A soundbar has to embrace and enrich a full range of sound. That means low, mid, high tones and bass. It’s all up to one piece of tech. And that’s all true for the Sonos Arc, the brand’s flagship soundbar that lands on June 10 for $799 and is up for preorder right now.
We’ve been putting it to the test for about a week and found that it has all the tech you’d expect from a soundbar and it fits perfectly within the Sonos system. You can use the Arc for movies and TV shows, stream your favorite radio station or rock out to an album from your vault. It’s as much a soundbar to pair with your TV as it is a way to enjoy your favorite tunes.
So how does the Arc stack up? Is it better than the Beam? Is it worthy of the $799 price? Let’s dive in to see.
An incredibly wide soundstage
Sonos Arc delivers seriously robust and powerful sound. It’s the widest soundstage of any soundbar we’ve tested. Its wide soundstage places you within the music when wearing headphones so you can close your eyes and feel the sound on either side. Whether you’re straight on or off to the side, you’ll still feel and hear the sound around you.
Powering that wall of sound is a total of 11 speakers — eight woofers and three tweeters. There are 11 digital amplifiers that cast a wide net to fully fill a room. You get two firing upwards, one firing to the left, one firing to the right and the rest firing to the front.
As with any Sonos speaker, TruePlay is on board. Essentially, the Arc plays an array of tones that bounce around the room and your phone (running the Sonos app) uses the audio it picks up to map the space. You still need an iOS device to run this.
This will create the mix for the Arc in your space since it reads the room, and in real time, figures out the best combination of sound. Within the Sonos app, you do have the ability to make your own custom mix and leave it on there. If you’re watching “Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker” or listening to “American Land” by Bruce Springsteen and want deep bass, you can turn it all the way up — something we didn’t have to do too often.
In comparison to the Beam (the entry-level $399 soundbar from Sonos), the Arc is much, much, much louder. And it’s immediately noticeable.
Once plugged in, we connected several streaming services — Apple Music, Spotify, Sirius XM, Sonos Radio, TuneIn and iHeartRadio, among others — to the Arc. We started a playlist that kicked off with Springsteen’s “Ain’t Good Enough for You,” and in a similar fashion to “Born to Run,” it’s a wall of sound with a march of drums from the get go. Immediately you’re hit with the long drum roll in a crisp and complete fashion. As the instruments and vocals follow suit, it’s a clear mix that handles Springsteen’s higher tone voice well.
The Arc doesn’t aim to increase the mid or high tones to oversaturate a mix, but rather deliver something that lets the music stand on its own. “Desire” by U2 opens with a roaring guitar riff that quickly turns into a fast-paced jaunt. Standing dead on at about 6 feet from the Arc, we were able to clearly place the instruments: drums straight ahead, vocals all around and a scorching guitar from the right side of the mix. Thanks to the wide soundstage, it feels like the music is coming from all directions.
A live track, such as “Twist and Shout” performed by Bruce Springsteen, showcases how the Arc handles reverb (echo from within the stadium) and crowd noises. It’s a testament to the soundstage, but you can hear voices from all around and feel as if you’re actually at the concert.
And granted, live recordings can mix things up with instruments operating on the same track. In this case, it was mixed quite well and delivered a clear playback experience, notably with the ability to hear more than 12 instruments on the stage, properly distribute the echo effect and still pack a ton of power with bass.
And for TV, it’s as enjoyable to watch a newscast as it is to watch an action movie on the Arc, especially with support for Dolby Atmos. You really get that room-filing experience, which goes back to TruePlay and how the Arc knows the room. It’s quickly noticeable with any episode of “Planet Earth,” as you hear sounds of nature all around, from the crunch of leaves in the distance to a cricket chirping.
All in all, for $799, the Sonos Arc sounds like a thousand dollar system.
The Arc has built-in smarts. For starters, it has a four array microphone center on the top that can pick up your wake word even at full volume. You can choose to have Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant power the experience. This means you can ask Alexa to play E Street Radio from Sirius XM or “Domino” by Jessie J. Or you can ask the Google Assistant to turn off bedroom lights and play a specific playlist from Spotify. It works just like any other smart speaker and you get a solid amount of control over it.
You can only use one voice assistant at a time per speaker, though. You can, however, have an Arc paired to Alexa and a One paired to Google Assistant.
You still have five tabs at the bottom: favorites (aka MySonos), music, now playing, search and settings. It’s more minimalist and we dig the overall darker gradient design. It’s still easy to connect services with the app, perform updates and use the system.
Controlling the Arc was easy enough. When it’s set to TV, essentially playing audio from the television, you get the option for Night Sound, which reduces loud explosions or noises, and Speech Enhancement, which improves voice clarity and is handy for newscasts, soap operas and movies.
You can control the volume from within the app via a slider, and with music, you can see the album artwork, title information and the source.
The Arc also supports Apple’s AirPlay 2 out of the box, so if you’re playing music from your iOS, macOS, tvOS or watchOS device, you can choose to cast it via AirPlay. It’s a nice feature to have, but you also get multi-room audio from within the Sonos app. You can choose which speakers to use, and with S2 (drum roll please), you can save custom groups of speakers. Huzzah!
The Arc also requires Sonos S2, which means this won’t work with Sonos S1 products. It’s a small list of products that won’t be carried over. Come June 8, you’ll be able to migrate your current Sonos system into S2 and the Arc will work just fine with that come June 10.
Long and light
While the Sonos Beam has a flatter design that packs a lot into a small amount of space, the Arc is kind of the opposite. It has an oval design that delivers a curved front with hundreds of holes for the sound to come through. It’s also much longer at 45 inches.
You get your pick between matte black and a matte white finish. There’s a minimalist Sonos logo front and center on the forward-facing grille and capacitive touch buttons centered on the top. The bottom of the Arc has a rubber-like matte finish which ensures it won’t vibrate off a table or home entertainment cabinet. It gives it lift off the surface, but we were still able to slide the Arc into an aftermarket wall mount that we had been using for the Beam.
There’s a cutout at the rear of the Arc that makes it easier to complete the setup with cable. You’ll plug in power and the HDMI, which both face horizontally so you don’t have the issue of there not being enough room for the cables to be run.
It’s a thoughtful design. The pairing button for the Sonos resides in the back as well, and there is an ethernet port if you desire a hardwired connection. We like that Sonos includes everything you need in the box, including the HDMI cable.
For $799.99, you’re getting a lot of value with the Arc. The bass sounds incredible and fits with an excellent sound experience for music, movies and TV. It also won’t leave you wrangling the Sonos app looking for an equalizer.
We have no doubt that the Arc sits at the top of the soundbar market and provides the experience of a full surround system.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailer’s listed price at the time of publication.