Our Global Head of Editorial, Steven Saftig, managed to get his hands on the new Sonos Arc right before we closed our offices. He couldn’t stop talking about our newest soundbar, so we finally told him to just write a blog post about it. From setup to Dolby Atmos, he shares what it’s like to have an Arc in your home when you’re spending the entire day there.
I was on a train, coming back to Santa Barbara after visiting my family, when I got the email from our head of HR: “All employees, please work from home.” We were a little under two months away from announcing Sonos Arc to the world and I hadn’t even heard what it sounded like yet. Whenever I write about our products for the blog, I immerse myself in the experience because I want to be able to share what it’s like to actually live with them. How was I going to write about our new home cinema speaker without ever having heard it? And, to be honest, I still didn’t fully understand what Dolby Atmos was—one of Arc’s most exciting features. So when I received that email, asking us to get everything we needed out of the office by the end of the day, I panicked. So I started texting. Desperately.
Hey, does anyone have one of our new, top secret speakers lying around? Just, you know, waiting to be picked up? Like, right now?
Fast-forward through a cinematic montage of secret closets, product handoffs, and I finally had an Arc in my hands—an hour before our offices shut down.
Unboxing Arc: A shape-defying design. And 76,000 individually-drilled holes.
Back at home, I began one of my favourite parts of setting up a new Sonos product—the unboxing. The experience with Arc is as exciting and dramatic as I had hoped. More importantly, though, we’ve continued to look for ways to minimise the environmental impact of our products. As Michelle Enright, Senior Design Manager, Packaging Experience describes, “For Arc, we had a clean slate opportunity to design packaging from the ground up. We created a 96.1% paper-based construction—moving away from foam-based cushions, which would have been the easier and more cost-effective path.”
I peeled back the final layer of protective packaging and there it was. Now, by that point I’d seen a ton of photos of Arc, but because of the subtlety of its design, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I finally saw it in person. I carefully carried it over to my media console, placed it in front of my TV, and stood back. (You can also mount Arc to the wall.) Here’s the thing about the design of Arc: It’s actually quite difficult to describe its shape. It’s not a box. It’s not a rectangle. It’s not even a cylinder. It almost appears like it’s in motion, as if undulating. The overall effect is that Arc doesn’t feel like it’s trying to compete or stand out from the rest of your home cinema setup. As Kitty Suidman, Director, Colour Material and Finish says, “[Arc’s] design is purposeful, delivering a seamless, soft, familiar profile. It feels like a piece of furniture in your home.”
I started to circle around Arc. And with each angle from which I observed, a new dimension of the design was revealed. There are no harsh edges, clunky protrusions, or jarring cavities. In short, it’s stunning. Turns out, this is all very intentional. “We take a 360-degree approach,” says Philippe Vossel, Industrial Designer at Sonos. “It doesn’t matter where you first look at the product—it all matters. If you look at it from the side first, that’s where it matters. If you mount it to the wall and look at it from the bottom first, that’s where it matters.” Vossel and the Industrial Design team were also thoughtful about how your eye travels along the product. “We want to make sure you don’t get hung up or distracted by unrefined details,” he said. “And in the end, it’s how these details all tie together that allows us to create a visual story about sound.”
There’s one more thing you should know about the design of Arc. Every Sonos product is the result of a creative, collaborative balance between what the hardware and software teams want to put inside the speaker and how the industrial design team wants it to look. There is a lot of technology packed into Arc. (More on that in a moment.) And the grille is the bridge that brings these two interests together—the piece that encases all of this incredible technology, whilst allowing the product to look as seamless and beautiful as you expect from all Sonos products. Building on the success of technological advances we made with the grilles on Play:5 and Playbase, Arc’s grille is a single seamless sheet, carefully moulded and drilled with more than 76,000 holes to ensure exceptional sound and wireless performance. “It’s the latest version of something we’ve been working on for years,” says Dana Krieger, Senior Director of Design, Product.
