Review: Sonos Beam Gen 2 Sound Bar
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Sonos has a remarkable track record when it comes to
creating products that simplify, improve, and enhance your home theater
experience. With the introduction of the original Beam compact sound bar (now
affectionately known as Beam Gen 1), Sonos changed the surround system game by
simplifying the setup and integration of a home theater system, television, and
remote control with the inclusion of one of the first HDMI ARC-capable sound systems.
The Beam Gen 1 was also extraordinarily compact and was the obvious choice for
TVs smaller than 50". Sonos was also
early to embrace the concept of the digital household, providing built-in voice
control with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. And it didn’t hurt that the Beam
Gen 1 sounded fantastic for its size.
With the Beam Gen 2, Sonos once again takes a market-leading
position with features that add extraordinary value and capability to an
already high-quality yet affordable sound bar. The biggest news with the Beam
Gen 2 is that Sonos brings full Dolby Atmos capability to a second product in
the Sonos ecosystem, the first being the Arc sound bar. Other popular
multichannel audio formats are now open to the Beam Gen 2, as well as a host of
Dolby Atmos Multichannel Capability
The Dolby Atmos system is the market-leading surround system in the home theater industry. With Dolby Atmos, your movie soundtracks become completely immersive experiences, with sounds occurring not only around you, but above you as well. Dolby Atmos is even capable of sound localization, which is what a director does when they want a particular sound — for example a dinosaur’s footstep — to come not from only somewhere to your left but specifically three feet behind your left shoulder.
To pull that off requires quite a lot of computational power, and Sonos has increased the CPU brawn of the Beam Gen 2 by 40%, compared to the Beam Gen 1.
This lets the Beam Gen 2 do much more than just throw a sound in a particular direction. The Beam Gen 2 is able to render the Dolby Atmos signal in a particular audio mix to recreate the soundstage both horizontally and vertically. It can do this even though the compact Beam Gen 2 has five front-firing drivers, with none directed up at the ceiling. The Beam Gen 2’s processor employs psychoacoustic algorithms to achieve this remarkable effect.
Psychoacoustic Processing Power
All of that psychoacoustic processing power has been brought to bear on the addition of several other popular multichannel formats to the Beam Gen 2’s arsenal. If you have a collection of Blu-ray discs, you’ll be thrilled to know that the Beam Gen 2 has full DTS multichannel capabilities. In the past, playing Blu-ray discs on a non-DTS-compatible system meant that you just got a nice stereo mix for your viewing experience. Now, you’ll get the director’s full intent for dialog, action, foley, sound effects, music, and sound design.
The Beam Gen 2 also opens the door to the world of Dolby Atmos Music, which is one of the more popular of the leading 3D music streaming formats. Subscription streaming services such as Apple Music, Amazon Ultra HD, and Tidal offer mixes of the latest hits from top artists in this immersive audio format. This also means that as multichannel audio formats with even higher resolutions become available, the Beam Gen 2 will be able to play them for you, without any problem.
Vocals and dialogue were a priority for the Beam Gen 1. In
the Beam Gen 2, that extra processing power is also focused on making dialogue even
easier to hear, vocals more clear, and overall sound processing even better.
Simple, yet superior
One of the other significant technical improvements that enable this remarkable increase in ability is the addition of an HDMI eARC port. With a data exchange rate of 18 gigabytes per second, the Beam Gen 2’s HDMI port is the key to facilitating flawless multichannel audio communication between the Beam Gen 2, your TV, your Blu-ray player, and your streaming audio devices.
It also means that the Beam Gen 2 adheres to the simple setup goals of the Beam Gen 1: Plug in one one power cable and one HDMI cable, and your setup is complete. One remote control can control your entire system.
Does this mean that you can add Dolby Atmos just by plugging an HDMI cable into your existing television? If your TV has an HDMI eARC connection, absolutely. If your TV has an HDMI ARC connection that also supports Dolby Digital+, the answer is also yes. Without that Dolby Digital+ compatibility, however, Dolby Atmos content coming from your TV will not be able to be rendered.
Fitting Into Your World
With its narrow width and compact footprint, the Beam Gen 2 is perfect for small to medium spaces, and especially for televisions that are 49" inches or smaller. It’s one of the few sound bars on the market that looks great with smaller TVs.
But the Beam Gen 2 is designed to fit in to your life in other significant ways. You’ve already got a number of devices that can play movies and audio. The Beam Gen 2 introduces NFC, or Near Field Connection, a protocol that makes pairing any device as simple as holding the device near the Beam Gen 2. You can even expand your as system by wirelessly connecting a Sub for deeper bass and a pair of matching rear surrounds for an even more immersive listening experience.
And it just looks totally cool. The new polycarbonate grille
looks stylish, in both the white and black finishes. It’s bound to be more
durable than the previous fabric covering, as it resists tearing. And the white
finish model goes an extra couple of steps to fit in to your decor, by having
an entirely white back panel, including the connection port area, and white
Great Sound That Fits Your Space and Budget
Sonos has done a remarkable job with this upgrade. The Beam
Gen 2 can stand on its own as the centerpiece of your small home theater setup,
or it can be the command center for a full surround system, or even a multi-room setup. With its remarkable surround and multichannel audio capabilities,
it’s going to give a lot of the more expensive sound bars a run for their
money. But the real brilliance of the Beam Gen 2 is most evident in how easily it
can integrate with and take command of other speakers in the Sonos family to
make a comprehensive and flawlessly connected home theater system.