Sonos Arc: A Dolby Atmos performance evaluation

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Sonos Arc: A Dolby Atmos performance evaluation

TechHive Executive Editor Michael Brown was able to test pretty much every feature of the new Sonos Arc soundbar save one: its Dolby Atmos performance.

Mike faced a couple of key obstacles on that score. For starters, the 2017 Samsung Q7-series 4K QLED TV he used during his review doesn’t support eARC, a newer HDMI feature that can handle (among other things) the transmission of lossless audio from a TV to a soundbar. Because the Dolby Atmos metadata on a Blu-ray disc resides on the disc’s lossless Dolby TrueHD track, Mike wasn’t able to test Atmos on the Arc—which has just one HDMI port—using his 4K UHD Blu-ray player. (You can read more about ARC and eARC here.)

The other way to enjoy movies and TV shows with Dolby Atmos sound is via streaming video services, such as Amazon Prime Video, Apple iTunes, or Netflix. Such services transmit Dolby Atmos via Dolby Digital Plus, a lossy format that the original ARC can handle.

Problem solved, right? Not so fast. Mike lives in an area of rural Northern California that lacks high-speed internet; the fastest DSL service he can get isn’t quite fast enough to stream Netflix at 4K, which is a requirement for Dolby Atmos sound on that service.

So, Mike shipped the Sonos Arc to my Brooklyn apartment, where I have a 2019 LG C9 4K OLED TV that does support eARC, plus a speedy internet connection (about 200Mbps downstream). That meant I could test the Arc’s Dolby Atmos using both my Sony 4K UHD Blu-ray player and my Apple TV 4K streaming set-top box.

Subtle, realistic Dolby Atmos performance

The results: quite good, if a tad subtle. (To be fair, the Arc’s performance would likely be more exciting when connected to optional wireless surround speakers and a dedicated subwoofer, but that would drive the price of the package way up.) While the Arc’s Atmos performance didn’t blow me away (although in-your-face height cues aren’t ideal, either), I was still impressed with the depth and realism of the Arc’s Atmos-enabled soundstage.

I started with one of our go-to Dolby Atmos demo reels: the scene in X-Men: Apocalypse where a young Scott Summers wreaks havoc in a bathroom stall as he uses his laser-beam eyes for the first time. What makes the scene interesting from an Atmos standpoint isn’t so much the initial mayhem, it’s the sound of the particles of plaster falling from the ceiling, and the Arc delivered the aural experience convincingly.

Next, I spun up the 4K UHD Blu-ray of Blade Runner: 2048 and queued up the scene where K pilots his spinner to the ruined orphanage in the outskirts of San Diego. I was impressed by the patter of rain against the windshield and the sudden, frightening “pop” of incoming fire from attackers far below. It’s a vertiginous sequence that relies on 3D audio cues for much of its effect, and the Arc the soundtrack of this arresting scene with aplomb.

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