Superbly composed and balanced sound but the Arc is hamstrung by its lack of inputs
- Great sound quality
- Easy to use and set up
- Google Assistant and Alexa support
- Slightly bright sound
- Only one HDMI connection
The Sonos Arc is a brilliant standalone soundbar. There’s no need to read much further if you don’t want to. If you’re looking to spend around £799 on a standalone bar, there is none that sounds better than this for the money.
It is just as easy to use – and as flexible – as any other Sonos speaker, it supports Dolby Atmos, and it can be turned into a full surround sound system by adding a Sonos Sub and rear channel speakers. What more could you want?
Sonos Arc review: What you need to know
Well, maybe a tiny, weeny bit more. Because the Sonos Arc does have one weakness. Despite having had seven years to work on this since the introduction of its predecessor, the Play Bar, Sonos seems to have forgotten to include the inputs.
The Sonos Arc has only one HDMI port tucked away in a cubby hole on the rear. It’s eARC-enabled (audio return channel), which means it can receive the best quality, uncompressed Dolby TrueHD and Atmos audio signals from your TV.
The trouble is, many older TVs don’t support eARC and, if you haven’t bought yours recently, you’re only going to be able to enjoy Atmos via compressed Dolby Digital Plus streams.
Still, once you’ve laid ears on the Sonos’ sophisticated audio wiles, you may not care anyway, as it sounds great with pretty much every type of audio.
Sonos Arc review: Price and competition
At £700, there’s no shortage of competition for the Sonos Arc, and most of our favourite alternatives have considerably more than just one input.
In this price bracket, our current pick is the Samsung HW-Q80R, which is an incredibly accomplished home theatre product. It comes with a wireless subwoofer, supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and it sounds sublime.
Further down the price scale, you have the Samsung HW-Q70R, which is similar to the HW-Q80R, lacks side-firing drivers but is cheaper at around £524.
Another of our favourites is the Vizio SB36512-F6E 36in Soundbar, a compact soundbar with Atmos support, a wireless subwoofer and rear satellite speakers included in the box for a stunning £590. We’re also fans of the LG SL8YG, another bar that supports both Atmos and DTS:X, has upwards-firing drivers and can be expanded with wireless rear speakers for a total spend of around £630.
Even budget Dolby Atmos soundbars like the Sharp HT-SBW460 (£299) offer a more flexible feature set than the Sonos Arc, with this one offering two HDMI inputs and an HDMI ARC-enabled output plus optical and USB support. The Sharp is no match for the Sonos Arc in the audio quality department, though.
Sonos Arc review: Design and features
The Arc is one of the nicest looking soundbars we’ve had the opportunity to test, although that’s not too hard when most bars are blocky, angular and bland in appearance.
Its curved grille – which sweeps up and around the front of the bar – and flat sides make for an imposing look, and although it’s quite tall, it’s just the right height to place in front of most TVs without blocking the screen. Thanks to an infrared repeater, it won’t get in the way of your TV remote control, either.
It’s available in white or black and the only visible concessions to practicality are the small white LED dead centre (which can be turned off in the app) and three glyphs arranged on the top surface of the bar. These capacitive touch controls allow you to pause and play and adjust the volume. The Sonos Arc is clearly a speaker designed with simplicity in mind.
Indeed, with no remote control included in the box, most control is achieved through the Sonos S2 app or with your voice, via Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
Any complexity that exists is buried deep inside. As with most Sonos speakers, the Arc is compatible with a raft of streaming services, even going so far as to fully integrate Spotify into its own software front end. It can be used as an Apple AirPlay 2 speaker, works with Spotify Connect, DLNA sources and network shares, but there’s no Google Cast or Bluetooth support.
It’ll work seamlessly with other Sonos devices, too, with Sonos’ app offering a range of simple, easy to use multi-room audio modes and it’s also possible to add the new Sonos Sub and Sonos One SL speakers, expanding this one-box soundbar into a true surround setup. That would be a rather costly setup, though, amounting to a total cost of around £1,856.
