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Sonos Arc vs Playbar Soundbar (2020): The Long Awaited Upgrade Is Here

Sonos has finally introduced its new high-end soundbar—the Sonos Arc—that is set to replace the aging Sonos Playbar in the company’s home theatre lineup. At $799, the Arc boasts a number of big upgrades, including being Sonos’ first Dolby Atmos-capable wireless speaker. But is the price tag worth the long-overdue upgrade?

Sonos Arc vs Sonos Playbar Soundbar Comparison Chart

ModelSonos ArcSonos Playbar
Sonos Arc - The Premium Smart soundbar for TV, Movies, Music, Gaming, and More - BlackSonos - Playbar Soundbar Wireless Speaker - Black
PriceCheck Price on AmazonCheck Price on Amazon
Dimensions3.4 x 45 x 4.5 in. (87 x 1141.7 x 115.7 mm)Mounted – 5.51 x 35.43 x 3.35 in. (140 x 900 x 85 mm)

Resting – 3.35 x 35.43 x 5.51 in. (85 x 900 x 140 mm)

Weight13.78 lbs. (6.25 kg)11.9 lbs. (5.4kg)
ColorBlack with matte finish

White with matthe finish

Black
Audio11x Class-D Digital Amplifiers

8x elliptical woofers

3x silk dome tweeters

Built-in mic

9x Class-D Digital Amplifiers

6x mid-woofers

3x tweeters

PowerAuto-switching 100-240 V, 50-60 Hz AC universal input.Auto-switching 100-240 V, 50-60 Hz AC universal input.
CompatibilitySonos S2, Apple Airplay 2Sonos S2
Ports1x 10/100 Mbps ethernet port;

HDMI ARC Port (ARC/eARC input)

2x 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports
WiFiYesYes
Optical InputYesYes
Voice ControlYes, built-in Google Assistant and Amazon AlexaNo
Infrared ReceiverYesYes
Touch ControlsYesYes
Speech EnhancementYesNo
Automatic Software UpdatesYesYes
Release Date20202013

Design

The Sonos Arc’s elongated shape and minimalist design is a complete departure from the Playbar Soundbar’s boxier form. 

Compared to the Playbar (bottom), the Sonos Arc (top) brandishes a darker, matte black finish. 

Since the release of the Playbar back in 2013, Sonos has not updated its line of soundbars. Because of the seven-year wait, substantial upgrades were expected for the new model. With the Sonos Arc, these changes are nowhere more obvious than in the all-new design.

Unlike the Playbar’s boxier body, the Sonos Arc adopts a more streamlined oval form with rounded edges. The soundbar is also perforated by a color-matched speaker grille that lends it an industrial flair. Compared to the Playbar, the Sonos Arc is longer and larger, although its elongated shape comes with less depth. Both models, however, keep the connections and ports discreetly tucked behind, so nothing visibly protrudes from the soundbar’s body.

Despite the sharp contrast in appearance, the Arc still retains some key design features from the Playbar, including the ability to work either mounted on the wall or laid flat on a TV stand. Built-in sensors in both home theatre speakers automatically adjust EQ and channel settings according to your setup. However, because of its softer profile and proportional shape, the new Sonos soundbar looks largely the same no matter what the orientation.

With the Arc, Sonos is also hoping to give consumers more options even though it means offering just two color variants: black and white, both in a matte finish. It’s still a step up from the Playbar’s black-only offering, although having a white TV for a white Sonos Arc to complement may not be as common as imagined.

Sound

The Sonos Arc packs more drivers in its sleek body compared to the Playbar while also supporting Dolby Atmos playback. 

Both soundbars can be set beneath a TV (left, Sonos Arc) or mounted on the wall (right, Sonos Playbar).

Looking at the specs sheet, you can already ‘hear’ how the Sonos Arc will sound. Since it’s longer than the Playbar, there’s plenty of room to pack more drivers closer together and set them up in the perfect array. The Arc essentially boasts of eight custom-designed elliptical woofers and three tweeters, each with their own Class-D digital amplifier.

