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Sonos Arc review: The Main Event
The expensive but impressive Sonos Arc is the smart soundbar you've been waiting for
- Dolby Atmos
- Improved design
- Really expensive compared to Beam
- Some software issues
The Sonos Arc isn’t cheap but, on its own merits, it can bring a living room to life in a way that the just Beam can’t.
Price$ 1,399.00 (AUD)
Sonos’ first attempts at carving up a slice of the soundbar market were about making a big first impression. Back then, Sonos wasn’t really known for home theatre tech. The Playbar and Playbase were essentially the company’s audition tape. Their follow-up act, the Sonos Beam, went the other direction with it - prioritising cheaper and smarter over fidelity and volume.
Now, the Sonos Arc tries to meld the two approaches. It’s the best of both worlds. If the Beam was pitched as an entry-level solution, the Arc is a natural next-step. A fitting upgrade that picks up where its predecessor left off and brings the boldness that fans of the Playbar and Playbase might have found lacking in the Sonos Beam.
Speaker type: Soundbar
Speaker specs: 8 elliptical woofers + 3 tweeters
Dimensions: 8.7 x 114 x 11.6cm
Dolby Atmos: Yes
Voice Assistant support: Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri via AirPlay 2.0
Streaming services supported: Google Play Music, Deezer, Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, internet radio and 80 other streaming services
4K passthrough: No
Built-in Chromecast: No
Ports: HDMI ARC, 10/100Mpbs Ethernet port, optical
Color: White, Black
Doubtlessly intended to act as something of a big brother to the more-affordable Sonos Beam, the Sonos Arc features a polycarbonate grille design, built-in microphones and - for the first time in a Sonos speaker - Dolby Atmos support.
Tackling each of these merits individually, the polycarbonate design feels like an instant upgrade. The move to hard plastic gives the Arc a slightly-different, more professional look. It also makes it more practical to maintain. As someone who bought a Beam, having to clean the mesh fabric cover is never a fun time.
Compared to the earlier Playbar and Playbase home theatre speakers, the Arc is smaller than the former but louder than the latter. Despite being armed with 11 transducers driven by class-D amplifiers, Sonos’ latest soundbar is also more power-efficient.
The Atmos-enabled Arc is also the company's first device to run on their new S2 app.
The new Sonos S2 app isn’t that different from the S1 app. The interface is definitely better but functionality-wise, it’s not a hugely different experience. You can sort your Sonos speakers into rooms and juggle between audio sources, such as the newly-launched Sonos Radio, with relative ease.
That being said, we did encounter some issues. Infrequently, the soundbar would reset itself to zero volume for no discernable reason. This might have been due to the fact we were running it on pre-release software but it was definitely a recurring problem.
Connecting the Arc to a TV is relatively painless and can be done using either HDMI-Arc or via optical cable. Overall, the Sonos Arc is nice to look and lives up to the kind of ease of use you’d expect from other Sonos products. It’s not quite plug-and-play but there’s plenty to like about it.
If you came away from or are concerned about whether the Beam can deliver on the audio side of big spectacle movies, the Arc will fast put those fears to rest. In action, the Sonos Arc sounded much more impressive and immersive than its predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my Sonos Beam but bumping up the larger model for exactly the kind of improvement you’d expect. The Arc provides soundscapes that easily eclipse the constrained capabilities of the Beam. Music sounded much richer and more lively.
Our testing here involved a gauntlet of media that started with Hans Zimmer’s score for Inception and stretched in John William’s work across the Star Wars films. While more bombastic soundtracks are a natural fit for the Arc’s capabilities, quieter fare, like the somber piano melodies in Amazon’s Tales from the Loop also landed really well. Dialogue in shows and movies was also audibly clearer and easier to understand.
Another great showcase for the Arc came in the form of Euphoria (a HBO Original series available in Australia via Binge), which features a lot of dynamic musical sequences. The Arc made watching this series feel so much more engrossing as it allowed you to really sink into the soundscape that accompanies the series’ eclectic cinematography and direction. The thumping climax of Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse fared similarly well.
Another series that proved a good match for the hardware here was AMC's The Terror. Even during the most chaotic of sequences in the show, the Arc managed to sketch out a soundscape that lets you keep track of the action. Many smaller audio details like the sound of paper rustling or snow crunching persist even in spite of louder acoustic effects like the roar of the titular monster of the bristling fizzle of gunpower exploding.
If you’re more concerned with hearing dialogue clearly than anything, the difference here between the Beam and Arc isn’t tremendous. You could probably get away with the former, though you probably won’t regret investing in the latter. Both are great soundbars but only one is designed to thrive in a larger living room environment.
In terms of customizability, the S2 app gives you a little bit of wiggle room when it comes to finding the right settings via an equaliser. The soundbar also supports Sonos’ TruePlay calibration, though you will require an iOS device for that.
The Bottom Line
As someone who has tested a dozen different Atmos soundbars over the years, I'd agree that the Arc delivers that experience but doesn't necessarily stand out as particularly superior to the other options. If you're already a Sonos person, that probably doesn't matter though.
If you want Sonos’ best soundbar, the Arc is exactly that. However, the make or break factor for whether it's actually worth more than double what the Beam demands is whether or not you care about having that Dolby Atmos surround sound experience.
If you don’t, chances are you’ll probably be sated by the smaller and cheaper Sonos Beam. It’s just as smart and the areas where it does fall short can be neatly supported by a range of other Sonos speakers.
The Sonos Arc isn’t cheap but, on its own merits, it can bring a living room to life in a way that the just Beam can’t. Whether or not that feat is worth $1399 to you is another matter entirely.
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