Sonos Arc has announced that it will replace the Playbar soundbar, this time it will feature Dolby Atmos and most smart assistants. Sonos Arc is a 5.0.2 channel soundbar with HDMI eARC and a completely revamped experience.
It comes with a new aesthetic design, with soft curved edges and rounded legs that look similar to the Sonos Move speaker if you look at it from above, and this new soundbar connects with the rest of the Sonos family. There are 11 Class D digital amplifiers inside, with eight oval (and oval) and three polished domes (Twitter) amplifiers.
Sonos Arc speakers
There are three internal speakers left, center, and front for a direct sound scene. There is a loudspeaker at every corner to provide sound band channels, and there are two upward angles for Dolby Atmos altitude channels.
Since it is a Sonos speaker system; It connects with the upcoming Sonos Sonos S2 software, and it can be connected to amplifiers and other devices around the house, and also comes with Alexa support and the built-in Google Assistant, with four built-in long-range microphones to hear your orders accurately.
Unlike its replacement Playbar Sound Bar, which only offers digital optical audio input, Sonos Arc is compatible with HDMI eARC, so you can connect it to a TV or AV receiver via an HDMI port. HDMI eARC is required to operate Dolby Atmos, but you can also connect the soundbar to a TV that supports HDMI ARC or optical through an adapter.
Sonos Arc limitations
The first issue is that Sonos elected to not support multi-channel LPCM audio—at least not at launch. A Sonos spokesperson told me the company plans to release a firmware update to add that feature, but couldn’t give me a date.
If you’re not a gamer, you might not care about this. But if you are and the Nintendo Switch is your gaming console of choice, this will bum you out because LPCM is the only type of multi-channel audio the Switch supports (you will get audio from a Switch connected to the Arc, it just won’t be surround sound).
Microsoft’s Xbox supports Dolby Atmos, although not every game developed for those platforms do (in fact, many use multi-channel LPCM audio). Sony supports Atmos only for the playback of Blu-ray discs (and you’ll need to configure it properly for that to happen). Even then, the Arc’s second limitation could render the Xbox’s and PlayStation’s Atmos capabilities moot.
TVs with eARC, however, didn’t start trickling into the market until 2018. To get around this limitation, Sonos could have followed the example of some other soundbar manufacturers and built two or more HDMI ports into the Arc: You would have used HDMI ARC to send audio from the TV’s tuner, apps, and other sources to the Arc, and the Arc’s second HDMI port would receive audio from a Blu-ray player or set-top box. That’s how Samsung engineered our current top pick in the high-end soundbar category, the 7.1.4-channel HW-Q90R.
And if you want the best audio experience that Dolby can deliver today—lossless audio in the form of Dolby TrueHD, and immersive audio in the form of Dolby Atmos—you’ll want to watch movies on discs played on a 4K UHD Blu-ray player. Yeah, that’s old-school, but it means you don’t need to have very high-speed internet, which isn’t available everywhere. Streaming services like Netflix embed Dolby Atmos data in the lossy Dolby Digital Plus to reduce the bandwidth requirements, but most only offer it with their 4K service tiers, which are still out of reach of those with modest internet connections. Netflix, for example, recommends having a consistent minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second to get it.
Inside the Arc
Designed for use with larger TVs, the 45-inch wide Arc is an imposing yet elegant-looking soundbar, with a face that curves over a 270-degree angle (it’s available in black or white). Eight elliptical woofers and three silk-dome tweeters reside behind its grill, each driven by a discrete Class D amplifier. Two of the woofers are mounted on top to bounce height cues off your home theater’s ceiling, and two are mounted on end caps to reflect sound off your walls.
Sonos Arc Microphone
There’s a built-in far-field microphone array for summoning either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant (your choice, but only one can be active at a time). An integrated IR receiver allows you to use your TV’s remote to control the volume. Swiping across this surface moves you up and down your current playlist. A single LED reports the speaker’s status and automatically adjusts its brightness based on the ambient light in the room.
The speaker’s 3.4-inch height was low enough that it didn’t encroach on the bottom of my TV’s screen, but I couldn’t audition it in that location. My TV is in a wall-to-wall built-in entertainment center that has folding doors so I can hide the TV when it’s not in use. So, I rested the soundbar in front of the entertainment center, atop a pair of tower speakers I’m in the midst of reviewing. This gave the drivers in the end caps plenty of space to do their thing. If you want to hang the nearly 14-pound Arc underneath your wall-mounted TV, you’ll need the $79 Sonos Wall Mount. The speaker’s 4.5-inch depth ensures it won’t stick too far out into your room.
Before I sat down to perform my listening tests, I tuned the Arc to my 13 x 19 x 9-foot (WxLxH) home theater using Sonos’ Trueplay software on an iPad mini. Trueplay is very effective, but tuning can be performed only using an iOS device because Sonos can predict which type of microphone is on board and where it will be located on the device. The fragmented Android device market doesn’t provide the level of predictability.
I started with movies and TV shows because that’s what most people use a soundbar for. Watching the Blu-ray UHD version of Spiderman 3, the Arc impressed with its ability to swirl sound if not around the room at least on a very wide sound stage at the front of the room as the experimental particle accelerator transforms Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church) into the villain Sandman.
I had a similar experience, at Sonos’ suggestion,
watching the episode of the Netflix series Stranger Things where the Russian scientists fire up a machine designed to open an interdimensional gate to the Upside Down.
Is the Sonos Arc worthy ?
The Sonos Arc is a great soundbar—with caveats. It sounds fantastic, with crisp highs, thick midrange, and slabs of well-defined bass. It’s attractive to look at, and it’s part of the best mainstream multi-room audio system on the planet. If you have an iOS device—or can borrow one for a few minutes
Trueplay can pull off some amazing tricks to customize the speaker’s sound to your room.
On the other hand,
Sonos relies too heavily on the capabilities of your TV when it comes to delivering its biggest promise:
Dolby Atmos’ support. If you’re buying this speaker for that reason, think long and hard if your TV doesn’t support eARC.
Even if you stream all your movies over the internet, it’s very hard to know if a TV that doesn’t support eARC will be capable of sending Dolby Digital Plus with Atmos metadata to the Arc.