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Review of Sonos Beam 2 .. the sound bar you should put in your living room

The consumption of multimedia content has skyrocketed in the home. The establishment of platforms such as Netflix, HBO Max and Disney+ has meant that we are increasingly enjoying more and more movies and series from the sofa. A trend that has also been accentuated during the pandemic from which we are beginning to say goodbye. Investing in equipment that reproduces these contents in good quality has therefore become something that makes more sense than in previous years. And in that equation we should not only consider the weight of a good TV, which is what everyone usually pays attention to, but also of a good sound. The problem with products focused on sound is that, in general, they are complicated. And not only the choice of the same. The correct calibration also requires a series of knowledge and intermediate steps that move this type away from the simplicity they should have. Sonos, aware of this situation, launched in 2018 the Sonos Beam, a sound bar that combines the good work of the brand with a great design and, above all, an ease of use and installation that amazed. Its price, moreover, was right considering the product’s performance and the competition we could find on the market. That product, however, is now three years old. It was officially introduced in mid-2018. And while audio products tend to have longer life cycles than other technology products, it is true that in that time span some technologies have emerged – or become popular – that enrich the user experience. Therefore, Sonos has recently launched the Sonos Beam 2, a second generation of this great product whose main novelty is the compatibility with Dolby Atmos sound already enjoyed by owners of the Sonos Arc, the most advanced sound bar of the brand.

What has changed in this Sonos Beam 2?

The changes compared to the previous generation are mainly the following:

  • A 40% faster processor.
  • A new speaker array.
  • It is capable of reproducing Dolby Atmos sound.
  • The outside of the speaker is covered by a polycarbonate grille.
  • It incorporates an HDMI eARC port.

What does the Sonos Beam 2 look like?

The Sonos Beam 2 is compact in size, unlike models like the Sonos Arc, which is almost twice as long. This makes it perfect to accompany medium size televisions -for example, 50 or 55 inches- located in medium or small living rooms. The new perforated polycarbonate coating facilitates cleaning while contributing to a better aging. This change adds to the usual aesthetic line of the American brand, homogeneous in all its products and characterized by good taste, simplicity and, above all, attention to detail. At the top, the Sonos Beam 2 has several elements: an LED that indicates the status of the same, a pair of touch buttons that allow to regulate the volume, another touch button that allows to control the behavior of the microphone and, next to them, a set of microphones that allow to invoke Alexa or Google Assistant -once these have been configured-. On the back we find an HDMI connector, a power port, an ethernet connector and a button that serves to link or reset the sound bar. A set that moves away from other proposals full of connectors in search of simplicity of installation. In the box, Sonos includes everything needed to operate this Sonos Beam 2: a power cable, an HDMI compatible with eARC and, for those who need it, an HDMI to optical cable adapter. Once out of the box, you just have to place it under your TV, connect the HDMI cable to the TV and do the same with the power cable. To start it up it is essential to download the Sonos application, create an account if you do not have one and follow a few fairly simple steps. At some point it will ask you to approach the bar and, with your phone, touch the top of it, where there is an NFC chip that helps with the setup process. The steps to follow in the app, I insist, are super simple. They don’t make you dizzy with equalizations or complex configurations. Sonos takes care of everything.

The differences between ARC, eARC and how this influences the experience with Dolby Atmos

