The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is the latest soundbar from multi-room audio giant Sonos, improving on the company’s original mini soundbar with virtual Dolby Atmos, HDMI eARC compatibility, and a refreshed design.
While it’s a little more expensive than the first Sonos Beam, the new soundbar offers great value for money, and full integration with the wider Sonos ecosystem. The Beam (Gen 2) sounds great on its own, but you can take the audio performance up a notch by hooking it up the Sonos Sub, or by using a pair of Sonos One SL speakers as your rear right and left channels.
Setting up the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a breeze – you just need the Sonos S2 app, and you’ll be able to connect the soundbar to your Wi-Fi network and set up your voice assistant of choice. The S2 app also gives you access to the company’s TruePlay technology, which calibrates the soundbar’s audio to your room’s dimensions, using its built-in microphones.
It’s a shame that TruePlay still only works with iOS devices, as it does make a difference to the sound. Still, you could borrow a friend’s iPhone for the setup process – and we do think that’s worth doing.
Unlike its predecessor, the new Beam comes with eARC compatibility, a feature that fans of the original soundbar have been requesting for a while. This allows the soundbar to handle more advanced audio formats than before, including hi-res audio codecs.
However, the standout new feature for the Beam (Gen 2) is Dolby Atmos support. While the soundbar doesn’t contain the upfiring drivers you’d need for ‘true’ Atmos, it uses psychoacoustic techniques to give the impression of height from your movie soundtracks.
In theory, this should make it seem as though the sound from your films is coming at you from every angle; we weren’t fully convinced, however. While the Beam (Gen 2) has a remarkably wide soundstage and powerful audio performance for its size, we didn’t experience the kind of overhead sound you get from its larger sibling, the Sonos Arc (which has those all-important upfiring drivers).
We’re hesitant to judge the Beam (Gen 2) too harshly for that, though. You’re still getting a far more immersive experience than you’d get from a non-Atmos bar, and there is a small amount of vertical information coming through – it’s just not as convincing as other virtual Atmos bars like the Sony HT-X8500.
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) also works really well for listening to music, with a clear, well-balanced soundstage and an impressive low end – and the S2 app makes it easy to navigate your favorite music streaming services without switching between lots of different apps and platforms.
Overall, if you’re looking for a mid-range soundbar that won’t take over your living room, and you want the ability to upgrade it in the future with a subwoofer or rear speakers, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a great choice – just don’t expect a super-convincing Dolby Atmos experience.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) price and release date
- $399 / £339 / AU$599
- Available to buy from October 5, 2021
The second-gen Beam will be available to buy from October 5 for $449 / £449 / $699, which is more expensive than the original; at launch, the first-gen Sonos Beam cost $399 / £339 / AU$599, though it’s often discounted these days.
Compared to other soundbars with virtual Dolby Atmos, the Beam (Gen 2) is a little cheaper than the Sony HT-G700, and about $400 / £400 / AU$800 less expensive than TechRadar’s best soundbar of 2021, the Sonos Arc, which delivers ‘true’ Atmos thanks to upfiring tweeters.
- Compact build
- New plastic grille
- Touch controls
Like the original Beam, the new Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a compact soundbar that can easily fit under most TVs on a cabinet, or be mounted to a wall to keep your living room clutter-free.
At 2.72 x 25.63 x 3.94 inches (H x W x D), it’s much smaller than the company’s flagship soundbar, the Sonos Arc, making it ideal for smaller spaces.
Like other Sonos speakers, design of the Beam (Gen 2) is all about clean lines and subtle branding; this soundbar isn’t flashy, but it looks stylish, and as it comes in a choice of black and white finishes you can find the right look to fit in with your decor.
One key difference between the new Sonos Beam and its predecessor is the design of the grille, which is now made of plastic rather than a woven fabric. This design choice is more in keeping with the Sonos Arc, and as the company points out, it’s far easier to clean than dust-attracting fabric. We asked Sonos whether the new grille brings any acoustic benefits, but the company told us it’s purely an aesthetic choice.
On the top of the soundbar you’ll find a touch-sensitive control panel. The capacitive touch sensors allow you to control your music playback, adjust the volume, and turn off the inbuilt microphones for extra privacy. We found these controls were very responsive, though you’ll probably find yourself reaching for your TV’s remote to do most of these things.
You’ll also find a small LED light strip on the top of the soundbar, which lights up as you interact with it, as well as another LED beneath the microphone icon to let you know when the soundbar’s mic is enabled.
Around the back of the soundbar is a port for plugging it into a power outlet, and HDMI, optical, and Ethernet ports.
Setup and connectivity
- Works with wider Sonos ecosystem
- TruePlay room calibration
- Easy-to-use app
Setting up the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is very simple; you just need to download the Sonos S2 app and follow the instructions to connect the soundbar to your Wi-Fi network and any music streaming services you’d like to use.
You’ll also then be able to choose between Alexa or Google Assistant. Thanks to the soundbar’s built-in microphones, you’ll be able to control its playback using your voice alone, as well as asking your chosen voice assistant questions and controlling your other smart home devices.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to use the Beam’s room calibration feature, TruePlay, which tunes the ‘bar’s sound to the dimensions of your room.
