During the opening chase in Baby Driver, for example, I could hear cars whizzing by my ears, the roar of powerful engines and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s « Bellbottoms » filling my family room. That same scene on the original Beam sounded fine, but there was no sense of enveloping surround sound. The second-generation model just sounded like a richer experience, as if cotton balls were removed from my ears.
The same was true while revisiting 2015’s (seriously underrated) The Man from U.N.C.L.E., or the epic car-turned-motorcycle chase in MIssion Impossible: Rogue Nation. The new Beam is a tiny speaker meant to make a meal of bombastic action sequences, and it does so without distorting or breaking a sweat. Sonos also focused on making dialog clearer too, something I appreciated when conversations were happening amid those huge set pieces.
Mostly, though, I was impressed by what Sonos was able to do with such a small device. You can find soundbars and wireless surround sound systems for less than $450, and many will deliver bigger sound. But Sonos offers things other systems don’t. For one, it’s easy to set up: You just plug it into the appropriate ports and step through the process on Sonos’s app. With competing products, you may also have to find spots to hold rear speakers, which still need to plug into power. As great as the new Beam sounds, though, it’s no match for the Atmos capabilities of the Arc. But for half the price, I wouldn’t expect it to.
When it comes to synchronized audio throughout your home, Sonos is still the connected speaker company to beat. There’s no easier way to program music for house parties (and outdoor shindigs with the portable Roam and Move speakers). The second-gen Beam is a solid addition to the family when it comes to music, though it’s less of an immediate upgrade compared to movies. It’ll support Dolby Atmos on Amazon Music later this year, but that service currently doesn’t have a huge number of Atmos tracks. Sonos isn’t saying when it’ll support Atmos on Apple Music, but there’s technically nothing stopping that from happening down the line.
The new Beam sounded fine while playing back some of my favorite albums, like Bjork’s Homogenic and Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady, with a decent sense of presence and some thumping low-end. But it didn’t sound dramatically different like it did with action movies. Amazon Music’s Ultra HD mix of Marvin Gayes’ « What’s Going On » sounded very crisp and clear, but I’ll be more interested in hearing what the Atmos version of that song sounds like eventually. On my Echo Studio, that Atmos mix almost sounds like Gaye is performing a live concert right in front of you.
And speaking of Echo devices, the Beam’s Alexa integration still works well. Its far-field microphones can hear me from the other side of my large family room, and it supports all of the same commands as Amazon’s own devices. It could easily replace an Echo in the same room, but you can also just mute the microphone and keep your Amazon account unlinked if you don’t want to have it listening in.
The Sonos Beam excels at being a simple and compact soundbar that’ll give you a large soundstage for movies. But I’d recommend sitting back and thinking about what’s really important to you. Do you care more about having a clean TV setup without many wires? Or do you want a soundbar system with more realistic surround sound? (Actual rears, a subwoofer and upward-firing Atmos speakers.) If so, you’ve also got great options like Vizio’s M-series 5.1.2 for around $500.
You could eventually build a Sonos surround sound system around the Beam by adding two One speakers as rears, as well as the company’s wireless subwoofer. But those two pieces of hardware alone would run you another $1,150 (or you could buy them all bundled together for $1,499). If you’re going that route, you might as well jump straight to the $899 Arc to have the best possible Sonos system.
The second-generation Sonos Beam isn’t a huge leap ahead of the original, but it’s still a better soundbar overall thanks to the addition of Atmos. If you already own a Beam, you don’t need to run out and grab one. But it’s a solid sub-$500 soundbar if you want to take your movie watching up a notch.
Note: Sonos is a former sponsor of my movie podcast, The Filmcast, but that hasn’t stopped me from being critical of the company.
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