A lot has changed in the home theater world since Sonos first released the Playbar in 2013. TVs have gotten a lot bigger, and new audio formats like Dolby Atmos have made their way from movie theaters into the home. Sonos has also released other home theater speakers like the smaller, more affordable Beam and the rather curious Playbase, but the flagship Playbar has gone untouched. That won’t be the case for long: today, Sonos is announcing the Arc, a new high-end soundbar that supports Dolby Atmos and uses an adaptive tuning system to optimize whatever content you’re playing through the speaker.
At a high level, Arc is a 45-inch-wide soundbar, which makes it notably bigger than the 35-inch Playbar. Sonos went with this size because most consumers are buying bigger and bigger TVs these days, and the extra size gives the company room to pack the Arc with two more drivers than you’ll find inside the Playbar. All told, the Arc has dedicated center, left and right channels, along with surround left and right and two upwards-firing speakers for height.
Plenty of soundbars support Atmos at this point, but Sonos is doing something interesting with how the Arc responds to different audio formats. For example: if you’re watching a movie that doesn’t support Atmos, the Arc will adapt and use the upwards-firing speakers to improve bass performance. Similarly, if you’re running the Arc with the Sonos Sub, it’ll adjust accordingly and use its speakers to focus more on the mids and highs. If you’re using a pair of Sonos One speakers as your dedicated rear surround channels, the Arc’s surround drivers will be reassigned, as well.
This, of course, all happens without the user really knowing about it. Sonos built the Arc to optimize whatever input source you’re playing, regardless of what format it is in or how many speakers are in a particular set-up. Similarly, Sonos says that Arc doesn’t “throw out” extra audio information that it gets from a single. For example, it only has speakers for five-channel surround sound rather than seven -- but the extra details in a seven-channel mix are mixed down to work in five channels rather than being left out completely.
While Sonos says that it isn’t doing any virtualization, it’s clear the company is making major audio adjustments to fit whatever space the Arc is placed in. That’s not unusual, though -- the company has offered its TruePlay tool for optimizing audio quality based on where a speaker is placed for years now, and the Arc works with TruePlay as well. Another example of the Arc’s smarts is that it recognizes when it’s mounted to the wall with its dedicated magnetic bracket and automatically compensates for increased bass reverberations.