Newer isn’t always better, except when it is. Sonos’ Arc soundbar is the Californian brand’s latest offering, touting features that include immersive 3D sound, seamless wireless connectivity and custom-tuned drivers. It’s all music to any home entertainment aficionado’s ears. But any discerning buyer will want to challenge a litany of impressive specs to find out exactly what he’s going to get.
An increase in size is the most obvious difference between the Arc and the Playbar; the former comes in at about 20 centimetres wider. Amazingly, Sonos has managed to reduce the depth measurement of the Arc by around 18 per cent. At 11.5 millimetres, placement on most TV consoles is not an issue. For those who prefer a floating setup, the slimness of the Arc is definitely a welcome feature.
Dimensions are only one aspect of the improvements the Arc has over the Playbar. The Arc comes with 11 custom-tuned drivers over the Playbar’s nine, comprising three tweeters and eight elliptical woofers. The elliptical shape of these woofers keeps the soundbar design short while theoretically delivering better audio coverage with decreased distortion. This is true with the Arc: bass notes boom without flubbing out, while treble frequencies ring hiss-free. Simply put, the Arc offers up a similar flavour as that of the Playbar, but with more on the plate.
The appeal of soundbars has always been that of convenience, compressing the need for independent devices into one self-contained product. In today’s audio landscape, less is indeed more. The Arc also makes use of the Audio Return Channel found on many modern televisions for a simple setup without the hassle of an additional remote or optical audio cables. It allows room for expansion too – the Arc links up with other Sonos speakers like the Sub and One for a more complete wireless 5:1 setup. But then again, you don’t really need much more when you have the Arc.
The Arc supports its hardware profile with an impressive suite of digital enhancements. Of note is Sonos’ Trueplay software, which automatically optimises the driver system for its environment. The companion Sonos app, on the other hand, offers speech enhancement, night listening and EQ adjustments to fine-tune the listening experience. A far-field microphone array also improves the usability of the Arc’s voice assistant function through advanced beamforming as well as multi-channel echo cancellation.
Finding the right fit
The most daunting aspect of the Sonos Arc could well be finding a room “worthy” of it. Having it set up, there is no mistaking what it is: a mondo soundbar. While the soundstage is impressively well-balanced and even, mounting the Soundbar in a smaller room creates an overall frequency response that veers a little bit towards the low end, which favours effects like explosions over speech. Even with Trueplay, the Arc may be too much for conservatively-sized living rooms and dens. In this department, the older Playbar actually has the advantage.
In the right environment, however, the Arc truly shines. Phased-array channels combine with Dolby Atmos to create a multi-dimensional soundstage for a consistent and accurate listening experience. Cheaper soundbars tend to mask their shortcomings behind a wall of sound that offers little to nothing in terms of dynamics. The Arc is more akin to a silk curtain, free-flowing and sympathetic to volume and complexity.
Be it action-packed blockbusters or serene orchestral music, the Sonos Arc delivers a spectacular performance that is both nuanced and powerful.