of life of his canine and befriends his Russian neighbors. The motion film style is the one my TV’s built-in audio system battle with essentially the most, with most low-toned speech drowned out by dramatic scores, membership beats, violent motion, or dudes doing donuts in vehicles.

The Sonos Beam eradicated the necessity for me to carry a distant in my hand to regulate the quantity 27 instances all through such a film, with dialogue coming via crisp and clear. It evens out all of the sounds very well and, like different Sonos audio system, adjusts its output to finest swimsuit the room. (Though you continue to need to undergo Sonos’s mildly awkward, 45-second TruePlay setup to determine this.)

Like the earlier Sonos soundbars, there is a Speech Enhancement characteristic you may toggle on and off within the Sonos app. There’s additionally a Night Mode characteristic, which clarifies dialogue and different quieter sounds whereas firming down the sort of high-octane results that may usually preserve your neighbors up. I used each of those options liberally, though, even with Speech Enhancement on, dialogue can sound just a little flat and missing in resonance.

To get a way of the speaker’s skills for music, I listened to Gregory Alan Isakov’s live performance with the Colorado Symphony from 2016, amongst different playlists. The Beam’s did not give me any sort of phantasm that the symphony was taking part in behind me, or that it was corresponding to seeing Isakov in live performance with an orchestra (which I’ve seen). But it nonetheless stuffed the room, and its spatial sound skills made it potential to check the place members of the ensemble had been on stage when it was recorded. Also: This soundbar will get loud.

All Talk

Since the Sonos Beam natively helps Amazon’s voice companies, you may ask the soundbar the identical stuff you’d ask an Echo, whether or not that is “Alexa, play Spotify exercise playlist” or “Alexa, inform me a joke” (“How do you win over a chocolate lover? Keep some Twix up your sleeve.”) You can seek for and obtain expertise, Amazon’s time period for voice apps, and set timers, one thing that accounts for roughly 90 % of my Alexa requests on my Echo speaker.

The draw of getting Alexa within the Sonos Beam soundbar, although, is that you may management your TV together with your voice. Using voice instructions to regulate sure facets of your TV expertise has been an choice on numerous house leisure gadgets for a number of years now, however it has nearly at all times required that you just push a bodily button on a distant to provoke the voice features. The newest push in TV voice management is towards gadgets that rely as an alternative on a easy wake phrase. That’s Sonos’s technique right here—you may simply shout “Alexa” at your Beam and ask it to show the TV on and off or to lift the quantity.

If you will have an Amazon Fire TV Stick, too, you may hyperlink your Fire TV Stick to the Beam and ask Alexa to pause this system you are watching by talking to the AI via the Beam. This workaround is just a little convoluted, although, because it requires you to first join the 2 gadgets in a sub-menu of the Alexa app (not the Sonos app), and even after that you need to be particular: “Alexa, pause Fire TV,” not simply “Alexa, pause.”

Unfortunately, my TV does not assist HDMI-ARC. That meant I wasn’t ready to make use of an HDMI cable to attach the Beam to my TV, and as an alternative I used to be pressured to depend on the optical audio connection. This saved me from using the CEC performance, the characteristic of HDMI that lets a soundbar or different speaker ship instructions to the tv set. As a outcome, I wasn’t in a position to flip the TV on or off with my voice utilizing my present house setup.

I just lately examined one other product that permits you to toggle your TV energy together with your voice: the Amazon Fire TV Cube. But along with the HDMI choice, the Cube additionally comes with little infrared blasters you should utilize to ship instructions to older televisions that lack assist for HDMI-ARC. While I did not love the Cube, I did like that it gave me the choice to make use of my voice to regulate my older TV. So whereas CEC is a helpful characteristic for the Sonos Beam to assist, these with lesser TVs will not be capable of make the most of it.

Speaking Up

Sonos’s voice technique does not cease with Alexa. The firm has some competitors in that area, like Polk Audio’s upcoming $300 Command Bar, a voice-controlled soundbar that additionally has Alexa in-built (and which we’ve not reviewed but). So to get forward, Sonos has been engaged on assist for Apple’s AirPlay 2, which can even give Siri some restricted management over the Sonos Beam. Sonos has additionally mentioned Google Assistant assist will arrive on its latest speaker fashions someday this 12 months. This is meant to permit for a “continuity of management”—in principle, you can begin music with one voice assistant, then ask one other voice assistant to determine the tune, or to pause or cease the music.

The drawback, although, is that AirPlay 2 assist wasn’t prepared by the point I wrote this evaluate. Nor was Google Assistant. This means Sonos has successfully requested the media to evaluate a product that does not but do every part it is promised to do. (Sonos has additionally requested us to carry off on publishing our impressions of the AirPlay 2 expertise on the Beam, although AirPlay 2 software program is technically obtainable now, which appears extreme.) By promising these options sooner or later, Sonos is asking shoppers who don’t desire Alexa to take an opportunity by pre-ordering the Beam earlier than it really works with their voice assistant of alternative.

It’s additionally value noting that you may get a few of this similar voice-controlled Sonos expertise with the Sonos One, a $199 good speaker that works with Alexa—and also will be upgraded sooner or later to work with AirPlay 2 and Google Assistant. Of course, it is not a TV soundbar, so it will not work the very same method the Beam does. However, in the event you’re not truly that desirous about a soundbar however are nonetheless very desirous about a Sonos speaker with voice management, the One is a top quality gateway drug. That speaker competes extra straight with merchandise like Apple’s $349 HomePod and the $400 Google Home Max—though Sonos’s argument has at all times been that its audio system allow you to play no matter audio you need with out pushing you into one music service or voice assistant over one other.

Present Tense

Sonos is relying partially on the goodwill it is developed with prospects over the previous a number of years in an effort to promote the brand new Sonos Beam. Trust us, the corporate is saying; AirPlay 2 and Google Assistant are coming quickly, and it’ll all be nice. Normally, in that state of affairs, I’d say maintain off.

But even with out the total assortment of voice assistant capabilities, the Sonos Beam is a and spectacular and thoughtfully designed soundbar. In below two weeks, it is improved my very own TV watching, podcast listening, and music taking part in expertise in an actual method. Having Alexa in a soundbar has been helpful too, even when that is the only real digital assistant for now. The Beam has additionally develop into one thing of a sound centerpiece to the Sonos audio system I have already got at house. Which most likely feels like music to any Sonos lover’s ears.

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