Multi-room audio specialist Sonos is back with the Arc, the firm’s first Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar that totally transforms your TV’s sound.
The £799 Arc replaces the old Playbar and Playbase, sitting above the £399 Beam as Sonos’s top-of-the-line home cinema soundbar. It is a single box of tricks that combines a smart speaker, wifi music sound system and home cinema kit in one, but like most soundbars of this type it can be dogged by audio-picture syncing issues when used with TV set top boxes – more on that later.
The Arc looks deceptively simple. It is a sleek, one metre-long cylinder that is surprisingly compact considering there are eight separate woofers, three tweeters and a collection of electronics all hidden behind the matt metal mesh.
Four of the woofers face you directly through the front of the Arc. There’s one in each end and two more that fire upwards to generate the height elements required for Dolby Atmos. One tweeter fires straight out from the centre of the Arc, while the other two fire out at a left and right angle.
The soundbar sits on a piece of furniture in front of your TV or can be wall-mounted with a bracket, and requires just two cables that plug into an alcove in the back – one for power and one to connect to the TV – for a minimalist look.
On the top you have an LED light to show when the soundbar is on and to show when it is listening to you for its built-in (but entirely optional) Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa smart speaker functionality. Behind that are three touch-sensitive buttons common to all Sonos speakers.
Dimensions: 8.7 x 114.2 x 11.6cm
Speakers: Eight elliptical woofers, three silk-dome tweeters
Connectivity: wifi b/g, HDMI (ARC/eARC), Optical (via adapter), Ethernet, IR, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect
Software: Sonos S2
CPU: Quad-core 1.4GHz A-53
Setup and operation
Setting up the Arc is simple. Position it in front of your TV. Plug in the standard figure-eight power cord and the HDMI cable, which slots into the HDMI port on the back of your TV labelled ARC or eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel). Open the Sonos app on your Android or iOS device and follow the instructions. The process takes under five minutes.
You can perform True Play tuning, waving an iPhone or iPad about your room listening to what sounds like loud alien blasters. The Sonos app listens to the sound to optimise the Arc for your particular room. Sadly the feature isn’t available for Android devices because of the variances in microphone quality.
Using the Arc is just as simple. Watch your TV as you normally would and the Arc will switch on and play sound. You can control the volume with your TV’s remote, using a voice assistant or the Sonos app.
If you want to play music instead you simply pick what you want from the Sonos app, which supports practically every music service under the sun including Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music, or use Apple’s AirPlay or Spotify Connect. The Arc can be grouped with other Sonos speakers for multi-room music. It can also be linked to a pair of surround speakers (from £179 each) and a sub (£699) making it a very adaptable solution.
TV and movies
The Arc is the first Sonos speaker to support the latest Dolby Atmos surround sound format, but it also supports Dolby Digital and plain old stereo too. Dolby Atmos adds a height element for an improved surround sound experience so that when a helicopter flies overhead on screen it really sounds like it’s above you, rather than in front or to the sides.
The effect can be truly dramatic. Watching an action blockbuster mixed in Dolby Atmos, such as 6 Underground with Michael Bay’s signature grandstand moments (where the camera pans around a central character), it sounds like you’re right in the middle of it all as bits and carnage fly over the top of you. But Atmos is also available with a wide range of content, from football to nature documentaries all with a more immersive sound.
Compared to other one-box soundbars, the Arc did a very impressive job of creating a wide and enveloping sound stage from just one box. In one scene from Netflix’s Our Planet it sounded like I was right in the middle of a flock of birds. It really isn’t that far off a dedicated 7-speaker surround setup and is a significant step up from the Beam. Its Atmos height production was effective and its bass was shockingly good for a soundbar that lacks a separate sub. I’m not sure many will feel the need to add more speakers.
General stereo TV sound was great. Everything from old reruns of Midsomer Murders and NCIS to Match of the Day sounded exactly as it should: clear, crisp and full. The Arc’s dialogue clarity was truly top notch coming across sounding natural and clear at all times. Not once did I have to turn up the sound to hear what was going on, and that was without the Arc’s dedicated Speech Enhancement mode.
There’s a Night Sound mode too, which reduces the difference between quiet and loud sounds – useful for hearing what’s going on when listening at lower volumes.
Because the Arc relies on your TV to pass audio to it via an HDMI cable, what you get out at the end depends on the capabilities of your television. A small minority of very new TVs may support eARC (my 2018 LG OLED did not), which can provide the highest quality Dolby TrueHD sound track with an added Atmos layer from 4K Blu-ray discs. Most TVs will support the older ARC on at least one HDMI port, which is limited to the compressed Dolby Digital+ with the added Atmos layer that is used by most streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney+.
