Sonos on Wednesday unveiled the Sonos Arc, its latest premium soundbar for the living room. The new device will replace the aging Playbar soundbar, which launched in 2013, and serve as a higher-end alternative to the smaller Beam soundbar it released in 2018. It will also bump out the Playbase sound system the company introduced in 2017.
The device costs $799, which is $100 more than the Playbar’s starting price. It’s up for pre-order today and will start shipping on June 10.
An Atmos upgrade
The Arc sports a more rounded design than that of the Playbar, with a 270-degree curve around the top. It measures 45 inches in length, which is about 10 inches wider than before, and it’s fairly hefty, at 13.8 pounds. It has the relatively clean and minimalist aesthetic that most Sonos devices go for, but something this large will be best suited for larger TVs and home theater setups. The Beam, by comparison, checks in at 25.6 inches and will still make more sense for smaller areas.
The headline feature here is support for Dolby’s Atmos surround sound technology, a feature many Sonos users have long requested from the company. The Arc comes with 11 digital amplifiers, two of which are upward-firing to create the “around-the-head” sound that tends to give Atmos systems a more immersive effect than traditional surround sound.
Like most Atmos-ready soundbars, the Arc on its own likely won’t create the accuracy or sense of height as a full-on sound system with downward-firing speakers installed in your ceiling. You’ll also need to make sure you use streaming hardware and services that are compatible with Atmos in the first place. But with a growing number of streaming boxes and apps supporting the tech, it’d be tough to justify an $800 soundbar that isn’t Atmos-compatible, and the effect should make a difference. Sonos says its updated companion app will have a feature that lets you know when you’re actually taking advantage of Atmos content. Besides Atmos, the Arc supports Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus, and PCM stereo audio.
The Arc contains eight woofers and three tweeters. The Playbar, by comparison, has six midwoofers and three tweeters. Sonos is indeed pushing this as a step-up in multi-directional sound quality even when Atmos isn’t in use, with a wider soundstage and deeper bass response. There’s no DTS or multichannel PCM support to go along with Atmos, but Sonos says the Arc will use its upward-firing drivers to focus more on improving low-end frequencies when they’re not being used for added height.
In general, Sonos refers to the Arc as a 5.0.2 arrangement—with five horizontal surround channels (left, center, right, left surround and right surround) and the two height channels for Atmos content—that converts to 5.0 sound when Atmos isn’t in use. Prior Sonos soundbars are 3.0, but like those, you can pair the Arc with Sonos One or One SL speakers as dedicated surrounds and a Sonos Sub as a subwoofer. When it’s paired with a Sub, the Arc will offload the bass responsibilities completely and focus on highs and midrange response. It can also utilize the company’s TruePlay calibration software, which lets it adjust its sound to the acoustics of the room in which it’s placed, though that feature is still limited to iOS. There’ll be options to adjust the Arc’s EQ in the Sonos app, too, with the ability to boost speech or use a “Night Sound” mode that reduces the intensity of louder sound effects.
The rest of the Arc is about what you’d expect given the trends Sonos has gravitated toward in recent years. It comes with support for both Alexa and the Google Assistant; you can still only use one digital assistant at a time, but either way you’ll be able to turn on the device and control playback through voice commands. Sonos says the Arc has a four far-field mic array to help pick up your voice. There’s a set of touch controls on the top of the soundbar alongside LEDs to indicate when the mics and speakers are muted. There’s still no Bluetooth audio support, but the device does work with Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol for beaming audio directly from an iPhone or iPad, and it can still link with a bevy of streaming services through the Sonos app. The device can also be wall-mounted, and Sonos will sell a mount designed for the Arc for $79.
The port selection remains extremely minimal: there’s one HDMI eARC port, an Ethernet port, and that’s it. There’s no HDMI passthrough. You can sync your TV remote with the Arc to control playback or use the Sonos app, but there’s no dedicated remote in the box. Having the one ARC port should simplify the Arc’s setup process—there’s an optical adapter packed in if your TV doesn’t support ARC, but you lose full Atmos support as a result—but simplicity, and using other Sonos devices to expand your sound system, is the name of the game here, even if it means that you’ll need a newer TV to take full advantage of the Atmos support.
We haven’t gotten a chance to listen to the Arc yet, but at first blush this appears to fit right in with other Sonos products: pricey and relatively inflexible as a piece of hardware, but good-looking, seemingly simple to operate, and aided by software. Whether it’s worthwhile as a standalone soundbar compared to other systems on the market will likely depend on how much the benefits of the Sonos ecosystem appeal to you.
A new Sonos Five, Sonos Sub, and Sonos app
Besides the Arc, Sonos is making a couple more minor updates to its Play:5 home speaker and Sub subwoofer. The former has been rebranded as the Sonos Five, bringing it more in line with the naming convention that started with the Sonos One. Sonos says it now comes with increased memory and an improved processor. It will also be available in a new all-white finish. Otherwise, though, it has the exact same hardware and audio quality of the most recent Play:5, with no voice assistants built-in. It’ll cost the same $499 and start shipping on June 10.
Along those lines, there’s a new third-generation Sonos Sub, which has gotten a similar boost to memory and processing power but otherwise is identical to the previous model. It’ll still be priced at $699 and become widely available on June 10 as well.
The updated internals here are meant to make these devices better-equipped for future software updates, and to that end, Sonos has confirmed that its new “S2” companion app will be available to download on June 8. The company detailed this change earlier in the year, but in short, this is a software upgrade meant to facilitate higher-resolution audio—starting with Atmos support on the Arc—and a variety of UI changes. It may be a minute until we see every new feature Sonos has in mind, but to start, the app will have a “saved room groups” feature that lets you stream audio to specific groups of speakers you’ve demarcated within the app. So if you wanted to play music specifically to your “Living Room” speakers and “Office” speakers simultaneously, you can.
As previously announced, the upgraded app won’t be available for the first-gen Play:5, original Zone Players, Bridge, CR200, and Connect or Connect:Amp players made between 2011 and 2015. Those devices will no longer receive software feature updates, but Sonos says it’ll still send them security patches and bug fixes “for as long as possible.” The devices announced today will only run on the S2 app, which will just be called “Sonos,” while the older app will be called the “Sonos S1 Controller.” Sonos is encouraging those with phased-out devices mixed into their system to upgrade to newer models through its “Trade Up” program, which grants a 30 percent discount on new hardware. But the change is likely to make things messy for those who are still content with their older systems.