Music with Arc: More space for colour
I set up Arc in the middle of a work day, so I couldn’t immediately sit down to watch a full film. But I was so anxious to hear what it sounded like that I decided I had to at least listen to a song. And, as anxious as I was, I still used Trueplay™ to tune Arc to my living room, which is not a uniform shape. (Trueplay is, by far, my favourite Sonos feature. Not using Trueplay is like riding around in a new car without adjusting the seat and setting your favourite radio stations. You’ll still enjoy the ride, but you’re missing out on an experience that’s customised just for you.)
I queued up my test song. (You have a test song, right? I play the same song whenever I test out a new speaker: “Rhiannon” by Fleetwood Mac. I’ve been listening to that song since I was a baby, so I know every corner of it. If you don’t have a test song, check out this playlist of tracks we created to show off your system at its best.) I then sat down on my couch and listened the way that Greg McAllister, Sound Experience Manager at Sonos, taught me how to listen.
Two things were immediately obvious to me—spaciousness and clarity. What do I mean by “spaciousness”? I don’t just mean that the sound fills the room, which it does. But imagine that you were given a one inch by one inch piece of paper, 6 colours of paint, and then told to paint a picture of your house using all of the colours. With a steady hand, you might be able to create a crude depiction. But there wouldn’t be much definition to the front door. You wouldn’t be able to draw the flowers in the window boxes. And some of the colours would blend into a pool of muddy brown. Now, imagine that you were asked to do the same thing, but with a five foot by five foot piece of paper. This is the type of spaciousness that Arc gives to music. For me, it meant hearing additional layers to “Rhiannon” that I’d never heard before. And alongside that spaciousness is remarkable clarity. The vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass, and drums all sound crisp, clean, and pure. In short, the song sounded glorious.
What is Dolby Atmos?
As you can tell, I was beyond thrilled with my experience of Arc, completely on its own. Without Sub. Without rear surrounds. Without Dolby Atmos. But Arc was designed to evolve along with the rapid advances in home cinema technology. And that means playing Dolby Atmos, the new gold standard of home cinema audio. I had to see what Arc could do with a full Atmos setup.
But first, what is Atmos? Whilst there are lots of videos and explanations on the internet describing this technology, I’ll describe it in my own words here. Prior to Atmos, elements of sound from a film or show had to be assigned to a particular channel (left, centre, right, rear left, rear right, etc.) With Atmos, though, sounds are treated as objects—and all of the channels work together to project those sounds into different parts of the room. Here’s where it gets cool—Atmos also adds height to the equation. (Arc achieves this by utilising upwards-firing drivers that bounce sound off the ceiling.) This allows those projected sounds to be heard—not just along a horizontal plane—but anywhere in the entire three-dimensional space of your room. What does that mean for your listening experience? I was hoping you’d ask.
Films with Arc: The Dolby Atmos Experience
I paired Sub and two Sonos One SL rears to Arc. I used Trueplay to tune my system again (to account for the addition of the rear speakers). I popped popcorn. And then I sat down to watch Mad Max: Fury Road. From the very first scene, it was immediately obvious to me why Atmos is the new standard in home cinema sound. In the opening sequence, a flood of voices and ambient sounds swirled around me. It’s surprising and thrilling and has made me completely rethink the way I’ve used the word “immersive” in the past. Over the next two hours, I felt completely a part of what was happening in the film. The sound design of the film is bold and vibrant—and watching it in Atmos adds so many layers to the experience. At the same time, I could hear every word of dialogue perfectly—even amidst a thunderous score and barrage of epic sound effects. As Chris Jenkins, Oscar-winning sound engineer and Sonos Soundboard member, would later tell me, dialogue is the backbone of every film. Even without Speech Enhancement turned on, Arc delivered the dialogue with detailed clarity. And then there are the quiet moments in the film—serenely beautiful scenes that offer delicate sounds and whispers. With the sonic precision of Arc, I found these scenes just as engaging as the action sequences.
But perhaps the most interesting and respectable aspect of the Atmos experience is that nothing comes across as gimmicky. Whilst sounds do occur around you, nothing feels out of place or like a trick. You’re not suddenly pulled away from what’s happening on screen because of a random noise behind you. It all feels seamless and, ultimately, allows you to become all the more immersed in the world on your TV screen.