While Sonos typically focuses on higher-end products and price tags, it has been moving more toward the realm of the affordable as of late. Following this trend, the company introduced the Sonos Ray soundbar, a pared-down alternative to its more expensive models.
While the Sonos Arc sits at the top of the soundbar chain and the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) occupies the middle, the Ray still boasts plenty of the features that make Sonos unique at a lower price. Namely, it features the same multiroom audio features as its larger siblings, as well as Sonos’ key TruePlay feature.
That said, the company made some curious cuts to the Ray, presumably to keep it within a specific price point. Namely, Sonos neglected to add an HDMI connectivity option, relying solely on an optical cable to connect to your TV. While this isn’t quite a dealbreaker, it does narrow down the group of people this is an ideal product for.
Build and Design
- Dimensions: 2.79 x 22 x 3.74in (71 x 559 x 95mm)
- Weight: 4.29lbs (1.95kg)
- Colors: Black, White
You can tell just by looking at the Ray that it’s a Sonos product. It has a similar look to the company’s larger soundbars, though, in the case of the Ray, it’s far narrower.
At 22 inches wide, the Sonos Ray fits perfectly with TVs in the 55-inch range and smaller, as was the TV I tested it with. If your TV has a 65-inch screen or better, the Ray may look on the small size underneath the screen. That said, the compact size has its benefits.
Thanks to the tapered shape and forward-firing design, the Sonos Ray can fit in places many other soundbars won’t. Because of the lack of upward-firing speakers for Dolby Atmos or virtual surround sound, you don’t need to worry too much about what’s around the Ray, just what’s in front of it.
The Ray has the same minimalist styling as other Sonos soundbars, and it also has the same capacitive touch controls on the top panel. These can be overly sensitive, registering presses even when you dust the speaker. Fortunately, you can disable the controls if you don’t intend to use them.
- Audio in: 1x optical digital
- Wi-Fi: 2.4 GHz 802.11/b/g/n
- Ethernet: 10/100 port
- Remote connectivity: IR receiver
As I mentioned at the top of the article, one of the most confusing cuts on the Ray is the HDMI port. These are included in budget soundbars all the time, so it’s an odd decision, to say the least.
The only way to connect your TV to the soundbar is by using the optical digital audio input on the rear of the soundbar. The vast majority of modern TVs have optical audio outputs, so this should work for you. Aside from that, the only physical connection you’ll find on the Ray is the optional Ethernet connection.
At the very least, it would have been nice to see Sonos add a 3.5mm auxiliary input. No, this isn’t the way Sonos does things, as even the portable Sonos Roam doesn’t feature an aux-in jack. Still, it would have been nice as a backup.
While the Ray is a 2.0 soundbar, it is compatible with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround. That said, that’s all you get when it comes to surround formats, with the only other supported technology being stereo PCM audio.
You won’t find support for Dolby Atmos or other technologies. This makes sense, as even if you add speakers, the Ray still wouldn’t support Atmos. It just makes it plainly visible how limited the Ray is in comparison with other Sonos soundbars.
Setup and Calibration
To set up the Ray, you’ll need to download the Sonos app (available for iPhone and iPad and Android). If the Ray is your first Sonos product, you’ll need to create an account. Otherwise, just sign in.
Even if the Ray is your first Sonos product, setup is easy. The app will usually notice that you’ve plugged in a new Sonos product nearby. Otherwise, just select the “Add Product” option and follow the prompts. From here, it will register the soundbar, update it, and let you select which room you’ll be using the Ray in or add it to your whole home audio system.
From here, you can start using the soundbar, but there’s an extra step you should take if you can. While it sacrificed some other features, the Ray does feature TruePlay, a key feature of Sonos products. This feature uses the built-in microphone on your iPhone or iPad to measure your room acoustics and tune the soundbar accordingly.
Unfortunately, this feature is only available on Apple devices, presumably because the microphones are close to identical, whereas supporting Android would mean considerably more mics. That said, TruePlay is a game changer and, in my case, provided a noticeable difference in the Ray.
Controls and the Sonos App
As you’ll likely be aware of if you’ve ever used another Sonos soundbar or speaker, there is no remote included with the Ray. Instead, you control the volume using your TV remote.
With other Sonos soundbars, they’re meant to be connected via HDMI. This lets them use HDMI-CEC from your TV. In this case, because you’re connected via optical cable, this isn’t possible. Instead, the Ray features a built-in infrared (IR) sensor to work with your TV remote.
In my case, using a Vizio TV, my remote worked perfectly. Picking up my Apple TV remote to adjust the volume also worked fine, even though I never set up the Apple TV remote with the Sonos Ray. That said, not everyone’s experience will be as seamless as mine.