In contrast, the Playbar comes with a nine-driver system in three arrays. It’s still an excellent sound system, thanks to the impressive hardware and software combination by Sonos. Angled drivers at both ends of the Playbar consistently deliver a wide, detailed, and dynamic soundstage, augmented by equally impressive front-facing drivers both on the left and right.

The Sonos Arc, on the other hand, has five different speaker arrays: left, center, right, left surround and right surround. This new internal hardware design makes the latest soundbar capable of supporting Dolby Atmos while providing greater control over high frequencies. The Arc’s side-firing capabilities are also engineered to deliver a more expansive soundstage while maintaining tonal balance. In comparison, the Sonos Playbar lacks the left and right surround that limits it from delivering an immersive, 3D sound.

The Arc’s three silk-dome tweeters—one each on the left, center, and right—are precisely angled for wall-to-wall coverage. Two upward-driving drivers on the Arc also help create the height channels to support Dolby Atmos. With more surface area and woofers, the Playbar’s successor is capable of squeezing in more bass, too.

Smart Features

Unlike the Sonos Playbar, the Arc comes with built-in smart assistants and AirPlay 2 compatibility. 

The new Sonos Arc sports a svelte form while its speaker grille perforations lend it an industrial flair.

As wireless technology has evolved over the years, it only makes sense that the Sonos Arc includes built-in Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. While the Playbar’s lack of voice control may not be an issue if you’re simply looking for a home theatre, the addition of these voice assistants certainly adds more functionality to the soundbar, a trend that’s also seen in the Sonos One and the portable Sonos Move. Suffice to say, the Arc follows the move into smarter, more capable audio devices that can carry out non-music tasks even without the aid of the smartphone.

Speaking of smartphones, both the Arc and the Playbar can be managed through the comprehensive Sonos Controller app, allowing you to connect the soundbars to the rest of your wireless audio system. In addition, you get access to a number of your favorite services, including streaming, syncing, and custom alarms and EQ settings. Although the app is available in both PlayStore and App Store, iOS users get the added Trueplay software that smartly tunes the soundbars according to the unique acoustics of a room.

One big difference between the 2020 soundbar from its predecessor is compatibility with AirPlay 2. Apple’s proprietary audio and video streaming service is currently available only in Sonos One, Beam, Play:5, Playbase, and the Arc, opening a reservoir of content to users, as well as the ability to control the speakers via Siri. For Playbar, you’ll have to integrate your soundbar to AirPlay 2-compatible speakers before you could access the service.

Connectivity

The Sonos Playbar comes with an optical audio input, while the Sonos Arc adds a single HDMI port to the mix. 

Here’s a look at the ports of the Sonos Arc (top) and Sonos Playbar (bottom).

While the Sonos Playbar only comes with optical digital audio input, the Arc’s move to support Dolby Atmos has led to some network changes as well. The latest model now comes with a single HDMI port for both ARC and eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) compatibility, the latter necessary for Atmos playback. This is in addition to the optical audio adapter.

The eARC technology also enables you to control the soundbar using your TV’s remote control via HDMI CEC. But because it’s a single HDMI port, the audio fed to your soundbar will still largely depend on whether your TV can decode Dolby Atmos. Thus, the caveat is that the Playbar’s successor is capable of Atmos, but only if you have a compatible television.

Verdict

The Sonos Arc’s hardware upgrades, smart features, and Dolby Atmos support is a convincing argument to upgrade from the Playbar Soundbar.

The Sonos Arc is the much-awaited update to the Sonos Playbar and based on the features alone, it’s a massive upgrade with its sleek, minimalist design and powerful internal hardware. While changes to the audio components were expected, the addition of Dolby Atmos support, AirPlay 2 compatibility, and built-in smart assistants make the Arc a truly worthy successor to the Playbar.

These added features don’t come cheap, and the hefty $799 price tag of the Arc may deter some consumers who might prefer the Sonos Playbar for its straightforward functionality as a home theatre. However, those looking to future-proof their wireless audio system will find that the Arc offers clear advantages over its predecessor that should be convincing enough to get the upgrade seven years in the making.

Last update on 2020-08-08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Mari Bassig
Mari Bassig

Senior Editor, writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, social media, and music.