Sonos Arc review: The all-in-one Atmos soundbar to beat

Sonos Arc review

Sonos Arc review: The original Sonos Playbar was an amazing product when it hit the market in 2013 : It was a great soundbar that offered both multiroom music and a simple cable connection to the TV. Its age started showing over the next seven years, however, and I have come to like numerous other TV speakers more, including the one from Sonos Gaming Base and Beam . After a couple of weeks of listening to the brand new Sonos Arc , I can report that Sonos has raised the bar once again. The Arc is simply one of the best soundbars you can buy.

Like it

  • Excellent sound for everything from Dolby Atmos movies to jazz piano
  • The all-in-one does not need a subwoofer
  • Packed with features including voice assistant and multiroom music

I do not like

  • The single HMDI eARC port limits Atmos
  • More expensive than other single bar competitors
  • No Bluetooth streaming

As much as the new $ 799 (£ 799, AU $ 1,399) bow sounds, it’s not without caveats. If you’re hungry for a soundbar that can do Dolby Atmos, Sonos’s reliance on a single HDMI port means you may need a brand new TV and even a new set-top box like the Apple TV 4K. Thankfully, Arc sounds great even with non-Atmos sources, from stereo music to Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. It delivers crisp sound and surprisingly deep bass for a unit without a subwoofer.

It is also not the best value in Atmos soundbars today. The fantastic Vizio SB36512-F6 and the new Sony HT-G700 both cost less and offer a second HDMI input and a subwoofer. Meanwhile the Sennheiser Ambeo might be the best all-in-one Atmos bar I’ve ever heard, period, but it costs three times as much as the Arc.

 

 

Unlike the three contenders I just mentioned, however, the Arco works with Sonos’ superb multiroom music system and has Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant built in (your call) for hassle-free voice control. It also offers a beautiful design, excellent sound quality and a great user experience. If you’re looking for a feature-packed soundbar and don’t need the punch of a subwoofer, the Arc is my new favorite in its price range.

Sonos Arc
Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Feature-rich slim single speaker

The bow is long and elegant with a width of 45 inches, a height of 3.4 inches and a depth of 4.5 inches. The curvy cabinet is available in black or white and certainly feels like a premium product, exemplified by a mesh grille and touch-based controls. The speaker has a total of eight elliptical woofers, including upfiring drivers for Dolby Atmos effects and three “precisely angled” silk dome tweeters.

The Arco has an array of four far-field microphones to better pick up voice commands when your music is blaring. Since I tested Sonos with a beta version of the Sonos software, I couldn’t get the Google Assistant to work, but Amazon Alexa worked fine. The speaker was unable to hear the dialogue at full volume, even when I shouted, but with the music at normal volume I was able to use my speaking voice. Compared to other smart speakers it ranks average in terms of “listening” performance, with the Apple HomePod being the best I’ve tested.

 

 

Sonos Arc
Touch controls add a high-end feel 

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Being a Wi-Fi based system, the Arc includes onboard wireless and an Ethernet port. Like other Sonos speakers, the Arc includes compatibility with Apple Airplay and Spotify Connect , and sadly, just like the others, it lacks Bluetooth streaming.

The Sonos ecosystem is in the process of moving to the S2 version, which looks the same as the previous app but involves a lot of background changes. A major change is that people will not be able to upgrade previous legacy Sonos devices including the original ZonePlayers and First Play: 5 , but it also means that Arc is capable of using high-resolution audio like Dolby Atmos.

Note that the soundbar does not include a physical remote. Users can opt for the original TV remote (using HDMI-CEC control) or the Sonos app itself.

One HDMI, many words of explanation

One of the main “features” of this soundbar, according to Sonos, is simplicity. It has only one audio connection: a single HDMI port. Buckle up, because the reasons this is a potential problem are by no means straightforward.

First of all, the Arco uses HDMI ARC and its successor eARC to receive audio from the TV, including the Dolby Atmos format. ARC, or Audio Return Channel, is a technology that allows the TV’s built-in streaming apps and devices connected to the TV to send audio to a speaker connected via a single HDMI cable. Basically, you connect the Arc soundbar to your TV’s HDMI ARC port and other equipment to the TV’s other HDMI ports. Then the sound of everything is played through the bar. If your TV doesn’t have HDMI at all, the speaker also includes an optical input for normal Dolby Digital decoding.

Sonos Arc
Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Since it only receives audio through that HDMI port connected to the TV, the Arc’s Atmos capability is ultimately limited by the TV. If you have a newer 4K TV, this probably won’t be a problem. Streamers such as Roku Streaming Stick Plus , Apple TV 4K, Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, or Nvidia Shield can output Dolby Atmos streams over Dolby Digital Plus using a regular HDMI ARC connection. Connect one to a newer TV and it will switch Atmos streaming to the Arc soundbar if available.

