Sonos recently went a bit further downmarket with the Ray, a smaller and cheaper soundbar than the Beam, itself a smaller, cheaper soundbar than the Arc. But while the Ray performs well, it doesn’t quite earn its bounty and makes it feel like they should have just gone for something bigger.
No one should suffer from the sound that comes out of TVs these days, especially when you can get a soundbar for less than a bill that will be much better. Step into the $150-$200 range and you can also get a sub and some extra features like smart assistant, Airplay, and so on. But Sonos knows its customers are willing to pay significantly more for smooth integration and advanced features.
At $279, the Ray is priced way above other essentially 2.0 channel systems, save for Bose, another brand that generally gets a pass for inflated price tags. But the truth is, it doesn’t really compete with standalone soundbars — it competes with other Sonos options.
When a buyer considers a Sonos setup, and the Ray in particular, they don’t look to Anker and Sony soundbars – they’re thinking about joining this exclusive smart speaker club and wondering what’s the best way to do this without spending a fortune.
The Ray is certainly a cheap and practical way to do that, and if you’re watching content with a lot of dialogue in a smaller room, it’ll be solid. But if you’re looking for a sound that’s somehow big, you might as well open your wallet now and upgrade to the Beam.
Setting up the Ray was very easy for me: it has an optical connection and my remote (I have a fairly recent Vizio TV) worked with its little training system to get the volume and mute buttons online in a minute or two . Not everyone has been so lucky, but that’s the problem with ‘smart’ speakers, they’re not always smart in the right way. If you’re looking for HDMI, Bluetooth or 3.5mm (let alone RCA or anything like that) you’ll have to move on, it’s only optical or Wi-Fi here.
My reference system is an older Yamaha (also optically) with great warm sound and immersive virtual surround, but, frankly, terrible dialogue clarity, even with the speech enhancement on. The Ray is the exact opposite of that: a clear, voice-forward sound with great clarity in a limited soundstage.
Sound and music from the Ray always seem to come right in front of you, very clear and with a stereo effect, but not of the remarkable room-filling atmosphere I was able to achieve with the Yamaha for less than half its price. On the other hand, I didn’t have to hold the remote in my hand to turn it up when someone spoke and down again when a fight started. (Gandalf is the king of speaking too softly and carrying a big stick.)
But like I said, the Ray’s real competition is the Beam, its big brother and at $449, considerably more expensive. I didn’t consider a handful of ones to be an alternative, although they would probably sound good, because while it would be the same price for two, it really is a different use – this is about consumers looking to improve their TV and are Sonos curious, not those who are willing to spend money on a full-home music system.
I alternated between the Ray and Beam on the same content and the Beam was, unsurprisingly, better in every way (except for one – dialogue sync, because I believe I have a delay in the eARC channel, but I can’t pin that to sonos). Dialogue sounded just as good, but richer, while ambient sounds and music spread out much more, and with better bass. The Beam also worked better with music and generally seemed to beam it into the room rather than point it at you.
I find it hard to believe that if someone is willing to pay a premium to begin with and is thinking hard about getting a Sonos system, they would choose the Ray for any reason other than a complete lack of money. It’s a shame, but despite sounding pretty good, the Ray falls into a valley between cheaper and better (but not so smart) soundbars and the more expensive and much better (and not much bigger) Beam.
It’s not that the Ray isn’t bad at all – it’s compact, attractive, easy to set up and sounds good. But it’s in an awkward position: it doesn’t sound good enough to justify the premium over “regular” soundbars at half the price, and if you consider a system like this an investment, it’s totally worth it. to switch to the Beam.
Where is the Ray a good option? I’d say if you’re already in the Sonos ecosystem and perhaps already have a pair of One speakers in the TV room, the Ray essentially fills the role of an excellent center channel, the shortcomings of which are more than made up for by the surround setup. . (Sonos offers this as a package deal – $677.)
The Sonos Ray will ship next week.