Sonos Era 300 + Arc soundbar system review

New Era 300 speakers heighten the performance of Sonos's Arc soundbar, says Kulwinder Singh Rai

Previously, the best Dolby Atmos configuration one could create around a Sonos Arc soundbar and rear speakers was a 5.0.2-channel effort. But partner the Arc with the new Era 300s (wireless stereo speakers, designed from the get-go to excel with spatial audio/Dolby Atmos), and you can now step up to 7.0.4 – with no speaker cables anywhere. Excited? You should be…

We'll get the bad news out of the way first… you’re going to need deep pockets. Like, Mariana Trench deep. The 'Premium Surround' set we're testing here – comprising the Sonos Arc and a pair of Era 300s – comes in at £1,797. Plus, you'll almost certainly need to budget for a pair of stands for the Eras, too: £159 for a set from accessories brand Sanus, or £279 if you spring for Sonos's own versions. So we're talking circa £2k, in total: this ain't chump change.

But let’s be honest, you’re never forking out for 'just' hardware with Sonos... you’re also buying access to a supremely well-honed audio eco-system. Completely app-based (no separate remotes), it delivers pain-free access to a wide choice of streaming audio services, content on music servers, as well as delivering voice assistant smarts. Oh yeah, and flexible multi-room, whole-house wireless audio. That, whisper it, actually works reliably.

Shape shifter
Onto the Era 300, which, by Sonos standards, isn't a looker. Cramming six drivers (four tweeters and two woofers) into a case, and then positioning them all in order to deliver a convincing spatial audio experience, has resulted in a distinctly odd-looking speaker. Squint, and it looks a bit like a corset, or a conventional wireless speaker that's been squeezed by the Hulk.

Finish options are white or black, just like every Sonos model around. You get capacitive touch controls, nicely spread out across the Era 300's upper face, plus a high level of connectivity. Wi-Fi and AirPlay 2 are joined by a physical USB-C input that can be used as both a line input or an Ethernet connection (if you spring for the respective £19/£39 adapters). Additionally, the Era 300 is the first mains-powered Sonos speaker to offer Bluetooth 5.0. The great news is that this latter feature works a treat, the bad news is that it’s completely disabled when you use the Era 300s as surrounds. Sonos giveth, Sonos taketh…

Down the tube
As for the Arc soundbar, which was first launched in 2020, it's a broadly tubular-shaped affair, measuring just over 1.1m wide, and designed to be either placed in front of your TV (assuming there’s sufficient clearance) or wall-mounted via brackets available either from Sonos or third party (i.e. cheaper) suppliers.

Hidden under the hard polycarbonate grille are 11 individually powered drive units – three dome tweeters and eight bass/mids, the latter including two upfirers. Sonos doesn’t quote power figures for any of its products, so all I can tell you is that we’re talking Class D amplifiers all round. Plus, enough welly to render a subwoofer very optional.


Sonos's Arc packs 11 drivers, including two height channels

Connectivity is via a single eARC HDMI input, which is adequate for the kind of end user that Sonos has in mind, but will seem a little stingy to buyers weaned on rival brand soundbars around the £899 price point. Volume control is via your own TV's remote but setup and fine-tuning is done entirely through the S2 app, which is a supremely slick piece of coding that makes many competitor efforts look somewhat, well, beta.

Once you’ve run the app's Trueplay room tuning routine (subtle tonal benefits but definitely worthwhile), you’re able to adjust global bass/treble EQ to the whole system, as well as vary subwoofer, surround and height channel levels. Usefully, the app flags up Atmos content when you're listening to it, and allows audio sync delays to be applied specifically to your home cinema rig, as well as to any whole-house grouping of speakers that it forms part of.

Close your eyes
I’m reluctant to start deploying superlatives early but it’s hard to avoid them here. Put bluntly, the new Era 300s are gamechangers when partnered with the Sonos Arc.

For a graphic demonstration, cue up the Atmos soundtrack of episode six of Ahsoka on Disney+. As Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) paces around her cell, you hear the wind varying in intensity as it whistles through the cell's openings. When she asks 'What am I doing?', her words bounce off the stone walls surrounding her. You feel her sense of enclosure, on all sides... close your eyes and it's palpable.

