This week we reviewed the Sonos Arc, a wireless soundbar equipped with 11 amplifiers coupled to 11 drivers for 5.0.2 channel Dolby Atmos sound. The first Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar from Sonos features an HDMI ARC input to receive audio from a compatible television. Sold for €899, the Sonos Arc benefits from Sonos multi-room technology that allows you to access numerous online music services, but also to connect the soundbar to other Sonos speakers and create a wireless 5.1.2 Atmos home theater system, a setup that we tested with the Sonos One SL speakers for surround sound effects and the Sonos Sub (gen 3) subwoofer. Will the performance of this next-gen wireless home theater system measure up to that of an A/V receiver and passive speakers?
Sonos Arc: the brand
The American brand Sonos is a pioneer of multi-room audio. It was founded in 2002 by John MacFarlane with the idea of making it easy for music lovers to wirelessly stream any song at home. However, virtually no technologies existed at the time that would allow Sonos to achieve its goal. A new system had to be designed to transfer sound instantly and wirelessly to several speakers without the user noticing any synchronization errors. The founder therefore turned to a team of engineers that found the solution in 2003 through mesh networking, which up until then had mainly been used for military purposes. After extensive research on antenna placement and the development of a user-friendly system, Sonos revealed its very first product in January 2005: the Sonos ZP100. This connected amplifier is capable of delivering up to 2 x 50 watts in Class D and was an immediate hit with the world press, who praised its easy installation, design, reliability and sound quality.
Two years later in 2007, Apple launched the iPhone and the App Store on the market, starting one of the biggest revolutions in the digital world since the invention of the personal computer. Sonos took advantage of the boom in mobile apps to create its own, giving the user the possibility to turn their smartphone into a remote control. This application was made available to Android users in 2011 and rapidly became the central element of Sonos systems, so much so that the brand began to progressively phase out physical remote controls. Its main advantage is that it offers an intuitive system that provides access to numerous online music services such as Deezer, Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal and Google Play Music, as well as thousands of internet radio stations.
In 2009, the American manufacturer released its first speaker, the Sonos Play:5. This speaker uses the same wireless streaming process as the Sonos ZP100 amplifier, but provides an entirely independent system that integrates both an amplification system and drivers. The Sonos Play:5 made Sonos a true pioneer and leader in the wireless active speaker market. Encouraged by this success, the brand diversified its catalog to include many more multi-room speakers, smart speakers, wireless home theater systems, network streamers and soundbars, including the subject of this test, the Sonos Arc.
Sonos Arc: packaging & accessories
The American manufacturer’s attention to detail is evident even in the packaging of the Sonos Arc soundbar. The soundbar is held in place inside cardboard packaging, which is securely protected by a thick cardboard box. A hinge system is placed on both sides of the box to unlock the secondary packaging inside of which the Sonos Arc is wrapped in a fabric cover. It comes with a power cable, an HDMI cable and an optical to HDMI adapter (good idea!) to connect a TV that is not ARC compatible. The soundbar doesn’t come with a remote control, but it can be controlled with the television’s remote control by using the CEC protocol, via the Sonos mobile app or vocally thanks to the integration of Google Assistant.
Sonos Arc: presentation
Released in June 2020, the Sonos Arc is designed to be the replacement for the Sonos Playbar that was released almost seven years ago, but also to expand the manufacturer’s line of multi-room soundbars, which includes the Sonos Beam. The American manufacturer offers a more versatile system and the first that is compatible with Dolby Atmos 5.0.2 with the Sonos Arc. It is equipped with 11 class D digital amplifiers to power 11 drivers for more efficient placement of sound effects. Among the drivers are three silk dome tweeters coupled to eight elliptical drivers to reproduce the mids and lows. Two of the drivers are situated on the sides of the soundbar and two others are situated on the top to reproduce Atmos effects.
Upholding the reputation of Sonos devices, the Sonos Arc boasts exemplary design quality. The front panel and a large part of the top panel feature a honeycomb grille that hides the many drivers. The rear panel has a polymer shell that has been assembled with millimetric precision. This matte black or white chassis has the advantage of reflecting very little light from the image on the screen, therefore limiting any potential light pollution.
The Sonos Arc is a lot more massive than the Sonos Beam, which offered a compact, discreet and slim system. At nearly 114cm long, the Beam is about the same width as a 55” TV. The Sonos Arc is both longer and taller, with a height of 8.7cm, so it may obstruct the bottom of the screen when placed in front of a TV with a small stand. If the television is wall-mounted, the Sonos Arc soundbar can be mounted underneath using the optional Sonos Arc wall mount support.
