At first glance the new Sonos Beam does not look like a bargain.
It's a new smart speaker from a company known for creating streamlined audio setups rather than voice assistant technology – and it costs as much as $ 399.
Also consider the fact that the Beam is a soundbar. It is more than two feet long and belongs in only one place – under your TV screen.
As such, it is not exactly in the same family as the compact smart speakers from Amazon, Apple and Google that we used to place on the coffee table, next to the mixer and on the bedside table.
But kick back and listen to this: if you're looking for a cheap cheap home theater that responds to your commands like an Amazon Echo, then the Sonos Beam is worth an audition.
The installation is simple. The box contains the Beam, which is available in black or white, as well as a power cable and an HDMI cable. Follow the instructions on the Sonos app and you'll be ready for use in five minutes.
Once I had connected mine, it was clear that the Beam made movies and shows that sounded better than ever through the speakers of my TV. When I tried to stream video, the clash of swords in "Game of Thrones" sounded surprisingly real. When I played music, the chorus of "Dancing Queen" in the "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" soundtrack turned guests around.
In fact, I started to feel a bit uncivilized because I had done so long with the built-in TV speakers.
Add to this the fact that the Beam is powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. Turn on the TV, adjust the volume, switch it off – all by talking to Alexa. If you have a Fire TV stick, Alexa can also control your Netflix and Prime Video hands-free.
Along with the Alexa functionality, however, comes one of the most annoying peculiarities of the Beam: a few times a week, I've discovered, the Beam will pick up a character in a TV show that says something like "Alexa" seems, followed by a gong and occasionally, "I have trouble understanding you" interrupting the show.
To be sure, Alexa is a bit more clumsy and robotic than Google assistant, which is loaded on my Google Home Max speaker, and also costs $ 399. Sonos claims that the Beam has the integration with Google assistants available against it end of the holiday season.
Until that time, when the TV is off and I ask for a song, the Google speaker gets the job every time. In addition to a voice assistant that is smarter, easier to use and sounds less robotic all around, the Google Home Max actually sounds a bit better than the Beam, with a better definition on higher volumes.
All that said, if I could only have one, it would be the Sonos, who taught me that a great TV speaker is something worth spending.