Sonos Arc is the company’s new soundbar that aims to deliver far superior sound with Dolby Atmos support, significantly larger in size than larger rooms filled with sound. With a minimal design, it replaces the Playbar and Playbase incorporating all the technological advantages of its latest products, including virtual voice assistants and AirPlay 2.
The great weakness of home sound systems is the long learning curve they require: which speakers to choose? Where do I position each one? Which cables? Which amplifier? How do I calibrate them? What audio formats does it support? Where do I connect the HDMI cable? Why doesn’t the amplifier knob turn on the TV?
The process is so long and so complicated that many choose lower sound quality in order to avoid the challenge of “getting a master’s degree” to get good sound at home. The Sonos Beam tried — successfully — to solve at least that problem. All of the above is just as true with the Sonos Arc, but improving significantly in areas that really matter: better sound quality, more speakers, more spaciousness and Dolby Atmos support. Are the 899 euros or $ 799 dollars worth of their price? Let’s see:
If the Sonos Beam has five dedicated speakers, Arc has eleven. It is a good way to understand the difference between one device and another, not only in size, but also in possibilities.
It consists of three tweeters responsible for the high frequencies and eight woofers that emit the bass and bass frequencies of the sound. They are positioned as follows:
- Two tweeters and two woofers pointing sideways, playing with space and walls to bounce sound and create a sense of space
- Four woofers and one tweeter pointing forward
- Two woofers point upward to create greater depth for an immersive experience.
The result is a surprising and superior sound experience that at times seems to be facing the laws of physics: how is it possible that such a thin and almost invisible object is capable of emitting such immersive sounds?
Sonos says part of the magic is behind how they fine-tune the product to stay true to the sound reproduction of series and movies.
They don’t want to have a “Sonos sound”, they want the audio from the movies, series or music to be played as close as possible to the way the creators intend it to be heard.
Among the team are people like Giles Martin – producer, winner of several Grammy awards – or Chris Jenkins – who has won three Oscars. They seek to achieve an extremely ambitious goal: that something as complicated as configuring, tuning and equalising the sound of a surround sound system at home is as simple as taking it out of the box, connecting it with the TV and enjoying.
The concept is familiar and goes along the lines of the overall Sonos product strategy in the living room: to be something so simple, so easy that it becomes invisible.
After weeks of using the Arc at home, watching dozens of series and movies in Dolby 5.1, in Dolby Atmos, or slightly older works that are only in stereo, I can only agree with them: Arc, in terms of sound quality , It is outstanding.
With Arc, Sonos finally incorporates Dolby Atmos among the surround sound technologies capable of reproducing. Atmos technology moves away from the channel concept to create surround sound. According to Dolby technical documents, most of the works are mixed in 5.1 or 7.1, so systems in configuration 9.1.u or 11.1 reached a decreasing performance point that contributed less and less.
That is why they developed a system of “sound objects” that can be found in any audiovisual or audio work. A helicopter, the passing of a car, the cry of a baby, a musical instrument. Then each of these things is assigned a channel. By means of creation tools that represent three-dimensional spaces, the exact place where you want to hear that sound is marked. Finally, through hardware in a base configuration of 9.1 (nine channels, 1 subwoofer) a surround sound sensation is generated. Up to 118 simultaneous sound objects can be assigned. Its position, intensity or movement is specified by means of metadata that is integrated into the audio track.
Sonos Arc can create the surround sound sensation and work under Dolby Atmos specification by itself. As long as the rooms are not excessively large, the effect is achieved. In my experience: putting a Sonos Arc in a room and watching a movie or series that has Dolby Atmos will suffice and be infinitely superior to the TV’s built-in speakers. If Atmos is not available, it is capable of reproducing audio in PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital Plus. The speaker configuration is automatically modified and optimized for each situation.
Sonia enables modularity between your devices. That is, additional speakers can be added to increase and enhance the experience:
- Two Play: 1 or two Sonos One or two Sonos One SL as surround speakers.
- A second or third generation Sub
In my case, I have tried Arc with two Play: 1 on floor supports located in the back of the room and a Sub. The result is simply spectacular. Added to the incredible convenience of having speakers scattered throughout my living room and forget about cables. Everything is wireless.
The combination, yes, exceeds 2000 dollars or euros, but the result is quite impressive. It is worth clarifying that the old Sonos Play: 3 or Sonos Play: 5 or the new Sonos 5 can also be used for surround speakers. In this sense, the brand is quite flexible, although it may be a bit overkill.
Sonos Arc is built with a one-piece plastic cover with 76,000 small curved holes. The brand is quite proud of what they have achieved from an industrial design point of view, which is what has given the name to the product. Arc is intended to replace the Playbar and Playbase – both discontinued – which have an extremely loyal customer base, so it should be integrated into salons of thousands of homes and maintain a certain degree of invisibility.
The product is quite discreet. It goes relatively unnoticed under TV and is available in black or white. The only central status LED turns off automatically if it detects low light in the room. It is worth making a special mention of the box the Arc comes in. It has an ingenious system of side locks to load it without fear of it opening inadvertently and the product falling to the ground.
96.1% of the material used for the box is based on paper that can be recycled with the practical absence of plastic.
Virtual assistants, AirPlay 2 and music
Arc supports Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. The first thing I did when I set up the test unit I received was to disable it. It is the subject of another article, but if you minimally value your privacy, I would avoid using them. The sound bar has four microphones to capture the voice of those people who choose to use one of these two virtual voice assistants at all times.
Still, Sonos is aware of the privacy issue and when the microphones are active an LED will indicate this. That light is directly connected to the circuit that turns the microphones on or off. So there is no possibility that they are active but it is not perfectly indicated. Like any other Sonos speaker, the Arc supports dozens of music streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, among many others.
Beam, as a music player, was not very interesting, but with eleven Arc speakers it has improved significantly in this regard. Arc, like all modern Sonos speakers, supports AirPlay 2 and integrates seamlessly with the Apple system. In that aspect I had no problem, it just appears among the speakers available on my brand devices.
I think Sonos has found a sweet spot between audio quality, design, performance, simplicity, convenience, and price. It is difficult to find disadvantages to the product. Probably its biggest drawback is its own nature: it is a sound bar and that conditions its performance to the physical place where it is located: it needs a ceiling and walls to be able to bounce the sound and increase the surround sound sensation that it is capable of achieving . But it is impossible to rule out the convenience of having a high quality sound system capable of reproducing Dolby Atmos which works, literally, connecting a single HDMI cable to the ARC or eARC port of the TV, that’s all.
High-quality Dolby Atmos-supported systems capable of doing everything Arc can do often have higher prices. There, too, Sonos has an advantage because of its reputation for constant software updates and products that last more than a decade. For example: I have two Play: 5 of 2010 that work perfectly. After ten years they don’t receive any more news, but they still work as well and with as good a sound as the first day. That is very remarkable. We can expect the same level of long-term support for the Arc, or more.