The SONOS Arc is now official and it replaces the outgoing SONOS Playbar, so what’s the difference? Is the Arc worth upgrading to? Let’s find out…
Are you thinking about upgrading your HDTV’s sound with a wireless speaker system? Thinking about SONOS? Not sure whether to go for the SONOS Arc or the older (and now cheaper) SONOS Playbar?
In this post, we’ll take a look at the two wireless speakers in order to find out how the SONOS Arc and the SONOS Playbar compare. We’ll look at the design, their specs, and their connectivity. But first, a table comparison. Everybody loves a table comparison chart, right?
SONOS Arc vs SONOS Playbar (Key Specs & Features)
|SONOS Arc||SONOS Playbar|
|Dimensions: 1,141.7 x 87 x 115.7mm||Dimensions: 900 x 85 x 140mm|
|Connectivity: HDMI eARC||Connectivity: Optical|
|Speaker Tech: 8 woofers, 3 tweeters, Dolby Atmos||Speaker Tech: 6 mid-range woofers, 3 tweeters|
|Features: HDMI eARC w/ HDMI CEC & auto-sync, Alexa and Google Assistant||Features: IR receiver|
|Price: $799/£799||Price: $609/£609|
Usually, when it comes to wireless speakers, especially high-end ones of the type SONOS makes, the actual updates between generations are kind of insignificant. Here, though, that is not the case – the SONOS Arc is a heavily updated wireless speaker.
Here’s a quick overview of the SONOS Arc’s (pictured top) new features that the older SONOS Playbar (pictured second) does not have.
- Dolby Atmos – The SONOS Arc is the first SONOS speaker to feature Dolby’s Atmos technology. Atmos is all about creating a new type of surround sound that isn’t limited to 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound conventions. It’s been quickly adopted too by filmmakers, TV shows, and sports broadcasters. Its inclusion on the SONOS Arc is significant and one of the new speaker’s main highlights.
- Alexa & Google Play – The Playbar was a fine wireless speaker. But it was effectively dumb. You connected it via an optical cable and that was it. With the SONOS Arc, you have built-in support for both Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. This means the SONOS Arc can act as a smart speaker just like Google Home, only here it’s connected to your HDTV which makes it way more useful.
- More Internal Speakers – SONOS has also really beefed up the internal speaker configuration inside the ARC, as you can see in the table above. In the Playbar, you had the following: 6 mid-range woofers, 3 tweeters, and nine Class D amplifiers. The SONOS Arc features the same nine Class D amplifiers, but it ups the ante with Dolby Atmos, 8 woofers, and 3 tweeters which combined produce a vastly superior sound.
- HDMI CEC – The inclusion of Dolby Atmos meant that SONOS had to ditch the optical cable connection in favor of the more versatile HDMI CEC connection. The benefit here, if you’re not fussed about the technical details, is that HDMI CEC is capable of carrying high-quality audio at higher bandwidths, so you can basically do more with a single cable, whereas with an optical, you’d need another HDMI slot for other functionality.
- Improved, Sleeker Design – The SONOS Arc has been redesigned from the ground up. It’s larger and much better-looking thanks to its smooth curves and elliptical ends. The SONOS Playbar, in comparison, now looks terribly blocky and dated, as you can see in the image below.
But the design changes don’t end there. SONOS has also completely overhauled the internal speaker set up inside the Arc too, adding in more units and changing how they’re positioned in order to improve overall sound quality and performance.
The ARC is now more geared towards a surround sound 5.0.2 level of performance. You have speakers placed at either end of the bar, two in the center that point directly upwards, and two front-facing drivers for pushing sound forwards. On top of that, you have some woofers in there for bass. All in, it’s a pretty head combination, especially when paired up with Dolby Atmos and SONOS’ innovative TruePlay which will ensure your Arc system is tuned exactly to the shape of the room it lives in.
The SONOS Playbar, as anyone that owns one will tell you, is no slouch in the audio department, though, with a solid array of six mid-range drivers, three tweeters and nine Class D amplifiers which combine to create a solid, crystal clear wall of sound that is ideal for movies, gaming, and everything else in between.
The arrangement of the speakers is slightly different too; you have two drives at either end of the bar for a wider sound, two front-facing drivers, also position left and right, though, not as wide, and a center-mounted unit comprised of two woofers and one tweeter for solid bass and crystal clear vocals.
I’ve yet to test the SONOS Arc out, but my old flatmate had the SONOS Playbar and it was monstrously good. I played the entirety of The Last of Us and Alien: Isolation with it and it added so much to the overall gaming experience that, once I’d moved out, it was one of the first things I purchased for my new home. That should tell you everything you need to know about how good the SONOS Playbar is!
Picking up from above, the SONOS Playbar is massively impressive – and it has been for years. The SONOS Arc, however, is a major improvement over what came before with better design, better connectivity, and even more speakers and drivers, as well as Dolby Atmos. In this respect, out of these two choices, the Arc is the clear winner in all departments.
The SONOS Arc retails for $799/£799 or as part of bundles, whereby you can buy the Arc and an assortment of additional SONOS speakers to build the perfect home cinema setup. You can view all the SONOS Arc bundle options here.
The SONOS Playbar, now usurped, has also received a price cut. You can pick one up for £609/$609, which is almost a $100/£100 discount on its usual price. Both units are still VERY pricey, however, though you will know where all that money has gone when you re-watch Terminator 2 for the first time with one of them connected to your HDTV.
If you want something smaller, but equally compelling, SONOS does make a smaller soundbar system that is called the SONOS Beam. It features many of the Arc’s core new features, only here it is smaller and A LOT cheaper at $399/£399. It’s not as powerful as the Playbar or the Arc, but it is still a mightily impressive soundbar for smaller living rooms and apartments.
Mostly though it’s the price that pulls most people from the Arc/Soundbar over to the Beam. That and the fact the SONOS Beam comes with Alexa and Google Assistant support.
Me personally? I’m dying to update my system to the Arc. The Playbar has treated me exceptionally well over the last several years, but I am now 100% ready to have something even better with more connectivity. I will be updating to the SONOS Arc, it just all depends on how much more strain my credit card can take!
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Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.