Sonos’s latest compact soundbar, the Ray, has achieved a welcome balance for consumers by cutting unnecessary features for a lower price, while still packing top-quality audio for a serious TV sound upgrade and unrivalled multiroom music.
Costing £279 ($279/A$399) it is an all-in-one, which means you don’t need a separate subwoofer or other speakers for full sound. It slots under the excellent £449 Beam and £899 Arc soundbars as Sonos’s 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, its four speakers face straight out of the front grille, making it easier to slot into TV stands without affecting the sound. In size terms, it is slightly wider than a full-sized keyboard and fairly short, stopping it blocking your view of the bottom of the TV screen on a cabinet, which can be a problem for taller rivals.
Hidden in a recess in the back are connections for power and ethernet, if you don’t want to use wifi. However, there is no HDMI port, instead you must rely on the much older optical cable to connect your TV. Most TVs have an optical port, which makes things simple but limits the sound formats 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 contain standard Dolby Digital soundtracks, the Ray will still be able to play everything.
The one notable potential problem with soundbars that lack an HDMI port is how to control volume. Using the optical cable means your television cannot control the soundbar through HDMI-CEC, a connection that allows most TVs to control soundbars and other devices via one remote. TVs with motion or voice-control remotes, such as many in the LG range, may not be able to adjust the Ray’s volume – so you will need to use the phone app or press the buttons on the soundbar. However, a standard infrared TV remote or those of set-top boxes such as Sky Q or an Apple TV will be able to increase and decrease sound no problem.The Sonos app will check for you as part of the setup routine.
Simply start watching TV to automatically switch to the audio from your show or movie. The Ray sounds throughly impressive for its size and price, beating much larger, more expensive rivals.
Dialogue is super clear, even when the action is thick and fast. On-screen action has suitable punch and energy, remaining precise and controlled at all times. There is more bass than I expected from a compact all-in-one system, handling all but the very largest explosions with aplomb. Only a system with a separate large subwoofer would be capable of more.
The speaker can get very loud indeed, with 40% volume more than enough for a reasonable-sized British living room. But it also has a dedicated dialogue enhancer and a night mode, which suppresses dynamic range to keep things intelligible at lower volumes. The sound is more direct than more expensive models, however, creating less of a virtual surround effect than the Beam.
Dimensions: 55.9 x 9.5 x 7.1cm
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
Listening to music
It is even better with music, producing room-filling sound with good stereo separation from such a narrow bar, clear vocals, crisp highs and plenty of bass for all but the deepest of notes. Most music genres sound brilliant but rock tracks such as AC/DC’s Back in Black blasting out at the start of Iron Man were particularly good.
It streams music over wifi controlled by the Sonos app, supporting practically 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 synchronised multiroom audio or linked with surround speakers and a separate sub for a home cinema set up. The Ray also supports Sonos’s Trueplay automatic tuning system using an iPhone or iPad, if you have one.
The Ray is generally repairable and limited replacement parts are available on its site. The company commits to a minimum of five years of software support for feature updates after it stops selling a product but has a track record of much longer, including bug and security fixes for its legacy products.
The soundbar does not contain recycled material but Sonos has committed to the use of recycled plastics and designs with disassembly in mind for repair, refurbishment and recycling from 2023. It offers trade-in and product recycling, and publishes annual responsibility and sustainability reports.
The Sonos Ray costs £279 ($279/A$399).
For comparison, soundbars start at under £100, with more capable models costing from about £200, such as the Creative Stage 360 or the £270 Bose TV speaker.
The Ray is a compact, high-quality sound upgrade for your TV from Sonos. It sounds miles better than most all-in-one soundbar systems at under £300 and still has the simple, minimalist and easy to live-with experience the brand is known for.
A few corners have been cut compared with the more expensive Beam and Arc soundbars, such as removing smart speaker functions, reducing the number of speakers and virtual surround effects, and ditching the HDMI port in favour of the old optical connection.
But I don’t think most will miss them. The Ray stillproduces impactful TV and movie sound and is even better with music, without needing a separate subwoofer. Plus, it has the advantage of Sonos’s excellent multiroom audio platform, which is compatible with a massive range of streaming services and is kept 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.
Pros: compact and attractive, great TV or music sound, super-clear vocals, Night Sound mode, easy setup, wifi, extensive music service support, multiroom audio system, long support life, can be extended with additional speakers.
Cons: no HDMI only optical, some TV remotes won’t control volume, no Dolby Atmos, no Bluetooth, no mics for smart speaker functions, limited surround-sound effect without additional speakers.
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