One of the main new features of the Sonos Beam 2 is the inclusion of an eARC port, a more advanced version of the usual ARC connector used to connect these sound bars to televisions. The eARC port, simplistically, has a higher bandwidth, allowing higher quality audio to be transferred to the soundbar. The problem is that not all TVs in recent years have an eARC port, especially those that are not high-end. Does this mean that if your TV does not have an eARC port you cannot or should not use this Sonos Beam 2? Absolutely not. But, to understand how this port difference affects you, first we need to talk about how Dolby Atmos and audio signals work. Dolby Atmos is not an audio codec per se. It is metadata that accompanies a given audio track. This track, however, must be Dolby Digital Plus (slightly compressed) or Dolby True HD (lossless audio). To play Dolby Atmos with Dolby True HD, you absolutely need an eARC port, because, being a lossless audio track, the bandwidth required for its transfer is higher. On the other hand, to transfer Dolby Atmos through Dolby Digital Plus, an ARC port, available on many more televisions, will suffice. That is to say: to get the most out of the soundbar you will need a television with an eARC port. But, if that’s not your case, don’t worry at all. You will also be able to enjoy extremely good audio, with Dolby Atmos, through an ARC connector via Dolby Digital Plus. You are probably wondering: how noticeable is the difference between Dolby Atmos via True HD and Dolby Atmos via Dolby Digital Plus? For the vast majority of ears it is almost imperceptible. And to this equation we must add another component: streaming applications, which is where we play most of the content, do not transmit audio in Dolby True HD. In fact, the vast majority of the content available on these platforms is not even in Dolby Atmos. What conclusion can we draw from all this? Easy: unless you are an audio nerd, you should not be concerned at all about the difference between the ARC port and eARC. First, because the difference between True HD and Digital Plus sound is minuscule for most people. And, secondly, because Dolby True HD content is not exactly abundant.

More things you should know about Dolby Atmos

Beyond what has been mentioned about the ARC port and eARC, you should take into account other things about the Dolby Atmos sound of this Sonos Beam 2. These are details that do not depend on Sonos itself, but on the protocols and products that accompany this soundbar.

  • The source from which the content is played -be it a TV, an Apple TV 4K or another product- must be compatible, at least, to work with Dolby Digital Plus audio. Many, many products are, even in budget price ranges.
  • It is advisable to activate the passthrough mode on your TV, which prevents any possible re-encoding in the audio transfer process to the soundbar.
  • Not all content is in Dolby Atmos. In fact, the proportion is quite low on streaming platforms such as Netflix or Disney+. In many cases, those that do qualify as Dolby Atmos only really enjoy this sound if you play them in their original version. If you turn on dubbing, it often switches to non-Dolby Atmos sound.
  • To find out if the Sonos Beam 2 is receiving audio in Dolby Atmos or another format, just go to the Sonos app and enter the playback controls. There you will be able to see if it is Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital 5.1 or any other type of sound.

How does the Sonos Beam 2 perform?

In a word: excellent. The Sonos Beam 2’s speaker array, working in conjunction with the new processor, delivers incredibly good sound considering both the range of the product and its size. The audio is super well balanced at all times and, when playing Dolby Atmos content that has been well produced, the surround experience is quite good despite not having speakers pointing upwards (used to recreate the characteristic altitude of Atmos). To refine the setup, Sonos incorporates in its app a feature called “TruePlay” that adapts the behavior of the bar to the acoustics of the room in which it is located. The process is super simple: you just have to walk around it with your phone in your hand for a few seconds. With that information, the bar will automatically determine how to adapt to the space in which it is located. The only “but” of this TruePlay system is that it only works with certain phones. For example: with an iPhone 13 I found it impossible to set it up, but with an iPhone XR I had no problem. The bar, by the way, has two interesting options that modify the sound in certain situations. One of them, easily activated from the app, reduces the intensity of the loudest sounds, which is super handy for watching content at night without disturbing the neighbors. The other, meanwhile, increases the clarity of voices. The Sonos Beam 2, remember, is not just a sound bar. It can also be used to play music, either through AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect or the company’s app. And the experience is, likewise, excellent. By the way: this Sonos Beam 2 is not capable of playing Dolby Atmos audio from platforms like Amazon Music. But luckily, that’s something the company is working on, so it will come hand in hand with a future software update. And yes, the Sonos Beam 2, unlike other bars, is connected to the internet and receives software updates. And finally, you should know that you can link this bar with other Sonos products or those compatible with AirPlay to work together or set up voice assistants like Google Assistant or Alexa, which are available even if the TV is off.

Is it worth buying this Sonos Beam 2?

Definitely. As a soundbar is an excellent product that also allows you to enjoy Dolby Atmos without setups complicated or excessively expensive. But that’s not all: the Sonos Beam 2 is also an excellent speaker to play music that is also compatible with voice assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. Therefore, if you are interested in a product of this type, do not hesitate: the Sonos Beam 2 is probably your best choice.

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