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Sonos Arc Review – Beam me up

It took a few years, but Sonos has met the challenge of squeezing Atmos into a slimline soundbar. Cliff Joseph is suitably impressed. Read our Sonos Arc Review.

When HFC reviewed the Sonos Beam soundbar in 2018 (HFC 441), Sonos’ engineers confessed that they hadn’t yet figured out how to squeeze the ‘spatial sound’ of Dolby Atmos into a soundbar – especially one with the compact design of the Beam. It’s taken a couple of years, but the company has finally solved that problem with its new Arc.

It’s twice the size and price of the Beam, but its sound quality and Atmos support make it an attractive option. And, like all Sonos products, it works as part of a multi-room system, adding an extra level of versatility that few rivals can match.

Ditching the compact design of the Beam, this is a full-size soundbar, available in black or white. It’ll still fit easily in front of the TV – so that the upward-firing drivers required for Atmos have room to breathe. Sonos has a wall-mount kit for an extra £.

The slimline design houses 11 drivers: eight mid/bass drivers and three tweeters. There’s a mid/bass driver facing sideways on each end of the unit, firing sound to the left and right. Immediately adjacent to these on the front panel are angled tweeters to project sound towards the corners of the room, with each of these backed up by an additional mid/bass driver. The centre-front channel is handled by a tight group of two drivers and a tweeter, while the last two drivers are on the top of the unit to add the third dimension of height.

The Arc doesn’t include a remote control, but the Sonos app can pair your TV remote with the soundbar if required, as well as providing its own playback controls and access to a wide range of streaming services and online radio stations.

There’s a crisp snap to the slap-bass and a tumbling, boisterous energy to the drums

Sonos says it has tried to keep the Arc as simple as possible, so there’s only a single HDMI input, which supports ARC and eARC, and needs to be connected to an HDMI-ARC output on your TV. Sonos does include an optical adapter for older screens that don’t support ARC, but Atmos sound isn’t available via an optical input.

The single connector is a limitation, but where the Arc does score is with

DETAILS

PRODUCT Sonos Arc

ORIGIN US/China

TYPE

Soundbar

WEIGHT 6.25kg

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 1,142 x 87 x116mm

FEATURES

•  Inputs: 1x HDMI (ARC/eARC); Ethernet; wi-fi

•   Multi-room compatibility: Sonos; Apple AirPlay 2

DISTRIBUTOR Sonos

TELEPHONE 0800 0265565

WEBSITE sonos.com

its ability to act as part of a multi­room system along with other Sonos speakers. It also supports Apple’s AirPlay 2. Wi-fi and Ethernet networking are onhand for streaming and the app can connect to an impressive selection of online services. But, as always, Sonos tends to ignore other audio connectivity options, such as Bluetooth, USB or even a simple 3.5mm connector. That limited connectivity – along with the single HDMI input – means that the Arc simply may not be suitable for use with some music systems or older, pre-ARC televisions.

Sound Quality

I kick off proceedings with Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989, with its terrifically atmospheric Danny Elfman score. The Arc creates an attractive sense of space right from the opening notes of the title sequence, as the gentle chimes drift lightly through the air, underscored by the deep, slow drumbeat that builds to a rumbling crescendo. The slimline soundbar produces an admirably robust sound as the Bat-theme hits its stride, propelled by crisp, martial drumming and crashing cymbals. There’s a nice sense of space, too.

But it’s the appearance of the Bat-plane towards the end of the film that really shows the Arc at its best. The top-mounted drivers help to create a convincing sense of motion as the plane soars and swoops through the sky. The sense of forward and backward motion for objects moving towards me out of the screen isn’t quite as precisely placed as I’ve heard from larger soundbars such as the Sennheiser Ambeo (HFC 453) bolt of lightning. The Arc is powerful enough to make my floorboards rumble as well, but the Sonos app has a ‘night mode’ that can tone louder sounds down a little as well as a speech enhancement option to boost dialogue.

The trump card is its ability to work as either a standalone speaker or as – which, is almost three times as expensive – but I’m impressed by the sense of space and movement the Arc is able to create at this mid-range price point.

Despite the lack of a subwoofer, the Arc also handles the bass on the film soundtrack very well too, adding impact to explosions and a nice touch of drama to the flaming jets of the Batmobile as it roars off into the night. The battle scenes in Avengers: Infinity War have a suitably epic sweep too, as the battling armies charge across the plains of Wakanda, interrupted by the thunderclap arrival of Thor in a

Sonos Arc Review

THe app offers a wide selection of streaming services and radio stations

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CONNECTIONS

Sonos Arc Review

1) HDMI input

2)  Pairing button

3)  Ethernet port

4) AC mains power input

Sonos Arc Review

falling piano to set the scene. The Arc captures the delicate shimmering cymbal perfectly and allows the wordless, hummed chorus to drift effortlessly through the air.

And it doesn’t falter as Bush launches into the percussive wall of sound of The Big Sky. There’s a crisp snap to the slap-bass that comes in at the halfway mark, and a tumbling, boisterous energy to the cascade of drums that follows. The final chanted

part of a multi-room system, using the Sonos app to stream music from a wide range of computers, mobile devices, and online sources – including the MQA Master format from Tidal.

The 2018 remaster of Moments Of Pleasure by Kate Bush reveals precision and warm tones, filling the room with sound and allowing the gently

chorus is clear and precise, but amid this densely layered sound the Arc never loses sight of the gentle shake of the tambourine. And, switching to the dance sounds of Billie Eilish, it shows it can handle deep bass when it needs to. The pulsating Bad Guy bounces around the room with infectious rhythm, and the slow, rumbling bass that closes the track is impressively taut for a slimline speaker less than 5in thick.

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Conclusion

The Arc isn’t perfect – its single HDMI port limits its use to fairly modern TVs and the lack of audio connections is a major setback. But Sonos’ reputation rests on a combination of sound quality and ease of use, and on these points it can’t be faulted. It’s an impressive Atmos soundbar for your TV that can also double up as an excellent speaker for streaming services, either on its own or as part of a multi-room system. And, it’s one of the very best soundbars we’ve seen at the price.

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OUR VERDICT

9 Total Score
Sonos Arc Review

Competitively priced, high-quality soundbar despite limited connectivity

PROS
  • Attractive sound
  • Dolby Atmos
  • multi­room compatibility
CONS
  • Single HDMI input requires TV with ARC
  • there aren't any physical audio inputs
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