The new $279 Sonos Ray is the company’s most affordable speaker yet, and it has two primary purposes. The first, like any entry-level speakers, is to free you from having to listen to the TV’s awful built-in speakers. But Ray is also designed to be an attractive gateway to Sonos’ multi-room audio platform. To reach a price point under $300, Sonos has removed many of the advanced features that the more expensive ones offer packet And the Arch Amplifiers. The Ray device does not support Dolby Atmos, and it completely lacks an HDMI connection. Alternatively, you can connect it to your TV with an optical audio cable.
I’ve spent a few days testing the Ray, and it delivers impressive sound for such a compact speaker. There is a lot to like about its performance – both in terms of the sound of the TV and the playing of music. The forward-facing speakers mean you can fit them in a tight media cabinet, and they’ll still sound consistent. But Sonos’ decision to rely on an outdated optical input has caused annoyances and frustrations that don’t exist with either the HDMI-enabled Beam or Arc.
The main problem is how to control the speakers. Unlike Beam and Arc, which accept voice commands from many different remote controls through HDMI-CEC, Ray will only work with infrared (IR) remote controls. And as I learned, things can be questionable. I’ve tried several times to get Ray to work with TCL’s 6-Series Google TV remote control. I’m sure it’s an infrared remote control – obstacles between the remote and the TV can block the signal – but for whatever reason, Ray never recognized it. Your experience may be better, especially if you have a universal remote control. But, if your remote control connects to your TV via Radio Frequency (RF) or Bluetooth, you’re in for a bit. (Sonos has a help page To set up certain LG, Apple, and Samsung remotes.)
In my case, I ended up using the Sonos app on my phone (or the touch controls at the top of the volume bar) to adjust the volume, which got annoying. Ease of use is objectively affected by the lack of an HDMI port. This is the area where the company is located New Voice Control Service It might be useful if you also own one of the Sonos smart speakers, but that won’t solve the outlying problem.
The Ray takes on arc and width, with a perforated front grille and a tapered body that slopes outward at the front. This speaker is small and light enough to be carried easily with one hand. Its dimensions will be suitable for using the Rai as a desktop speaker. But here again, the limited input options reduce this possibility somewhat. Unless your computer has optical outputs, wired audio playback can be tricky, but you always have Spotify Connect, Apple’s AirPlay 2, and Sonos’ extensive list of supported music services at your disposal. The 3.5mm aux input was great. Under the TV, the Ray looks at home paired with a 55-inch or smaller set and pretty small if you put it next to a 65-inch TV. The more powerful Beam and Arc make more sense for larger screens.
Considering it only has four drivers — two center woofers and tweeters that spread sound to the sides with the help of physical waveguides — the Ray’s acoustics are impressive and better than the very basic old Vizio speakers or something like the Roku Streambar. In the standalone configuration, you will only get stereo sound. But you can expand to a surround system by adding matching pairs of Sonos or Speakers IKEA Symphonysk and Sonos Sub.
I suspect most people would use the Ray on their own, and even if they were on their own, they had no problem filling my bedroom with sound. But I can imagine it struggles and looks narrower in large, open living rooms. There’s very little sense of immersion or directional sound since Ray lacks the impressive surround sound virtualization of the second-generation Sonos Beam or the many additional drivers from Arc. Part of this comes back again to the visual input. Ray only supports PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS stereo audio; Forget Atmos, even Dolby Digital Plus is a no-go.
When listening to music, Ray is not far from the Sonos One smart speaker. It has a full, balanced sound with a bass that I would describe as…competent. But it will benefit greatly from a dedicated subwoofer; Rumored Sub Mini Can’t come soon enough. Ray handles games well. I haven’t had any noticeable audio sync issues while using my PS5 for several hours, so the eye contact isn’t without benefits. As with Beam and Arc, iPhone and iPad owners can activate Trueplay and use the microphone on these devices to enhance Ray’s audio for the specific room it’s in. This feature remains absent on Android.
Where the Sonos Ray shines the most is the clarity of the dialogue. Sounds come out of this speaker with excellent separation and remain easy to hear no matter how much movement is happening on the screen. It’s a day and night difference compared to the TV’s built-in speakers, as the audio is often muddy and the dialogue difficult to follow. Beam and Arc technically outperform Ray in this department since they both have dedicated center channels, but I was completely satisfied with the sound reproduction on the latest Sonos speakers. It’s a noticeable strength when listening to music, too.
The Ray fits seamlessly into Sonos’ entire home speaker ecosystem and lets you wirelessly enjoy sound from every major music streaming service. I love how it feels encapsulated when I play the same music on different sides of my room on the play: 5 and Ray. Another great trick is the ability to play TV sound on other Sonos speakers around the house, so you don’t have to miss out on the news or any moments of the big sports while preparing a meal in the kitchen.
Sonos competes with a lot of the competition at a price (and a lot less) than the Ray’s $279. Most budget speakers don’t offer the same music-playing capabilities over Wi-Fi, but at least many include Bluetooth — which Ray doesn’t — and companies like Vizio often bundle it into a subwoofer to go along with affordable speakers. This makes Ray a difficult proposition. If you’re committed to diving into the Sonos ecosystem, this will be a very powerful startup speaker that will be backed by software updates for many years to come. It maintains the company’s reputation for sound quality, operating at a higher level than most entry-level speakers. This is especially true when listening to music.
But in the era of HDMI eARC, Ray is hampered by the only optical input. Sonos apparently calculated that Ray’s target market wouldn’t think twice about its lack of HDMI connectivity or immersive Dolby Atmos surround sound. Not everyone cares about getting the absolute best, and many people will use this soundbar with a secondary TV.
However, you should not overlook other trade-offs. The Ray might not work with your TV remote, and some people will inevitably reject the idea of paying nearly $300 for stereo speakers in 2022. The final Sub Mini seems like a much-needed piece of this puzzle. But given its own merits, Ray doesn’t disappoint as long as you sell everything he’s capable of and don’t mind the compromises Sonos has settled on building it.
Photo by Chris Welch/The Verge
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