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Review: Sonos Ray – small powerhouse not without flaws

Last month, Sonos launched a new compact soundbar called Sonos Ray. With a price tag of 299 euros, it is the cheapest soundbar in the company's range.

The Sonos Ray is the third soundbar in the range next to the high-end Sonos Arc and the middle class Sonos Beam. The company promises that the Ray also manages to produce balanced sound, crystal-clear dialogues, robust bass and room-filling sound. The company talks about ‘Blockbuster Sound’ and ‘Clear dialogues’. It is a stand-alone soundbar without a subwoofer, but you can of course add that. You can also add two Sonos One speakers for wireless surround, and TruePlay is also supported to tailor the audio playback to your environment. You can also use the Sonos app with this model, giving you access to all popular streaming services, Sonos Radio and of course multi-room audio. AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect are also supported and you can control the soundbar via your television remote or via the Sonos app. The Sonos Ray is a richly equipped soundbar for 299 euros, but does it live up to expectations?

Sonos Ray – design and connections

Sonos Ray-5

The first thing you notice when you take the Sonos Ray out of the box is how small this soundbar is. The expectation was a small model, but so small? With a width of 55 centimeters, the Sonos Ray is only 19 centimeters wider than the one tested earlier this year Polk MagniFi Mini AX.┬áThe Sonos Ray therefore completely disappears from a 55-inch TV and it suggests that this soundbar is particularly suitable for smaller televisions in the bedroom or office. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. The standard sound of the current flat televisions is often very bad, so that almost every soundbar is of immediate added value.

Despite the small size, it is clear that this is a Sonos product. Our test model has a white housing with a hard grille on the front. A black version is also available. The whole looks solid, maybe a bit boring, but in this price range it certainly suffices. The speakers are all on the front, so you can even place this model in a television cabinet. You have few options in the back. You have a connection for the power supply, for the optical cable and for a network cable. Also, there is one more sync button, but that’s it. On top you will find a number of touch buttons for operation.

On the back we come across the first minus. You can only connect this soundbar to your television via an optical cable. So no HDMI ARC and that immediately makes it clear that you should not expect Dolby Atmos either, because HDMI is required for that. Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround are supported. Anyway, it is always a matter of looking behind the television where you have to connect the optical cable if you are used to HDMI in particular. We can actually expect that Sonos will not only come up with an optical connection in this price range.

Connecting Sonos Ray

Connecting the Sonos Ray is a piece of cake. Download the Sonos app and follow the easy steps to add a new product. This really can’t go wrong. You put the plug in the socket and the optical cable from the soundbar in the back of the TV. A remote control is not included. It is intended that you can operate the soundbar with the remote control of your television. And that will pose a problem for many people. The Sonos Ray works with IR remotes and many new TVs have RF or bluetooth remotes. Now Sonos has an entire page on the website which steps you need to take to make it work (and that doesn’t always work), but out-of-the-box you first have to rely on the app to change the volume. If you can do it at all, because on one TV here in the house I really couldn’t get it done.

Anyway, with the iPad on your lap as a remote you can go a long way. And you do need that iPad or iPhone to optimize the sound. By default, the sound is quite flat, it lacks clarity and the bass in particular sounds very dull. Fortunately, there is TruePlay.

TruePlay

The Sonos Ray has support for TruePlay. You can have a room measurement done to optimize the sound for the location where you have placed the soundbar. You just need an iPhone or iPad. Why is this exclusive to Apple device owners? That was also my first reaction, but there is a logic behind it, so I was told. TruePlay uses your mobile device’s microphone to take a room measurement. There is too much difference with Android. Too many manufacturers, too many different devices and even different production runs with parts can be used per device.

Of course, Apple has far fewer mobile devices in its range, so the variety of microphones is not that great, and therefore TruePlay can easily be optimized for an Apple product. After all, TruePlay only makes sense if a really thorough measurement can be done. Anyway, the iPad had to be taken out of the stable for a while to run TruePlay. Here you perform two measurements. The first measurement is at your favorite spot in front of your television holding the iPad vertically up, and the second measurement requires you to carefully walk around and show your iPad (literally) to all corners of the room. Meanwhile, the Sonos Ray plays hypnotic tones that the iPad then picks up to optimize the sound. It will take you a few minutes, but the result is very satisfying. Where the sound is actually very flat by default, you really hear a difference after you have set TruePlay.