As you go through the TruePlay process, the Beam plays out a series of beeps and ticks across the frequency range; you’ll then be prompted to walk around your room waving your smartphone around.
The S2 app uses the microphones built-in to your smartphone to analyze the audio; Sonos says it’s important to cover as much space as possible and to minimize any other environmental noise that could affect the results. Unfortunately, TruePlay is only compatible with iOS devices currently, but it’s worth borrowing a friend’s iPhone to get the most out of your new Beam.
The app also gives you the option to pair the Beam with any other Sonos speaker you might have, such as the Sonos Sub or a pair of Sonos One SL speakers that could be used as left and right rear speakers.
Integration with the Sonos network gives the Beam (Gen 2) something many other soundbars don’t have: an easy way to upgrade your home cinema system. While the new Beam works very well on it’s own, adding in a sub and rear speakers is a great way to add to your setup over time; and if you already have a Sonos Roam portable speaker, you’ll be able to ‘throw’ your audio between the Bluetooth speaker and the Beam using the Sound Swap feature.
In terms of wireless connectivity, the Beam (Gen 2) supports Wi-Fi, and Apple AirPlay 2 with compatible iOS devices. There’s also the option to hook it up to your router with an Ethernet cable if you want a more stable connection to your home network.
One new connectivity feature for the Sonos Beam is HDMI eARC compatibility, which the company says will bring a “richer, more immersive, and higher definition sound experience”. Compared to the HDMI ARC connectivity found on the original Beam, eARC can handle more advanced audio formats and deliver superior audio quality.
It’s a shame there’s no HDMI 2.1 support, which would allow for 4K at 120Hz and even 8K at 60Hz passthrough – which in turn, would make it ideal for 8K-supporting consoles like the PS5 and the Xbox Series X.
Still, the new Beam can cope with 32 channels of audio, and even eight-channel 24-bit/192kHz uncompressed 38Mbps data streams. In other words, as well as supporting Atmos, it can play hi-res audio files of your favorite songs.
If your TV doesn’t have a HDMI port, you can also connect the Beam via the optical port; Sonos provides all the cables you need in the box.
The S2 app also makes it easy to stream music, allowing you to add the music streaming platforms of your choice and navigate them without leaving the app.
- Wide soundstage
- Great for music
- Dolby Atmos could be more convincing
In spite of its small size, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) delivers a powerful audio performance, and is more than capable of filling your living room with sound.
We started off by watching animated sci-fi comedy Mitchell vs. The Machines, in which the Mitchell family find themselves battling with electrical appliances (as well as an army of psychotic Furbys) in an abandoned shopping mall.
As washing machines drag themselves menacingly across the floor, the Beam (Gen 2) proved it was capable of handling rumbling low frequencies with dexterity and control. The soundbar’s bass prowess was even more evident as a giant Furby stomps towards our protagonists.
As the action intensifies and the family finds themselves in a full-blown melee complete with lasers, the dialogue always remained clear and easy to understand.
While the general audio performance of the Beam (Gen 2) was very impressive, we weren’t fully convinced by the virtual Dolby Atmos. As vending machines propelled soda cans over the heads of the characters on screen, the sound did provide a sense of height, but we didn’t get the feeling that it was coming from above our head.
It felt as though the virtual height channels cut out somewhere around the top of our ears. While this did feel more immersive than a non-Atmos soundbar, the effect wasn’t as impressive as with the Sonos Arc, which features upfiring drivers.
These drivers are designed to bounce sound off of the ceiling and back down to your ears, giving a real sense of sonic height to movie soundtracks and compatible audio files. Without them, the Beam (Gen 2) doesn’t seem capable of providing the full Atmos experience.
Saying that, we were very impressed by the width of the soundstage. You really get the sense that the action onscreen is taking place all around you with the Sonos Beam (Gen 2), and that’s without adding any additional rear left or right speakers like the Sonos One SL.
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) also sounds great when playing music. Listening to Little Simz’ Woman, and the bass sounds deep and well-controlled, while synth strings are warm and rich. Simz’ rap vocal comes through with clarity, while Cleo Soul’s avant-soul melodies float sumptuously above the mix.
As capable as the Beam (Gen 2) is on its own, the bass is much improved by hooking it up to the Sonos Sub, with better separation between the different frequencies and a more arresting, toe-tapping sound.
Should I buy the Sonos Beam (Gen 2)?
Buy it if…
You want a powerful sound
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) sounds much bigger than its small size might suggest.
You have a small living room
The new Beam is compact enough to squeeze into the smallest living rooms, and can be wall-mounted to save even more space.
You have other Sonos speakers
The Beam (Gen 2) fits into the wider Sonos ecosystem, and is the perfect playmate for the brand’s subwoofers and rear speakers.
Don’t buy it if…
You want true Dolby Atmos
The Beam does sound immersive, but you’ll need upfiring tweeters for ‘true’ Atmos.
You’re on a strict budget
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is nowhere near the most expensive soundbar we’ve tested, but there are cheaper soundbars on the market.
You don’t have access to an iOS device
You need an iOS device to take advantage of the TruePlay calibration feature – it’s even borrowing a friend’s iPhone to do this.
- Looking for more? Read our guide to the best soundbars you can buy today