Sonos Arc review: raising the bar for surround sound

If you wanted a Sonos soundbar then your choices were limited to either the diminutive Sonos Beam or the ageing Sonos Playbar.

Now there’s a new kid on the block in the form of the Sonos Arc – a big, bold gadget taking over flagship duties from the seven-year-old Playbar.

What’s immediately noticeable about the Arc is the change in design. The squarish look of the Playbar has been replaced with curves and elliptical edges.

It’s much more in keeping with Sonos’ recent aesthetics and compliments the Beam in the company’s line-up.

The Arc has been designed to either sit underneath a TV on a stand or be wall-mounted (Sonos sells a dedicated wall mount for it separately) with sensors detecting which you’ve opted for and adjusting the sound accordingly.

The smarts don’t stop there. The big addition to the Arc is support for Dolby Atmos. It’s the first Sonos speaker to incorporate the technology and the result is truly cinematic and rounded sound.

There are 11 drivers inside the bar, each powered by a D-class amplifier. Eight of them are elliptical woofers and three are silk-domed tweeters. Two of the latter are in the middle of the bar and angled diagonally upwards to fire sound into the room and bounce it off the ceiling. These are supported by the two at each end which are angled outwards for the same reason – to create a full 3D sound effect for that ‘home cinema’ feeling.

If you have a TV that supports Atmos output and content that utilises it (Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ all carry Atmos content) then that’s where those angled speakers come into play.

By bouncing sound around the room, the Arc is able to create an immersive experience akin to a five-channel surround sound system. While that all comes from one gadget – it’s a fairly sizeable one. The Arc is 45 inches across, 3.5-inches tall and 4.5-inches deep. It’ll sit especially nicely underneath a 55-inch TV.

Like the Beam before it, the Arc uses Sonos’ Trueplay technology that analyses the layout of your room to provide a tailored sound for you. The device sends out a series of tests that are analysed by your iOS device (it’s not supported by Android) and the speaker adjusts itself accordingly. This involves walking around the room waving your iPhone in the air as the speaker lets out wavering blasts of sound to tune itself.

If you want to, you can tinker with the treble and bass in the Sonos app as well as choose a few custom presets – like Night Sound that reduces bass to prevent you waking other people during late-night binges.

However, the strength of the Sonos Arc lies in the simplicity of its setup and usage. If you take a look around the back, all you’ll find is a single HDMI port for connecting to your TV. The port supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) which is supported on most modern TVs. If you have an older box and need an optical audio connector, there’s an adapter included in the Arc box.

An HDMI eARC connection offers much greater bandwidth than a traditional optical output which is why the bar can support Atmos. It’s also a two-way connection so the Arc can talk back to your TV – so you can control volume and the like with your TV remote.

While simple, some may find the single HDMI port a bit frustrating. It’s also true that you may need to buy a more modern TV if you absolutely want the best from this product.

Although the Arc will be outputting from your TV, it’s still a fully-formed Sonos speaker. It’ll connect to your home network either through WiFi or Ethernet and can sync up with any other Sonos speakers you have in the house.

So even though the Arc whacks out a convincing surround sound effect, you could pair up a couple of Play:1s or a Sub to truly round it out.

Getting past all of the technobabble for a minute, the Arc does sound fantastic whether or not you’re using all the smarts. Even without Atmos-enabled content you get crisp trebles and a reassuringly deep bass. The sound doesn’t distort at higher volumes and whether you’re listening to dialogue, effects or music there’s plenty of depth and resonance.

Like the other speakers in Sonos’ range, the Arc comes in a choice of either black or white. The black will fit in naturally with just about any set-up and any decor while the white, well, it’s a bit more of a statement.

Sonos has complimented the launch of the Arc with an overhaul of its software and operating system. As such, you’ll need to download a fresh version of the app and update any other Sonos equipment you have to work with it.

Some older devices, such as the Bridge, won’t be compatible with the new app. You’ll either need to get rid of these or continue using the older Sonos app (which has now been designated S1) alongside the new one.

If you’re someone who prefers to bark orders at their equipment rather than faff around with buttons, you can set the Arc up to respond using either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa voice assistants. Sonos has worked hard to make sure its device work with either one which is great if you’ve committed to one ecosystem over the other.

The Arc hasn’t become Sonos’ most expensive product for any old reason but £800 is still on the affordable side when you look around at the other Atmos-enabled soundbars out there. The sound is terrific and it fits in simply and reliably with other Sonos speakers you may have around the house.

If you’re an existing Sonos user then this should certainly be the bar you go to for extra audio punch from your TV. Quite simply, it’s raising the bar for hassle-free cinema sound in your living room.

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