Sonos is remarkable for many things: stellar sound quality, minimalist, functional design, and a neat little palindromic brand name. From the smallest, most affordable Play:1 (SGD 269) to the frankly massive (in size and in sound) Play:5 (SGD 799), Sonos’s wide array of audio products is designed to fit a wide variety of home audio needs.
The Sonos Beam (SGD 699) is latest in the brand’s line of home theatre speakers. Sonos has larger, more costly options: the large Sonos Playbar (SGD 1,149), the Playbase (SGD 1,149), and an assortment of subwoofers, amps and accessories.
Smaller in size and in burden borne by your wallet, the Sonos Beam has a few nifty additions. There’s a HDMI connection, along with (theoretically) voice assistant smarts in the form of Amazon Alexa, with future plans for Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.
Unboxing and set-up
I could describe the process step-by-step, but the whole unboxing and setup process really is an experience. And experiences can only be judged on how they make you feel. I didn’t have to struggle for a metaphor: it’s about as Apple-like as setup experiences come. And yes – I do mean that as a compliment.
The box, like the speaker contained within, is slender and long. Opening up the top reveals the speaker. Blended into the long side of the box is a smaller pull-out compartment, which contained the power cord, HDMI cable, an optical audio adapter, along with other documentation and literature.
The Beam measures 65cm long, and weighs 2.8kg – about half as much as the Playbar. Each end tapers off into a semicircle, and it looks more artistic and modern than the monolithic cuboid design of its larger sibling.
Colour options are simple. Black or white.
Where not covered in the audio dampening/protective fabric covering, the Beam feels great with its soft touch, premium-feeling coating. Dust, oils and marks don’t seem to show up too obviously on this surface, which is a plus for its upkeep.
On its top surface are the simple controls to manage volume, next/previous track, and play/pause of the music track, along with an option to mute the onboard mic that’s otherwise used for voice assistance.
Installation of the Beam was simple. It involved plugging the Beam into the mains and tethering it to my TV with the included HDMI cable. Setup was intuitive, requiring the installation of the Sonos mobile app. Then again, what doesn’t need an app these days?
Then again Sonos does app-based setup the best I’ve seen. It’s simple, with clearly-stated instructions displayed. Nothing odd happened that would cause confusion, and no technical knowledge was required.
The setup process involved connecting to home WiFi, which is needed for the various voice assistants, but also essential for Sonos’s characteristic deep network integration via WiFi. More on connectivity and ease of use later. Pairing with my smartphone was seamless, and I dare say the overall experience was enjoyable. It emitted a distinct sound sequence which my iPhone recognised. Plugged into my TV, it displayed a rather psychedelic animation while the process was ongoing. Snazzy.
Next, was Sonos’s Trueplay setup. Trueplay uses the microphones on the iPhone to tune and optimise the speaker for the unique sonic character of your room. It’s not available on Android, but it’s understandable given the sheer variety of Android phone models – it’d be pretty hard to replicate and guarantee the quality of outcome with vastly different equipment.
The setup of Trueplay involved a little tribal dance around my living room with iPhone in hand. I walked in a circle around the speaker as it beeped and booped loudly, feeling silly for about a minute. Luckily, no one was home.
Sonos’s Trueplay technology does make a difference, but it’s slight. I wouldn’t worry too much missing out on it if I owned an Android phone. In fact, it does come with its own set of limitations. Since it was calibrated around a point, I felt other spots simply didn’t sound as good. I highly suspect this is psychosomatic (highly likely a result of the tribal dance), and it made me hog the centre, calibrated, sofa spot for evening Netflix binges a bit too much for my family’s good.
I redid the setup procedure for the Beam out of curiosity, this time skipping the Trueplay procedure. This time, bereft of the ritualistic Trueplay tune-up, I found myself being more comfortable with sitting off-angle to the television. Again – likely psychosomatic.
But there are some real benefits to the Trueplay technology. As a dispersive soundbar, the array of speakers on the Sonos Beam point in different directions to create a wider soundstage. In my time with the Sonos Beam, I found audio convincing, seeming like they originated from an area wider than the television.
You could hear the expanse in live sports, immersive audio in movies and TV dramas, and a reasonable soundstage when music streaming or when listening to live concerts.
By analysing the surroundings, the Trueplay tech reproduces spatial audio effects more accurately. Despite this, the Beam definitely cannot fully replace a more holistic multi-speaker array. That’s where Sonos’s ecosystem of speakers and accessories come in: it’s trivial to pick up a few pairs of Play:1 speakers to place offset to your TV for surround sound.