As its name suggests, the Sonos Arc soundbar is equipped with an HDMI ARC input. Other than the RJ45 Ethernet port, it is the only connector available on the Sonos soundbar. The HDMI ARC input enables the soundbar to retrieve the soundtrack of the program being viewed from any source connected to the TV. The vast majority of audio formats, such as Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, PCM and Dolby Atmos are supported. It is important to note, however, that your television needs to be eARC compatible to be able to enjoy Dolby Atmos. If the TV isn’t HDMI ARC or eARC compatible but is equipped with an SPDIF optical output, you will be able to use the optical/HDMI adapter that comes with the Sonos Arc. Lastly, the Sonos Arc supports the CEC protocol so that it can be controlled using the connected television’s remote control.
Sonos One SL: presentation
One of the Sonos Arc’s greatest advantages is that it can be connected to other Sonos speakers to create a wireless Sonos home theater system with genuine rear sound effects. During our review, we used a pair of Sonos One SL speakers. This speaker has all the same specifications as the Sonos One speaker. The only difference is that it doesn’t feature voice control as the microphones have been removed. Each Sonos SL speaker has a two-way design that uses a midbass driver and a tweeter. Both drivers have their own class D amplification module to ensure an optimal power supply.
When the Sonos One SL speaker isn’t used for surround sound effect, it can be used like any other Sonos wireless speaker after removing it from its multi-room group. It is possible to access online music services, music shared over the local network and countless web radio stations that are compatible with the Sonos app. The Sonos One SL can be controlled using the buttons located on the top panel or directly via the mobile app and it can be connected to the home network via Ethernet cable or WiFi..
Sonos Sub Gen 3: presentation
In addition to the surround speakers, the Sonos Arc soundbar can also be paired with the Sonos Sub wireless subwoofer for an even more immersive sound. For this review, we used the Sonos Sub Gen 3 subwoofer, the successor to the Sonos Sub (Gen 2) that boasts a more powerful processor, expanded memory and a new WiFi controller allowing the sub to be more responsive. Other than that it has the same, highly efficient acoustic design as its predecessor, with two force-cancelling drivers positioned opposite each other to eliminate unwanted vibrations. These drivers are powered by two class D digital amplifiers that combine dynamism and low heat emission.
Sonos Arc: streaming & AirPlay
Part of the reason the Sonos Arc soundbar’s connectors are limited to an HDMI Arc input and an HDMI/optical adapter is because its primary features are provided by its WiFi and Ethernet connection. Once connected to the network, it benefits from the same features as Sonos’ other wireless speakers. Playback is controlled via the excellent Sonos app for iOS and Android, which allows you to play music shared over the local network and access most online music services like Deezer, Sporify, Amazon Prime Music, Apple Music and even those that offer Hi-Res tracks, such as Qobuz and Tidal. TuneIn is also available and provides access to thousands of internet radios across the globe. Apple smartphone, tablet or computer owners can use the AirPlay 2 protocol to stream music from any app to the Sonos Arc soundbar.
Sonos Arc: multi-room & wireless home theater system
As a specialist and leader in multi-room audio, Sonos has naturally integrated its multi-room technology into the Sonos Arc soundbar. Consequently, it can be grouped with other Sonos multi-room speakers and devices so that you can enjoy your music throughout your home. The Sonos Arc’s multi-room abilities aren’t limited to music playback and can be used to play multi-channel movie soundtracks. This gives the user the freedom to replace the soundbar’s virtual surround sound with any pair of Sonos speakers, such as the SONOS ONE, SONOS One SL, or even the Sonos Five for rear surround sound effects. Likewise, bass reproduction can be handled by the Sonos Sub wireless subwoofer to enhance the action scenes in movies. For our Sonos Arc test, we used a pair of Sonos ONE SL speakers for the surround sound effects and the third-generation Sonos Sub subwoofer. These devices can be easily associated in the mobile app, as we will see later on in the review.
Sonos Arc: Google Assistant
The Sonos Arc soundbar was very easy to use. It can be controlled using the remote control of the connected television, its touch interface, its mobile app, or vocally thanks to the integration of Google Assistant. Numerous long-range microphones are positioned all over the Sonos Arc so that it can hear your requests. Vocal pickup is flawless as long as the soundbar isn’t too far away or positioned higher than the listener. You can also ask the assistant to change the volume, start playing your favorite music, skip tracks or even turn on the TV (CEC protocol required). Naturally, the microphones in the Sonos Arc soundbar can be turned off to respect your privacy.
