August 29, 2018

What is a Sonos Beam

The Sonos Beam is the new and exciting soundbar offering from Sonos.  When Sonos revolutionized the soundbar speaker “game” in 2013 with the Sonos Playbar, people flocked to buy this cutting edge offering.  The Beam is the next step in that progression.  Sonos has built it smarter, lighter, and more efficiently, than any other soundbar speaker before it.  If you are looking for a high quality, good looking, and affordable soundbar speaker, look no further than the Beam.

To go a step further, there’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the Internet of Things. The philosophy posits that the internet is more than just a discreet space separate from our daily activities. It should be an integrated ecosystem that takes the digital tools available to us and incorporates them seamlessly into our daily activities. Devices tied into the IoT are inherently designed for maximum cross compatibility and to meet the demanding needs of our everyday activities. The Sonos Beam is an innovative attempt to take this idea and apply it to the sound design in our living spaces.

Basics About the Beam

The Beam is a soundbar.  This means that it is a flat rectangular speaker, meant to sit next to your television, usually directly above or below it. The Beam has the following dimensions: 2.70 high x 25.625 wide x 3.94 in depth (in inches) which is (68.5 x 651 x 100 mm) so while it is not a small speaker, it still is fairly compact and meant to fit well with any TV set.

The Beam may be small, but it packs a big punch.  It includes 4 woofers, so bass comes through loud and clear.  It has 1 tweeter, so the high notes are hit easily and crisply.  Because it includes Amazon Alexa, it has a far field microphone array so it can easily be responsive to your voice, even across the room.  Like the Sonos Playbar, the Beam can connect to your TV with an optical cable.  To make life simpler, Beam will also connect through an HDMI cable.

This speaker only weighs 6.2 pounds, so it is easy to set up and move.

Who is Sonos?

Understanding the philosophy behind the Beam means understanding the philosophies of the company behind it. First established in 2002, Sonos was founded on the premise of creating consumer speakers that integrate neatly and seamlessly into the lives of their customers. Linked together by wireless technology, the Sonos brand hypothetically allows users to control all of the video and audio devices in their home using a central hub which can then be expanded through the addition of more Sonos speakers. Their early endeavors into the smart speaker market won them great praise. Their smart speaker bundle won the “Best of Audio” award at the CES Innovations Design and Engineering in 2004. Since then, Sonos has been prodigious with their development of smart speakers, becoming one of the international leaders in the market. That’s in large part due to their willing to adapt and innovative. Of particular note is the release of the Sonos Playbar, which added intuitive features like the ability to automatically adjust a speaker’s volume depending on the source. It allows, for instance, a movie watching experience that automatically emphasizes dialogue without having to worry about fiddling with remotes. The Beam represents the next iterative advance in their smart speaker design philosophy.

Sonos manages to deliver a high level of quality across the board, and that’s largely possible because they handle everything in-house. They never use off the shelf parts or outsource their work to foreign manufacturers. They’re conscientious about their staffing, and over a decade and a half of existence, they’ve managed to stack their offices with a wealth of tech nerds who are passionate about both design and implementing their features into high-end and expertly crafted products that combine sleek, futuristic aesthetics with some of the most powerful and reliable performance around. As a result, they’ve managed to build a name for themselves as one of the premier providers of smart speakers in the business.

What Makes the Sonos Beam Different?

While the Beam is built off the fundamentals of over 15 years of development, it also represents a rather revolutionary step forward in what smart speakers are capable of.   Just like all Sonos speakers are made, this is a device with the main purpose of letting you ditch your remote controls entirely. Instead of having to fish for a controller and shifting your input depending on whether you want to listen to music or watch a movie, it serves as the speaker hub for your entire setup. While this means it’s ideally built for modern home stereo systems, the dramatically lowered pricing allows it to be incorporated into living rooms of any size or sophistication. The standard cost of $399 places it at nearly half the price of Sonos’ preexisting speakers.

That doesn’t mean they’ve made dramatic sacrifices for the sake of affordability. The most obvious predecessor to the Beam is the Sonos One, the company’s first (and only prior) soundbar, and a marvel of engineering. Like the One, it’s built with smart technology and IoT integration clearly in mind. Speakers compatible with Apple’s Alexa virtual assistant technology are built right in. But one of the most promising things that separate the Beam from the rest of the competition is how gleefully opposed to vertical integration it is. While other companies look to sell their customers on an entire technological ecosystem, the Beam is built from the ground up to be platform agnostic. That means that it will play well with pretty much any virtual assistant, Smart TV, or WiFi enabled stereo.  Notably, it has Apple airplay functionality.

Their goal is to provide the highest quality around regardless of the setup their consumers already have in their home, and you don’t have to buy a whole mess of different products to expand your system. That makes it ideal for connecting a diverse array of devices produced by a variety of different manufacturers. Smart functionality in TV speakers is a rarity, speakers with that functionality that are also platform agnostic are even scarcer.

How Does it Perform?

In short, the Beam performs admirably both when being used as a method for playing music and boosting the performance of a TV’s audio. Perhaps most important, Sonos understands the distinctions between these two varieties of sounds and has drilled down to the fundamentals to make both options a high priority.  The Beam includes 4 full range woofers, and 1 tweeter, so it can hit both the low and high notes with extreme clarity.

This is especially important given the current state of TV production. While screens have gotten thinner and video quality grows crisper and more clear with each passing year, sound technology within the manufacturing process hasn’t kept to pace. The need to make TVs affordable, combined with the reduced real estate for packing speakers in, means that sound quality in television has actually depreciated in the past few years. The Beam does for audio quality what high definition did for video quality. Performance is crisp and defined, distinguishing intuitively the differing needs of an explosive action sequence and a quiet conversational scene and adjusting the parameters accordingly. While it doesn’t have a few of the bells and whistles that you’ll find in competitors like the Dolby Atmos, it generally does its job well and it accomplishes it with very little setup or configuration.

In regards to the music quality, Sonos meets the bar that they’ve set with their earlier speakers. The bass is especially worthy of note, offering a lot of power without any distortion. It packs a surprising amount of speakers into a very small package, and you can expect a wall of sound in any modestly sized room of your house.

The performance of the virtual assistant works roughly as well as you could hope for. The listening system is highly responsive, managing to filter through the noise to hear your voice even when there’s music blaring at high volume. When connected to a TV, it allows you all the basic functions like power and volume, but it’s also designed to work in tandem with Amazon Fire, letting users with a more interconnected ecosystem swap through TV shows with just their voice. If you have other Sonos speakers in your home, that smart functionality will extend to them as well.

How Does it Look?

The Beam is priced to appeal to consumers who aren’t ardent audophiles and might not be naturally persuaded to buy in to a sound bar, and the design aesthetic is built to accommodate that philosophy. It’s a slim device, standing as it does at 25 inches in length, and it’s simple design (available in both black and white) makes it unobtrusive. It’s built to be functional above all else rather than a center piece for your home system. This notion is reflected in its ease of setup. A single HDMI cable allows it to connect to the TV. It’s inherently plug and play, and it doesn’t add drastically to the nest of cables at the back of an entertainment center.

The Sonos Beam is an impressive piece of work, one that brings high quality sound to the masses while sacrificing a little in the process. While it might not serve as a suitable replacement for the most expensive alternatives on the market, it does what it does well, and it provides a respectable range of features that give it appeal to a variety of consumers.

Tagged on: