The Sonos Ray Isn’t for Soundbar Die-Hards, but It’s for Literally Everyone Else

The Sonos Ray Isn’t for Soundbar Die-Hards, but It’s for Literally Everyone Else
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia
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I have some pretty bad news. For the next 1,500 words or so, I’m not going to give you a reason to not buy the Sonos Ray soundbar.

The Sonos Ray is cheap. It sounds great. And it’s perfect for those wanting to boost the sound of a budget TV.

The Sonos Ray soundbar

Sonos announced Ray only a few weeks ago. Despite Sonos making some pretty kick-ass sound systems, Ray isn’t for the soundbar aficionado. Rather it’s for those of you that want a better sounding streaming experience, but don’t want to spend more than the TV is worth on a soundbar. It’s for those of us living in apartments with small loungerooms. Or those of us with a shitty-sounding TV with an acceptable picture quality that sits on top of a chest of drawers in our bedroom.

It was inevitable that Sonos would follow through with a budget offering. Its speakers have been lauded about for over a decade for their relative room-filling sound. We had an inkling the Sonos Ray soundbar was coming, thanks to leaks last month touting this thing as the entry-level device alongside Sonos’ $699 Beam 2 and the $1,499 Arc. The Sonos Ray comes in a little over half the price of the Beam 2, at $399.

When Sonos unveiled this little thing, I got to experience the sound at a briefing. But I’ve now had Ray set up in my Sydney apartment’s TV nook for a week and I really can’t fault it.

Set up

The Ray has two cables: one is optical that you run from the TV to the soundbar and the other is the power cable. Once those are plugged in, you need to download the Sonos app to set up the soundbar. If you don’t want to/can’t set the soundbar up via Wi-Fi there is an Ethernet port.

sonos ray
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

I didn’t exactly have the smoothest experience, as the Ray was half set up on a different network, to a different TV. Resetting Ray back to factory fixed my trouble (I had to Google how to do that, however). The app makes set up easy, but the process from opening the box to hearing Jughead’s soothing voice in Riverdale through Ray took 31 minutes. This included installing an update. You’re also required to have a Sonos account, setting that up also factored into the time.

sonos ray
Screenshot: Sonos/Gizmodo Australia

Trueplay

One feature I’d definitely recommend you set up is Trueplay, even though walking around the loungeroom allowing the app to listen to the space resulted in bulk judgement from my cat. Trueplay measures how sound reflects off walls, furnishings and other surfaces in a room, then tunes your Sonos speaker to make sure it sounds great.

sonos ray
Screenshot: Sonos/Gizmodo Australia

You need the Sonos app

The sound wasn’t coming through Ray, but opening the app and tapping ‘LG TV’ saw the sound beaming. You can turn on sound enhancement (boosting the audio frequencies associated with the human voice) and also Night Sound. Night Sound reduces the intensity of loud sounds while increasing the level of quieter ones, making dialogue clearer without having to turn up the volume. This would be used a lot in a home with more than one person, where someone is trying to sleep while you’re watching Avengers: Endgame for the 82nd time. You barely notice the switch to Night Sound when you’re sitting in front of the television.

While reviewing the Sonos Ray, I received a new TV from LG to review (stay tuned for that one), but swapping over the soundbar to a new TV required nothing else for me to do except go into the app and tap on the new TV.

Size, look & feel

He’s a smol boi. This TV isn’t massive – it’s only 55-inches – yet the Sonos Ray is dwarfed.

The Sonos Ray Isn’t for Soundbar Die-Hards, but It’s for Literally Everyone Else
Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

As you can see, the Ray is small. It’s light, yet doesn’t feel cheap. It comes in black and white. While it feels nice, it was smudged like crazy just from setting it up. I’ll save you from a pic of my grotty fingers on the soundbar.

But how does the Sonos Ray sound?

Thought you’d never ask.

People who love Sonos, really love Sonos. If you’ve got a Beam or an Arc and you’re reading this to see if it’s worth replacing either of those, the answer is no. The sound doesn’t compare. Sonos knows how to make things sound great, but it isn’t exactly going to undercut itself by selling a half-priced version of a very successful soundbar. With that lens, I have to say the Sonos Ray sounds brilliant, for its price.