Sonos Arc: configuration
Like all of the American manufacturer’s systems, the Sonos Arc soundbar is incredibly simple to set up. First you have to connect the soundbar to the television. In our case, we connected it directly to the HDMI ARC output of an eARC compatible LG 4K UHD 4K TV using a Norstone Jura HDMI cable. Sonos includes an optical/HDMI adapter to convert the TV’s optical output to HDMI if it doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port.
Once the Sonos ARC is connected to the television, it needs to be turned on to continue the installation on the Sonos app. The latter guides the user through each step of the installation process. First, you’re prompted to create a Sonos account, then to activate Bluetooth on the smartphone to set up a new system. The app then scans for surrounding Bluetooth connections to automatically detect the Sonos Arc. Once identified, you then have to press the pairing button (the button with the infinity symbol) on the top of the Sonos Arc. The soundbar is then paired with the app and all that’s left to do is select the WiFi network and enter the password to connect to the network.
Once the Sonos Arc soundbar is connected, the Sonos app prompts you to configure the Sonos Sub. If you are using the Sonos Arc on its own, simply click the “later” option to skip this step and go straight to enjoying your soundbar. For our review, however, we launched the configuration. To do so, we had to wait a few seconds until the green LED on the front of the subwoofer began to flash. Then we pressed the pairing button that is also on the front of the subwoofer. The app then asked us to confirm that it was the correct subwoofer and then automatically connected it to the WiFi network and the Sonos Arc.
Lastly, you are prompted to add surround speakers. Since the reproduction of surround sound effects can be handled by almost any Sonos wireless speaker, such as the SONOS ONE, SONOS One SL and Sonos Five, you first have to select the name of the speakers you want to use from the drop-down menu. Two Sonos One SL speakers in our case, referred to as Sonos One in the app.
The installation process of the Sonos surround speakers is the same as that of the Sonos Sub. First, you connect the left speaker to the mains before pressing the pairing button on the back of the speaker. The app then automatically detects the speaker, then connects it to the network and pairs it with the Sonos soundbar. The same process is then repeated for the right speaker.
Sonos Arc: settings and calibration
After setting up the Sonos Sub and the surround speakers, the Sonos Arc 5.1.2 system is functional. However, it is recommended to adjust the system’s audio settings so that it is perfectly adapted to the acoustic characteristics of the listening room. In particular, the volume of the surround speakers can be adjusted to ensure that the effects are always perfectly audible, even when the speakers are far away from the listener. The volume of the Sonos Sub can also be controlled to avoid saturation in small rooms or spaces that aren’t soundproofed. All of these settings can be easily adjusted in the Sonos app.
For iOS smartphone and tablet users, the Sonos Arc is even easier to calibrate thanks to the TruePlay automatic calibration system. Based on the proprietary technology introduced with the Sonos Play:5, this system uses the microphone in the iPhone or iPad on which the Sonos app is installed to calibrate the soundbar based on its environment. The TruePlay calibration is carried out in two quick steps. First, you have to sit in your usual listening position, with your smartphone held at eye level. The Sonos Arc will then play different sounds and frequencies for a few seconds on each speaker in the system, including the Sonos Sub.
The second step in the TruePlay calibration is to move around the room while the different sounds and frequencies are played to more effectively assess how the room influences the restitution. Sonos provides a short 30-second video to properly understand how to hold and move the smartphone around the room. The different sounds are then played. After moving around for one minute, the calibration is done and can be saved. The sound is more balanced for both music and movie soundtracks.
Sonos Arc: listening impressions
For this review, we first listened to the Sonos Arc soundbar by itself, then progressively added the subwoofer and surround speakers to the system to measure the real impact of the equipment. For our source we connected the Zappiti One SE 4K HDR network media player to the HDMI 2 input of a 4K UHD LG television. We also watched content on the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video apps installed on the TV.
Sonos Arc only: 5.0.2 configuration
With the movie Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the Sonos Arc soundbar reproduced the dialogues naturally and with conviction. The voices were always properly centered and clearly audible, whether they were whispers or shouts. The two front lateral channels produced by the Sonos Arc soundbar were tangible and really seemed to come from the left and right ends of the room. The separation of the different front channels was very precise, which allowed the various sound effects to be correctly positioned and to not become confused, even when the movie’s soundtrack was at its most intense.
