Launched virtually, the new Sonos Arc is a delight on the ear and eye

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While many tech manufacturers have paused their big product announcement, not everybody has. Sonos – makers of some of the finest audio equipment I have ever heard – thankfully haven’t. They announced their very fine Arc under-TV speaker, and two others. But a little background is necessary to understand the relevance. Sonos makes excellent streaming audio speakers, which use your WiFi instead of cables. They aren’t cheap but they are good, really good.

And they work seamlessly. Plug a Sonos One in the first room, another in the second and a bigger setup in the TV room and they all play the same music. Or different music in every room. Long before streaming music services like Spotify emerged, Sonos was already doing the actual delivery.

A few years ago, Sonos dipped its toe into a new category of speakers, the so-called soundbars that are mounted below your flatscreen TV and augment its sound. Sonos called the first product, aptly, Soundbar, and then two years ago introduced the Beam – a more compact model. It was so good that Stuff named it both our audio and overall gadget of the year in 2018.

The moment I plugged it in to test –- I never unplugged it, I simply bought it off the distributors –- I saw the rationale immediately. Despite having a high-end LG wonder-OLED TV, the laws of physics are simply against TV manufacturers. For speakers to give a rich and deep sound, they need a space to produce it. A literal space. The flatter the TV, the less space there is for that important resonance. TV manufacturers themselves noticed this and have been selling their own soundbars.

But Sonos only does one thing. It makes audio equipment. And it’s in a league of its own for consumers who want simplicity but good sound. Its latest product demonstrates the two things that Sonos does particularly well. And why I chose to write about this instead of the ongoing madness of the lockdown regulations.

The Arc solves a problem that I’ve had for years, and which is getting worse. All movies and TV shows seem to be sound edited by two different people, or a schizophrenic. The dialogue tends to be barely audible, forcing you to jack up the volume to hear what the characters are mumbling to each other.

But, as soon as there is an advert or the theme song plays, or there’s a chase or fight or driving-with-music or music-playing-while-character-walking scene, the volume leaps to death metal concert levels. I’m endlessly dialling the volume down, then back up – or pressing mute, then missing the key line because I don’t know when to unmute and having to rewind. It’s a minor problem in the age of coronavirus, but a problem, nonetheless. The Arc has fixed it.

The second thing Sonos does, is play nicely with other Sonos speakers. It’s great for having multiple speakers in different rooms, but especially good when you want to add some extra base. Sonos have also launched a new version of their excellent stand-alone bass speaker, the  Sub (Gen 3). If you have either model in your TV room, the Arc will offload the frequencies for bass sounds to the other speaker, thereby freeing up the Arc’s processing power to focus on the other frequencies. Sharing really is caring.

This article first appeared in Financial Mail

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About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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