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An Expert Explains Why the Sonos Arc Soundbar Is So Much Better Than the Playbar

Chris Davies, the senior director of audio engineering at Sonos, helps break down the differences between Sonos’s newest soundbar, Arc, and its old Playbar.


Sonos was due to update the Playbar, which was released 2012 and over eight years old, and the successor is finally here. Arc is Sonos’s new high-end soundbar that takes the place of both the Playbar and the Playbase and boasts a number of big upgrades including an all-new industrial design with a 270-degree grill, built-in microphones support for Alexa and Google Assistant (just like Beam). Most important, it has all the necessary processing power, memory and drivers to enable its standout feature: support for Dolby Atmos. This is the soundbar that’s going to take Sonos’s home theater system to the next level.

At $799, the Sonos Arc is $100 more expensive than what the Playbar was going for. It’s available for pre-order today and everywhere starting June 10. The big question is: how much better of a soundbar and a speaker is Arc than Playbar? I haven’t listened to Arc yet, but I was able to hop on the phone with Chris Davies, the senior director of audio engineering at Sonos, who was able to help break down the big differences.

Buy Now: $799 (Arc) Buy Now: $599 (Playbar)

arc vs playbar gear patrol arc
The Arc is the first Sonos soundbar to support Dolby Atmos. It also works as a smart speaker, just like the Sonos Beam.

Arc has more bass.

First, Arc is able to output much more bass. “It was something we recognized in Playbar that for customers pushing the thing really loudly that the bass starts to be a little bit compromised,” said Davies. Bass output requires a certain amount of volume displacement, which Davis explains is just the surface area of the transducer multiplied by how far it moves. Basically, the more surface area of the transducer and the more it’s able to move, the more bass you’re able to get. Sonos learned from Beam (released in 2018) how to squeeze as much bass as possible out of a small soundbar. They then used those learnings on Arc, only this time they had a longer soundbar (more surface area) and more woofers to play with.

Arc is louder, and sounds better at loud volumes.

Second, Arc is going to sound significantly better than Playbar when you play it high volumes. Arc has a total of 11 drivers, eight woofers and three tweeters, compared to the Playbar’s nine, six woofers and three tweeters. (The Beam has four full-range drivers.) As mentioned, Arc is a longer soundbar than Playbar. This helps with bass, but it also allows the soundbar to pack more drivers closer together, giving it more control over high frequencies as well. The result is better high and low frequencies, and it’s going to sound really great the louder you play it.

arc vs playbar gear patrol arc speakers
Arc has a total of 11 drivers (8 woofers and 3 tweeters) compared to the Playbar’s nine (6 woofers and 3 tweeters)

Arc is a full-on 5.0 Atmos system.

Arc has five different speaker arrays (for left, center, right, left surround and right surround content), according to Davis, while the Playbar only has three arrays and lacks the surrounds. These dedicated surrounds, plus the round perforated industrial design, allow Arc to have side-firing capabilities and thus create a much larger soundstage — this is true even when streaming music from your smartphone. The upward-firing drivers allow Arc to create those virtual height channels and really create an immersive sound experience. The Playbar doesn’t support Atmos and thus can’t create a 3D immersive sound.

Arc is as easy to control as Beam.

Arc is very similar to Beam in the way you can control it. It has a built-in four-microphone array and you can set it up so that it responds to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands, this way you can adjust the TV volume without touching the remote or you treat it like a large Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. It supports AirPlay 2, which is great news if you want to quickly stream music from your iPhone or iPad. And, like the Beam, it has a single connection port (eARC or ARC), so installation is a breeze.

Buy Now: $799 (Arc) Buy Now: $599 (Playbar)

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