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Review: Sonos Beam is the perfect smart soundbar for bedrooms and apartments

First unveiled earlier this month, Beam is the latest smart speaker and TV soundbar from wireless speaker maker Sonos. The compact TV soundbar promises hi-fi music playback and voice control through Alexa — all at an affordable price. Sonos Beam hits the market later next month, but we’ve been testing it for a few weeks ahead of its launch.

For the purpose of this review, Apple’s new AirPlay 2 wireless streaming feature wasn’t ready for testing — stay tuned for our full impressions next month when Sonos adds the feature. AirPlay 2 aside, Sonos Beam is a hit for bedrooms, apartments, or budget home theaters.

Priced at $399, Beam isn’t the cheapest TV soundbar on the market — but it is a compelling value given its feature set: built-in voice control through Amazon Alexa, a compact design with black or white options, audio quality that undoubtably sounds better than your TV, and AirPlay 2 support coming shortly after launch.

Plus it has all the same features as other Sonos speakers: wireless music playback without Bluetooth or AirPlay, compatibility with dozens of music services including all the major players, and expansibility with other Sonos speakers.

Like Sonos PLAYBAR and Sonos PLAYBASE, Sonos Beam replaces your TV’s subpar speakers as a fully featured soundbar with Night Sound and Speech Enhancement modes, volume control from iPhone and iPad, and a sleep timer for up to two hours.

When used with Alexa-enabled video streaming products like Fire TV, Sonos Beam can even control video features like turning your TV on and off and playing specific shows on supported video apps — all without picking up the remote. As an Apple TV 4K user, I didn’t get to test these features with the streaming box I already use, but Alexa’s volume control is useful in all situations.

Compared to PLAYBAR and PLAYBASE, Beam is $300 cheaper and features a much more compact design. Sonos Beam still packs impressive sound and features for its $399 price, making it ideal for apartments, bedrooms, or any environment where recreating the full movie theater experience at home isn’t ideal.

Just how compact is Sonos Beam? It’s narrower than 43-inch LED TVs, just a tad taller than an Apple TV 4, and typically shallow. Specifically, Sonos details dimensions at 25.625 x 3.94 x 2.70 inches (or 651 x 100 x 68.5 mm). At just over 6 pounds, Sonos Beam is also rather portable.

Sonos Beam also touts HDMI ARC (audio return channel) support for plug-and-play support on modern TVs, and includes both an HDMI cable and an HDMI to optical adapter for TVs without HDMI ARC.

If you do want to build out your home theater over time, Beam is expandable with other speakers in the Sonos system. Sonos Play:1 or Sonos One speaker pairs can added to create a surround sound system, and Sonos SUB adds deep bass with the wireless subwoofer. (The whole 5.1 surround sound kit sells for under $1400 as a bundle.)

This turns Beam and paired speakers into a single speaker target, and Beam works with multi-room playback with all other Sonos speakers too.

Spec wise, Sonos Beam features a five far-field microphone array for voice control that can be toggled on and off with a tap of an on-board toggle, five Class-D digital amplifiers and four full-range woofers, plus a center tweeter and three passive radiators to create warm bass tones in the small form factor.

Sonos says this hardware is all custom-designed by the company and tuned especially for TV and music. Customers can also adjust equalization settings or use Trueplay to tune Sonos Beam based on placement without the room using the iPhone or iPad controller app.

Sonos Beam will make your TV speakers sound like rubbish in comparison — without making your family and neighbors think there’s construction going on from the sound blast.

Sonos Beam is available for pre-order now in black or white for $399 and ships by July 17. AirPlay 2 support will arrive as a free update later next month.

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Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.