Update 11/5/2020: While the Beam is still a great device, we have a new pick for best soundbar, and you can read about it here.
Looking for a soundbar? You’re not the only one. As gorgeous as 4K TVs are, they all seem to have one thing in common: pretty terrible sound quality. It turns out you just can’t fit good speakers in that slim of a body. So, here you are, with a new beautiful-but-terrible-sounding TV, wondering which soundbar you should buy.
The truth is that there are so many really good soundbars out there that sorting between them all can be a bit of a nightmare. Do you want a 2.0 or 3.0 soundbar? Do you want a wireless subwoofer? What are surround sound technologies, like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X? Do you want to stream music to it? Do you want a smart soundbar with an integrated virtual assistant (like Alexa or Google Assistant)? If so, how do you listen to music: Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Tidal, AirPlay? It’s a lot to consider.
That’s why, I suggest skipping all that heavy research. Many great companies make soundbars — Vizio, Polk, Samsung and Sony are just a few — but just get the Sonos Beam. It’s $319 right now, down from $399 (more on that below). it’s the smallest and most affordable soundbar that Sonos makes. In my review earlier this year I called the Beam the “perfect entry-level soundbar for most people.” It’s true, it’s not the best soundbar that you’re likely to hear, and it doesn’t support either Dolby Atmos or DTS:X surround sound technologies, which home theater buffs will surely scoff at. But it still sounds great. Sonos’s TruePlay technology comes baked into the Beam and will optimize its sound for the specific room you’re in. Plus, it’s got a lot of other things going for it.
First of all, the Sonos Beam is future-proof. The company is well known for rolling out software updates to improve its speakers, but since 2016, Sonos has committed to working with most major ecosystems. Its partnership with Amazon has been well documented — the Sonos One and Sonos Beam both come integrated with Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant — but whether you’re a “Google” home or an “Apple” home, the Sonos Beam will (eventually) work with your smart home ecosystems. It already supports AirPlay 2, which not a lot of soundbars do, so can easily play music from your iPhone, iPad or Mac. And AirPlay 2 support means you can play Sonos speakers and non-Sonos speakers in the same multi-room system, which had been previously unheard of.
The Google and Sonos partnership has been slower-moving, admittedly, but we were finally able to hear Google Assistant out of Sonos One at CES 2019. That Google Assistant update — and, we assume, Chromecast Audio — will be rolled out to the Sonos One and Sonos Beam hopefully within the next few months. The bottom line is that Sonos is actually becoming an open ecosystem and won’t box you into using one virtual assistant over another.
Secondly, if you get the Sonos Beam you can always add to it later. That’s the beauty of Sonos, after all. The Sonos Beam works as both a traditional soundbar or as a single Sonos speaker, to which you can stream music directly from the Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music or Tidal apps. But if you have other Sonos speakers, you can integrate the Sonos Beam as just another speaker in your multi-room audio system. When I was testing the Beam earlier this year, I loved the simple TV integration. I already had a few Sonos speakers scattered around my house and the Sonos Beam could link to all of them. For instance, I could have a baseball or a soccer game playing on the TV, and if I left the room I could listen to that TV’s audio playing in another room.
With enough Sonos speakers, you can create a real home theater system too, by designating the Sound Beam as front-facing speaker, adding a Sub, and then also adding two other speakers (Play:1, Sonos One or a Play:5) as rear satellites — this is one of the easiest ways to build a 5.1 surround sound system. The max you can create with pure Sonos speakers is a 5.1 surround system. (For help, see here.)
Third, the Sonos Beam is pretty affordable and small. Normally it’s $399, but you can occasionally catch it on sale. You can find a lot of other quality soundbars in this price range, but they don’t have nearly the same clout in the multi-room space as Sonos. And they’re not guaranteed to work with all virtual assistants in the future. The size of the Sonos Beam is also important because it won’t require you to move heaven and earth to find a space for it. It’s small, and you’ll have no trouble placing it on your media cabinet and on the wall. (Yes, it can be wall mounted, too.)
It’s worth mentioning (again), but the Sonos Beam isn’t perfect. As mentioned above, it doesn’t support the latest surround sound technologies — most notably Dolby Atmos — and is probably a better all-around TV and wireless speaker, rather than a home theater soundbar used exclusively to watch Michael Bay and Christopher Nolan films. I’d also suggest buying the Sonos Sub, either when you buy the Sonos Beam or at some later point down the road. Plain and simple: the Sonos Beam could do with more bass. It has a woofer similar in size to the much-smaller Sonos One or Play:1 speaker. The Sonos Beam doesn’t sound bad — far from it, actually — but for those who want big bass (and most of us do), the Sonos Sub will literally make your room shake.
The Sonos Beam is a great little soundbar. It’s simple to use. It works with your other speakers. It allows you to control your TV with your voice (to an extent). And it’ll work with your existing smart home devices. Again, if you’re in the market for a soundbar, don’t think too hard about it. This is the one to get.