Sonos Arc

Sonos Arc

When I was younger I looked at audio equipment with a bachelor's eyes.  Bigger was better.  I wanted a high-tech aesthetic that announced my love of high-quality sound even when the system was turned off.  Then I got married, and my wife referred to my massive speakers as coffins.  Much blood was spilt on the battlefield of whether my Infinity's would get downsized, and while I still have my towers, it is safe to say that no new audio tech gets into our apartment unless it passes my wife's visual muster.

Her preferences are clear, audio should be heard, not seen.  For instance, she would not consider most of the soundbars on the market because as she puts it, "I am not going to add a black piece of plastic into my living room."

I suspect many of you are in this same boat, and for you I bring an excellent answer:  The Sonos Arc, a soundbar that comes in black or white!  I know, you're not particularly concerned with the color of your speaker, but for the sake of peace in the family, this small concession to fashion might really up the quality of your AV setup.  The ARC will not only mollify your spouse's tech resistance, it really sounds great.

The "ARC" in ARC Sonos refers to the "audio return channel" that you may or may not have on your TV set.  The newer and more high end your TV is, the more likely you'll have one on your set, but check, because while the Sonos will work with any TV with a HDMI port, to get the full benefit of its rich feature set you must have ARC, preferably the enhanced version, eARC.

The Sonos only has one input port.  There are no auxiliary inputs, for instance, no RCA jacks or coaxial connectors.  You just plug in the HDMI cable from the ARC on your TV, plug in the power cable and you're in business.  You can also use a supplied optical adapter, but at the cost of losing the vast majority of spatial sound features that really make this product sing.

I cut my teeth on complicated audio setups.  My listening room was always a serpentine mess of twisting, tangled cables.   And, while I'm not quite ready to get rid of all of my components quite yet, the Sonos Arc certainly takes me one step closer to a AV simplicity.  Just one audio cable and a power cord.  Amazing.  The approach puts most of the control of the device in the hands of your TV.   I was resistant to the idea at first, but have come to see how streamlined this makes the viewing experience. 

Which is not to say that there are no controls.  For one thing, you can command the ARC by voice using Alexa or Google Assistant (Siri is not supported.)  You can raise or lower the volume, even mute the speaker with a spoken direction.  (There is also a button that will turn off the excellent field array microphones built into the system if you don't want the speaker to hear you.) I tested the soundbar with Alexa and found that, unlike many 3rd party implementations, it worked as well as Amazon's first party devices when it came to voice recognition.

Sound is generated by an array eleven forward, side, and up-firing speakers.  This, plus the natural width of the soundbar, accounts for a large soundstage that belies its relative small size (relative to my large main speakers, anyway).  Connected to an ARC or eARC TV and it generates sound that seems to come from all sides (and the ceiling, too) if you have the right Dolby Atmos encoded material.  (Note: do make sure your TV supports ARC or eARC before rushing out to buy this speaker.  Though it works well as a "normal" soundbar, an awfully lot of what you're paying for here is related to its ability to play Atmos and 5.1 sound, neither of which is supported when using the optical cable.)

The ARC soundbar can also be supplemented with optional speakers.  You can include a subwoofer to improve the bass response and give the rumble effects from movies.  Alternatively, or in conjunction, you can add side speakers from Sonos to improve the three-dimensionality of the sound. 

Skeptical as I was about the ability of this long slim speaker to generate theater sized sound in my average sized listening room, I was impressed.  Even at relatively high volume, the speaker did not become muddy, the dialog remained clear. 

So, yes, Sonos delivered on the promise of excellent sound in a single device.  But, the system is much more than a soundbar, because it is part of the Sonos, Alexa, and Google echosystems.  This means I can control it through the Sonos S2 app or voice, and it gives the speaker access to many of my subscription services, and my personal music collection.  For instance, after connecting Qobuz Studio Premier account through the S2 app, I was able to stream tracks up to 24-bit/48 kHz Hi-Res FLAC from Qobuz. Tracks with a sampling rate above 48 kHz are served up as 16-bit/44.1 kHz FLAC (CD lossless quality).

There you have it: The Sonos is stylish enough for our living room, sounds great with movies and TV, and as an added bonus, gives me direct connection to my favorite streaming services and my collection of digital downloads.  If your experience with soundbars has been less than optimal, prepare to be surprised by the very satisfying sound quality of the Sonos ARC.