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Sonos Beam: The New King of Affordable Atmos Soundbars

Sonos's new compact soundbar costs less than $500 and supports Dolby Atmos.

sonos beam 2
Tucker Bowe

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a terrific little soundbar. I've been testing it for the last week and it works exactly like the original Beam (released in 2019) — in that it connects to your TV via a single cable and plays well with other Sonos speakers in your home — but with one major difference: it supports Dolby Atmos. And that's a big deal.

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Dolby Atmos is the immersive sound technology when it comes home theater systems, but not every soundbar or speaker system supports it as it tends to be pretty expensive. The fact that Sonos has been created a Dolby Atmos soundbar as small and affordable as the Beam (Gen 2) — it's mighty impressive.

A quick refresher: Dolby Atmos is a technology that enables soundbars and speaker systems to create virtual height and side channels that trick your ears into thinking that there are more speakers in the room than actually are; it sounds like sound is coming from all around you — left, right and above — instead of just right in front of you.

Aside from the Dolby Atmos support, the new Beam has a few other "small" differences from the original. It has a 40-percent faster processor and can connect to your TV via HDMI eARC (as well as ARC) — both changes are needed to support Atmos. It also has a perforated polycarbonate grille (instead of fabric) so that it looks more in line with the company's flagship soundbar, the Arc. But otherwise it has the same dimensions and same speaker configuration as the older Beam.

So if you have the original Beam and you're thinking about upgrading, it really only comes down to Dolby Atmos. And how important that is to you.

(If you're wondering, Sonos is phasing out the original Beam so you're not going to have to choose between the two for long. Also, if you own a first-gen, fear not, as Sonos will continue to support it with software updates for "years to come.")

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Dolby Atmos content does sound pretty awesome on the Beam (Gen 2). During my testing, I mainly watched the second season of See (a show where everybody is blind) as well as CODA (a movie about a girl whose entire family is deaf), both are great for Dolby Atmos testing because sound parts a pivotal part in each. And the Beam (Gen 2) really does elevate the experience, allowing you to hear sounds around you so it feel more like you're "in the movie."

However, the Beam (Gen 2) does come with a compromise: It lacks the true upward-firing drivers that many flagship Dolby Atmos soundbars have — including Sonos's own Arc. Instead, the Beam 2 creates virtual height channels via its software and it sounds good — like really good — but it's not as good as if their were actual speakers shooting upwards. It's just not.

The other thing to note is Dolby Atmos on Sonos's soundbars can be a fickle thing. Like the Arc, the Beam (Gen 2) requires you to have a TV that supports HDMI ARC or eARC, meaning your TV can't be more than a few years old. Additionally, your streaming device must also support Dolby Atmos. There are quite a few other Dolby Atmos soundbars that have multiple HDMI ports on them, which allow you to connect a streaming device that supports Dolby Atmos directly to the soundbar and not have to worry about passthrough on the TV. But alas, Sonos's soundbars aren't like that.

Even though Sonos bumped the price of the Beam by $50 from the first- to second-generation model, it feels warranted: the new Beam is probably the best Dolby Atmos soundbar you're going to find under $500. If you want the best possible expression of Dolby Atmos in a Sonos soundbar, you still want to get the Arc (which is twice as expensive). But if you have a small-to-medium-sized room and want a nice soundbar for your 65-inch TV (or smaller), the Beam (Gen 2) is a killer addition.

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