Discover the best Sonos soundbar for your room. This guide looks at the Sonos Arc vs Beam (Gen 1) and Beam (Gen 2) and compares the best features of each one.
A Sonos soundbar is a great way to improve the sound that you get from your TV.
You will get a much better experience when you watch movies – plus, you can easily access a wide range of streaming music services.
If you have already decided that a Sonos soundbar is the best choice for you, then the problem you have is picking the right one.
In this article, I will compare two of your main options – the Sonos Arc vs Beam.
With the Sonos Beam Gen 2 released in 2021, I have added this to the comparison so you can quickly see the differences.
Let’s take a look at the most important features for each soundbar so you can make your choice much more quickly.
Table of Contents
Sonos Arc vs Beam Compared
|Sonos Arc||11 Class-D digital amplifiers: 8 full-range woofers + 3 tweeters|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||5 Class-D digital amplifiers: 4 full-range woofers + 1 tweeter + 3 passive radiators|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||5 Class-D digital amplifiers: 4 full-range woofers + 1 tweeter + 3 passive radiators|
The Sonos Arc has the most speakers. It has eleven discrete Class-D digital amplifiers that power eight full-range woofers and three tweeters.
The smaller Beam has just 5 Class-D amplifiers. These power four full-range drivers and a single tweeter. The Beam also has three passive radiators, which add extra bass to the sound.
Note that the Beam (Gen 2) has the same speaker layout as the original. The big difference is that the five drivers in the 2018 Beam speaker were designed as a 3-channel array.
However, the Gen 2 has a 5-channel array so it can reproduce the additional Atmos surround and overhead audio.
While the speaker’s layout doesn’t match precisely a surround sound layout – it can be said that the Arc is a 5.0.2 system, the Beam is a 3.0 speaker system and the Beam (Gen 2) is a 3.0.2 system.
The Arc soundbar has a center, front left, and front right forward-facing speakers (3.0). Then there is a surround speaker on either end (5.0) – and two up-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos (5.0.2).
The Beam is a more straightforward affair with a center, front left, and front right speaker layout (3.0).
As already mentioned, although the Beam (Gen 2) has the same number of speaker drivers as the original, the upgraded array arrangement makes it more like a 3.0.2 speaker system with additional Atmos surround audio.
Crucially, the Dolby Atmos overhead audio in the Beam (Gen 2) is created with psychoacoustic HRTF technology. So, it doesn’t have the physical up-firing speakers like the Arc.
Please take a look at my guide to soundbar surround sound speaker layouts for more information on this.
If you want to add more bass to the sound, you can buy a Sonos Sub and pair it with either the Beam, Beam (Gen 2) or the Arc.
Rear Panel Connections
|Sonos Arc||1x HDMI eARC/ARC, 1 x Optical (with supplied adapter), 1x 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, Power|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||1x HDMI ARC, 1 x Optical (with supplied adapter), 1x 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, Power|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||1x HDMI eARC/ARC, 1 x Optical (with supplied adapter), 1x 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, Power|
All the soundbars have the same rear connections. Although they are laid out differently, there is a connection for the power cable, an Ethernet port, and an HDMI port.
The HDMI connection is for connecting to the HDMI ARC output on your TV – meaning it will send the sound from the TV to your soundbar.
The main difference here is the ARC and the Beam (Gen 2) support HDMI eARC – whereas the original Beam only has ARC.
HDMI eARC can send more data and so can support higher-resolution audio formats like Dolby TrueHD. But, you will need a TV with an eARC HDMI connection to get this working to the full.
If not, all the models will work with any TV with an HDMI ARC connection – it’s just that you won’t get the high-resolution audio formats.
HDMI ARC is the recommended way of connecting the soundbar to your TV.
However, if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI ARC connection, then the supplied adapter will convert HDMI to an optical connector.
Therefore, you can send the sound from your TV via a digital optical output – but still use the HDMI input on the soundbar.
The main downside of this is that you will be limited to fewer audio formats as you won’t get Dolby Digital Plus audio via optical.
|Sonos Arc||Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n – 2.4GHz), Apple AirPlay 2|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g – 2.4GHz), Apple AirPlay 2|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n/ac – 2.4 or 5 GHz), Apple AirPlay 2|
Network connections for the Arc and Beam are the same. This connection is used for networking multiple Sonos wireless speakers around your home – and for streaming audio from online services.
The setup manual recommends that you connect to your Wi-Fi network. This will often be the easiest way for most people.
However, if your Wi-Fi is slow or unreliable, it will usually be better to connect the Ethernet port directly to your router with an Ethernet cable.
I always prefer using cable where possible. I find this to be quicker and more reliable.
