It only takes a look at the long list of failed sophomore albums that followed scorching debuts to realise that following up a popular sound with something more mature and complicated is a difficult task. However, this is the mission that Sonos’ latest soundbar, the Beam Gen 2, has taken on, as it tries to replace the popular original while also upping the ante by giving immersive Dolby Atmos compatibility from the same compact size.
The Beam Gen 2 has big (and conversely small) shoes to fill in order to please us, as we are huge fans of the original Beam Gen 1. That 3.0 channel soundbar has received the What Hi-Fi? Award for the best soundbar in its pricing category every year since its release in 2018. The key to its popularity has been the simplicity of its design and streamlined functionality, which has enabled it to transcend two of the common limits of compact speakers: sonic scale and weight.
Sonos demonstrated that it can deliver Dolby Atmos audio in a larger chassis with the launch of its larger sister, the Arc, in 2020. However, we are sceptical that the technology can justify its presence in a tiny soundbar, especially since, unlike the Arc, the Beam Gen 2 lacks upward-firing speakers.
In truth, the configuration of the new Beam is very similar to that of its predecessor, except that the quintet of front-facing drivers is organised into five independent arrays rather than three. Two of these arrays are dedicated to replicating overhead and surround sounds when watching Atmos content. With increased processor power, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 employs psychoacoustic HRTF (head-related transfer function) technology to create the illusion of height without the requirement for vertical positioning.
We’ve had previous experiences with Dolby Atmos transmission via processing trickery, and the results have been uneven, frequently veering toward synthetic and ineffective (though the same can also be said of some Dolby Atmos soundbars that actually do have height speakers). So we unbox the new Sonos Beam with caution.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) Dolby Atmos Specs
- Connections 1*eARC
- ARC/eARC eARC
- Sound format support Dolby Atmos DP / Dolby Atmos True HD / Dolby Digital / Multichannel PCM/ Dolby Multichannel PCM / stereo PCM
- Bluetooth No
- WiFi Yes
- AirPlay 2 Yes
- Chromecast No
- Finishes Black matte, white matte
- Voice control Works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
- Dimensions (hwd) 7 x 65 x 10cm
- Weight 2.8 kg
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) Dolby Atmos Price
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 costs £449 /$449 / AU$699, which is little more than the first Beam, which cost £399 / $399 / AU$599. However, this disparity is consistent with the company’s recent price increases on many of its products. The new Beam is still the cheapest Sonos soundbar in the company’s two-strong soundbar lineup, costing much less than the Arc, which is presently priced at £899 / $899 / AU$1499.
If you want to use Beam Gen 2 in a larger surround system, you can add two One SL back speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and, if necessary, a Sub (£699 / $699 / AU$999).
Other tiny Dolby Atmos soundbars in this price range are scarce. Then there’s LG’s offering, the little but acoustically underwhelming Eclair, which features upward drivers but is even more expensive at £700 / $700 / AU$1000. Sony’s HT-G700 (£399 / $598 / AU$899), which provides a simulated Atmos effect but is significantly larger and, like the Eclair, lacks network access, is another option.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) Dolby Atmos Build
The new Beam looks almost identical to its predecessor, with the same size and attractive curving edges. The only visible difference is the inclusion of a perforated polycarbonate grille, similar to that of the Sonos Arc, which is designed to be more durable and simpler to clean than the original’s woven fabric finish. Some people will likely favour the older Beam’s softer appearance, but we prefer the new Beam’s sleek exterior.
Under the polycarbonate are four front-facing elliptical mid-woofers and an upgraded centre tweeter that, according to the firm, will deliver crisper and clearer conversation than the original Beam. Five Class D amplifiers power the drivers, while three passive radiators give low-end frequency reinforcement.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) Dolby Atmos: Features
The top surface features the same touch-sensitive buttons, LEDs, and far-field microphones as the original Beam for voice control of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Power, ethernet, and HDMI eARC connections, as well as a connect/reset push button, are located at the back in the ‘cable cove.’ The Beam Gen 2 now has a matching cove to the finish of the soundbar (matte black or matte white), as well as color-complementary HDMI and power wires. Our test sample is white, and the colourful wires draw a bit of attention to themselves in our fairly grey test environment, but individuals with lighter spaces prone to wall installation may appreciate this detail more.
Few soundbars at this price point have networking capabilities, but because this is a Sonos product, the Beam Gen 2’s ability to integrate into a wireless multiroom system is crucial to its design. This means you’ll need the Sonos S2 app to get the most out of your purchase and connect it to the internet. While your TV remote may manage the volume, the app is where you’ll find Trueplay (Sonos’ very sophisticated room calibration technology), a 2-band EQ, and confirmation of which audio codec you’re now getting. It’s also required if you want to connect it to other Sonos items to create a surround system.
