Sonos Ray soundbar review: The start of something awesome

Angled view of The Sonos Ray soundbar in white.

Sonos Ray soundbar review: The start of something awesome

MSRP $279.00

“Sonos sets the stage for a much more affordable home theater system with the Ray.”

Pros

  • Compact for versatile placement
  • Impressive sound for its size
  • Expandable to a full 5.1 system
  • Easy setup and control

Cons

  • Pricey for a small soundbar
  • Lacks a bit of midrange detail

Sonos is synonymous with wireless multiroom audio. It’s also been creating home theater solutions for almost a decade. In that time it has released two full-size (and high-priced) soundbars (the PlayBar and the Arc). It’s had two midsized soundbars (the first- and second-gen Beam), and a quasi-soundbar/TV stand called the PlayBase. And while each was a success in its own right, with prices ranging from $399 to $899, they left Sonos without a decent option for those with smaller rooms and smaller budgets — a gap that companies like Vizio have been more than happy to fill.

Now we have the $279 Sonos Ray. It’s the company’s most affordable soundbar by a huge factor now that the second-gen Beam sells for $449 — and it’s also one of the more affordable soundbars you can buy, period. But can such a small and relatively inexpensive speaker still produce the kind of emotional listening experience that makes a soundbar worth buying in the first place? Or in trying to achieve a lower price, did Sonos leave too much on the table? Let’s check it out.

Design

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

In typical Sonos fashion, the Ray — which comes in your choice of black or white — is an understated affair. The all-plastic construction and subtle branding will let it blend in with almost any decor. And that’s more than aesthetic choice: The Ray’s drivers are all positioned right up against the grille, which means you can completely surround the speaker’s cabinet with other objects, including the dividers of your media stand, should you have one.

Sonos recommends giving the Ray 5 millimeters of clearance on the top and sides, but that’s effectively nothing at all. Adding to the placement flexibility is an optional $39 wall-mount bracket — a ludicrous price for what is basically a single piece of metal with a set of four screws. But then again Sonos always has charged a lot of money for its speaker mounts.

The Ray is a bit narrower than its bigger sibling, the Beam (22 inches versus 25.5 inches) but the two speakers are almost identical in height and depth, and both are ideally suited for use in smaller rooms, in front of smaller TVs (think 55-inches or smaller).

Sony Ray (top) and Sonos Beam Gen 2. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Like all of Sonos’ recent products, you’ll find a set of discrete touch controls on the top surface for play/pause, volume up/down, and skip track forward/back. But given that all of the speaker’s functions can be controlled from a mobile app, they’re not essential if you want to take advantage of the ability to enclose it.

On the bottom edge of the speaker sits an infrared (IR) receiver, which the Ray uses to interpret volume up/down and mute commands from your TV or universal remote. But there’s no IR repeater on the back of the unit, so you’ll need to pay close attention to where your TV’s IR receiver is located. Given how short the Ray stands, it’s unlikely that it will block that sensor, but if it does, you may have trouble controlling your TV.

What you won’t find on the Ray are microphones for voice control. This comes as something of a surprise given that on the same day that Sonos announced the Ray, it also announced its own voice AI system called Sonos Voice Control, which will debut in June 2022.

Connections

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Around the back of the Ray, you’ll find one of the simplest sets of connections in the soundbar world: A port for the power cord, an Ethernet port, an optical port, and a button for identifying the speaker for setup purposes (more on that later).

That sparse set of connections, especially the lack of an HDMI ARC/eARC port, was a surprise to me when Sonos debuted the Ray, but it actually makes sense. You need HDMI ARC/eARC if you want to do advanced surround formats like Dolby Atmos, but since the Ray isn’t compatible with them (it’s only designed for stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround), ARC/eARC would be of limited value.

Plus, on the upside, since Sonos doesn’t include HDMI inputs on its other soundbars, it means you don’t have to give up an HDMI port on your TV just to hook up an external speaker. Sonos includes a matching 4.9-foot white or black optical cable in the box, which should give you a fair degree of flexibility for placement as long as you’re not trying to route it through a wall. Thankfully, optical cables are very inexpensive should you need a longer one.

Setup

Because the Ray is more than just a TV speaker, setting up isn’t quite plug-and-play. But you’ll be surprised how simple it is, especially if you’ve never used a Sonos product before.

It’s all (still) done using the Sonos mobile app, which guides you through the process of setting up a new system and creating an account (if this is your first Sonos product). Assuming you’ve already plugged the Ray into a wall outlet, the app will automatically find it and walk you through getting it connected to your TV. Got three minutes? That’s really all it takes.

That button on the back of the Ray can be considered a fail-safe: In the event that the Sonos app can’t do its magic act, it will instruct you to press that button to help it identify the speaker.

This little box pumps out an impressive amount of sound.

Toward the end of the process, you’ll be encouraged to add any music streaming services you subscribe to. Sonos supports a huge assortment of them, so I won’t even bother listing them here. If you find one that isn’t supported, let me know!

If you own an iPhone, you’ll also be shown how to tune the Ray using the Trueplay procedure. Sonos still doesn’t support this on Android devices, but if you know someone who owns an iPhone, you could even borrow it for a few minutes and give it back — Trueplay settings, like most Sonos settings, are stored on the speaker, not in the app.

In my medium-sized TV room, I didn’t notice a big difference between before and after Trueplay, but it has worked wonders on some of my other Sonos products, so your mileage may vary.

Sound quality

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

I’ve reviewed almost every speaker Sonos has made and you’d think by now I’d no longer be surprised by how the company’s engineers are able to extract so much sound from such small enclosures. And yet, I am continually amazed. The Ray might be intended for small-to-medium-size rooms, but I think that’s Sonos being modest. This little box pumps out an impressive amount of sound.

But it’s the bass that gets you. Sonos has always been able to produce disproportionately big, boomy low-end from its speakers, and the Ray continues this tradition. Sonos says it developed an entirely new bass reflex system for the Ray, and it appears to have paid off. I’m not saying it can substitute for a dedicated subwoofer (it can’t), but for its size, it’s astonishingly deep and resonant.

The Ray has a warmth to its sound that I find very enjoyable

The higher frequencies, where dialogue and sounds like dogs barking, bullets whizzing, or tires screeching live, are also very clear. The Ray uses special wave guides in front of its twin tweeters, which direct the sound both forward and outward — and you can hear the results. Speech sounds like it’s coming directly from the screen, and yet many of the sounds that make up the rest of a movie or TV show’s soundtrack feel like they’re spaced farther out.

As a TV companion, it’s very satisfying. And if this is your first soundbar, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.

Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

When it comes to music, the results are almost as good. As with all Sonos speakers, the Ray has a warmth to its sound that I find very enjoyable. Audiophiles may (and u

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