As a dispersive soundbar, the Sonos Beam fares best for cinematic or live scenarios where users appreciate depth and spatial separation in their audio. When it comes to specific situations like trying to comprehend verbal speech amidst conference chatter and applause, the Sonos’ dispersion does make it slightly harder to make out speech in noisy environments clearly.
Onboard speech enhancement alleviates most of this issue, but it requires an additional step.
Music is where most comparisons can be made. As mentioned, live concerts sound best, with the natural soundstage of the show represented accurately. With full detail across the range, trebles are delicate with very natural decay, causing no sibilance or distracting artefacts. Mids are full-bodied, and the bass is tight and pretty responsive. It doesn’t try to fake any sub-bass – get the 3.1 bundle with the Sonos Sub for SGD 1,848 if bone-rattling bass is up your alley.
There’s notably a lack of Dolby Atmos or other high-bitrate standard audio on the Beam, but Sonos apparently does not feel the Beam alone is capable of meeting that standard. Honest. There are the old Dolby Digital and Digital 5.1 standards, along with PCM stereo on board.
For the volume, body and quality you get with the beam, SGD 699 is already a good price. Chuck in some good industrial design, and next up – connectivity options and set of miscellaneous features – and you’ve got yourself a damn good deal.
Connectivity and features
Sonos’s edge over competitors in the home audio market is its raison d’être: the very reason of its existence. Multi-room, internet-based, minimalist, elegant home audio. Now that’s a mouthful.
With fierce competition in the network speaker market by the likes of Apple, Google and Amazon, Sonos is holding its own with its legacy of audio quality. But connectivity is still its cutting edge: the Sonos Beam is evidence of it. HDMI has replaced the more cumbersome and divisive optical audio connection found on other speakers.
The curious addition to the Beam, and perhaps one of the best reasons to get it, isn’t exactly available in Singapore. It’s the Beam’s promised integration with Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri and current support Amazon’s Alexa – at least limited to Sonos’s home in the US, where only the Alexa assistant is currently available, with plans for Assistant pushed to 2019.
In Singapore, all services are natively unavailable on the Beam. I’m aware of some location spoofing workarounds to obtain Alexa support, but most Singaporeans aren’t Amazon users (myself included). If the promise (especially for Assistant and Siri) holds true, the Beam is a very strong value proposition to a wider range of users, some of whom might have never considered Sonos due to its higher prices.
But even without voice assistant to streamline your smart home, the Beam’s simple WiFi connection makes it a very useful addition. Essentially, it works as any Sonos speaker presently does. You can play audio by casting via the Spotify (or music/video provider) app, or on the actual Sonos application. You could play and control it via AirPlay or Google Cast, too.
With the HDMI ARC cable, it conveniently doubles up as a soundbar when the television is up and running. There’s minimal cable clutter here – simply the power cord, and the single HDMI connection that enables the TV and Beam to communicate while streaming content. There’s no hassle when it comes to connectivity. Content is cast to either the TV or the Beam, or both – whichever is switched on and available.
The major selling point of the Sonos Beam is its ecosystem of speakers – all of which can be strung up for multi-room playback, and especially great for the Beam, used in surround sound setups. This makes it an especially enticing purchase for new homeowners seeking to kickstart a minimalist, high-quality home audio system. Sonos’s extensive lineup of speakers can be purchased separately and fully integrated when the need (and justification for purchase) arises in the future.
The sound on the Sonos Beam almost fully justifies its (hefty) price tag. Add to that a beautiful, compact form that betrays its volume and power, and a simple, effective and reliable suite of connectivity options. That makes for a convincing deal especially for those looking not just to improve their home theatre experience, but also to ensure home decor remains minimalist and clutter-free as possible.
That’s not even considering the possibility for native voice assistant support on the Beam. This would enable you to go even more clutter free – but also quicker, more integrated responses. The Beam could be the centrepiece of your smart home, and your home theatre experience, all in one well-designed, sleek bar tucked under the bottom edge of your television.
The Sonos Beam is available from official retailer TC Acoustics and their relevant channels at an MSRP of SGD 699. If you’ve got a particularly big living room, the Beam is available as a bundle as the ultimate home theatre kit together with two Sonos Play:5 speakers and the Sonos Sub for SGD 3,446. A more modest set-up with the Beam, Sonos Sub, and two Play:1 speakers would set you back SGD 2,386. Pricing and availability for the Beam in all configurations to suit your needs and tastes can be found here.