Sonos has always favored a tiered approach to audio – there’s the entry-level Sonos Play:1, mid-tier Sonos Play:3 and the top-end Sonos Play:5. (There’s also the smart assistant-friendly Sonos One, but let’s not muddy the waters just yet.)
Increasing in size means better audio fidelity and heartier low-end, but it also means an uptick in price, too.
Following this comparison, the Sonos Beam – the latest entry in the Sonos device family – is like the Sonos Play:1 for the living room: it’s smaller than the mid-tier Sonos Playbase and substantially less powerful than the Sonos Playbar. It has voice assistant support (Amazon Alexa at launch, followed by Siri via an AirPlay 2 update in June and Google Assistant later) and it puts out decent, if-not-quite-room-rattling sound.
Most importantly, like the Play:1, Sonos Beam may be entry-level, but it’s good.
It’s best to think of the Sonos Beam as a beginner’s soundbar – one that has some of the luxuries you’d expect in higher-class models but may not be as powerful as the 5.1 or 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos soundbars we’ve seen from Sony, Samsung and LG.
What it lacks in power and up-firing speakers, though, the Beam makes up with some smart software – like Trueplay that helps calibrate the speaker to your unique room – and smart drivers that work together to deliver solid three-channel sound.
We’ll talk about Trueplay later, but for now let’s focus on the drivers themselves. Inside every Beam, you’ll find four full-range drivers, a center tweeter and three passive radiators. These drivers work together to help the speaker deliver sound somewhere in between a Sonos Play:3 and Sonos Playbar but in a form factor that sits underneath your TV.
That last bit is important as Sonos pegs the Beam as a living room-first speaker. While Sonos’ other products – the Play:1-5 and Sonos One – could sit in a living room, the Sonos Beam was designed for life beneath the big screen.
To that end, Sonos has tuned the speaker to be versatile with both music and movie audio – focusing a lot of its attention in the mid-range. Bass has some oomph to it, and can be upgraded with the addition of the Sonos Sub, while the highs peeked through periodically.
The Sonos Beam is designed for three-channels, but it can nearly make those three channels sound like true surround sound thanks to Trueplay – a software feature that calibrates the sound to the room. The magic happens during setup when the speaker asks you to use your tablet or smartphone to ‘scan’ the room (essentially wave your device around while the speaker plays a series of sounds). When Trueplay is enabled, the room fills with sound – the kind that cinephiles love and apartment-mates hate.
Alongside a decent speaker, though, you’ll also be getting not one, not two, but three smart assistants built in. At launch Sonos plans on integrating Amazon’s Alexa, just as it does now on the Sonos One. With Alexa, you can set moods and perform smart home tasks like locking doors, turning down the lights and changing the thermostat, and thanks to the Beam’s proximity to the TV, it works as a handy voice remote for those of us with Amazon Fire TVs.
Siri support is a bit more obtuse and it comes via AirPlay 2, not direct integration per se. You can still use Siri to control the speaker – a feature that’s especially handy for all the Apple Music subscribers out there – and you can even theoretically connect the Beam to a HomePod for multi-room (and multi-platform) experience.
The last voice assistant on the docket is Google Assistant … which is going to arrive at some point down the road later than June’s AirPlay 2 update.
While most of the audio demos we heard were very convincing of the speaker’s quality, one demo that totally failed to impress was a scene from Westworld in which the speaker introduced a fair bit of delay into the system. When asked about it, the demoers to us that it was infrequent and delay can be adjusted via the settings.
Sporting a five-microphone array, the Sonos Beam looks to be a solid entry-level speaker in the manufacturer’s living room collection. It’s not as powerful as the Sonos Playbar but it seems to be able to match the Playbase while one day supporting all three major voice assistants.
For now, boasting Alexa and the brand’s signature Trueplay tech, the Beam presents a solid speaker that might be a tad expensive at $399 (£399, around AU$500) but it’s one that could successfully open the door to multi-room audio enthusiasts who have long wanted a versatile Sonos system for themselves.