Nathan Ingraham is the deputy managing editor at Engadget.
Sonos has sold home theater products for a long time, but the company has made the living room even more of a priority in recent years. It started with the Sonos Beam, a smaller and more affordable version of the flagship Playbar soundbar. And 2020’s new flagship, the Sonos Arc, was the company’s first soundbar capable of Dolby Atmos playback.
Today, the Beam is getting a major upgrade. The new, second-generation Beam goes on sale today for $449 and will be available on October 5th. That’s $50 more than before, in line with the other price increases Sonos announced last week. The good news is that the new Beam is more capable than its predecessor in a number of ways. We’ll have to review it before we can really say if it’s worth the extra $50, but there are a number of notable new features here.
The new Beam looks nearly identical to its predecessor, aside from a new perforated polycarbonate grille instead of the cloth front found on the original. It also has the same speaker components inside: a center tweeter, four woofers, and three passive bass radiators. What’s different is that the new processor inside the Beam is 40 percent faster, which opens up a lot of new audio formats.
Most notably, the gen-two Beam supports Dolby Atmos, for movies, TV and music (the latter in a limited fashion, for now). Scott Fink, a product manager at Sonos who worked on the new Beam, says that the horsepower from the new CPU let the company increase the speaker arrays — not the specific speaker components, but, as Fink explains, “the set of software that coordinates the playback and interaction of all the speakers together in the soundbar.” The new Beam has five arrays, up from the three in the older model, and Fink said that the extras are dedicated to surround sound and height info.
All told, the Beam supports the same home theater audio formats as the Arc(including Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital Plus, Multichannel PCM and more), which costs twice as much as the Beam. In addition to the increased processing power, the new Beam has HDMI eARC to facilitate these new formats. Sonos says the speaker should have improved dialog clarity thanks to the additional audio processing power, something that should make the currently-available speech enhancement feature work better than before.
The hardware also supports additional music formats, as well. The Beam (as well as the Arc) will soon support the Ultra HD and Dolby Atmos formats from Amazon Music. Some Sonos speakers have worked with a handful of HD music services for a while now, but this is the first time that a 3D music format will work with the company’s products. I asked if there were any plans to support Dolby Atmos on Apple Music, and unsurprisingly the company wasn’t willing to say yet. But, there shouldn’t be any technical reason, it’s just a matter of Sonos and Apple working together to get more Apple Music formats supported.
As with other Sonos products, the new Beam connects to the company’s other speakers for multi-room playback; you can also use other Sonos speakers as surrounds. You can tune the speaker to your room to improve the sound using Trueplay, assuming you have an iOS device. The Beam also has far-field microphones so it can receive voice commands through either Alexa or the Google Assistant, but that’s not required (there’s a mic mute button right on top of the Beam, too). Like some other recent Sonos speakers, the new Beam has NFC to make setup even easier — playing your phone running the Sonos app near it will automatically connect it to your WiFi network.
Based on what Sonos has said so far, the new Beam is probably not a crucial upgrade for most, unless you’ve been itching to get Dolby Atmos into your setup without spending a ton of money. But given that the Beam is already the best-selling compact soundbar (according to NPD data), these upgrades should help it keep its lead over the competition — even with that $50 price hike.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.