However, for some people, a Wi-Fi connection is easier to get up and running.
The main improvement in the Beam (Gen 2) is support for AC wireless and the 5 GHz frequency band.
Supported Home Theater Audio Formats
|Sonos Arc||Dolby Digital Plus (+ Dolby Atmos), Dolby TrueHD (+ Dolby Atmos), Multichannel LPCM, Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo PCM|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo PCM|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||Dolby Digital Plus (+ Dolby Atmos), Dolby TrueHD (+ Dolby Atmos), Multichannel LPCM, Dolby Digital 5.1, Stereo PCM|
The Sonos Arc and Beam (Gen 2) support the broadest range of home theater audio formats.
All the soundbars support stereo PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. And this is all that you will need for many TV shows and streaming services.
However, the Sonos Arc and Beam (Gen 2) will play higher bitrate Dolby Digital Plus audio – and even high-resolution Dolby TrueHD and multichannel LPCM audio.
However, for the high-resolution audio, you will need an eARC connection from your TV.
There is also support for Dolby Atmos soundtracks with Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD audio streams.
Neither the Sonos Arc or Beam support any DTS audio formats.
Top Panel Control Features
|Sonos Arc||Top panel capacitive touch control for volume up/down, previous/next track, play/pause, microphone mute and status LED|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||Top panel capacitive touch control for volume up/down, previous/next track, play/pause, microphone mute and status LED|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||Top panel capacitive touch control for volume up/down, previous/next track, play/pause, microphone mute and status LED|
The Arc, Beam and Beam (Gen 2) have similar top panel control features.
They support swipe, touch, and tap for volume up and down, play/pause, and next/previous.
You can also use Alexa voice control or the Sonos app to perform these functions.
There is also a microphone indicator, which can be used to turn voice control on and off.
Plus, the status light will indicate any issues with the performance of the soundbar.
|Sonos Arc||Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri|
The Arc, Beam (Gen 2) and Beam all offer support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control.
You can use these to play music, set alarms, and answer questions – all without lifting a finger.
Plus, each of the soundbars offers AirPlay 2 support, and so you can also control your Sonos speaker using Siri on your iOS device.
|Sonos Arc||Power cable, HDMI cable, optical audio adapter|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||Power cable, HDMI cable, optical audio adapter|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||Power cable, HDMI cable, optical audio adapter|
The supplied accessories are the same for the Sonos Arc, Beam and Beam (Gen 2).
You will get a power cable for connecting to your mains power supply – plus an HDMI cable and an optical audio adapter.
The optical adapter is for connecting a TV to the soundbar that doesn’t have an HDMI ARC connector – only an optical audio output.
Therefore, everything you need to get going is supplied with the unit.
|Sonos Arc (W x H x D)||45 x 3.4 x 4.5 in (1141.7 x 87 115.7 mm)|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1 – W x H x D)||25.63 x 2.7 x 3.94 in (651 x 68.5 x 100 mm)|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2 – W x H x D)||25.63 x 2.7 x 3.94 in (651 x 68.5 x 100 mm)|
The Arc is larger than the Beam and is much wider, taller, and deeper.
The Beam and Beam (Gen 2) are the same dimensions as each other.
It would be best if you thought about this when you consider where you will install the soundbar.
Do you have enough space on your TV stand? Will the soundbar block the view of the screen?
If so, you might need to consider wall-mounting the soundbar.
In general, the Arc would work better in a larger room and with a big TV. In contrast, the Beam would be best in a room with a smaller TV.
However, there isn’t a hard and fast rule that you can’t use the larger Arc with a small TV. Or pair the smaller Beam with a big TV.
But, the TV sound may work slightly better if the soundbar’s width is similar to the screen width. It will feel more as if the sound matches the location of the action on the screen.
Sonos recommends the Beam models for TVs 49″ and smaller, and the Arc for TVs over 49″. But, you don’t have to stick to that if you don’t want to.
It is less important if you sit further away from the TV as the sound will spread around the room more.
But, the Arc will be able to project the sound better if you are further away as it has more speakers and a more powerful sound.
|Sonos Arc||Sonos Arc wall mount kit: 1/8″ / 3 mm bit drill (wood), 5/16″ / 8 mm bit (drywall (no stud), plaster, concrete or brick)|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1)||Sonos Beam wall mount kit: 1/8″ / 3 mm bit drill (wood), 5/16″ / 8 mm bit (drywall (no stud), plaster, concrete or brick)|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2)||Sonos Beam wall mount kit: 1/8″ / 3 mm bit drill (wood), 5/16″ / 8 mm bit (drywall (no stud), plaster, concrete or brick)|
All the soundbars can be wall-mounted.
