With the rise of immersive Dolby Atmos soundtracks on today‘s movies and shows, many home theater fans are looking to upgrade their audio experience. Sonos delivers best-in-class quality for discerning listeners with their premium Arc line of soundbars. I‘ll compare the Sonos Arc vs Arc SL models in detail so you can determine which is better suited for your needs and budget.
Sonos Arc and Arc SL Overview
Since forming in 2002, Sonos has earned a sterling reputation for wireless multi-room audio. They pioneered the connected smart speaker category.
With the June 2020 release of the Sonos Arc soundbar, the company finally added support for object-based Dolby Atmos sound – a significant upgrade from older formats. The $799 price and features like HDMI eARC connectivity made the Arc an instant hit.
Sonos smartly followed up just 6 months later with the Sonos Arc SL in December 2020. This special edition "speechless" model at $899 retains the same premium audio performance but removes the integrated mics for voice control. For privacy-focused customers, this slate black variant without always-listening mics provides peace of mind.
Both models support Sonos‘ excellent Trueplay room tuning feature for optimized audio. Let‘s explore the key differences in more detail.
Side-By-Side Comparison of Key Features and Specs
|| Sonos Arc | Sonos Arc SL |
|Integrated Mics|Yes (2)|No|
|Voice Control|Alexa, Google Assistant|None|
|Colors|Black, White|Matte Black|
|Audio Formats|Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0, Stereo PCM, MP3|Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0, Stereo PCM, MP3|
|Speakers|8 woofers, 3 tweeters|8 woofers, 3 tweeters|
|Amplifiers|11 Class-D digital amps|11 Class-D digital amps|
|Frequency Response|40Hz – 20kHz ±3dB|40Hz – 20kHz ±3dB|
|Sound Pressure Level|102dB SPL at 1m|102dB SPL at 1m|
|Total Harmonic Distortion|Less than 1% from 250Hz to 20kHz|Less than 1% from 250Hz to 20kHz|
|Trueplay Tuning|Yes, automatic with mics|Manual mode only|
|Dimensions (W x H x D)|45 x 3.4 x 4.5in|45 x 3.4 x 4.5in|
|Cable Inputs|HDMI eARC, Optical Audio|HDMI eARC, Optical Audio|
|Wireless Connectivity|WiFi b/g/n, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect|WiFi b/g/n, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect|
|Smart Home Integration|Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa| Apple HomeKit|
|Voice Control Platforms|Alexa, Google Assistant|None|
|Multi-Room Audio|Sonos platform|Sonos platform|
Key Difference 1: Built-In Microphones for Voice Control
The most significant difference between the Sonos Arc and the Sonos Arc SL is the lack of onboard microphones on the SL version.
The standard Arc utilizes far-field microphone arrays to enable:
Hands-free Voice Control – Use voice commands to play/pause media, change tracks, adjust volume, and more without touching the soundbar.
Access Voice Assistants – Ask Alexa or Google Assistant for information, news headlines, weather, smart home controls, and other voice assistant features.
Automatic Trueplay Tuning – The mics analyze audio output to optimize sound for your room‘s unique acoustics and geometry.
For customers who desire maximum privacy, the Sonos Arc SL provides peace of mind by never listening in. But these benefits come at the cost of losing voice interactivity and automated Trueplay tuning.
Based on Sonos‘ stature as a respected company without major privacy controversies, the always-listening mics seem a reasonable tradeoff for the major convenience of voice control. But buyers prioritizing privacy should still consider the "speechless" Arc SL.
Key Difference 2: Price and Cost Considerations
Surprisingly, the pared-back Sonos Arc SL carries a higher $1,087 retail price tag vs $899 for the microphone-equipped Arc. However, Sonos routinely offers discounts that can drop the prices below MSRP.
Around major sales events like Black Friday, both models have been available brand new for as low as $775. At that minimal $100 premium for the full-featured Arc, the voice control abilities seem well worth it.
Used/refurbished options can also make the Arc more affordable. Sonos sells refurbished Arc SL models direct for $679, which is an absolute steal and effectively matches the pricing for equivalent Arc refurbs.
To maximize savings, watch for seasonal sales events and shop used/refurbished when possible. The standard Arc also holds higher resale value long-term.
Audio Performance: Room-Filling Dolby Atmos Sound
Dolby Atmos represents the pinnacle of immersive sound, using object-based audio that seems to flow all around you. The Arc series reproduce Atmos content in stunning quality thanks to features like:
Upward-Firing Speakers – Two of the tweeters are angled at the ceiling to bounce sound effects above you, increasing immersion.
Wide Soundstage – Eight elliptical woofers and three tweeters envelop you with a wide 180° of detailed audio.
Custom Calibration – Trueplay tuning optimizes the soundbar‘s frequency response for your room‘s shape and construction materials.
Reviewers praise the expansive, three-dimensional soundstage generated by the Arc series. It sounds leagues better than built-in TV speakers. Movies and music feel more immersive and lifelike.
For the optimal Dolby Atmos effect, place the soundbar centrally under your TV. Keep rear ports at least 2-3 inches from walls. Streaming content from platforms like Netflix, Disney+, and Vudu provides the full experience.
Design Aesthetic: Modern and Discreet
Measuring just 3.4 inches tall with a slim curved enclosure, the Arc blends seamlessly under today‘s thin LED/OLED TVs. The perforated wrap-around grille adds stylish flair.
You can wall mount either model using the standard brackets. The included rubber feet keep the soundbar stable on shelves.
With identical dimensions of 45 x 3.4 x 4.5 inches and weighing just 13.8 pounds, the Arc and Arc SL share a compact, low-profile design perfect for modern homes.
Connectivity: Seamless Setup and Control
Connecting the Arc series soundbars to your system is quick and painless:
Place the soundbar centered under your TV and plug into power.
Connect the included HDMI cable from the TV‘s ARC/eARC port to the soundbar‘s HDMI input.
Connect the soundbar to WiFi via the Sonos app on your phone or tablet.
Follow the Trueplay tuning process to optimize audio for your room. The Arc‘s mics automate this, while the Arc SL requires manual tuning.
Once connected, the tactile touch controls or Sonos app allow full control over playback, volume, EQ, room grouping and other settings.
HDMI-CEC also enables TV remote control of basic functions like power and volume. Voice commands via Alexa or Google Assistant provide added convenience on the standard Arc model.
Verdict: Choose the Sonos Arc for Full Features at a Reasonable Price
In closing, while both the Sonos Arc and Sonos Arc SL deliver excellent Dolby Atmos sound, the full-featured Arc is the better value purchase for most buyers.
The useful additions of always-listening microphones for convenient voice control and automated audio tuning are well worth the minor $100 – $200 price premium in my analysis. Discounts can further minimize the pricing gap.
However, customers who demand total privacy should still consider the "speechless" Sonos Arc SL. Just be prepared to pay a higher price for the no-mics design.
For the optimal immersive Dolby Atmos home theater experience in a sleek and easy-to-use package, the Sonos Arc is a superb investment that will please audiophiles. Feel free to reach out with any other questions as you shop!