The debate of practicality when it comes to expensive gadgets is always tricky. The obvious argument against them is that they’re too expensive, and you don’t particularly need them. There’s also the fact that for fewer pennies, you could probably get yourself a similar performing product – and the compromises you make are superficial at best. The argument for such gadgets is that if your heart is set on the one, fancy and needlessly expensive soundbar, you’ll keep thinking about it until you have it.
This is literally the predicament that the Sonos Beam, now in its second generation, poses.
Straight off the bat, the Sonos Beam is not an elaborate setup. It’s sleek, minimal and has a very no-fuss air about it. In a way, it somewhat represents the sort of product design that you would expect from an expensive gadget, and to that end, is quite seamless. Some may tell you that it looks a bit too minimal, but make no mistake – keep this atop a well-polished oak wood shelf, and it certainly looks the part of being an indulgence.
The setup process is surprisingly not as seamless as I’d thought it would be. The Sonos app failed to recognise the NFC patch on the speaker, but thankfully, keying in the serial number of the speaker to pair it wasn’t a complicated affair. Configuring wi-fi on it leads to you being subsequently asked to configure the speaker to your room, and set it up to play music or with your TV.
The adaptive room scanning feature will keep failing if your surroundings are even slightly noisy, and I needed at least four attempts before the Sonos Beam succeeded in scaling my room. However, I couldn’t particularly feel the difference before and after the Beam made itself at home in my bedroom – it pretty much sounded the same before and after.
To pair the soundbar with your TV, you’ll need to connect via HDMI and have CEC (consumer electronics control) turned on in your TV. It takes a while to hunt for CEC within your TV (PSA: You’ll mostly find it in the ‘Input’ settings sub-menu), without which you will not be able to link it to your TV. This led me to find what is probably a deal-breaker – this soundbar has no Bluetooth!
There is, of course, plenty of rationale to justify why you shouldn’t need Bluetooth here. The Beam wants to be a beacon of good home audio, with high resolution wireless audio streaming, and high fidelity playback. However, this is where the eccentricities of indulgence kicks in – in today’s world of ubiquitous Bluetooth accessories, does it really make sense to leave out Bluetooth entirely? Not quite.
As for the sound, the Beam delivers really well. It’s a bit of a Dolby Atmos showcase, and once you get beyond the annoyances of finding CEC in your TV, you realise what you’ve been missing from your TV’s default speakers all this time. The Beam adds excellent depth to the overall sound signature of your TV, and with Dolby Atmos support, gives you impressive segregation of vocals, background audio and music.
The soundbar also delivers excellent bass, and the warm sound signature is in line with what most users tend to like. The bass is clean and deep, and thanks to the easily customisable equaliser within the Sonos app, also lets you crank up the treble to make sure that the bass is not overpowering (it is, by default).
This gives you added versatility in terms of the quality of music playback that you get from the Beam – from Harry Belafonte to The Eagles, Pink Floyd, Black and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, this soundbar handles all your music with ease and poise. The sound signature has a lot of depth on offer, and the overall dynamic range is quite enjoyable. This makes it well suited for Bollywood and eastern music as well – elaborate instrument ensembles, which you’d do well to try out through Coke Studio Season 14, sound great.
Action movies, streamed in 4K and with Dolby Atmos support, sound definitely upgraded through the soundbar. Yet again, the depth of the sound and the overall separation of frequencies play a key role in making it fulfil the fundamental role of a soundbar – that of upgrading your TV’s audio.
The Beam (Gen 2), then, ticks the checkboxes in terms of its sound signature. It is elaborate, warm and deep – all signs of a good speaker. It also looks good, comes in eco-friendly packaging, has a decent app, and is fairly minimalistic and non-fussy. But, this is where it goes a bit like a Mercedes-Benz – where you may spend some time trying to figure out where the gear stalk went.
You see, taking Bluetooth out of the soundbar’s feature set makes it unnecessarily complicated. There’s a bit of Steve Jobs-esque wisdom thrown in here, and not for good measure. Back in the day, Jobs wanted to control Apple’s user experience so closely that he wouldn’t want users to tinker with almost anything about his hardware or software. Sonos somewhat follows that philosophy, which is clear in its omission of Bluetooth from the soundbar.
The thing, though, is that for ₹43,999, it doesn’t make much sense. Users should always be able to choose how they want to stream, especially if they’re paying a hefty premium for an experience that they could get for less. The Polk Audio MagniFi Mini, for around ₹30,000, is a clear example of this – and this is where the eccentricity of indulgence kicks in.
The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is undoubtedly fun, but in the end, it doesn’t give you something that you wouldn’t get elsewhere. If you use it once, you’re most likely going to want to get one, even if it may not be the most prudent choice today. Pretty much like a Mercedes-Benz, after all.
Product specs - Sonos Beam (Gen 2)
Speaker configuration: 4 drivers, 1 tweeter; Amplifiers: 5x Class D
Connectivity: Wi-Fi 5, AirPlay 2, HDMI eARC
Weight: 2.8kg; Smart assistants: Google Assistant, Alexa