Sonos Beam review: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple AirPlay walk into a sound bar

It took two years, but Sonos Beam ($ 299 on Amazon), and his little brother Sonos One ($ 199 at Audio Advice), are the first speakers to offer both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. If you have been pending the integration of Google to buy this speaker then go ahead, it works!

While more expensive than most soundbars, the compact Beam is much more affordable than the company’s largest one Playbar or Playbase Loudspeakers. It looks great, sounds big, and is more flexible than any other soundbar available today.

Despite its newfound voice, the Beam still faces competition from the Polk Command Bar ($ 249) – which sounds better, thanks to the wireless sub – and the Bose Soundbar 500 ($ 549) which it also offers Google Assistant and Alexa. However, the Sonos speaker beats both for whole-house audio playback. It’s a great choice for people who already have Sonos in their home and want more, or for Sonos newbies who want a sleek soundbar that works with multiple voice and music systems.

Google versus Amazon

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury / CNET

The Beam works like any other voice activated speaker like the (much less noisy) Amazon Echo or Google Home. You can ask him for the time, request songs by name or operate the blinds and a voice command can even change the volume on the Beam itself. The speaker has a five-microphone array designed to pick up your voice even in a noisy home theater environment and performed well in my tests.

Beam now comes with a choice between Amazon’s Alexa assistant or Google Assistant, though sadly you can’t choose between them on the fly. In other words, it won’t first respond to an “Alexa” command and then immediately to a “Hey Google” command.

When you download the latest Sonos update, you will be asked to choose which voice assistant you want. You’ll need to make sure you have the Google Home and Amazon Alexa apps, but if you don’t, the process will help you install them.

To switch between the two assistants you will need to run the installation again. It’s not a fancy Amazon / Google toggle switch.

Once installed, I found that Google Assistant doesn’t work quite as well as Amazon Alexa in general use. I experienced a delay of five or more seconds before Google responded to my command.

Second, and this is more subjective, the Google Assistant on the Beam has heard me sick more often than a file Google Home Mini. For example, it replaced the query “Who is Danny Meyer?” (the restaurateur) with “Who is Jeremiah? (the prophet).

In answer to your next question, yes, you can have Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant speakers in the same system, even in the same room. But there are caveats.

There was a minor problem starting the radio on Alexa (which is Amazon Music by default) – I was unable to transfer music to a Google Sonos speaker as it doesn’t support Amazon. Sonos could talk to both services via the app, but Amazon and Google are still in a tight spot when it comes to their voice assistants.

Although the Google Assistant supports most features, including Continuous conversation, will not perform the following operations yet: call, voice match, purchase, interpreter mode, and setup routine in the Google Home app.

Design

The Beam’s wrap-around fabric grille, a material commonly associated with the company’s ultrabudget competition, is a surprise on a Sonos product. However, the speaker retains a Sonos look with the plastic top and touch control panel that debuted on the One.

Sonos Beam

Sarah Tew / CNET

The pill-shaped Beam is smaller than most other soundbars at just 25.6 inches wide by 2.7 inches high and 3.9 inches deep (68.5 by 651 by 100mm). You can get it in a choice of white or black. Unfortunately, the speaker doesn’t include a wall bracket in the box, but the company will sell you a beam stand for an extra $ 59.

While most manufacturers include a remote control with their soundbars, this isn’t the case with Sonos. Instead, the Beam comes with a number of alternative ways to control it, starting with the Sonos app for phones and tablets. The complete setup routine allows you to use the TV remote, the app and your voice with the built-in microphones.

The Sonos app has undergone many changes over the years, but the latest version puts an emphasis on music search and devices in your home rather than a list of different music services. As Sonos has moved towards third party control, for example via Spotify Connect o AirPlay – this is welcome move. For example, I preferred being able to play music on the Sonos speaker using Spotify itself, rather than using the Sonos app.

Sonos Beam

Sarah Tew / CNET

Radiated sound, TV control

Sonos advertises the 3.0 channel Beam as its “most advanced soundbar”. Its speakers are designed to bounce (or “radiate”) the sound off the walls and include a center channel with two woofers, two more woofers for left and right channels, and a single tweeter. At the front of the unit are two passive bass radiators with another at the rear.

The system comes without a wireless subwoofer, though you can add the $ 700 Sonos Sub if you like. Sonos sells the two together for $ 1,000 ($ 100 off the price of both separately), or a “three-room set” that includes a Beam and two Sonos Ones for $ 650 ($ 50 off). Two can also be wirelessly paired with Beam for back channel surround effects, while a full “5.1” system (Beam, Sub and two Ones) would cost $ 1,350.

Sonos Beam

Sarah Tew / CNET

The Beam combines integrated voice assistance with HDMI CEC control system, which allows Beam to turn off compatible TVs using just your voice. It also lets you use your TV as an HDMI switch. You can connect all your gadgets to your flat screen and power the Dolby Digital 5.1 (but not DTS) soundbar from your TV audio return channel (ARC)– Compatible HDMI port.

Sounds perfect, but what if your TV doesn’t support ARC?

  • Bad news: There is only one audio port on the Beam, and it’s HDMI. No optical or 3.5mm input.
  • Good news: Sonos includes an HDMI cable and an HDMI to optical cable adapter in the box. Then you can connect your TV’s optical digital audio output to Beam.
  • Semi-bad news: If you use the adapter, Beam can’t turn the TV on and off or control switching.

Sonos has a night mode to reduce the impact of explosions when you don’t want to disturb the neighbors, as well as a voice enhancement feature. Unlike the Polk Command Bar, Sonos doesn’t offer a music mode – everything is “broad”.

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