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Sonos Beam vs. Sonos Playbar

There is no shortage of choices when it comes to picking out a soundbar, but for anybody who prefers Sonos products, you’ve only got two picks: the Sonos Playbar and Sonos Beam. Both soundbars have their upsides and downsides, but choosing between the two can feel like an impossible choice.

If you aren’t sure which one is right for you, we’ve decided to compare the two and see what the differences are.

Price

Most of us don’t have the luxury of an unlimited budget, so price certainly matters. The Sonos Playbar retails for $699, while the Sonos Beam retails for $399. Why the price difference? At 35 inches wide, the Playbar boasts a total of nine drivers — each with its own dedicated Class-D digital amp — and makes no compromises when it comes room-filling, cinema-grade sound.

The Sonos Beam, on the other hand, strives for a more compact take on the soundbar formula, stretching to just 25 inches wide and with only five drivers and amps.

This makes the Beam the most attractive choice for those who are looking to save money but keep in mind, you can’t expect it to sound as rich or full as its sibling. If your room setup (and your expectations) are a good match for the Sonos Beam, it’s a great choice. We’ll dig into why you might still want to consider the Playbar next.

Winner: Sonos Beam

Sound

You already know that the Playbar is bigger and has more drivers than the Beam, but what does that actually mean in terms of sound? In practice, the Playbar can deliver a wider range of frequencies, at higher volume levels, and with a more effective virtual surround sound. That’s a solid argument in favor of the Playbar for people who put a high priority on getting the best sound for movies and TV.

Both the Playbar and Beam feature Sonos’s speech enhancement software for clearer on-screen dialogue, but the Beam only has a single tweeter to work with; the Playbar has three. Both can be paired with a Sonos Sub, and a set of Play:1, Sonos One, Sonos One SL, or Ikea’s Symfonisk speakers to create a 5.1 surround sound setup, but the Playbar’s wider design and more effective center-channel drivers make it the clear choice for home theater enthusiasts.

What makes the Playbar better for movies and TV shows, also makes it a more accomplished soundbar for music. Dynamic range and volume are both better than with the Beam, and thanks to its wider stance and additional drivers, the Playbar can produce better stereo separation as long as your room is big enough for you to sit at a distance that lets you appreciate it.

All that said, the Playbar is not a total slam-dunk. If hearing every nuance in a high-speed car chase or combat scene isn’t your main concern, and if you’re buying a soundbar for a smaller room, the Beam might still be the better choice. In the right space, it will still provide excellent TV audio, and it’s certainly no slouch in the music department either.

Winner: Sonos Playbar

Voice control

Sonos Beam Speaker
Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

This one is no contest: The Sonos Beam is one of the company’s growing collection of smart speaker products, with the ability to run either Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant directly on the speaker. With built-in far-field voice mics that can pick out the “Hey Google,” or “Alexa” wake word, even in a noisy environment, the Beam gives you voice control over music playback as well as a host of smart home options. If you happen to own other Sonos components, adding a Beam lets you control those products too.

These voice commands aren’t just limited to audio. If you connect a Sonos Beam via HDMI-CEC to a compatible TV, it will relay instructions like “Alexa, turn on the TV.” The Playbar has no voice control functionality built-in, though it can be controlled by voice if you have a Sonos smart speaker, or another Google Assistant or Alexa device in the house.

Winner: Sonos Beam

Connections

Sonos Beam Speaker
Simon Cohen/Digital Trends

Sonos components are famous for their relative lack of connection ports. By default, most Sonos speakers will have Wi-Fi and Ethernet, and nothing else. Soundbar products like the Sonos Playbar and Sonos Beam are slightly different in that they need to physically connect to a TV. The Playbar uses an optical connection, whereas the Beam uses an HDMI ARC connection — by far the preferred choice for most setups — that can be fitted with an included optical adapter if needed.

The Sonos Beam also has AirPlay 2 built-in, a feature it shares with other Sonos products like the Sonos One and Sonos Amp. With AirPlay 2, you can play audio directly to the Beam from compatible (read newer) iOS devices and Mac computers. More than music, you can also send the audio track from a Netflix movie, or any other audio source. If you have other Sonos speakers in your home, the Beam’s AirPlay 2 can be used as a bridge to send that same audio to any speaker in your multiroom audio setup.

With an aging optical-only connection and no AirPlay, the Sonos Playbar can’t hope to match the Beam here.

Winner: Sonos Beam

Conclusion

It would be easy to conclude from this analysis that the Sonos Beam is better than the Sonos Playbar. It’s cheaper, it has ready-to-use voice control, and it’s got more modern connections.

But of course, the truth is more complicated. These two products are meant to address two sides of the same spectrum: People who simply want better audio from their TVs. If your TV and your room are on the small side, the Beam is ideal. Especially if it’s a bedroom, you might really appreciate and take advantage of its built-in smart speaker capabilities.

At the other end of the spectrum is the Playbar, designed to fill a full-size media room with convincing surround sound, and as much oomph as possible to generate without adding a subwoofer.

Ultimately, as Sonos components, you can’t go wrong with either of these soundbars, as long as your chosen room and your expectations are a good match. And if you’re looking for a soundbar that doesn’t necessarily need to connect to Sonos products, check out our list of the Best Soundbars for a host of other options.

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