Sonos Ray review: A starter soundbar somehow stuck in the past

The new $279 Sonos Ray is the company’s most affordable soundbar yet, and it serves two main purposes. The first, like any entry-level soundbar, is to save you from having to listen to your TV’s atrocious built-in speakers. But the Ray is also designed to be an attractive gateway to Sonos’ multiroom audio platform. To achieve a sub-$300 price, Sonos has removed many advanced features offered by its more expensive Shine and Bow sound bars. The Ray doesn’t support Dolby Atmos, and it completely lacks HDMI connectivity. Instead, you connect it to your TV using an optical audio cable.

I spent a few days testing the Ray, and it sounds impressive for such a compact soundbar. There’s a lot to like about its performance, both in terms of TV audio and music playback. Its forward-facing speakers mean you can place it in a narrow media cabinet, and its sound will stay consistent. But Sonos’ decision to rely on an older-style optical input led to inconveniences and frustrations that don’t exist with the HDMI-capable Beam or Arc.

The main problem comes down to how you control the soundbar. Unlike the Beam and Arc, which accept volume commands from many different remotes via HDMI-CEC, the Ray will only work with infrared (IR) remotes. And, as I learned, even then things can be uncertain. I have tried several times to get the Ray to work with TCL’s 6-series Google TV remote. I’m sure it’s an infrared remote – obstacles between the remote and the TV can block the signal – but for some reason the Ray never recognized it. Your experience could be better, especially if you have a universal remote. But, if your remote communicates with the TV via radio frequency (RF) or Bluetooth, you’re watered. (Sonos has a help page to configure some LG, Apple and Samsung remotes.)

The Ray only supports optical input from TVs and does not include HDMI connectivity.

In my case, I ended up having to use the Sonos app on my phone (or the touch controls at the top of the soundbar) to adjust the volume, which got annoying. Ease of use objectively suffered from the lack of HDMI. This is an area where the company new voice command service Might be useful if you also have one of Sonos’ smart speakers, but it won’t solve the remote control issue.

I tried this several times, and the Ray just wouldn’t pick up my TV remote.

The Ray takes inspiration from the Arc and Beam in its design, with a perforated front grille and a tapered body that slopes outward at the front. This soundbar is small and light enough to be easily carried with one hand. And its dimensions lend themselves well to using the Ray as a desktop speaker. But then again, the limited entry options diminish that potential somewhat. Unless your PC has an optical output, it can be tricky to get wired audio working, but you still have Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and the extensive list of supported music services at your disposal. charged by Sonos. A 3.5mm auxiliary input would have been nice. Beneath a TV, the Ray looks at home paired with a 55-inch or smaller set and quite small if you place it next to a 65-inch TV. The stronger beam and arc makes more sense for larger screens.

The Ray has the same capacitive touch controls as other Sonos soundbars.

Considering it only has four speakers – two centered midwoofers and two tweeters that beam sound to the sides using physical waveguides – the Ray’s acoustics are impressive and better than my old bar. from its very basic Vizio or something like the Roku Streambar. In the standalone configuration, you will only get stereo sound. But you can upgrade to a surround system by adding matched pairs of other Sonos or Ikea Symfonisk speakers and the Sonos Sub.

I suspect most people will use the Ray on its own, and even on its own it had no trouble filling my room with sound. But I could imagine it struggling and sounding tighter in large, open living rooms. There’s very little sense of immersion or directional audio since the Ray doesn’t have the impressive surround sound virtualization of the second-gen Sonos Beam or the Arc’s many additional drivers. Part of that again comes down to the optical input. The Ray only supports PCM, Dolby Digital and DTS stereo audio; forget Atmos, and even Dolby Digital Plus is banned.

The Sonos Ray looks a bit undersized when paired with a 65-inch TV.

When listening to music, the Ray isn’t that far sonically far from the Sonos One smart speaker. It has a full, well-balanced sound with bass that I would describe as… competent. But it would benefit enormously from a dedicated subwoofer; the Sub Mini rumor can’t come soon enough. The Ray handles games quite well. I didn’t experience any noticeable audio sync issues while using my PS5 for several hours, so the optical connection isn’t without its advantages. As with the Beam and Arc, iPhone and iPad owners can enable Trueplay and use the mic of those devices to optimize the Ray’s sound for the specific room it’s in. This feature remains absent on Android.

Where the Sonos Ray shines the most is the clarity of dialogue. Vocals come out of this soundbar with excellent separation and remain easy to hear no matter how much action is happening on screen. It’s a night and day difference from built-in TV speakers, where sound is often muddy and dialogue can be hard to follow. The Beam and Arc are technically superior to the Ray in this department since both have dedicated center channels, but I was entirely satisfied with the crisp voice reproduction on Sonos’ latest soundbar. It’s also a noticeable strength when listening to music.

The Ray integrates seamlessly with Sonos’ whole-home speaker ecosystem and lets you enjoy audio from all major music streaming services wirelessly. I love how enveloping it is when I have the same music playing on different sides of my room on the Play:5 and the Ray. Another neat trick is the ability to play TV audio on your other Sonos speakers around the house, so you don’t have to miss hearing the news or any great sports game moment while preparing a meal in the kitchen.

The design is inspired by the arc and the beam.

Sonos faces plenty of competition (and well below) the Ray’s $279 price tag. Most budget soundbars don’t offer the same Wi-Fi music playback capabilities, but many at least include Bluetooth – which the Ray doesn’t – and companies like Vizio often include a subwoofer to go along with it. the affordable soundbar. This makes the Ray a tricky proposition. If you commit to diving into the Sonos ecosystem, this is a very capable starter soundbar and will be supported by software updates for many years to come. And it upholds the company’s reputation for sound quality, performing at a level above most entry-level soundbars. This is especially true when listening to music.

But, in the age of HDMI eARC, the Ray is held back by its single optical input. Sonos has obviously calculated that the Ray’s target market won’t think twice about its lack of HDMI connectivity or its immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound. Not everyone cares about having the best, and a lot of people will use this soundbar with a secondary TV.

Even so, you shouldn’t overlook the other trade-offs. The Ray might not work with your TV remote, and some people will inevitably reject the idea of ​​paying close to $300 for a stereo soundbar in 2022. A possible Sub Mini seems like an indispensable piece to that puzzle. But taken on its own merits, the Ray doesn’t disappoint as long as you’re sold on everything it’s capable of and don’t care what concessions Sonos settled on to build it.

Photograph by Chris Welch/The Verge

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