The Sonos Beam Gen 2 Packs A Surprisingly Loud Punch For A Small Soundbar

The Sonos Beam Gen 2 Packs A Surprisingly Loud Punch For A Small Soundbar
Image: Kotaku Australia
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Here’s the thing about soundbars: They can’t break the laws of physics.

It’s something always worth keeping in mind, if only because soundbars have filled this neat niche for a lot of customers. There was an era where you relied on TV speakers or forked out for a proper audio setup. The golden rule was to spend as much on your sound as you did your TV. But these days, soundbars offer an excellent middle ground.

That’s the idea behind the refresh of the Sonos Beam, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 which is retailing in Australia for $699, although some retailers have it from $649. It’s an update designed to bring the Sonos Beam — a more affordable offering than the beefier $1379 Sonos Arc soundbar — in line with modern standards.

There’s Dolby Atmos, HDMI eARC support, a new polycarbonate grill that’s easier to clean and it’s all housed within a package that’s the same compact size as the original Beam.  You’ll also get DTS Surround Sound support later this November, courtesy of a firmware update.

sonos beam gen 2 review
The box is substantially bigger than the actual soundbar, but it packs down simply enough. Image: Kotaku Australia

Let’s kick off with what the Gen 2 can’t do. There’s two major killers with the Sonos Beam refresh. The first is that no matter how precise you are with your Harry Potter-esque wandwaving when using the Trueplay app — which basically tries to tune the soundbar to the acoustics of your room by using the microphones on your smartphone — no amount of wizardry can account for the lack of hardware. The Beam Gen 2 doesn’t have speakers pointed directly at the ceiling, and as a result you don’t get that fuller, more spatial sound that you’d get from a more traditional 5.1 offering, or from larger soundbars.

That lack of extra hardware really hurts the Dolby Atmos integration too, which relies upon creating the illusion of room-wide sound to work. The Xbox Series X is a good example — there’s a bunch of first and third-party games that support Dolby Atmos sound now, including Cyberpunk 2077, Forza Horizon 4 and Microsoft Flight Simulator. The latter is a surprisingly good use-case, especially when its bucketing wind and rain or the weather is customised to replicate a full-scale hurricane.

The ambient sounds of Cyberpunk‘s Night City — not to mention the soundtracks that play through the various radio stations — are also a good test of the Beam Gen 2’s limitations. Sonos’s small package does an admirable job replicating what it can, but it’s hard not to miss the reduced bass or soundstage when compared to a proper subwoofer or a soundbar with a bigger speaker array. It’s present on the drum and bass stylings of Night FM or the more electronic tunes of Body Heat Radio; you can hear it through the sounds of every bullet and every gun shot.

Another missed opportunity is the lack of HDMI passthrough. Most modern TVs have a HDMI eARC port now — it’s usually HDMI 3 — but if yours doesn’t, that’s something to keep in mind.

You’ll probably notice the Atmos effect most in movies, however, as games are yet to fully embrace the technology. And having Atmos support at all in the right content — Gravity is a top example, although you’ll need Apple TV+ for the Atmos-enabled version — is still a huge plus.

Atmos allows creators to position sounds at exact points in a soundstage, rather than simply assigning them to a regular channel. It also allows for more simultaneous sounds at any given time, creating much better overall aural depth. That’s especially useful for busy urban environments, or instances where there are large, dynamic shifts in the soundscape, like Blade Runner 2049‘s Wall scene. And even though the Beam Gen 2 isn’t quite as capable as what it could be with a dedicated upward speakers, having Atmos at all is a big win over everything in this price point that’s not-Atmos enabled.

sonos beam gen 2
Setup is gracefully easy, and there’s an NFC chip in the soundbar, making it easy to connect the Gen 2 to your wireless network. Images: Kotaku Australia

But again, I mention all of this to set expectations. Good sound is very much a byproduct of space: the less you have to work with, the more difficult it will be to replicate a full, immersive soundscape. And what the Beam Gen 2 does, especially for how tiny it is, is pretty remarkable. It’s a world apart from any TV speaker you’ve ever heard — even “good” TV speakers, like ones found on recent 8K TVs, are absolutely no match for the notes blasting out of the Gen 2’s arrays and radiators. And for what you’re getting at

For one, the Gen 2 gets impressively loud. It’s much louder than something you’d expect from the size of an adult’s arm. It’s well suited for a broad range of music, and there’s a noticeable improvement after configuring the soundbar with the (still iOS only) Trueplay app. Setup is painless courtesy of the NFC connectivity, and the soundbar itself is a supremely sleek looking unit.

If you’ve got a smaller TV and/or room that needs a potential speaker replacement, or you’re looking for a sleek alternative to speakers for your desktop PC, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 works supremely well in those environments. I know a bunch of folks who converted from PC monitors over to smaller-sized OLED TVs for their gaming PC. The Beam Gen 2 is a great fit there, or folks who recently converted to massive ultrawide monitors and really want the most immersive experience. (You could always have headphones, but that’s not for everyone, and it’s not always comfortable especially in Australian summers.)

And a lack of bass aside, the Gen 2 is a great fit for party settings. Sonos has also included a Speech Enhancement tool in the app, letting you customise the soundbar to enhance the vocals in movies, TV series, podcasts, cinematic scenes in games and so on. IR support is also a big plus: your existing remote will work with the Beam Gen 2, so you don’t need to worry about losing another device behind the couch.

The rear of the Sonos Beam Gen 2 is gracefully minimalist. Image: Sonos

Another huge asset for the Beam 2 depends on how deep you are in the Sonos ecosystem. You can expand the speaker setup through the Sonos app to add an extra sub, or more speakers down the line. Existing Sonos speakers can also be linked through the app so you can have music or sound transfer from one speaker to another as you move from room to room, with connectivity all handled via a 5GHz wireless connection. (Bluetooth isn’t an option, though.)

Having eARC support shouldn’t be overlooked either. The improved connectivity should eliminate any desync or dropout issues with your audio, something that could happen on the original Beam (and any non-eARC speakers or soundbars, to be fair). Sonos has also provided some concessions to Android users to let them customise the loudness, treble and bass, although it’s not as nice as the more-automated Trueplay setup that’s available on iOS.

So provided you keep your expectations in check, the Beam Gen 2 is a solid little soundbar that’s capable of doing more than it seems. The only shame is really the Dolby Atmos element, which for now is still best handled by a proper 5.1 or 7.1 setup, or a good set of headphones. (The PS5’s latest firmware has also only added support for 3D audio through TV speakers, not soundbars, which isn’t an experience I’d recommend to anyone.)

But to get that full, 3D-like audio environment will typically cost well over $1,000. Hell, the Sonos Sub alone costs $1250; good 5.1 soundbar setups with satellite speakers often retail for $1500 or more.

Most people would, or could, drop that sort of cash on their sound. So for those folk just looking to upgrade their aural experience — or perhaps shelling out for a nice Christmas gift after everything — the Sonos Beam Gen 2 fits the bill nicely.