Because it has wi-fi, you can also stream to the Beam Gen 2 from a handheld device using Apple AirPlay 2, and Spotify Connect is built-in as well. A future update will also provide compatibility for Amazon Music Ultra HD audio (for both the Beam Gen 2 and other Sonos devices), allowing access to lossless 24-bit/48kHz files as well as Dolby Atmos Music.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2) Dolby Atmos: Sound
The Beam Gen 2 supports stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos (both Digital+ and TrueHD variants), multichannel PCM, and Dolby Multichannel PCM audio formats. DTS digital surround decoding will be added to this and other Sonos products in the future, but unfortunately not DTS:X.
Dolby Atmos is the Beam Gen 2’s main selling point, but can Sonos accomplish overhead sound without using height drivers? True overhead sounds may be a stretch, but Dolby Atmos is about more than planes and helicopters, and the Beam Gen 2 handles the format better than any comparably priced speaker. Atmos allows film production mixers to place sounds and music as discrete objects inside a soundfield, and being able to decode it means that people can view movies with more compelling soundtracks, whether they are contemplative drama or a car-flipping blockbuster.
There is actual motion, depth, and space when listening to Atmos films with the Beam Gen 2, which heightens the drama and sense of immersion. The soundstage is broad, and we tried it with both larger 55-inch and 65-inch screens, as well as a more modest 43-inch screen, and it improves the cinematic scale and watching experience for all three.
In the opening scene of Roma in Atmos, the sound design frequently leads the camera beyond the image’s extremities before the camera pans to meet up with it. The Beam Gen 2 projects the changing sonic perspective with incredible accuracy and clarity. Whether it’s a chirping bird, a car, or a voice, there’s incredible consistency over the entire soundfield, as well as a seamless transition between drivers, which we must admit doesn’t always happen when a Dolby Atmos soundbar has upward drivers to contend with.
The rapid editing from interior to exterior, above the car to below the bumper, is expertly matched by the Beam Gen 2’s rendering of space and dynamics in the incredibly stressful scene in which the father painstakingly parks his car in the family’s narrow driveway while smoking a cigarette and blasting classical music. Despite the lack of upward drivers, the low pictures provide a startlingly accurate sensation of the engine idling away up above.
The new Beam copes well with the thundering crashing waves at the end of the film, as the housekeeper wades deep into the sea to save the family’s children, which we’ve seen previous soundbars with separate subs struggle with. Its projection isn’t quite as spectacular as that of the Sonos Arc, which gives the impression of rising water encircling the viewer, but it’s still a more skilled and delicate interpretation than the Beam Gen 1.
The upgraded central tweeter is so transparent and clean that when viewing Bohemian Rhapsody, the harmonic distortion on Freddy Mercury’s singing from the original Live Aid recordings, which isn’t usually that obvious, becomes very noticeable and even a little bothersome. However, this does not take away from the great job the Beam Gen 2 performs in depicting the Atmos sound design as the camera moves around the stage and each instrument or monitor comes into sonic focus. The sound of each instrument is natural and unedited, regardless of where it is in the frame, and as the camera soars over the audience, there is a true sense of movement and breadth.
We stream Amy Winehouse’s Tears Dry On Their Own, with its sumptuous ’60s-style orchestration, to put the Beam’s handling of detail and timbre to the test. The transients are bright and finely defined in the sparse opening, which features only woodblocks, celeste, and wind players, while the vocal is open and present. The brass feels rich in the low mids, and while we’d like to hear more of the baritone sax’s full-throated range, the lower notes are beautifully handled if a little limited. Having said that, there is a greater depth of tone here than in the Beam Gen 1, which has a more hands-off approach to any frequencies beyond its reach.
As the second verse begins and the accompaniment thickens, every instrument has sonic space to breathe, and embellishment, such as the clarinet winding around the vocal line, comes to the fore.
The Beam Gen 2 keeps up with the furious plucking of the acoustic guitar combined with the powerful, deadpan kick drum on Frightened Rabbit’s Old Old Fashioned. The timing isn’t ideal, but the soundbar keeps the bass end taut enough to keep up with the nimbler higher frequencies.
Switching to Split Enz’s Sweet Dreams, there’s sufficient velocity and force to capture the funkier sections, especially the bass, with a powerful leading edge. Despite being lower in the mix, the vocal still shouts out, and unlike the original Beam, we feel more comfortable raising the volume without being harsh.
- Effective handling of Dolby Atmos
- Warm, refined sound
- Streaming smarts
- No additional HDMI ports
- Doesn’t support DTS:X
The Beam Gen 2 not only meets but exceeds the high bar established by its predecessor, which more than justifies its additional feature set and higher price. Sonos’ attempt to replicate Dolby Atmos using processing power and forward-facing speakers has resulted in more capable and effective handling of the format than many more expensive soundbars with upward-firing drivers. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is simply the greatest Dolby Atmos soundbar at this price point, and it goes above and beyond with its streaming smarts, small design, and adept handling of motion, depth, and space.
Aside from Atmos, it sounds fantastic, reaching deeper than the Beam Gen 1 with more finesse, a richer treble, and a wider dynamic range. Whereas the Beam Gen 1 may have skipped over certain complex sounds, the Beam Gen 2 has a better capacity to take them on, resulting in a deeper, more nuanced, and varied listening experience.