Beam adds to the Playbase and Playbar, Sonos’s current home theater offerings, with a few notable differences apart from its reduced size. HDMI is the most obvious addition, with previous offerings only having optical inputs for direct-from-TV and set top box content. For many, this was a deal-killer or at least a major hurdle to overcome, often causing 5.1 input to be throttled down to just two channels. With HDMI support, that limitation no longer exists and the Beam will take any sound format you throw at it. For those who still want to use an optical input, though, the Beam includes an HDMI-to-optical “adapter” in the box.
In addition to HDMI, Beam brings voice-command support to the living room. Initially in the form of Alexa, Beam will eventually support Google Assistant via a future software update, giving users the freedom to choose the voice assistant platform that best suits their lives. Siri support happens via AirPlay 2 direct from your iOS devices, and that support will officially be rolled out this July to Beam and other compatible devices.
Dolby Atmos support is notably absent from Beam, though this was not an oversight. While doing the 5.1 mixes of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” recently, Sonos Sound Experience Leader Giles Martin noted that Atmos’s height channel adds a complexity that doesn’t necessarily enhance the listening experience and can be over-used to negatively impact the sound. “The idea of a sound signature is bad,” noted Martin, preferring to think of a speaker “like a window, letting sunlight through.”
This is very consistent with Sonos’s corporate vision of not embracing something just because it’s popular, instead waiting until the technology works in a way that enhances the Sonos experience. AirPlay is a prime example: people have been clamoring for AirPlay support in Sonos for years, but it wasn’t until AirPlay 2 introduced a way of fully integrating with Sonos’s multiple speaker paradigm that they decided to flip the switch.
And, in this way, Sonos is a lot like Apple. They have a vision about that they believe is best, and they work very passionately towards that vision. If that matches what works for you and your life, then it makes total sense to get on board and ride that train. The nice part is that, for the living room, the cost of entry to that Sonos train just got a lot easier to bear.
Sonos Beam will ship on July 17th and is available for pre-order starting today at US$399.