It’s compact, and is deliberately smaller than the other soundbars Sonos offers (because it needs to fit into a room or an apartment loungeroom, for example). But this means the audio needed to be approached differently than it is in the Arc or Beam 2.

Ray boasts all acoustic elements inside of it, all are forward-facing (instead of side-firing drivers or even upwards as is the case with Arc). This means you can comfortably sit the soundbar inside a TV unit, or a TV nook and it won’t negatively impact the sound quality. There’s two tweeters built into Ray, both feeding into custom split wave guards (a way to get balanced, wall-to-wall sound from a smaller device). TL;DR: small form factor, surprisingly large sound.

Watching TV or a movie

With this TV I’m reviewing, you can choose to have either the TV’s sound, soundbar or TV plus soundbar. There’s almost zero need to have both when you’re watching a show, unless of course it’s something like Obi-Wan Kenobi, where using the soundbar and TV speakers give you the illusion of a more surround sound, given the direction each of the speakers send the noise. Watching a TV show, even something such as reality TV (in my case, LEGO Masters), it elevates the sound of the show, and makes something as simple as watching people build LEGO sound epic.

Pop a movie on, however, and the Sonos Ray absolutely slaps. Please remember this is being reviewed in an apartment with a dedicated TV ‘nook’ built in. The lounge is also barely two metres away from the TV cabinet. Watching No Time To Die, I felt the engine on the motorbike grumble, heard the loose rock under the wheels ricochet off the spokes and fly off onto the sides of the bridge – every sound could be heard clearly. Even before a single gunshot was ever fired. With the Sonos Ray sitting at about 45 per cent, I could hear whispers and background crashes, the clocking of a pistol, and of course the action was epic. At full volume, aside from annoying my neighbours, the sound is just a little too much. It doesn’t come out muffled, rather it’s just too loud for my small space.

Listening to music

It’s also worth pointing out that the Ray is tuned differently for TV audio and music. When you’re listening to TV, you’ll get clearer dialogue thanks to the soundbar’s speech enhancement feature. For music, the levels shift, and the Ray delivers crisp treble on top of well balanced mids. Again, the bass isn’t life-changing, but you wouldn’t expect it to be with a speaker setup of this size.

When playing music, there’s consistent bass and clarity across all genres. The Sonos Ray handled everything well – even though I wouldn’t actually use a soundbar for a music speaker, Ray could change my mind. In a bass-heavy song, Ray didn’t shake, avoiding that awful resonance vibration so many speakers get with a song like that. The sound is clear at all levels. There’s no splashing of tones and every instrument or beat can be heard without overpowering the other. Full volume was insane – the sound was crisp, clear and at full volume, was not distorted. The Sonos app allows you to play music through their radio, which is cute, but it’s limited.

Can you add a sub to the Sonos Ray?

Yes and no. Ray is compatible with all generations of subwoofers, providing they’re Sonos brand. The soundbar will not work with a third-party subwoofer. The only subwoofer Sonos currently sells is the $1,099 Sonos Sub Gen 3. Factoring in the cost of the Ray, you’re up for a total of $1,500. But the good news is, thanks to a report verified by The Verge, we believe a budget-friendly Sonos sub could be hitting the market soon. You can also add Sonos speakers to make a more surround sound.

I do wonder how much the Sonos Sub would add to the Ray experience, same goes for surround sound.

The Sonos Ray Isn’t for Soundbar Die-Hards, but It’s for Literally Everyone Else
The packaging rates a 3/10 on the box ranking system, however, as it’s too small to ‘sits’. Image: Asha Barbaschow/Gizmodo Australia

The verdict

Having to control the sound via the Sonos app is annoying. As is the fact the only Sonos sub currently available is more than double the cost of the soundbar. But apart from that, I can’t fault the Sonos Ray. It’s cheap, reliable, easy to use and sounds brilliant. If you’re big on soundbars, this isn’t for you. But if you have a small space and you still want to experience some rad sound while you’re in a binging hole, it’s hard to look past the Sonos Ray. I’m thoroughly impressed.

Where to buy the Sonos Ray soundbar?

The Sonos Ray soundbar is available for purchase from June 7.

You can preorder from Sonos ($399) or JB Hi-Fi ($399).