It is recommended to use the dedicated wall mount kit that can be purchased separately from Sonos. There is a different kit for the Arc and the Beam/Beam (Gen 2).
However, if you are handy with DIY, you could install a separate shelf and place the soundbar on this instead.
There are also third-party Sonos wall mount kits that can be cheaper.
Most people install soundbars below the TV screen. However, there is nothing to stop you from wall-mounting a soundbar above the TV if that is more convenient.
Just make sure that you can reach the top panel touch controls.
|Sonos Arc (MSRP)||$799|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 1 – MSRP)||$399|
|Sonos Beam (Gen 2 – MSRP)||$449|
As you would expect, because the Sonos Arc is bigger and comes with more features, it is the most expensive model to buy.
The smaller Sonos Beam retails at around half the price of the Arc. So you can save yourself some money if you buy the Beam.
The newer Beam (Gen 2) retails at slightly more than the original 2018 Beam. Although it is around $50 more expensive, it does come with upgraded sound and a more powerful processor.
It’s always best to think carefully about both models’ features before deciding which one to buy. It may be that the smaller Beam offers everything that you want.
Also, always keep an eye on the price around holidays and popular retail events like Black Friday. It is common for Sonos products to be reduced, and you might pick up a bargain.
Which One Should You Buy: Sonos Arc or Beam?
Any of these soundbars will do a great job of improving the sound of your TV.
Sonos soundbars offer good sound, are easy to connect to your TV, and integrate with streaming services and multi-room audio.
The Sonos Arc is a better choice for those with a large TV or who need to fill a big room with sound.
- 11 Class-D Digital Amplifiers
- Supports Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio
- HDMI eARC/ARC and optical connections
- Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11b/g/n – 2.4GHz) and Apple AirPlay 2 network
- Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri voice control
- Works with Sonos Sub and surround speakers
It also supports Dolby Atmos soundtracks and has built-in up-firing Dolby Atmos speakers.
However, if you have a small TV and want a soundbar that is a little more discrete, then the Sonos Beam would probably be a better choice.
- Updated model
- 5 Class-D Digital Amplifiers
- Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus audio
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 65.1 x 6.8 x 10 cm
- Works with Sonos Sub and surround speakers
- Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n/ac – 2.4 or 5 GHz) and Apple AirPlay 2 network
It would also suit a smaller room size – and it’s cheaper, and so might be the best choice if you don’t want to spend too much money.
The new Sonos Beam (Gen 2) has many of the advantages of the original Beam – and does cost slightly more – however you do get a more powerful processor, support for eARC and Dolby Atmos audio and an updated design.
Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want to know more, here are the answers to some common questions regarding the Sonos Beam and Arc soundbars.
What Is the Difference Between the Sonos Arc and Beam Soundbars?
The main difference between the Sonos Arc and Beam soundbars is the size. The Sonos Arc is 45-inches wide and has 11 digital speaker drivers with eight woofers and three tweeters. Whereas the Sonos Beam is 25-inches wide and has 5 digital amplifiers with four woofers and one tweeter.
Which Sonos Soundbar Should I Buy for My TV?
Sonos recommends that the Arc is ideal for TVs above 49-inches, and the Beam is better suited to TVs of 49-inches and below.
What Is the Difference Between the Original Sonos Beam and the Beam (Gen 2) Soundbar?
The main differences are the Beam (Gen 2) has a more powerful processor, an updated design and support for higher resolution Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos audio with an HDMI eARC connection.
Which Sonos Speakers Can I Use as Surrounds?
You can use most of the smaller Sonos wireless speakers as surround speakers with any of the Sonos soundbars – but you must install them as a matching pair. Supported models are Sonos One, Sonos SL, Sonos Five, Play:5 (Gen 2), Play: 3 and Play:1. You can also use the Sonos Amp to power passive speakers from any brand.
Do I Need a TV With eARC to Use the Sonos Arc or Beam (Gen 2)?
No. If you have a TV with an eARC HDMI connection, you can listen to high-resolution Dolby Atmos audio with Dolby Atmos. However, the Arc and Beam (Gen 2) will also work with standard HDMI ARC or even optical audio connections – you just won’t get the high-resolution audio formats.
Is the Dolby Atmos Performance the Same Between the Sonos Arc and Beam (Gen 2)?
No. The Arc will provide a slightly better Dolby Atmos experience because it has two dedicated upfiring speakers built into the soundbar. Alternatively, the Beam (Gen 2) uses psychoacoustic HRTF technology to create a virtual overhead experience.
About Home Cinema Guide
Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.
I love your help on HDMI. Your information is easy to follow, your humor is appreciated. You have me on my way. Thank you again.