Audio

Premium soundbar for a cinematic experience

The expectations are sky-high for the Sonos Arc.

Not only is it the first Dolby Atmos soundbar from the acclaimed audio brand, but the Arc also runs on the new S2 software platform, which offers increased audio bandwidth for high-resolution audio and Dolby Atmos, as well as new features and services.

I am glad to say it blows away my current Sonos Beam soundbar in terms of depth and soundstage.

At almost twice as long as the Beam and with 11 Class-D amplifiers to the Beam's five, the Arc, unsurprisingly, offers a much wider soundstage.

With my eyes closed, the immediacy of the Arc's sound almost convinces me that musicians are playing live in front of me.

The sound is also bright and dynamic, with punchy bass - though not quite as good as a home theatre system with a standalone subwoofer.

More importantly, the Arc has two upfiring drivers to add a dimension of height to the audio for its Dolby Atmos features.

But there is a major caveat. To get the most out of the Arc, it requires a Dolby Atmos-compatible television with video streaming apps that support Dolby Atmos, such as Apple TV+ and Netflix, and allow Dolby Atmos passthrough - from a 4K Blu-ray player, for instance - to the soundbar.

In short, you will need a premium TV made in the past two to three years. In fact, this review took longer than usual because I had to borrow a compatible TV.

Build-wise, the Arc is impeccable, with a sturdy matt plastic body in black or white. It can be wall-mounted ($119 for the mounting kit). There are touch-sensitive buttons at the top and an LED indicator in front above the Sonos logo. A built-in far-field microphone array listens for voice cues to activate either Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.

At the back of the Arc is its HDMI port, which supports the enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) functionality, and an Ethernet port. Older TVs with no ARC or eARC HDMI port can use the included optical adapter with the TV's optical audio port to send audio to the soundbar.

Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only) is supported, but not Bluetooth. Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect both let users stream music wirelessly from other devices to the soundbar.

  • FOR

    • Bright and lively audio

    • Excellent build and design

    • Built-in voice assistants


    AGAINST

    • Pricey

    • Dolby Atmos-compatible TV required

    • Only one HDMI port

  • SPECS

  • PRICE: $1,499

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi

    PORTS: HDMI output (eARC/ARC), Ethernet

    SOUNDBAR DIMENSIONS: 1141.7 x 115.7 x 87mm

    WEIGHT: 6.25kg


    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 4.5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4.5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 3.5/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

The Sonos S2 app (available for Android and iOS) is used to control the Arc and adjust its settings.

My most-used setting is the Speech Enhancement feature, which makes dialogue sound clearer. The Night Sound mode reduces the volume late at night, while there are also some basic equaliser settings for the treble and bass levels.

The app also shows the Dolby Atmos logo when the Arc is playing Dolby Atmos content. I had to rely on this because the Dolby Atmos effect is underwhelming in Netflix.

For instance, in the opening car chase scene from the action movie 6 Underground (2019), there was some verticality in the audio from the whirling blades of the police helicopter, but the effect was not distinct enough.

The Atmos effects were more impressive in a 4K Blu-ray movie such as Blade Runner 2049 (2017). In the scrapyard scene with protagonist K's flying car coming under attack in the rain, I could clearly discern the direction of the gunfire, the rain pelting down on the car's windscreen and the dialogue between K and Joi.

The quieter moments in the movie also showed off the Arc's crisp, clean sound. I could clearly make out the crunch of boots on gravel and the tinkle from a splash of whiskey.

But the soundbar may not be for everyone. Since its launch last month, some Arc users have complained about the muddy bass while playing bass-heavy content at high volumes.

A software update was recently released to address this issue. But in my test - which was after the update - the bass still sounded unstable at certain low frequencies.

To be fair, I could not discern any problem with the bass while using the Arc for movies and music.

This is probably because I am not close to maxing out the Arc's volume, as it is very loud even at the halfway mark.

At $1,499, the Arc is one of the more expensive soundbars in the market. Adding a Sonos Sub subwoofer ($1,149) will definitely improve the bass, but at a price.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2020, with the headline 'Premium soundbar for a cinematic experience'. Print Edition | Subscribe