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I wish every TV would come with a soundbar. Unfortunately, audio is not a priority for TV manufacturers. Instead, they produce ever-larger displays with stunning colors and equipped with more pixels than the human eye can see, but in general, all those TVs sound terrible. The Arc (Check on Amazon) is Sonos’s first foray into the world of Dolby Atmos soundbars and 3D audio and is being launched long after most other competitors have released similar products. Sonos is known for producing TV speakers with clear sound and the ability to function as smart devices as well. Sonos began producing home cinema devices seven years ago with the introduction of the PlayBar (Check on Amazon). After that, the company entered the field of surround sound giving us the ability to combine its satellite speakers with its soundbars for a “true” 5.1 surround system. But home cinema technology continued to evolve with the arrival of Dolby Atmos and its 3D audio.
Sonos’s previous device, the fantastic Beam (Check on Amazon) is still today a great soundbar and it only lacks support for Dolby Atmos. However, at its price range, soundbars with Dolby Atmos support show somewhat limited capabilities. That’s why the Beam still ranks at the top of our list of best soundbars and is definitely the best soundbar for less than $400.
Even so, there was a clear void in Sonos’s range, and this is where the Arc comes into the picture; with an even bigger soundstage, more raw power and with support for 3D sound, that is all the rage these days.
Sonos Arc supports the latest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio codecs to deliver the best audio quality available on Blu-ray discs and some of the major streaming services. It also improves the 3D soundstage by using Dolby Atmos tracks to bounce certain sounds of the walls and ceiling so that they seem coming out from all angles.
While all this might seem somewhat complicated, setting up the Sonos Arc couldn’t be simpler, you’ll just have to follow the steps on your smartphone app.
If you have a medium-sized rectangular room with 4 walls and a not-too-high ceiling, the Sonos Arc is really all you need for outstanding surround sound.
Sonos Arc – Design
The installation is simple and straightforward: place the soundbar, plug it into the wall, connect it to the TV and the internet (via ethernet or Wi-Fi), follow the instructions in the app, and tune it using TruePlay. This last part is optional, but is highly recommended since it helps the Arc recreate surround sound as best as possible, and it only takes a couple of minutes (literally)… unfortunately, this is a feature available only to iOS users since Sonos can predict what kind of microphone each Apple device has. Fortunately, you can always borrow an iOS device to perform the calibration.
Unlike the Sonos Beam which is small enough to easily fit under a TV measuring from 32 to 43 inches, the Sonos Arc is designed for larger TVs. Measuring 45 inches in length it has a similar width to a 55-inch TV.
Thankfully its curvy design helps disguise its massive size and makes it look slender. On the other hand, its height of 3.4 inches is not negligible. It’s unlikely to be so high as to cover the TV image, but it could block the remote’s signal if it weren’t for the built-in IR repeater, which is enabled by default and worked perfectly during our tests.
In terms of appearance, it’s beautiful but functional. The Sonos Beam is more stylish, thanks to its fabric cover. The Arc is instead a large cylinder, finished in hard plastic filled with holes (76,000 holes!). That said, plastic is definitely easier to dust off…
The Arc was designed to be placed on the TV cabinet, but you can also mount it on the wall using the appropriate Sonos wall mount. Of course, the bass response is better when they are amplified by the cabinet’s surface.
Sonos Arc – Features
Sonos Arc’s Dolby Atmos sound is generated by 11 Class D digital amplifiers that power 11 speakers. Eight of these are elliptical woofers (slightly better than those we find on the Beam), four along the front panel, two on the top and one on each side panel), while the other three are silk dome tweeters, one pointing towards the front while the final two point diagonally towards each side of the room.
Sonos calls this arrangement 5.0.2: the 11 speakers try to replicate the soundstage of a five-channel surround sound system (left, left surround, center, right surround, right), without a subwoofer and two channels bouncing the sound of the ceiling thus giving the sense of height that is so distinctive of Dolby Atmos sound.
The Arc can be turned into a 5.1.2 system with the addition of a Sonos Sub (Check on Amazon), while other Sonos devices can be used as dedicated surround speakers. Sonos recommends the use of two One SL speakers (Check on Amazon).
The Arc doesn’t have a remote control – you’ll have to use the app or voice controls. It can also communicate with the TV using HDMI-CEC. This means that the Arc will turn on automatically every time you turn on the TV. It also means that you can control the volume using the TV’s remote control and turn on the TV using voice commands.
The Arc has Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built in, thus if this is your only speaker you won’t miss any smart features.
Finally, the Arc is also equipped for multi-room streaming but there’s no Bluetooth connectivity, though.
The first curious decision here is that the Arc doesn’t support multi-channel LPCM audio – according to Sonos, there will be a firmware update to add that feature in the future. This is not a huge deal for most users, but if you’re a gamer, and you own a Nintendo Switch, this is huge, since LPCM is the only type of multi-channel audio supported by the Switch. Microsoft’s Xbox, on the other hand, supports Dolby Atmos, but not all of its games do (in fact, many still use LPCM audio). Sony’s PlayStation 4 also supports Atmos, but only on Blu-ray discs, and even so, Arc’s second “mistake” (keep reading) could make Atmos functionality impossible both on Xbox and PlayStation consoles.
The second curious decision is that the Arc comes equipped with only one HDMI port! Although this port supports both ARC (Audio Return Channel) and eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel, which offers greater bandwidth so that it can handle Dolby Atmos signals coming from the TV), its functionality depends a lot on the TV you have. If you own a very recent model, that also supports eARC, you have nothing to worry about. You can connect any device that supports Dolby Atmos (a Blu-ray player, game console, Apple TV 4K or Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K) to one of your TV’s HDMI ports and the Sonos Arc to your TV’s HDMI eARC port.
