Review: The Sonos Beam is a major upgrade to your TV’s sound (and brains)

People buy soundbars for convenience.

There are almost always ‘better’ options for the price. For sound quality, you could buy a pair of bookshelf speakers. For surround sound, there are cheap 3.1 or 5.1 systems. But soundbars let you do it all – or almost all from one convenient unit.

The Sonos Beam isn’t the company’s best speaker, but it’s almost certainly its most versatile. At $400, the Beam is an easy way to upgrade your TV’s sound, while enabling some smart TV functionality via Amazon Alexa you never knew you wanted.

It’s a rare combination. Smart speakers continue to become more popular, but high-quality options are still few and far between – let alone ones you can easily hook up to your TV. Sonos claims most smart speakers are designed for the kitchen, when the living room is the heart of your home.

Enter the Beam. It’s priced significantly lower than the company’s existing TV options, the Playbar and Playbase. Those both cost $699, but neither includes voice control. You could just get a Sonos One for that functionality, but you wouldn’t be able to use it to control your TV. The Beam does it all.

It’s super easy to set up too. It uses a single HDMI port for both audio and controlling your TV. That should work with most modern screens, but an optical audio adapter is included for everyone else. I just wish it had an HDMI port for passthrough, as connecting the Beam meant sacrificing an HDMI port for one of my gaming consoles.

That caveat aside, it took me less than five minutes to get it all running, as my Android TV detected the Beam’s capabilities automatically.

As far as I can tell, the only commands that work on my TV are variants of “Alexa, turn on/off my TV” and “Alexa, turn up/down the volume.” But frankly, that’s enough. The voice commands are a wonderful convenience to have if I’m in a hurry to leave home, am in the middle of cooking, or am too lazy to get up and find the remote (or launch the TV app on my phone). It goes much further if you have an Amazon Fire TV – you can control and launch pretty much any app – but I didn’t have such a system to try during my review period.

Not surprisingly, the Beam sounds pretty great too, though not quite at the level of the Playbar or Playbase. The soundstage is wider and the bass reaches lower on both of those models, especially the Playbase, but they’re both significantly larger and more expensive. For its part, Sonos recommends the Beam for small and medium-sizes rooms, where these disadvantages are minimized.