If your TV uses an RF remote or some other type of remote other than IR, it simply won’t work with the Ray. You’ll be stuck either controlling the volume with the capacitive touch buttons on the device itself or using the Sonos app.
Of course, the Sonos app does more than just control volume. There’s a simple onboard EQ you can adjust, as well as Speech Enhancement and Night modes to make voices easier to hear at night.
One final omission worth pointing out is that, unlike the Sonos Arc or the Sonos Beam, the Ray doesn’t feature a built-in microphone. This is a plus for privacy reasons, but it also means you can’t use voice commands to adjust the volume, which would be handy if your TV remote isn’t supported.
Audio Performance: TV, Movies, and Gaming
- Amplifiers: four Class-D digital amplifiers
- Drivers: 2x woofers, 2x tweeters
- Home theater audio formats: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Digital Surround
The Ray sounds both much bigger than it looks and much bigger than I expected. After testing the second-generation Sonos Beam, I’d assumed that this would sound smaller. With both soundbars playing stereo content, the Ray doesn’t sound dramatically smaller than the Beam.
The sound in the Ray comes courtesy of four class D amplifiers, powering a pair of midrange woofers and a pair of tweeters. Sonos equipped the tweeters with waveguides, which literally direct the sound around the room. This is the main reason for the surprising width of sound here.
As mentioned above, out of the box, you’re not getting surround sound with the Ray. You can add a pair of rear speakers like the Sonos One SL and the Sonos Sub Mini and have quite a nice surround setup, but that adds considerable cost. For this review, I tested the Ray by itself, without rear speakers or a subwoofer.
Even if your TV has better-than-average built-in speakers, the Ray is all but guaranteed to sound better. There are two reasons for this: one is the stereo width, and the other is speech intelligibility.
Watching First Blood, which I remembered as a notoriously mumbly movie at times, I found certain dialog much easier to understand. This was with the Ray’s default settings. The Sonos app also lets you enable the Speech Enhancement feature to make dialog even more intelligible.
To test gaming performance, I ran a few races in Forza Horizon 5. Again, the Ray only provided stereo audio, but the game sounded much more bombastic than it would on any TV’s built-in speakers.
Audio Performance: Music
Listening to music, it’s clear that the Ray doesn’t have the same volume that the Beam does. At the same time, the sonic differences between the two may just give the Ray an edge when it comes to listening to music. The fact that it doesn’t try to turn stereo music tracks into virtual surround is also a major advantage.
One of the first tracks I listened to was the Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia,” as I’d listened to the song a day or two before on my usual listening setup. The Ray doesn’t sound quite as nice, but it didn’t sound as narrow by comparison as I’d expected. There was great detail on the acoustic guitars, and the Ray handled the natural room reverb well.
To test the low end more, I turned to “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine, mainly because of the song’s drum loop. The low thump of the kick stands out, even without a subwoofer. This is a song that obscures details in favor of the whole, and the Ray does a good job of delivering that huge stereo sound in a soundbar.
Listening to RJD2’s “Games You Can Win (Instrumental),” I was again surprised at the stereo width. The bells on this track showcase the soundstage, sounding more like the music is coming from a pair of speakers than a single soundbar. The bass in the song’s massive synth sounded surprisingly deep, considering the lack of a subwoofer.
One thing I noticed, and perhaps this was due in part to the TruePlay tuning, but the Ray benefits from being at ear level. Standing up and walking into a different room with music playing, that stereo width fell apart pretty quickly. That said, the sweet spot is fairly big.
Should You Buy the Sonos Ray?
The lack of an HDMI port will be the make-or-break point for many people. That said, if you’re happy using the optical output on your TV (which it very likely has), the Sonos Ray still has plenty going for it. Yes, it’s small, but it sounds bigger than it is, and the size helps it fit places other soundbars can’t.
The Ray is perfectly passable as a living room soundbar, but for more immersive sound, you’ll want to add surround speakers and a subwoofer. On the other hand, the Ray is a perfect companion to a bedroom TV, as most people don’t need or want a full surround setup here.
One benefit of the relatively simple design of the Sonos Ray is that it works better for music than many soundbars I’ve tried. That, combined with the usual Sonos connectivity, makes the Ray a handy and affordable entryway into the Sonos ecosystem.
- Sounds much bigger than it looks
- Great vocal and speech clarity
- Sonos multiroom connectivity
- Wi-Fi and AirPlay 2 support
- Easy to set up and use
- No HDMI connectivity
- Limited remote support
- No built-in mic for voice commands