Sound of the Sonos Ray

The most important thing with a soundbar is of course the sound. Thanks to the app and the options for all kinds of streaming services and Sonos Radio, you can also use this model as a speaker and you really don’t have to put the soundbar in front of the television. It can also be used as a separate speaker on a cabinet. Anyway, after we have performed the measurements via TruePlay, listening to music is a real pleasure on the Sonos Ray. It is impressive what Sonos has managed to put into this affordable soundbar in terms of sound, because you will find few soundbars in this price category that produce better sound when it comes to music. Voices are crystal clear and the middle is packed with detail. At the high end of the sound spectrum, the Ray can sometimes lose it, but that is unique. Where the bass was much too dull before we performed TruePlay, it is now much better balanced and we hear a big difference. The depth of the bass does seem to have decreased somewhat after running TruePlay, but that’s not so bad either. The Ray wanted to sound much deeper than it could actually produce for the TruePlay measurement. You can of course add a subwoofer from Sonos, although the company currently only has the expensive Sub Gen3 in its range. And a subwoofer of 849 euros with a soundbar of 299 euros is a bit exaggerated. Still, it looks like Sonos is also going to launch a cheaper subwoofer (very soon!) called Sonos Sub Mini. That would be the ideal partner in combination with the Sonos Ray.

And that the Sonos Ray is a bit of a strange soundbar, which becomes apparent when we switch from music to television and film. First and foremost, when watching a talk show or the news, voices are once again crystal clear, the Ray really excels in that. Sonos has also paid a lot of attention to this and that turns out to be completely correct. This model is therefore fine for regular television viewing. However, do you switch to movies or series and want a bit of spectacle? Sonos promises ‘Blockbuster Sound’, but that is actually a bit disappointing. The sound really lacks depth and in particular sounds much narrower. Where music sounds quite room-filling, you tend to increase the volume further when watching films and series. Speaking of that volume, luckily you can boost that considerably on this model. During action scenes, however, explosions sound anything but impressive and although the stereo sound sometimes works well with a passing bullet, it fails to convince at many other times. It’s all just a bit too flat and tame. Actually, the sound of films and series is appropriate for a soundbar of such a size as the Sonos Ray and it knows how to rise above itself with music. And it is of course quite unique that a soundbar performs better with music than with films and series. It does ensure that you can also simply put the Sonos Ray on the cupboard to serve as a full-fledged music speaker, because the user-friendly app, multi-room options, integrated streaming service options and Sonos Radio make the Sonos Ray an affordable soundbar for your television. also an excellent speaker for music. However, buying two Sonos One speakers on sale is almost as expensive and possibly a better choice, depending on your use.

Conclusion

The Sonos Ray does a lot of good, but it also has shortcomings. When testing the Ray, the phrase “Hopped in Two” really applied. On the one hand, surprise when you hear the excellent music performance in this price range, on the other hand, a slight disappointment because of the performance in films and series. It is actually a real Sonos speaker, but designed like a soundbar. As a soundbar, the Sonos Ray is a good update to replace the internal TV speakers. Dialogues are crystal clear, so that you can easily follow your favorite talk show or the news. As a soundbar for films and series, you quickly run into the limitations of the format, because the promised ‘Blockbuster Sound’ is not available. Also the lack of HDMI and the problems with the remote control do not contribute to a real top score. However, the many options with the Sonos app, the multi-room options, TruePlay, integrated streaming services and Sonos Radio make a purchase of the Sonos Ray worthwhile, because that is where Sonos really excels.

Pros

  • Good price
  • Sonos app with endless possibilities
  • TruePlay really adds value
  • Sound with music
  • Crystal clear dialogues
Negatives

  • No HDMI
  • Remote from TV doesn’t always work
  • Sound with movies and series lacks just that little bit extra
  • TruePlay only works with iOS devices

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