This is a big “if”, however, partly because not all streaming devices support Atmos on all services . Also, if you have an older 1080p TV, you won’t get Dolby Atmos at all – your TV has to be made from 2016 onwards in order to go through Dolby Digital Plus.

Meanwhile, 4K Blu-ray requires an even newer TV, which supports eARC, to deliver Atmos to the Arc. This is because 4K Blu-ray uses a higher bandwidth version of Atmos than streaming services, which only works on eARC. If Dolby Atmos is of the utmost importance to you, especially if you have a 4K Blu-ray disc library, you’ll need a 2019 or later TV with an eARC port to have Arc play Atmos with each source.

Sonos Arc
The app tells you when you are receiving Atmos. 

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

And there’s another Atmos wrinkle: setup. A 2019 Sony X950G TV I used for testing didn’t support eARC by default – I still had to tinker with the TV menu for Dolby Atmos to switch. You may need to check your manual on how to make it work.

I liked that the Sonos app’s Now Playing page displays a Dolby Atmos logo when it detects an immersive stream based on Dolby Digital Plus or Dolby TrueHD, so at least there’s an easy way to tell when you’re getting Atmos.

Fun sound and amazing bass

I have used the Sonos Arc with several TVs: the Sony X950G LCD , the Samsung D8000 plasma , the Samsung Series 6 LCD, in two different rooms. I found that room sound, more than the TV’s HDMI capabilities, determines the sound quality of the speaker. If you want maximum surround and height effects, you’ll need a square or rectangular room with the soundbar located at one end. One of the spaces where I listened to the Arco was the corner of an irregularly shaped room and there were almost no width effects. Your mileage may vary.

You may need a newer TV to hear the Atmos effects and see the Dolby logo in the Sonos app, but if you don’t have a newer TV, you might not miss the Atmos either. I’ve been listening to a range of different material for a couple of weeks, from TV shows to movies to Dolby Atmos Music to video games. In all cases, the Arc sounded excellent and balanced, although perhaps a little reticent in the highs, nothing that was not possible to adjust on-board EQ. Unlike the bass shy Sonos Beam, I’ve never felt like I needed a subwoofer with the Arc. This is a single speaker that can beat.

I’ve compared the Sonos Arc head-to-head with the Sony G700 and there should have been no competition – the Sony has a wireless sub and a separate HDMI input, ensuring full compatibility with Atmos. The winner, however, was not so clear-cut. The Arc sounded much more open than the boxy Sony, and particularly good with tracks like Adele’s Feel My Love. Other soundbars may lean towards brass on this track, but the Arco sound was immediate and infectious – it felt realistic even from the next room.

Likewise when I switched to The New Sonos Radio Station curated by Brittany Howard . Charles Mingus’ piano in Myself When I Am Real sounded more natural than any other soundbar I remember, let alone one without a subwoofer.

are S
Ty Pendlebury

Gotye’s Hearts A Mess made the Arc throw its voice immediately, with the strings coming from the corner of the room and the snare drums coming from the curtains. Who needs a track with 360 Reality Audio when you can hear this? Sure it’s a lot more chaotic, but it’s just as fun. The Arco isn’t the best option for so-called deep listening, it’s more of a funfair. The song sounded a little more together on the Sony and even more touching: it felt like singer Wally De Backer was saying his prayers directly to me.

While listening to movies during my time with the speaker I was continually amazed at the amount of weight Sonos was capable of. It would sound better with the sub, sure, but you don’t need it.

I initially had trouble tracking down a Dolby Atmos stream from Max Mad: Fury Road, but I eventually found one with the Vudu app on Apple TV 4K. In the opening scene, as the credits rolled and disembodied voices danced around the room, both Sony and Sonos offered crisp dialogue and a super-wide soundstage. Sony had more authority over the Charger’s deep engine notes, but the sound effects were more localized around the speaker with no actual pitch information. The Sonos provided a better feel of front-to-back motion as the War Boys chased jumped over the camera on their bikes and cars.

Sonos Arc
Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Should you buy it?

The Sonos Arc is now the company’s most expensive product, but it offers sound quality and convenience that none of the other Sonos soundbars can match. While the Arc might not be worth the upgrade from the Playbase (which also had great bass), it’s worth considering for both Beam and Playbar owners. Even if you don’t use Dolby Atmos features, the soundbar offers an excellent feature set and great sound for everything from jazz to rock to action movies.

Unlike the Beam, you don’t need to add the new Sonos sub (which then makes that collective kit around $ 1,100) and that makes the Arco a better value overall. Sure, you can buy soundbars that offer separate subtitles and a glut of features, but none exude Sonos Arc’s refinement or sonic clarity. If your store list includes a single “smart” soundbar that does Dolby Atmos, then the Sonos Arc is the model to beat.

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