Using ARC rather than HDMI pass-through, as home cinema receivers do, means the Arc suffers from the same problem plaguing all soundbars that connect this way: lipsync issues, where the sound and picture are out of sync. Once noticed, lipsync issues are thoroughly vexing and difficult to solve, despite most devices having a way to delay the audio to try to compensate.
Typically it is an issue when using external devices connected to your TV, rather than the apps and services integrated into your TV, and very common with Sky Q, Virgin and other TV set-top boxes in the UK. In my testing, none of the audio adjustments of the LG TV, Sky Q or Arc could solve the problem because the sound came after the picture, not before. It is such a common problem with ARC-based soundbars there is a cottage industry built around it from bizarre sets of configuration steps to a vast array of HDMI gadgets.
The newer eARC standard is meant to remove problems like this, but so too was ARC when it was first released as a replacement for optical connections.
Most soundbars do a good job of reproducing TV and movie audio, but fall down on music. The Arc is simply fantastic as a music speaker, sounding far better than any other soundbar I have tested, including the Beam, and many dedicated music systems.
Music is rich, full-bodied and highly detailed. Crisp highs meet warm and inviting mids, backed by a surprising amount of full and well-controlled bass. Only in some tracks with super-deep artificial bass lines, such as Lindsey Stirling’s Crystallize, would you even know there wasn’t a big sub hiding somewhere.
The Arc has top-notch vocal clarity and excellent separation of tones, instruments and vocals. Play The Who’s Baba O’Riley and you’ll be able to make out every overlapping note or hear fingers on drum skins and guitar strings in the live version Hotel California by the Eagles.
The soundbar handled most music genres with aplomb, only sounding a tad flat with orchestral music such as Holst’s Jupiter, if I was being super critical.
The Sonos Arc is generally repairable, but for devices that need significant maintenance the firm typically replaces speakers with new or refurbished products to speed up the return.
Sonos offers a trade-in programme offering 30% off new products for old devices. For products launched in 2020 onwards the packaging is made from 98% paper or reusable material, with the paper being 83% post-consumer recycled material. Sonos did not comment on whether the Arc contains recycled material.
The company publishes annual responsibility reports documenting progress on sustainability and impact across design, manufacturing and other key tenets. It also conducts local carbon offsetting at manufacturing sites and supports music education through its Soundwaves initiative.
If your TV remote is set to control the sound via HDMI control rather than infrared it won’t work when playing music on the Arc.
The Arc must be plugged into the ARC-capable HDMI port on your TV, which reduces the number of HDMI ports available for actually plugging in set-top boxes, games consoles and other sources.
The smart speaker functionality works as well as an Amazon Echo or Google Home device.
The Sonos Arc is available in black or white costing £799.
For comparison, the Sonos Beam costs £399, Sonos Sub costs £699, a Sonos One costs £199, the One SL costs £179 or the Five costs £499. The Bose Soundbar 700 costs £799.95 and the Samsung Q800T costs £799.
The Sonos Arc is a big, sleek, premium soundbar that sounds every bit as good as you’d expect from a £799 speaker.
It looks the part. Despite being about the length of a 55in TV, it is neither thick nor tall which makes it easier to position on the wall or on a TV stand. It is simple to set up and use, can be combined with other Sonos speakers and has extensive music service support.
Regular TV sounds good, with super clear vocals, but feed it a Dolby Atmos soundtrack and be rewarded with truly immersive, fully-rendered sounds with surprisingly good height elements. It really comes into its own with music, though, completely blowing away competitors. It simply sounds fantastic.
Using ARC makes it simple to connect but invites the same infuriating lipsync issues that can plague other soundbars, particularly with TV services such as Sky and Virgin in the UK.
It might be pricey and long, but the Arc is just about the best-sounding soundbar you can get. Just maybe think twice if you have Sky.
Pros: sounds fantastic with music, great Dolby Atmos reproduction, super-clear vocals, Night Sound, wide soundstage, looks good, Alexa or Google Assistant, extensive music service support, simple set-up, surprisingly good bass without a sub
Cons: expensive, ARC/eARC rather than HDMI pass-through, takes up a port on your TV, can have lipsync issues like any soundbar
Sonos Beam review: a great, compact, jack-of-all-trades upgrade for your TV
Ikea Symfonisk review: table lamp is also a great-sounding Sonos wifi speaker