Sonos has announced the Beam (Gen 2), the second-generation of its Beam soundbar that was originally released in June 2018. The new compact soundbar looks basically identical its predecessor (save for an updated grille), but Sonos gave it a 40-percent faster CPU, an eARC connection and, most importantly, support for Dolby Atmos.

The Beam (Gen 2) costs $449— $50 more than the Beam (Gen 1) — making it one of the few Dolby Atmos soundbars you can buy for less than $500. Sonos just increased the price of the Arc by $100, so it now costs $899, meaning the Beam (Gen 2) is now exactly half as expensive.

The Beam (Gen 2) is available for preorder now, in either white or black, with general availability starting on October 5.

Sonos didn’t rewrite the script with the Beam (Gen 2). It has the same exact dimensions as the Beam (Gen 1). It has the same exact speaker configuration (consisting of four full-range drivers, a center tweeter and three passive radiators). And it has same microphone array and voice assistant compatibility (you can choose between Alexa or Google Assistant). The difference is that the Beam (Gen 2)’s new processing power allows it to unlock some key sound enhancements.

“What’s unique about Sonos speakers compared to traditional soundbars is speaker arrays,” said Scott Fink, a product manager for home theater at Sonos. “And that’s basically the software that’s coordinating the interactions and playback of the speakers so that they can work together and direct sound around the room.” Where the Beam (Gen 1) was able to create three speaker arrays, the more sophisticated software of Beam (Gen 2) allows it to create five speakers arrays.

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The two extra speaker arrays helps the Beam (Gen 2) better separate height and surround information and thus deliver a more immersive sound. When comparing the Beam (Gen 2) to the Beam (Gen 1), Fink says you’ll notice a more detailed soundstage with Beam (Gen 2), as well as hear dialogue more clearly. Also, these sound improvements that the Beam (Gen 2) delivers apply across the board, whether you’re listening to Dolby Atmos content or not.

Unlike the Sonos Arc, the Beam (Gen 2) still doesn’t have dedicated upward firing drivers. The means that it likely won’t be able to deliver the same level of immersive sound as higher-end soundbars that do have them. This is why for the best possible Dolby Atmos experience within the Sonos ecosystem, Fink still recommends the Arc. The Beam is still designed for small rooms and budget shoppers.

The Beam (Gen 2) has a few other upgrades. It has a newer HDMI eARC connection instead of the original Beam’s ARC, which allows it to support high-definition audio codecs, such as Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and multi-channel LPCM (which is important for gamers). It also has a perforated polycarbonate grille — just like Sonos Arc — which is supposedly easier to clean than the fabric grille of the original Beam. And it supports NFC (just like many of Sonos’s newer speakers), so you can more quickly set up the Beam (Gen 2) with your smartphone.

    As for the original Beam, Sonos is stopping production and phasing it out. It will, however, continue to support it for software updates for “years to come.”

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