Finally, the Arc also supports TruePlay, Sonos’ room correction technology. This needs to be set up manually and involves waving your phone around up and down as you wander around your living room but it does result in a more balanced overall sound, especially if your room is overly bright or has problems with the booming bass created by standing waves.
Sonos Arc review: Connectivity and standards support
Alas, connectivity and standards support isn’t nearly as impressive. Although the Sonos Arc supports Dolby Atmos, as explained above, that’s only in certain circumstances.
Another bugbear is the lack of any kind of DTS support, which is disappointing as many Blu-ray discs only have a surround sound soundtrack encoded in DTS.
And because there’s only one HDMI input at the rear of the bar, you’ll need one free HDMI port on your TV to run it. If you’re already maxed out, that means extra expenditure on an HDMI splitter so you can keep all your devices connected at once.
Oddly, despite Sonos’ insistence on not including extra HDMI inputs, the Arc does have an Ethernet port so it can be wired up to your home router in the event of poor signal quality.
Sonos Arc review: Sound quality
These are irritating limitations and you’d think the sound might be limited, too, the Arc being a standalone bar with no subwoofer.
However, there’s plenty going on behind that calm, sophisticated exterior, with 11 Class-D amplifiers and 11 separate drivers. Two elliptical woofers and a tweeter go together to make up the centre channel; a further two woofers produce the front left and right channels; sideways-firing woofers and diagonally firing tweeters create width and a sense of surround, and finally, there are two upwards-firing drivers to deal with those Atmos overhead channels.
All these drivers go together to produce a cohesive and impressive performance. The Arc delivers Atmos height effects in a convincing manner and its side and diagonal drivers join together to produce a surprisingly wide and deep soundstage.
You don’t get quite the enveloping surround audio you do with rear satellite speakers but sound effects do indeed appear to come from left, right and above you as you watch, and there is a certain feeling of envelopment to the audio.
Likewise, the Sonos Arc does miss out on the rich, solid kick of bass that systems with a (decent) separate subwoofer enjoy. However, it deals with its limitations elegantly, presenting explosions and sound effects with a surprising amount of thump and volume.
At the other end of the audio spectrum, I was particularly impressed with how clear dialogue sounds on the speaker’s centre channel. In the opening scene to Mad Max: Fury Road I was hearing things I rarely hear, even with rival soundbars – little details like voices from the cars chasing Max across the desert – were surprisingly easy to pick out above the rumble and roar of the engines.
The only thing I would say is that, as you crank up the volume, the brightness this adds to the overall sound can become a little fatiguing to listen to at times. The Arc’s dialogue enhancement mode makes this worse, so you’ll only need to use it if dialogue is especially muffled.
Other than this, the Sonos Arc is a wonderful all-rounder and particularly good for listening to regular stereo content. Music crackles with detail and atmosphere and the balance of bass, mids and highs is very impressive. All-in-all, I’m a big fan of the way the Sonos Arc sounds. It’s well-poised, musical, delivers a broad, deep soundstage and it didn’t put a foot wrong, whether I was feeding it with action-movie bombast or the quiet, considered piano musings of Brad Mehldau.
Sonos Arc review: Verdict
The Sonos Arc is a fabulous product. Indeed, it’s the best standalone soundbar in this price bracket I’ve listened to and it copes well with all types of source material. Atmos works well, dialogue is clear and it’s musical enough to be your main living room speaker.
My one complaint, and it’s a fairly major one, is that Sonos has unnecessarily limited the audience for the Arc. I simply do not understand, having expended so much effort getting the sound of the Arc just right, why Sonos has insisted on specifying just the one HDMI port, preventing those with older TV sets from enjoying the very best audio the soundbar is capable of.
In fairness, the Sonos Arc sounds great with or without eARC, but when other soundbars in this price bracket, such as the impressive Samsung HW-Q80R, have no such limitations, it’s hard to recommend the Arc above them.