The Sonos Arc is probably the closest thing the soundbar world has right now to a bona fide classic. While it seems like most brands feel the need to keep refreshing their soundbar ranges every five minutes, the Arc’s combination of simplicity and sonic brilliance - together with the legendary Sonos name - continues to make it appear more than current two years after it first launched.
Despite fitting all its drivers into an easy to set up and accommodate single-bar design and being Sonos’ first soundbar to support the spectacular Dolby Atmos sound format, the Arc absolutely nails movie soundtracks of all shapes and sizes.
There’s an insane amount of audio technology and power squeezed into its svelte form. No less than 11 Class D digital amplifiers are on hand to feed 11 custom-designed drivers, delivering a 5.0.2-channel system. The drivers include four elliptical woofers ranged along the Arc’s front, one tucked into each of the soundbar’s ends, and two more fitted into the top edge to deliver Dolby Atmos height channels.
As usual, the up- and side-firing drivers bounce their sound off your walls and ceilings to project their effects in the right place and create that familiar Dolby Atmos hemisphere of sound. What’s definitely not usual about the Arc’s Atmos efforts, though, is how brilliant they sound.
The first thing you notice is how fulsomely the Arc’s sound fills your room. With movie mixes, the main soundstage swells forward with enough impact to blow your hair back, and spreads away from the bar so comprehensively that you completely forget all the sound is coming from that compact black box under your TV. Instead the sound seems to just materialise out of thin air into a beautifully crafted three-dimensional bubble. Exactly as it’s supposed to do with a Dolby Atmos mix.
Overhead effects actually seem to come from above you rather than just sounding like they’re coming from somewhere vaguely higher than the soundbar, while the side effects track right along the side of your room, rather than just from the side of your sofa.
Every detail in a mix has the correct amount of weight and emphasis, and the effortless way the sound is able to transition between quiet and blockbusting moments is exemplary. Which is actually one of the most surefire signs of how much quality Sonos has fitted into the Arc’s design.
While it’s possible to add a subwoofer to the Arc, the amount of bass it can produce without a dedicated low frequency speaker is pretty remarkable. Even the deepest rumbles from the most dynamic soundtracks are delivered with serious depth and no trace of distortion or dropout. The bass is nimble enough, too, to ensure that it shifts its weight around exactly as a mix intends, never becoming overwhelming, laggy or artificial.
At the opposite end of the audio spectrum, the Arc’s three silk-domed tweeters deliver the highest, sparkliest treble effects without a hint of harshness, sibilance or ‘topping off’. And no matter how much voices might have to compete with a huge swelling soundtrack or cacophony of explosions or gunshots, they always sound perfectly clear.
The Arc also makes the switch to music playback more successfully than most Atmos-equipped soundbars. It delivers every detail of a stereo mix, be it a heavily produced track or a live recording, but never lets any of those details become too strident or over-emphasised as some soundbars do. Music sounds expressive and dynamic at a wide range of volumes, avoiding that muffled, hemmed in sound many soundbars suffer with at low volumes.
Bass again feels tight and well paced rather than baggy and excessive, and the stereo staging is convincing, creating a wide presence without losing cohesion. A bit more forward projection would have been the icing on the music cake, but this doesn’t stop the Arc being a truly exceptional all-rounder.
With its unusually rounded, ‘edgeless’ design and reasonably compact dimensions, the Sonos Arc makes remarkably little visual impact on your room for something that has such a big impact on your sound.
As you would expect from a Sonos device, the Arc can be linked in to a whole Sonos multi-room sound system. Note, though, that it uses Sonos’s relatively new S2 platform, which isn’t supported by some of the company’s older speakers.
One other slight limitation is that it only carries a single HDMI port, so you can’t ‘loop through’ external HDMI-using devices. Instead, you have to use the HDMI port’s so-called eARC capabilities, where the soundbar can receive Dolby Atmos (and many other formats) via the eARC or ARC-enabled port on a TV.
This shouldn’t be a problem for anyone with a fairly recent TV, but we’d recommend checking that your TV supports both eARC/ARC and Dolby Atmos passthrough before buying the Sonos Arc. Having said that, the soundbar still sounds significantly better than many Atmos-capable rivals even when it’s not playing an Atmos soundtrack.
Handily, the Arc is detected as a playback device in the Tidal and Spotify mobile apps, and its AirPlay 2 support enables it to play music from a vast range of Apple devices.
If you’re after a soundbar that packs all its treats into a single good-looking box and manages to sound brilliant with music as well as movie soundtracks, there’s precious little out there to rival the Sonos Arc.
West Side Story, 4K Blu-ray
Given that one of the Arc’s most attractive traits is that it sounds great with music as well as movies, you won’t be surprised that it proves particularly effective with musicals. Especially Steven Spielberg’s impressive remake of West Side Story, which repackages the legendary Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim score into a fantastic Dolby Atmos mix that deserves to be played LOUD.
Blade Runner 2049
The massive industrial-sounding score and effects in Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s original masterpiece push the Arc to the limits of its bass, treble and sound projection capabilities. But unlike many rivals when faced with such a no holds barred mix, the Arc is never found wanting, and its drivers never collapse into distortion or drop out.
Tindersticks, Debut album
Few albums combine such a huge range of song types – from dense orchestral pieces to deft single-piano tracks, organ riffs and both jangly and shrieky guitar – as the debut from Tindersticks. The Sonos Arc shifts gears along with the album effortlessly, while also capturing the raw naturalism of the album’s recording style. Even Stuart Staple’s baritone vocals are delivered with total authority.
Despite being Sonos’ debut Dolby Atmos soundbar, the Arc manages to deliver levels of precision, detailing and room-filling sound that have no business coming from such a compact and attractive single-unit soundbar. The Sonos name means it’s also great for music and multi-room set-ups.