Sonos Ray soundbar review: The cheapest compact TV audio upgrade | Gadgets

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Sonos’ latest compact soundbar, the Ray, has struck a welcome balance for consumers by stripping out unnecessary features at a lower price, while delivering premium sound for a serious TV sound upgrade and a unparalleled multiroom music.

Costing £279 ($279 / A$399), it’s an all-in-one, meaning you don’t need a separate subwoofer or other speakers to full sound. It slots under the excellent £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, its four speakers face the front grille directly, making it easier to insert into TV stands without affecting sound. In terms of size, it’s slightly wider than a full-size keyboard and quite short, which keeps it from blocking your view of the bottom of the TV screen on a cabinet, which can be a problem for bigger rivals.

It has tactile buttons on the top for pause/play and volume. Swipe between the volume buttons to skip a track. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Hidden in a recess in the back are connections for power and ethernet, if you don’t want to use wifi. However, there’s 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 simpler but limits Ray’s supported sound formats to older Dolby Digital or DTS, not newer Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

I think it’s 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 it all.

A series of Sonos app screenshots showing the Ray soundbar setup process.
Setting up the Ray is simple: plug it into the mains, insert the optical cable through the back and into your TV, then follow the instructions in the Sonos app on an Android or iPhone to connect to Wi-Fi, check connections and configure volume control. using your remote control. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The only noticeable potential issue with soundbars that lack an HDMI port is the volume control. Using the optical cable means your TV cannot control the soundbar via HDMI-CEC, a connection that allows most TVs to control soundbars and other devices with a single remote. TVs with motion or voice-activated remotes, like many in LG’s range, may not be able to adjust the Ray’s volume – so you’ll have to use the phone app or press the buttons on the soundbar. However, a standard infrared TV remote or those for set-top boxes such as Sky Q or Apple TV will be able to increase and decrease the sound without a problem. The Sonos app will check for you as part of the setup routine.

Watch television

The Sonos Ray soundbar viewed from an angle on a TV stand in front of a TV.
Used with Sky Q and on-demand content via an Apple TV box, everything stayed in perfect sync, which isn’t always the case with soundbars. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Just start watching TV to automatically switch to your show or movie audio. The Ray looks quite impressive for its size and price, beating much bigger and more expensive rivals.

Dialogue is super clear, even when the action is thick and fast. The on-screen action has the right punch and energy, remaining precise and controlled at all times. There’s more bass than I expected from a compact all-in-one system, handling all but the biggest blasts with aplomb. Only a system with a separate large subwoofer would be capable of more.

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

Features

  • Dimensions: 55.9 x 9.5 x 7.1cm

  • Weigh: 1.95kg

  • 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 1.4 GHz A-53

  • RAM: 1 GB

Listen to music

The front of the Ray soundbar displaying the Sonos logo in its center.
The two midwoofers and two tweeters hidden behind the grill produce truly excellent musical sound quality. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It’s 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 notes. Most musical genres sound brilliant, but rock tracks such as AC/DC’s Back in Black at the start of Iron Man were particularly good.

It streams music over Wi-Fi controlled by the Sonos app, supporting virtually all major services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and BBC Sounds, as well as Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.

It can be grouped with other Sonos or Ikea speakers for synchronized multiroom sound, or linked to surround speakers and a separate sub for a home theater setup. The Ray also supports Sonos’ Trueplay auto-tuning system using an iPhone or iPad, if you have one.

Sustainability

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 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 using recycled plastics and designs with teardown in mind for repair, refurbishment and recycling beginning in 2023. It offers trade-in and product recycling, and publishes annual responsibility and sustainability reports.

Price

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

For comparison, soundbars 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 compact, high-quality sound upgrade for your Sonos TV. It sounds better than most all-in-one soundbar systems under £300 and still delivers the simple, minimalist and easy-going experience the brand is known for.

A few corners have been cut from the more expensive Beam and Arc soundbars, such as removing smart speaker features, reducing the number of speakers and virtual surround effects, and dropping the HDMI port at the advantage of the old optical connection.

But I don’t think most will miss them. The Ray still produces punchy sound for TV and movies and is even better with music, without the need for a separate subwoofer. Plus, it benefits from Sonos’ excellent multi-room audio platform, which is compatible with a huge range of streaming services and is constantly updated with a very long lifespan.

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

Advantages: compact and attractive, great TV or music sound, super clear voices, Night Sound mode, easy setup, wifi, extensive music service support, multi-room audio system, long life, can be extended with speakers additional speakers.

The inconvenients: no HDMI only optical, some TV remotes don’t control volume, no Dolby Atmos, no Bluetooth, no mics for smart speaker functions, limited surround sound effect without additional speakers.

The Sonos app on an iPhone paired with the Sonos Ray during setup.
The Sonos app automatically detects, updates, and configures the Ray in minutes, making setup simple. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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