Tech review: Sonos Arc is an excellent but pricey Dolby Atmos soundbar

The Sonos Arc offers a much wider soundstage.
The Sonos Arc offers a much wider soundstage.PHOTO: ST FILE

The expectations are sky-high for the Sonos Arc (available on Lazada).

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

I am glad to say that it certainly 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 bass that is punchy enough, 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 height dimension to the audio for its Dolby Atmos feature.

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

In short, you'll need a premium TV from 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 (in black or white) body. It can be wall mounted ($119 for the mounting kit). There are touch-sensitive buttons at the top and a LED indicator at the front above the Sonos logo. A far-field microphone array is present to listen for the voice cue 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 that lack an 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 let you stream music wirelessly from other devices to the soundbar.

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 that 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 the 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 quite underwhelming in Netflix. For instance, in the opening car chase scene from action movie 6 Underground, there was some verticality in the audio from the whirling blades of the police helicopter, but the effect is not distinct enough.

The Atmos effects were more impressive in a 4K Blu-ray movie like Blade Runner 2049. 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 the car's windscreen and the dialogue between K and Joi.

The quieter moments in the movie also showed off the Arc's crisp and 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 testing (which was after the update), the bass still sounds 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.

FOR

Bright and lively audio

Excellent build and design

Built-in voice assistants

AGAINST

Pricey

Requires Dolby Atmos-compatible TV

Only a single 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

Features: 4/5

Design: 4.5/5

Performance: 4.5/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Overall: 4/5

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