Sonos Ray soundbar review: the cheaper compact TV audio upgrade | Gadgets

SOnos’ latest compact soundbar, the Ray, has achieved a welcome balance for consumers by cutting redundant features for a lower price, while still packing top-quality audio for a serious TV sound upgrade and unmatched multi-room music.

It costs £ 279 ($ 279 / A $ 399) it is an all-in-one, which means you do not need a separate subwoofer or other speakers for full sound. It slots under the superb £ 449 Beam and £ 899 Arc soundbars as Sonos’ entry-level unit. The question now is – do you really need to spend more?

With a smaller, flatter design than the larger Beam and Arc, their four speakers stand straight out of the front grille, making it easier to lock in TV stands without affecting the sound. In large terms, it’s slightly wider than a full-sized keyboard and fairly short, stopping it from blocking your view from the bottom of the TV screen on a cabinet, which can be a problem for larger rivals.

The top of the Sonos Ray displays touch-sensitive buttons for playback and volume control.
It has touch-sensitive buttons at the top for pause / play and volume. Swipe between the volume buttons for track skip. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Hidden in a recess in the back are power and ethernet connections, if you do not want to use wifi. However, there is no HDMI port, instead you have to rely on the much older optical cable to connect your TV. Most TVs have an optical port, which makes things simple, but limits the audio formats that the Ray supports to the older Dolby Digital or DTS, not the newer Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

I think this is a corner worth cutting for a lower price. Since movies with Dolby Atmos also include standard Dolby Digital soundtracks, the Ray will still be able to play anything.

A series of screenshots of the Sonos app showing the Ray soundbar setup procedure.
Setting up the Ray is simple: plug it in power, plug the optical cable in the back and into your TV, then follow the instructions in the Sonos app on an Android or iPhone to connect to wifi, check the connections and set up volume control using your remote. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

The one notable potential problem with audio bars lacking an HDMI port is how you can control volume. Using the optical cable means that your TV can not control the sound bar via HDMI-CEC, a connection that most TVs can control sound bars and other devices remotely. TVs with motion or voice control distances, like many in the LG range, may not be able to adjust the Ray volume – so you will need to use the phone app or press the buttons on the soundbar. However, a standard infrared TV remote or that of set-top boxes like Sky Q or an Apple TV will be able to increase and decrease the sound no problem. The Sonos app will check for you as part of the setup routine.

Watching tv

The Sonos Ray soundbar viewed from a corner sitting on a TV cabinet in front of a television.
Used with Sky Q and content on demand via an Apple TV box, everything remained in perfect sync, which is not always the case with sound bars. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

Just start watching TV to automatically switch to the audio of your show or movie. The Ray generally sounds impressive for its size and price, defeating much larger, more expensive rivals.

Dialogue is super clear, even when the action is thick and fast. On-screen action has appropriate punch and energy, stays precise and controlled at all times. There’s more bass than I expected from a compact all-in-one system that handles everything but the heaviest explosions with aplomb. Only a system with a separate size subwoofer would be able to do more.

The speaker can indeed be quite loud, with 40% volume more than enough for a reasonably large UK living room. But it also has a dedicated dialogue amplifier and a night mode, which suppresses dynamic range to keep things comprehensible at lower volumes. The sound is more direct than more expensive models, however, creating less of a virtual surround effect than the Beam.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 55.9 x 9.5 x 7.1 cm

  • Weigh: 1.95 kg

  • Speakers: two tweeters, two midwoofers

  • Connectivity: wifi b / g / n, Optical, Ethernet, IR, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect

  • Audio formats: stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS Surround

  • Software: Sonos S2

  • CPU: Quad-core 1.4GHz A-53

  • FRAME: 1GB

Listening to music

The front of the Ray soundbar displays the Sonos logo in the center.
The two midwoofers and two tweeters hidden behind the grille produce really excellent music sound quality. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

It’s even better with music, producing roomy sound with good stereo separation from such a narrow bar, clear vocals, sharp heights and a lot of bass for everything but the deepest notes. Most music genres sound brilliant, but rock tracks like AC / DC’s Back in Black that blew up at the beginning of Iron Man were particularly good.

It streams music over wifi controlled by the Sonos app, and supports virtually every major service, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and BBC Sounds, plus Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.

It can be grouped with other Sonos or Ikea speakers for synchronized multi-room audio or paired with surround speakers and a separate sub for a home theater setup. The Ray also supports Sonos’ Trueplay automatic tuning system with an iPhone or iPad, if you have one.

Sustainability

The Ray is generally repairable and limited replacement parts are available on their site. The company is committed to at least five years of software support for feature updates after it stops selling a product, but has a much longer track record, including bug and security fixes for its legacy products.

The soundbar does not contain recycled materials, but Sonos is committed to the use of recycled plastic and disassembly designs for repair, refurbishment and recycling by 2023. It provides replacement and product recycling, and publishes annual warranty and sustainability reports.

Price

The Sonos Ray costs £ 279 ($ 279 / A $ 399).

For comparison, sound bars start at under £ 100, with more capable models costing around £ 200, such as the Creative Stage 360 ​​or the £ 270 Bose TV speaker.

Verdict

The Ray is a high quality compact sound upgrade for your Sonos TV. It sounds miles better than most all-in-one soundbar systems at less than £ 300 and still has the simple, minimalist and easy-to-live experience that the brand is known for.

A few angles have been cut off compared to the more expensive Beam and Arc sound bars, such as removing smart speaker features, reducing the number of speakers and virtual surround effects, and leaving the HDMI port in favor of the old optical connection.

But I do not think most will miss them. The Ray still produces influential TV and movie sound and is even better with music, without the need for a separate subwoofer. Plus, it has the advantage of Sonos’ excellent multi-room audio platform, which is compatible with an enormous range of streaming services and is constantly updated with a very long support life.

You can certainly get cheaper soundbars with more features, but very few are as compact and sound as good as the Ray.

Advantages: compact and attractive, large TV or music sound, super-clear singing, Night Sound mode, easy setup, wifi, comprehensive music service support, multiroom audio system, long support life, can be extended with additional speakers.

Disadvantages: no HDMI only optical, some TV remote will not control volume, no Dolby Atmos, no Bluetooth, no mics for smart speaker functions, limited surround sound effect without additional speakers.

Pair the Sonos app on an iPhone with the Sonos Ray during setup.
The Sonos app automatically detects, updates, and configures the Ray within minutes, making it easy to set up. Photo: Samuel Gibbs / The Guardian

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