Sonos Arc Review Part 1: Oh, That Wide, Glorious Sound

Sonos Arc below TV with Text: Sonos Arc Review Part 1 Oh That Wide Glorious Sound

Sonos’ latest home theater speaker, the Sonos Arc, begins arriving in customers’ homes later this month. We’ve had a few days to take a look—and a listen—to what essentially becomes their “Pro” soundbar, and we are duly impressed.


Sonos Arc: The Upgrade We Didn’t Know We Needed Until We Had It

In our living room we’ve been happily using the Sonos Beam for the past two years. Quite frankly, the Beam has given our 25×15-foot viewing environment the best listening experience it has ever had (better than all prior—and more expensive—Sonos home theater products, too). We just didn’t think it could get any better.

Using the Sonos Arc for the past week we quickly realized what “better” sounded like. The Arc delivers a wider, fuller, more immersive sound. It adds a significant amount of low end to the signal, so much so that we didn’t even notice that we were only using the Arc and not a subwoofer. The Arc also does such a stellar job of sending the sound around the room that we didn’t miss the surround speakers that we hadn’t yet configured.

It’s true: in a fairly large living room, the Sonos Arc provides plenty of sound, coming from all directions, to allow you to happily lose yourself and simply be entertained.

Wrapping Yourself In Surround Sound

Just because we opted to test the Sonos Arc on its own for you doesn’t mean that’s the way we’ll always use it. Like all of its predecessors, the Sonos Arc is capable of being paired with a Sonos SUB (US$699) for additional low end, as well as a pair of rear channel speakers for surrounds. Those surrounds can be any pair of Sonos S2-compatible speakers, meaning Play:1, Play:3, Play:5 (Gen 2), Five, SYMFONISK, One, and One SL are all fair game (and those $99 SYMFONISK Bookshelf speakers are a GREAT value and use-case for this).

The Sonos Arc Fills Your Living Room With Music

Like all of Sonos’ home theater products, the Arc isn’t just limited to TV. It is, in fact, a stellar speaker for listening to music, as well. Because we’re Apple users, the Arc employs Sonos iPhone-or-iPad-only TruePlay to tune itself to your room twice: once for video content, and again for music.

As good as the Arc is for movies, it’s even better for music. The Arc is 45-inches across, with speakers not only across the front and top, but also capping each end. Combined together, this allows the Arc to naturally produce a very wide stereo field, and that’s before any of the electronics get involved to throw the sound even wider.

Combining this wide sound field with a very respectable low-end, the Arc can fill your room with music in a way that most speakers—or even pairs of speakers—couldn’t even begin to reproduce. We’ve become used to hearing music in our living room through 4 Sonos speakers simultaneously: The aforementioned Beam, a SUB, and two PLAY:3 speakers setup as surrounds (set to their full volume for music). Replacing that entire setup with only the Arc did not leave us wanting more. We’ll setup more because we can, of course, adding the SUB and surrounds to the Arc (we’ve gotta have some pleasure while quarantining in our home!), but we were quite happy losing ourselves in the music that only the Arc delivered.

For my ears, the Sonos Arc is the best music-listening device Sonos has ever offered for the living room.

Sonos Arc Speaker architecture, expanded to show individual elements
With eleven different speakers, of varying types and sizes, the Arc covers all the bases, delivering the full audio spectrum—in all directions—for your movies and music.

As music is core to the Sonos experience, you can get your music to the Arc in a variety of different ways. Playing direct from your device with AirPlay 2 is an option, as are any of the nearly-100 music services available on Sonos, including Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, Live Phish, and many, many more. They each deliver their best available sound for Sonos, and setup of any (or all!) is straightforward.

Touch It or Talk To It, the Arc is Fine

Like most modern Sonos products, the Arc is controlled with the Sonos App (S2-only, coming Monday, June 8), capacitive touch controls, or voice. The touch controls are embedded in the Arc’s casing, making them almost invisible…until you need them, and then they’re obviously right there. For voice, the Arc supports either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, and setup of either is a breeze.

