TECH
17/07/2018 20:01 BST

Sonos Beam Review: This Might Be The First Truly Smart Speaker - HuffPost Verdict

This smart speaker plays nice with Alexa, Siri and soon Google Assistant.

Sonos

K E Y   P O I N T S

  • The Sonos Beam is a soundbar, which means it has been designed to replace your TV speakers.

  • The speaker is elegantly designed. It’s smaller than most soundbars with a minimalist piano-style finish and touch-sensitive buttons on the top.

  • It’s a wireless smart speaker so you can control it using your TV remote, the Sonos app, Spotify app and now the Apple Music app.

  • Beam is also a fully-fledged smart speaker, so just like your Amazon Echo you can ask Alexa questions, request songs, choose playlists and even move the music around your house using your voice.

  • Unlike other smart speakers Beam’s USP is that it won’t just work with Alexa, you can also control it using Apple’s Siri and later this year Sonos is planning to bring Google Assistant to Beam as well.

  • It sounds excellent despite its size, producing expansive room-filling audio that’s incredibly well defined. Bass response is also very good given its small stature.

  • It might be cheaper than Playbar, but it’s still really expensive at £399.

V E R D I C T

If the quite dizzying success of Amazon’s Echo has taught us anything, it is that the public have absolutely no issue chatting to an inanimate object.

They’ve replaced the radio, the kitchen timer, alarm clock, even your parents who still remind you to post things and fill in forms despite the fact you’re over 35 and have two children.

The problem however is Alexa’s great, but it doesn’t work as happily with an iPhone as Siri does. Meanwhile Google’s Assistant just wants to be friends with everyone, but ends up not working with anything.

Rather than having to fill up your home with an Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod, Sonos wants you to use just one speaker.

Sonos

The Beam is Sonos’ version of smart home utopia, one smart speaker to rule them all. It’s a £399 soundbar for your TV that can be controlled using Alexa, Siri and later this year, Google Assistant. No other speaker like this can do that.

Rather than give a separate review of each voice assistant I will simply say that as a delivery mechanism, Beam is great. I could speak to it at a normal volume, it heard me even with music or the TV playing and yes, just like your Echo it will accidentally overhear something every now and then.

Thanks to Airplay 2 compatibility you can also now ask Siri to play music on your Beam or control the music direct from your Apple Music app. It’s easy to use and works as well as Sonos’ own app.

For almost £400 though the Beam needs to do a lot more than just set timers and answer maths problems.

Taking it out of the box, the Beam immediately wins my respect by not being anywhere near as big as most soundbars. Too often I’ve found that they’ve been designed for 60-inch TVs and so the moment you put one underneath anything even remotely modest in size it just ends up looking like an eyesore.

The Beam also looks fantastic. With a matte piano shell in either black or white and a small fabric loop surrounding it, the Beam manages to be unassuming without appearing completely devoid of personality.

Sonos

The top gently dips down and in the centre are just four touch sensitive buttons: volume up, volume down, play/pause and the mute button for the smart speaker. Of course it’s cleverer than that, so you can also swipe left or right to change tracks.

Setting it up is, like all Sonos speakers, a doddle. You simply download the app and follow the instructions before adding your Alexa account to enable voice control.

One thing to note is that this speaker actually connects to your TV via a HDMI cable, not optical or aux. It does this using a technology called ARC. The advantage of this is that it automatically pairs your TV remote to the speaker so you can control both without any fiddly setup.

My TV is well over five years old and it has an ARC HDMI port so while it’s probably likely you’ll have one, it’s always best to double check, just in case. Though the Beam actually comes with an optical audio adaptor.

Thanks to Sonos’ app, the Beam can play from a frankly dizzying array of sources including Audible, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Tidal and more.

Sonos

Regardless of the source though, the Beam really does sound remarkable given its size. It’s not as overtly aggressive in its trebles and mid-ranges as say Apple’s HomePod is. Nor is its bass as imposing as Sonos’ own £699 Playbar.

Instead the Beam hits this wonderful, wide sweet spot in the middle that seems to just fill the room with clear, powerful sound in a way that feels like having water wash over you.

The Beam has four full-range woofers with two facing you directly and the other two positioned at an angle right at the tip of either end of the speaker. This combined with one central tweeter and three passive radiators helps create a sound that feels truly surrounding.

It’s not just the sound that impresses either. Because Beam was designed for a generation that are now renting flats, or are finding themselves in smaller homes it comes with some useful little features such as Night Sound which keeps the audio clear, without creating a deafening bass that’ll disturb the kids/neighbours.

Speech Enhancement was basically made for radio and audiobooks, and uses software inside the speaker to enhance the clarity of people’s voices, even when they’re whispering. As someone who listens to a lot of audiobooks it’s a small but useful feature that stops me having to constantly change the volume.

S P E C I F I C A T I O N S

  • Five Class-D digital amplifiers

  • Four full-range woofers

  • Three passive radiators

  • One centrally mounted tweeter

  • Five far-field microphone array

  • Available in White/Black

  • Price: £399

T A K E   H O M E   M E S S A G E

The smart speaker market has been crying out for something that can finally cut through the noise. Amazon’s Echo is great value but just can’t fill a room, the Apple HomePod on the other hand sounds unbelievable but costs £320 and yet won’t work with anything other than Apple Music.

Yes, the Beam is expensive, but for £80 more than an Apple HomePod you get a speaker that not only gives your TV incredible sound, but can also work as the only speaker you’ll need in even a large living room. Throw in the fact that it’s a smart speaker that works with almost every major voice assistant and the Beam feels like a really impressive proposition.