Sonos Arc vs Beam vs Playbar – Sonos finally updates the Playbar for serious home cinema with eArc offering Dolby Atmos and TrueHD
Sonos was doing smart speakers before they were a thing, and they do them well with some incredible options.
However, when it comes to home cinema, they have been flagging behind. The soundbar market has boomed as people realise they can get the benefit of a multi-speaker system from just one device.
Sonos first introduced their first attempt at a soundbar, the Playbar back in 2013, followed by the Playbase in 2017. While these were both superb speakers producing excellent sound, for home cinema they were both outdated at launch with their lack of HDMI and limited compatibility with advanced surround audio formats due to the limitations of the optical input.
This changed with the launch of the insanely popular Sonos Beam that has been universally praised by consumers and critics alike. This petite soundbar works well for the mainstream public being reasonably affordable and offering surprisingly good audio included a decent level of bass for such a small soundbar.
eARC vs ARC vs Optical
The Beam brought with it an HDMI port that also featured ARC (Audio Return Channel). ARC allows audio to move in two directions either from a speaker/receiver or back from the TV to the speaker. In the case of the Beam, with its single HDMI port, the ARC functionality was just to allow audio to pass back to the speaker.
ARC is not just there to simplify the setup, it has significantly more bandwidth than optical cables allowing it to support lossless audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks found on most Blu-rays.
An optical connection also can't support more than two channels of uncompressed PCM audio nor do they support 7.1 audio or the increasingly popular Dolby Atmos.
Finally, there is eArc, which offers a massive boost to the bandwidth, optical can only go up to 384Kbits per second, Arc then goes up to 1Mbit/s which is around 2.5 times more. Then eArc jumps up to 37Mbits/s.
This then allows eArc to offer even more audio formats, including TrueHD or MAT. HDMI.org officially say it is capable of handling uncompressed audio for both 5.1 and 7.1 which neither of the other two standards offers.
The newly announced Sonos Arc finally gives Sonos a viable option for home cinema enthusiasts (though technically, many won't use a soundbar in the first place). It doesn't just introduce Arc as the name suggests but it uses the newer eArc which very few other soundbars offer. You will, of course, need a TV with eArc to get the full benefits, but it is backwards compatible too.
With eArc the soundbar will support Dolby Atmos, TrueHD, MAT, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Digital.
With its ability to handle demanding audio formats, Sonos has massively upgraded the speakers compared to the Playbar and Beam.
You now get eleven Class-D digital amplifiers perfectly tuned...