Sonos Beam Soundbar: Price, Details, Release Date

It’s 2.7 inches tall, which from my vantage point on the couch meant that the soundbar creeped just above the Sony logo on the TV. Laine says the designers carefully considered the sizes and dimensions of all of the top-selling TV sets on the market to ensure the product would fit well into most setups. In this case, it doesn’t align perfectly with the bottom of the TV, but the Beam is still remarkably unobtrusive. Plenty of people mount their TVs on a wall anyway, and Beam can be stuck to a wall too.

Another sign of Sonos’ design obsessiveness can be found in the fabric that wraps around the speaker’s body. It starts out as a circular tube of knitted polyester, like a sock. Then it’s cut to an exact length, stretched over the grille, and bonded to the inside edges of the speaker. Look at a Beam and you won’t see a single seam.

Sonos also custom-designed the Beam’s drivers, which are shaped like ovals. “The most cost-effective way to do transducers is to make them round,” Laine said. “But because we didn’t want to block any of the TV, we’re limited by height. So in order to move more air and get more sound out of the product, we designed elliptical transducers.”

There’s also a newly designed microphone array in the Sonos Beam. The $199 Sonos One speaker also has a microphone array and works with Alexa, but the two speakers have distinctly different shapes, which means the microphones used for voice recognition and noise cancellation required a different approach.

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Cross Talk

At the start of the demo, Laine summoned Amazon’s Alexa through the Sonos Beam and asked it to turn on the television. These TV-control capabilities from the Sonos Beam are new, since Sonos replaced the optical audio cable that was in the Playbar and Playbase with support for HDMI ARC, a newish home theater standard that allows components to work together more smoothly, send each other commands, and more easily shuttle digital surround-sound signals between connected components. That also means that Beam supports CEC, one of the features of the HDMI standard that lets you use just one remote control for all of the devices in your home theater—even if it’s your voice, like in the demo I got.

The main upside of switching to HDMI ARC and CEC, according to Sonos, is that it facilitates support for more standards and codecs and that it makes things simpler overall. For example, the Beam can now automatically recognize whatever remote you’re using. Not all TV sets support HDMI ARC, so Sonos will throw an HDMI-to-optical adapter into the box so you can still send digital sound to the Beam. Like many new standards these days, simplicity comes with dongles attached.

Heavy Presence

To get a sense of how the soundbar performs, Laine cycled through a few music tracks from Jordan Rakei, Radiohead, and Beck before eventually landing on a short clip from the film Arrival. It’s hard to make an in-depth judgment after just a few minutes of listening, but to the average ear, I think the Sonos Beam will sound fantastic. Audiophiles may pick up on the diminutive speaker’s subtle lack of bass, despite it having four full-range woofers and three passive radiators. But it sounds great despite the small size. The clip from Arrival, which included loud, ominous tones and whispery dialog, benefited the most from the soundbar—specifically from its center tweeter, which was designed to amplify dialog.

Later that same day, I briefly visited Sonos’ anechoic chamber, a giant concrete box of a room with a mesh suspension floor and foamy soundproofing wedges lining the walls. The Beam speaker sat in the center of the room, on a surface carved to be the exact same size as the bottom of the speaker. A thin metal arm covered in microphones arced above the Beam. It looked like the speaker was about to be interrogated. In fact, this chamber is where all of Sonos’ products are interrogated. Because of the lack of any audible reverberation or resonance, every word spoken inside an anechoic chamber sounds serious, almost profound. Someone made a joke about turning the lights off, and I’m glad they didn’t. One form of sensory deprivation was enough.

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