Sonos Beam Smart TV Speaker Puts Alexa in Your Living Room

It may be hard to believe, but it's been under four years since the Amazon Echo was first introduced in late 2014. Since then, the number of companies offering or developing so-called "smart speakers" has mushroomed to the point where smart speakers have become yawningly commonplace. The recently introduced Sonos Beam, though, takes the concept of a smart speaker to an entirely new level—and into a previously neglected room. When Beam begins shipping on July 17 of this year, it will include Amazon Alexa as a built-in voice-control service; and, Sonos says, Beam will have "future support for multiple voice assistants including Google Assistant."

Sonos says the new Beam "is the smart speaker for your living room." It joins the Playbar and Playbase (each model is priced at $699) as a Sonos speaker system designed to be used with a TV, as well as perform as a part of a larger Sonos multiroom, streaming audio, home sound system. The 6.2-pounds, 25.6-inches wide, 2.7-inches high, and 3.94-inches deep Beam is, much like the Playbase, a compact speaker designed to visually complement the TV and fit in spaces other speaker systems might not be able to. Unlike the PlayBase, however, and more like the larger PlayBar, the Beam can be placed on a piece of furniture under the TV or mounted on the wall (with an optional, custom-designed wall-mount bracket). Comparing the three TV-oriented systems in the lineup, Sonos says: "Playbar and Playbase have more speakers, so they produce louder sound with more width and bass. Beam is perfect for small to mid-sized rooms, whereas Playbar and Playbase are capable of filling large spaces." As with the two larger systems, Beam can be expanded into a true 5.1-channel, wireless surround sound system by adding a pair of Sonos speakers (such as the $149/each Play:1) for the surround channels along with a $699 Sonos Sub.

The Sonos Beam's HDMI port is designed to be used with your TV's HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) port in order to sync sound/picture and to automatically pair the TV remote to the Beam. Your TV must support CEC features if you want to be able to use the Alexa service for voice control of TV functions. The Sonos Beam also includes an optical audio input, but this connection does not support voice control of TVs. Once connected to your home network via Beam's built-in 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port or 802.11b/g, 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi connectivity, the new smart speaker system will work with Alexa-enabled video streaming devices such as Amazon's Fire TV. Beam supports over 80 streaming music services (worldwide), 100,000 internet radio stations, works with Apple Airplay, and will be compatible with AirPlay 2, when it becomes available.

Beam's driver complement includes four full-range woofers, one tweeter, and three passive radiators with five Class-D digital amplifiers. A built-in "five far-field microphone array" is used for advanced beamforming and multi-channel echo cancellation. The top panel features capacitive touch controls for volume up/down, previous/next track, play/pause, and microphone mute with an LED that indicates status, microphone mute status, and voice feedback. Beam's built-in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) transceiver is used strictly for temporary communication with a phone or tablet during the initial set up process. Beam's BLE capability does not support audio streaming.

As with all Sonos speaker systems, Beam has Sonos's unique Trueplay speaker tuning technology that allows the user to easily and quickly acoustically tune a Sonos speaker to the room it is in—including the particular placement of the speaker within the room. If the speaker is moved to a new location or other aspects of the room change (furniture being rearranged, for example), Trueplay can be used to retune the speaker to the room in approximately three minutes.

Beam will be available in Black or White finishes for $399. Sonos anticipates that Beam will be available for delivery beginning July 17, 2018. Pre-orders are being accepted now on the Sonos website.