Sonos launches cheaper Ray soundbar and new voice control system

Own-brand voice recognition update can replace Google or Alexa for faster, more private music commands

Sonos, the wireless home-audio specialist, is launching a lower-cost model of its popular TV soundbars alongside its own new voice control system for its smart speakers after its public bust-up with Google.

The new Ray soundbar is a more compact version of Sonos’s popular Arc and Beam models, designed to fit neatly in TV stands without affecting sound quality. It connects to a TV through an optical cable, has wifi for streaming music and can be controlled with the Sonos app or a TV remote.

The Ray will cost £279 in the UK or $279 in the US from 7 June, sitting below the £449 Beam as the firm’s most affordable model.

A hand touching a button on the top of the Sonos Ray soundbar.
Ray will be available in black or white and has buttons on the top to control volume and playback without a remote or app. Photograph: Sonos

It has two tweeters and two midwoofer speakers, along with the company’s Trueplay smart tuning system, promising balanced sound with solid bass and crisp dialogue. Separate speech enhancement and night sound modes aim to keep things clear without disturbing neighbours with high volume.

The Ray can be linked to other Sonos speakers and the subwoofer to create a surround-sound setup and grouped with speakers in other rooms for music across the home. It supports Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect for direct playback, too.

Voice control without Google or Alexa

The new Sonos voice system will be able to take control of music playback duties on the firm’s smart speakers, replacing Google’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. It responds to “Hey Sonos”, and in the US is voiced by the Breaking Bad actor Giancarlo Esposito.

A caption showing the voice control feature being used on a Sonos Roam smart speaker.
Sonos’s new voice recognition system can control music playback without relying on Google or Amazon. Photograph: Sonos

The voice control will be available as a free update, allowing users to ask for tracks, skip tracks, adjust the volume and move music between speakers or rooms. All requests will be processed locally on the speakers, making it faster and more private than Google or Amazon’s services as no audio or transcripts will be sent or stored in the cloud.

Sonos Voice Control will be available in the US on 1 June and France later this year, with the UK to follow. It will initially work with Sonos Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer and Pandora, with services such as Spotify coming later.

The announcement of Sonos’s own voice assistant follows its recent lawsuit win over Google in relation to audio technology patents, after the speaker-maker accused Google and Amazon [paywall] of using its intellectual property while undercutting it with competing devices.

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Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor

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