You can also use the Sonos S2 app to easily configure the Arc to respond to your existing TV remote’s infrared commands. If you’ve got the Arc connected to your TV’s HDMI ARC port, it will also support HDMI-CEC commands coming directly from your TV for volume and mute controls.

HDMI Only…With a Twist

Like the Beam, Sonos Arc has only three connectors: power, Ethernet, and HDMI. Power is required (no magic there yet!), Ethernet is optional (it supports Wi-Fi, too, of course), and HDMI is preferred. In most scenarios, if your TV supports HDMI ARC (or HDMI eARC), that’s going to be the best way to get your video’s sound into the ARC. However, some scenarios will work better—and provide more options—using Toslink optical outputs, and Sonos wisely includes an optical-to-HDMI adapter (along with an HDMI cable) in the Arc’s box to ensure you’re ready-to-go on day one.

What’s next for Part 2 of this Review? Dolby Atmos

The Sonos Arc is their first device to support Dolby Atmos, a significant enhancement to surround sound technology that adds height channels in addition to side and rear. Atmos truly allows sound to envelope you in a full 360-degree bubble, further immersing you into the movie you’re watching.

We aren’t (yet) setup to deliver Atmos here at the house and, because of social distancing, aren’t currently able to experience Atmos on the Arc elsewhere. Never fear: I’m always looking for an excuse to upgrade, and this is it! The right HDMI matrixed switch box is already en route (why couldn’t Sonos just put two HDMI ports with passthrough on the Arc to simplify this?) and we’ll have some time to play—and report back to you—soon enough. [Update June 18, 2020: Turns out there is no “right HDMI matrixed switch box” for passing ATMOS—or anything else—via HDMI ARC/eARC. Or, well, there are… but they’re only baked inside newer TV sets, and certainly don’t yet exist as standalone devices. We’ll address this in our upcoming part two.]

Pre-Order the Sonos Arc

Sonos is accepting pre-orders for the US$799 Sonos Arc now, with shipping beginning June 19, 2020. Obviously depending upon shipping speed and other, unrelated factors, the time to ship to you may vary.

3 thoughts on “Sonos Arc Review Part 1: Oh, That Wide, Glorious Sound

  • I know this is likely to come off as snobby and elitist, but here goes:

    Re: “We just didn’t think it could get any better.”

    Really? Last year I spent a considerable amount of money…upgrading my home theater to include a high-end AV receiver with a 7.2 speaker system. It’s hard for me to imagine that it doesn’t sound easily noticeably better than a Sonos Beam would sound in the same location..

    As another point of reference, I have a separate system, in another part of my house, with an excellent Yamaha soundbar + subwoofer. As good as it is, the sound quality difference between it and the 7.2 system is light-years apart.

    Re: “It adds a significant amount of low end to the signal, so much so that we didn’t even notice that we were only using the Arc and not a subwoofer.”

    Really? I have never listened to any sound system where I could not instantly tell the difference when a subwoofer was added — assuming I was listening to a sound source that included deep bass.

    I can’t disagree with certainty with what you wrote…having never listened to the sound in your home. But it sure makes me skeptical.

    1. You’re not being snobby or elitist… you’re being accurate, and I appreciate that, @tedlandau!

      I appreciate you asking for clarification here. It’s like having a never-ending stream of editors for my piece, making it better for everyone.

      When I said we “didn’t even notice” I mean that we weren’t pulled out of our viewing experience by missing the low end. Will the SUB add to it? Of course. That’s the point. But it was fully pleasurable and immersive without it, and that’s what I meant to communicate (albeit perhaps not perfectly!).

      As for getting better than what we have with the Beam+SUB+surrounds: Again, it’s that we fully enjoy the listening experience, feeling like nothing is lacking. Obviously it got better… we just weren’t sitting there watching movies thinking, “this is sub-par… we want more.” It was/is an excellent listening experience, and now it *has* gotten better.

      Again, thanks for poking and prodding here. I appreciate it!

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