Moments later, as she tries to use The Force to open the door, she realises the mortar and stones falling from the walls aren't as a result of her efforts but something else. She turns to see the sky outside the cell darken, and as Grand Admiral Thrawn’s Imperial Class Destroyer, the Chimaera, rolls over, your ears are treated to an awe-inspiring arrival that's conveyed with truly grand sonic scale. The slow-moving, deep-throated bass thrum of the ship’s engines overhead, overlaid against otherworldly wails, feels genuinely cinematic as the effect seamlessly pans from back to front.


Touch controls on the Era 300 handle volume, pause, skip and mic on/off

When the destroyer fully hoves into view, and the organ in the orchestral accompaniment kicks in via all channels, you simply can't help but involuntarily hold your breath.

Switch the Era 300s out (easy to do from the S2 app) and, unsurprisingly, the soundstage behind you collapses. This causes you to re-evaluate what the Arc soundbar is doing: the wails and thrumming engines are still present but everything’s now very much coming at you from the front and sides. It's still a great effort but it’s easy to appreciate the resulting immersion deficit.

Moreover, swap the Era 300s out for, say, a pair of Sonos's more affordable One SLs, and a modicum of that rear channel weight and energy comes back in but it all feels distinctly flat-footed, narrow and pointed, by comparison. And the absence of any real height projection is glaringly obvious.

Dialogue diva
Despite the huge size of the soundfield the Era 300s help create, the Arc always maintains an iron grip on dialogue. When Thrawn utters his first words, they emerge crisply and are precisely placed in the Atmos soundfield. You hear his greeting ring out against the backdrop of a cavernous loading bay and know exactly how far in front of you he's standing. The Arc blends diffuseness and directivity brilliantly.

While this system patently does its best work with Atmos-encoded soundtracks, standard 5.1 audio gets a fillip, too. When the gangsters interrupt Bob Odenkirk's bus ride home in bonkers action flick Nobody (Netflix), there's a more convincing sense of his movement between the bus and the outdoor environments. With One SLs deployed at the back, this effect is far less pronounced, and the scene loses some of its impact.

If there's a criticism to be directed at the Arc it's that, quite often, I felt the centre-channel level often needed a boost. Sonos provides a fixed speech enhancement mode within the S2 app that generally does a good job, but I'd prefer to be able to manually adjust its level, as you can for any connected rears and sub.

Happily, the addition of a pair of Era 300s doesn't change the Arc's sonic imprint: the overall soundfield is still well-balanced from top to bottom of the frequency range, butter smooth in character, with a focus on midrange authenticity. The Era 300s' achievement is that they unlock a dimension of Dolby Atmos performance that's only hinted at when listening to the Arc alone.

Impressive upgrade
Therefore, the advice to current Sonos Arc owners is to forget, for the time being, about adding a subwoofer (either the £429 Sub Mini or £799 Sub Gen 3), or indeed any other Sonos speakers, because as of now there simply isn't a better value for money upgrade – even at £449 each – than investing in a pair of Era 300s.

And if you're entirely new to Sonos ownership and crave the ultimate in fuss-free Dolby Atmos at home, be assured... the 'Premium Surround' package will absolutely deliver you your fix.

HCC Verdict: 5/5

Sonos Arc Premium Surround Set

Price: £1,797

We say: Sonos's debut spatial audio-toting wireless speaker helps endows its flagship Arc soundbar with a truly stratospheric Atmos performance uplift.


ERA 300
DRIVE UNITS: 4 x tweeters (one upfiring); 2 x woofers ONBOARD POWER (CLAIMED): 6 x Class D amplifiers, power not rated CONNECTIONS: USB-C DIMENSIONS: 260(w) x 160(h) x 185(d)mm WEIGHT: 4.47kg

DRIVE UNITS: 3 x silk dome tweeters; 8 x bass/mid (two upfiring) ONBOARD POWER (CLAIMED): 11 x Class D amplifiers, power not rated CONNECTIONS: HDMI eARC; Ethernet DIMENSIONS: 1,142(w) x 88(h) x 116(d)mm WEIGHT: 6.25kg

FEATURES: Dolby Atmos; integrated Wi-Fi; black or white finish options; S2 app with Trueplay room tuning, adjustable EQ and integrated music streaming (incl. Apple Music, Amazon Music, Sonos Radio, Tidal and Spotify); Bluetooth 5.0 (Era 300); Amazon Alexa voice control; touch controls