In addition, since your smart TV is a recent model, it’s very likely that built-in apps (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, and Apple TV, to name a few) directly support Dolby Atmos, without the need of a separate TV-box. Either way, the TV will send all audio information, including Dolby Atmos, to the soundbar via the HDMI eARC port and everything will work as it should.
It is important to note that HDMI eARC is not essential for Dolby Atmos transmission. Atmos information travel using the Dolby Digital+ or Dolby True HD format. A standard HDMI ARC connection can handle the former but not the latter. Currently, all streaming services use Dolby Digital+ for their Atmos soundtracks, so an HDMI ARC connection is more than capable to handle that. HDMI eARC, on the other hand, is paramount in order to transmit Atmos sound from an external source – a 4K Blu-ray player for example – to the soundbar via the TV. This is because most 4K Blu-ray discs use the Dolby True HD format which only works on eARC (due to its larger bandwidth).
The first TVs with an HDMI eARC port were launched in 2018. To get around this limitation, Sonos should have followed the example of other soundbar manufacturers and equipped the Arc with two HDMI ports. So even if your TV didn’t have an HDMI eARC port you could connect the soundbar to the standard HDMI ARC port and your Blu-ray player/game console/TV-box, directly to the second HDMI port on the Sonos Arc (without having to use the second HDMI port of your TV as a pass-through). This is how the Samsung HW-Q90R, our favorite premium soundbar, works.
Sonos Arc – Sound
The Sonos Arc promises surround sound from a single soundbar: this is usually an exaggerated promise [the Sennheiser Ambeo is the only soundbar that really succeeds in doing so but costs three times more], and even the Arc does not manage to maintain it.
But it gets close enough: what you get from the Arc is more like a cascade of sounds. The sound doesn’t seem to come from the bar; instead, it fills the space around the listener, from wall to wall and up to the ceiling.
If you spent a lot of money to get one of the best TVs 55 inches up, this soundbar is the ideal pairing, because its sound is just as expressive as the screen so that audio and graphics feel really connected and on the same level.
If you’re hoping for a cinema-like surround experience, you’ll be a little disappointed. The Sonos Arc alone fails to give you the feeling that something hovers directly above your head or is really behind you – for a true surround experience you will have to add a pair of Sonos One SL that will act as rear speakers.
But it manages to faithfully reproduce spatial movements: you’ll be able to hear something falling from above, follow its trajectory, and feel it hit the ground – the device’s bass help a lot here. And the same goes for something that moves from side to side.
It also managed to surprise us with small spatial details: in a scene where the protagonist walks through a crowd, we could distinguish between a voice of a person talking in front of us and a scream that came from behind. It couldn’t convey that the person screaming was directly behind us but it made us realize that the scream came from somewhere not in front of us thus creating some sort of 3D sound.
Another example was in a scene where there were waves crashing on the beach. The sound filled the whole space in front of us, but we could also hear the noise of that same wave crashing first to the left and then to the right of the screen, following the motion of the wave, though we could not see it on the screen.
For the rest, the dialogues are heard clearly and distinctly from the soundtrack and the bass is more than enough during action scenes – the only thing this soundbar could not reproduce, is that ambient rumble that only a dedicated subwoofer can offer. Rewatching the scene from before with the waves with the addition of a dedicated sub, the waves this time felt much more menacing.
Last but not least, music on the Arc sounds amazing. Our only complaint is that the sound is not projected towards the listener as much as we would expect. This probably has to do with the fact that the Arc is first and foremost a TV soundbar and thus favors film soundtracks that come embedded with such three-dimensionality.
Sonos Arc – Verdict
If we were judging this soundbar on audio quality alone, the Arc would have received a perfect score. The sound is engaging and dynamic and is a huge step up from what most other soundbars can offer.
We already mentioned its limitations in terms of surround sound capabilities, but the sound it produces is so rich and layered that we don’t mind them at all. All in all this soundbar offers one of the most immersive Dolby Atmos experiences and only the Sennheiser Ambeo is better in that regard, but it also costs almost three times as much.
In addition the Arc is more than a soundbar. It is also a voice-controlled wireless speaker with access to virtually all music streaming services and which can be combined with other Sonos speakers to create a more complete surround sound system or a multi-room system.
However, we tried it with a next-generation TV with an HDMI eARC port. For those of you who don’t have one, the presence of a single HDMI port on the Arc is a huge dealbreaker, and one that shouldn’t exist on a soundbar that costs (Check on Amazon).
Compared to other soundbars
In terms of competition, we have already mentioned the Sennheiser Ambeo as a more expensive and better premium option.
If you’re looking for a true Dolby Atmos experience, the Samsung HW-Q90R (Check on Amazon) comes equipped with two HDMI ports, a subwoofer and two rear speakers (for a 7.1.4 configuration). It costs a whole lot more than the Arc, though.
If you are looking for the Atmos soundbar with the best value for money, look no further than the fantastic Vizio SB36512-F6 (Check on Amazon). It costs less than the Arc and offers a second HDMI port and a subwoofer.
Finally, let’s not forget the Sonos Beam (Check on Amazon). If the price of the Arc is prohibitive for you, this simple stereo soundbar offers the same Sonos’s features and is a giant leap forward compared to a TV’s integrated speakers (especially for dialogue).