Used by itself, the Sonos Arc soundbar provided pretty convincing surround sound effects with movie soundtracks. However, we had to turn the volume up quite high to enjoy them. The soundstage is rather frontal when watching movies at night and at low volume. The same was true for the rear ambient effects that were a little faint. We were still a long way from a true home theater system with genuine speakers, as would be the case with the Sonos One SL. However, the Atmos effects were much more realistic and really seemed to come from above us in the room. Even with movies that weren’t encoded in Dolby Atmos, the Sonos Arc soundbar managed to recreate very convincing vertical effects. For example, with the movie Pearl Harbor in Dolby Digital 5.1, the Sonos Arc made it seem as if the planes were really flying overhead. It also improved the general atmosphere of the movies we watched, and it sometimes seemed as if it was raining or thundering in the room!
Sonos Arc + Sonos Sub 5.1.2 home theater
We then activated the Sonos Sub subwoofer to reinforce the intensity of the lows. The sound was immediately more powerful and coherent. Continuing with Pearl Harbor, we could now physically feel the explosions. The roar of the aircraft engines was also much more credible and the whole scene was more natural sounding. The Sonos Sub was enthusiastic but never over the top, which was the shortcoming of the previous generations of this subwoofer. The TruePlay calibration that we carried out prior to the test definitely contributed to this great performance. The Sonos Sub also benefits movie soundtracks and music. With the Hans Zimmer Live in Prague concert, the lows were deeper and the soundstage more balanced. The sound was very lively and responded to everything the orchestra did. The music was generous and energetic.
Sonos Arc + Sonos Sub + Sonos One SL 5.1.2 home theater
To wrap up our test, we activated our pair of Sonos One SL speakers to create a genuine wireless 5.1.2 home theater system. With this setup, we immediately found ourselves inside a soundscape and were thrown right into the heart of the action. The spatialization was excellent, with perfectly distributed sound effects across the various channels. The power of the Sonos One SL speakers allowed us to clearly perceive every tiny detail. Furthermore, the sound signature of these speakers was very similar to that of the Sonos Arc, ensuring perfect tonal consistency. Lastly, the Sonos One SL was perfectly synched with the Sonos Arc soundbar and not once did we notice the slightest distortion or delay with the image.
Sonos Arc: compared to…
Harman Kardon Citation Bar: with the Harman Kardon Citation Sub and Harman Kardon Citation Surround speakers, this soundbar offers a wireless 5.1 system. Consequently, it isn’t possible to enjoy Atmos effects like you can with the Sonos Arc. The surround speakers aren’t quite as powerful or detailed, and they can’t be used independently like the Sonos One SL speakers.
Samsung HW-Q90R: designed in collaboration with Harman Kardon, the Samsung HW-Q90R soundbar and wireless subwoofer have a total power of 512 watts. They come with a pair of wireless surround speakers equipped with Atmos speakers on top to reproduce the three-dimensional sound of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks over 7.1.4 channels. This pack provides a more realistic and immersive sound than the Sonos Arc. Regarding functionality, the Samsung soundbar is equipped with a Bluetooth and WiFi receiver to wirelessly stream music. It can also be controlled vocally via an Alexa smart speaker. However, it is less intuitive than the Sonos Arc when it comes to configuration and customization.
Sonos Beam 4.1: sold for €1,599, the Sonos Beam 4.1 wireless home theater system includes the Sonos Beam soundbar, two Sonos One SL speakers and the Sonos SUB Subwoofer for a sound reproduction across 4.1 channels. The reproduction of surround sound effects is identical to the Sonos Arc, but the Sonos Beam doesn’t offer the same level of immersion, notably due to the absence of Atmos effects. Moreover, the front soundstage is slightly wider and the dialogue a little more natural with the Sonos Arc.
Sonos Arc: conclusion
With the Sonos Arc, the American manufacturer provides an excellent soundbar with customizable sound that can be used alone, with a subwoofer and even with surround speakers to create a simple and efficient home theater system. When used independently, the Sonos soundbar offers a great performance with nicely positioned lateral and Atmos sound effects. However, it reveals its full potential when paired with the Sonos Sub and wireless Sonos speakers for surround sound effects. The subwoofer provides a lot of energy in action scenes and with music, while the surround speakers help create a soundscape. The rear sound effects are a lot more tangible and realistic. Another of this setup’s advantages is how simple it is to install and use. The mobile app is clearly laid out to ensure smooth and intuitive navigation through the various settings and options for the soundbar, subwoofer and speakers. In short, the Sonos Arc provides a simple, intuitive and powerful solution that rivals more conventional home theater systems.
What we liked
- The easy set up
- The spatialization
- The design
- The perfectly coherent soundstage
What we would have liked
- For the TruePlay calibration to have been Android compatible
- A flatter soundbar to avoid obstructing the bottom of the TV