Looking at the long list of failed sophomore albums that followed blistering debuts shows that following up a successful sound with something even more mature and complicated is a tricky business. However, this is the task that Sonos’ latest soundbar, the Sonos Beam Gen 2, has taken on as it seeks to replace the popular original while also upping the ante by offering immersive Dolby Atmos support in the same small package.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 has big (but also conversely small) shoes to fill in order to impress us, as we are huge fans of the original Beam Gen 1. The key to its success has been its simplicity of design and streamlined functionality, which has enabled it to overcome two of the typical limitations of compact speakers: sonic scale and weight. The results of Dolby Atmos delivery through processing wizardry have been mixed in the past, frequently leaning toward synthetic and ineffective sound (though the same can also be said of Dolby Atmos soundbars that actually do have height speakers). We therefore opened the new Sonos Beam with some hesitance.
The Sonos Beam Gen 2 costs £449 /$449 / AU$699, which is slightly more expensive than the original Beam, which cost £399 / $399 / AU$599. However, this disparity is consistent with the company’s price increases across many of its products as a result of the COVID pandemic.The new Beam, which is frequently discounted by around 10%, sits in the middle of Sonos’ three soundbar lineup. It is considerably less expensive than the Arc, which is currently priced at £899/$899/AU$1499, and just above the Ray, which costs £279/$279/AU$399.
If you want to use Beam Gen 2 in a larger surround system, you can add two One SL rear speakers (£358 / $358 / AU$538) and, if necessary, a Sub (£699 / $699 / AU$999).
The new Beam shares many physical characteristics with its predecessor, including the same dimensions and fashionable curved edges. The addition of a perforated polycarbonate grille, similar to that of the Sonos Arc, which is meant to be more durable and easier to clean than the original’s woven fabric finish, is the only externally distinguishing feature. Undoubtedly, some people will prefer the old Beam’s softer appearance, but we think the new Beam’s sleek frontage looks better.
Four front-facing elliptical mid-woofers and an upgraded centre tweeter are hidden beneath the polycarbonate, which the manufacturer claims will produce dialogue that is clearer and crisper than the Beam. Three passive radiators support the low-end frequency while five Class D amplifiers power the drivers.
The same touch-sensitive buttons, LEDs, and far-field microphones for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice control are present on the top surface as they were on the original Beam. Power, Ethernet, and HDMI eARC sockets, as well as a connect/reset push button, are located in the “cable cove” at the back of the device. This cover matches the soundbar’s finish (matte black or matte white), which is new for the Beam Gen 2, and includes complementary-colored HDMI and power cords.
There aren’t many soundbars at this price point that have networking capabilities, but because this is a Sonos product, the ability to integrate into a wireless multiroom system is fundamental to its design. This means you’ll need the Sonos S2 app to make the most of your purchase and connect it to the internet. While your TV remote can control the volume, the app is where you’ll find Trueplay (Sonos’ relatively involved room calibration technology), a 2-band EQ, and confirmation of which audio codec you’re receiving.
The Beam Gen 2 supports stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus,, Dolby Atmos (both Digital+ and TrueHD versions), 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, so can Sonos achieve overhead sound without using height drivers? True overhead sounds may be a stretch, but Dolby Atmos is about more than planes and helicopters, as well as the Beam Gen 2 handles the format better than any similarly priced soundbar. Atmos enables film production mixers to place sounds and music as discrete objects inside a soundfield, and being able to decode it means that users can watch movies with more compelling soundtracks, whether they are a sedate drama or a car-flipping blockbuster.
There is tangible 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 expansive, and we tried it with both larger 55-inch and 65-inch screens, and a much more modest 43-inch screen, and it improves the cinematic scale and viewing 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 catch up with it. The Beam Gen 2 projects the changing sonic perspective with incredible accuracy and clarity.
The Beam Gen 2 not only meets but exceeds the high standard set by its predecessor, which more than justifies its new feature set and higher price. Sonos’ decision to use processing power and forward-facing drivers to recreate Dolby Atmos has resulted in a more capable and effective handling of the format than so many more expensive soundbars with upward-firing drivers. The Sonos Beam Gen 2 is simply the finest Dolby Atmos soundbar at this price point, and it elevates itself even further with its streaming smarts, compact design, and expert handling of motion, depth, and space.
Aside from Atmos, it sounds fantastic, going deeper than the Beam Gen 1 with more refinement, a warmer treble, and a wider dynamic range. Whereas the Beam Gen 1 may have skipped over certain complex sounds, the Beam Gen 2 has a greater capacity to take them on, resulting in a richer, more nuanced, and varied listening experience.