What you need to know
- The Sonos Arc is a new smart soundbar, coming June 10 for $799.
- It has 11 amplifiers, eight woofers, and three tweeters, along with four microphones.
- It's the first Sonos product to support Dolby Atmos.
- It ships alongside the updated Sonos 5 and Sonos Sub.
- Sonos's new S2 app launches on June 8.
Sonos usually hosts a flashy unveiling event for its new speakers, offering a chance for reporters and analysts, along with lifelong fans, to experience the products before they're available to the wider public. When I traveled to New York to try out the Sonos Move, I was able to see its many prototypes, and how rigorously the company tested its water and heat resistance under very extreme conditions.
Now, with a pandemic keeping us all home, there's no flashy event, no trials, no people. But there's a comprehensive new website and a specially-prepared 30-minute podcast in its stead. Why? Because Sonos knows that the experience of using its products, of being introduced to, and immersed in, the ecosystem, is just as important as the products themselves.
This is the context in which I was introduced to the Arc, the company's newest home theater solution, and a successor to the very popular and aging Playbar (it also replaces the Playbase, which had a much more limited potential audience). The Arc is bigger in every dimension than the Beam, the smart soundbar the company released back in 2018, but at just 3.4 inches high and 4.5 inches deep (but 45 inches wide), it's still low-profile enough to easily fit on a mantle below a mounted TV, or mounted using the optional $79 bracket, on the wall below.
That extra space is taken up by a whole bunch of three tweeters and eight woofers, two of which are upward-firing to deliver the Dolby Atmos experience that's a first in the company's product line. Using an ARC or eARC-compatible HDMI port on the TV, and when routed through a set-top box like the NVIDIA Shield or Apple TV 4K, and when watched on a supported platform like Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, Atmos not only adds a height dimension to the audio output, but it also more specifically places sound within a room. As more content is encoded to support Atmos, Sonos hopes that the Arc will be among the first choices for home theater enthusiasts.
Of course, buying a Sonos speaker is more than just about audio standards: it immediately becomes another element in a growing lineup of speakers that the company says are in 10 million homes worldwide — CEO Patrick Spence also disclosed the company has sold 29 million units to date — that includes the Sonos One, the aforementioned Beam, the recently-introduced Move, and many other legacy products.
The Arc also has four far-field microphones that enable Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or AirPlay 2, and when paired with an Amazon Fire TV or Google Chromecast, additional voice controls can actually activate video on-screen, much like the Beam.
Sonos hopes that the Arc, which will be available on June 10 for $799 US / $999 CAD / £799 / €899, will be the logical successor to the Playbar, with a rounded, more modern design and better audio, plus that all-important HDMI-Out port.
To use the new soundbar, and most of the company's modern products, Sonos plans to roll out its S2 app on June 8. There's been a bit of controversy about this exact move, since it separates some legacy Sonos gear — stuff that's over a decade old, but still in wide use — into a separate network from the newer equipment.
While it tried to placate customers earlier this year with a fairly generous trade-in program, it was overshadowed by a "Recycle Mode" that would have rendered those aging speakers and hubs inoperable as it encouraged customers to trade up. The company has since abandoned those plans, but not without weathering a pretty damaging and stock-clobbering financial hit.
The Arc isn't the only new product being announced today. There are updates to the Play:5 and Sub, another pair of products in serious need of refreshes. The Sonos 5, which the Play:5 is being renamed to, and new Sub look identical to their predecessors but for a new monochromatic color scheme, and are receiving internal upgrades with a faster processor, more RAM, and new wireless radios that should keep them working within homes' modern Wi-Fi systems for the next decade.
The Sonos 5 and Sonos Sub keep their previous prices of $499 and $699, respectively, and are also out June 10.
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