You may not know TCL, but it is completely different in Asia and some European countries. There it is a real TV superpower that does its best to catch up with technological Samsung and co. The Chinese giant also wants to score with sound bars such as this Ray-Danz. It is an affordable soundbar that does not only do differently in terms of naming.
TCL Ray-Danz soundbar
Usually soundbars carry boring names, consisting of number and letter combinations. We immediately think that TCL chooses something sexier with this device, although we cannot discover with the best will in the world what “Ray-Danz” means. What can we tell you? That this Ray-Danz is also called the TS9030 and is not TCL's first soundbar. It is the first time that the Chinese brand has a real ambition when it comes to sound bars. The Ray-Danz is a 3.1 Atmos-compatible soundbar bundled with a wireless subwoofer, good for something of a 540 watt (theoretical) power. Nice specs, but something similar, many other soundbars can also present. However, TCL claims to present something that stands out. The Ray-Danz uses a separate (but proven) audio design to send sound very wide into the room, so that you experience a very enveloping soundscape. Unlike many rivals, this TCL does not rely on sound waves reflecting off the walls. And that is very interesting for some open living rooms.
You only have to take a quick look at the Ray-Danz to see that it is anything but a conventional device. In general, it remains of course a typical soundbar: a long bar, which with its width of 105 cm fits 55-inch televisions. You can of course also park it with larger and smaller TV sets. The Ray-Danz is 5.8 cm high; that is not high and with many TVs you can place the TCL soundbar without covering the screen. And yes, this is an Atmos compatible device, but there are no speakers at the top like many high-end soundbars. So you can safely slide it partly under the TV, if that works.
The unusual design of the Ray-Danz is that the front does not run over the full width. In the middle there are a variety of speakers or drivers, but to the left and right of this the soundbar is completely open. You can see it immediately, because the speaker part was covered in a beautiful dark gray fabric and the open part consists of a shiny black plastic. These sections are curved and extend in a curved arch. This creates an acoustic lens on the left and right that radiates sound waves in a certain way. What you experience is that the speakers in the middle point straight at you and surround sounds are sent very wide in the room. In this way a bubble is created in which you sit. It seems to work best if you're about 2.5-3.5 meters from the soundbar, something the manufacturer also confirms. That distance seems to us in accordance with the situation in many living rooms.
Extra HDMI input
The back of the Ray-Danz TS9030 consists of a grille reminiscent of large cooling fins. But not from solid metal, but a light plastic. You notice that cheaper character especially when removing part of the back because you want to insert cables. It's not quite conveniently organized, but TCL has done its best to ensure that you can neatly hide cables. This was not entirely successful because you lead HDMI cables and the power cable in through different openings that are widely spaced, making it difficult to elegantly bring everything to one cable sock or conduit.
The Ray-Danz is well equipped in terms of entrances. At this price point, you don't always get an extra HDMI input for a console or Ultra HD Blu-ray player, in addition to the HDMI-ARC connection for connecting to your television. But here it is. There is also an optical input, an aux connection and a USB port. You can use that to insert a USB bar for music. It is not really practical: the USB port is difficult to reach and you have to find your music files via the display on the soundbar. Anyway, the soundbar comes with Chromecast, AirPlay 2 and Bluetooth. Those are much more user-friendly ways to play music. TCL also provides good support for music formats.
The manufacturer also proudly displays its roots as a TV manufacturer that increasingly wants to play the role of technological pioneer. The HDMI input can handle all common HDR formats: Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HDR10 +, and HLG. When it comes to surround codecs, everything from Dolby is welcome, including Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos. DTS codecs are not supported, the Ray-Danz then plays PCM audio.
Thanks to support for Chromecast and Airplay 2, connecting to the network is no big challenge. The Google Home app finds the Ray-Danz immediately, after which you connect the soundbar to your WiFi network in a few steps. After that, you have little reason to consult the Home app for the Ray-Danz, because apart from treble and bass settings, there is nothing to be found. There is no microphone on board, but you can control the soundbar with speech via another device with a microphone. You can also connect the Ray-Danz to your network via the WiFi settings on your iPad or iPhone.
With the Ray-Danz you receive a small remote that looks functional, but of good quality. seems to be. The big advantage is that you can quickly set various things via this remote control, such as surround mode, sound modes and AV-Sync. When you press one of these buttons, you suddenly see the very large display that is hidden behind the speaker cloth in the middle. Well, you may have seen it before, because when you switch on the Ray-Danz, 'HELLO' will flash in large format here. And that for a relatively long time, because for a cold start the soundbar takes a few seconds.
For our test we connect the Ray-Danz TS9030 to a Sony KD- A9F temporarily in the test room. The first days worked smoothly, but after that the Sony decided to regularly switch back to the TV speakers. This problem pops up more often with this Sony, so we suspect that something is going wrong with the CEC communication somewhere. With an LG OLED55C9, the TCL soundbar worked together without any problems. We connected an Nvidia Shield to the additional HDMI port, mainly in order to be able to supply our own test files to the soundbar in the correct quality.
We are always somewhat skeptical about claims from manufacturers about surround delivered by a soundbar. Although it is possible, using all kinds of techniques. For example, the Sennheiser Ambeo uses a phase array of speakers to reflect sound off walls and ceiling. The problem with these types of products is that the result depends on your room. What if, like our living room, there is a large opening on one side to a second room? These designs often work just a little less well. The intriguing thing about the Ray-Danz is that those acoustic lenses emit sound broadly, giving the impression that sound effects are coming from the left and right. Also vertically there is more appearance than you would expect. When watching 'The Meg' (partly via Netflix with DD 5.1, partly a 4K file via VLC on the Shield), where Jason Statham takes on a megalodon – but you may say 'giant shark', we are right away impressed. The TCL soundbar delivers what was promised, in a very unique way. The dialogs from the center channel come straight at us and are very full. Because speech is presented a little apart from the enveloping surround sound, you sometimes have a bit of a disconnected feeling, but the intelligibility is excellent. Many scenes from this film take place underwater – this is The Meg, not Sharknado – and that watery atmosphere conveys the Ray-Danz excellently. All incidental sound effects, such as water bubbles and fish that shoot away, float around in the room. It is not entirely accurate, but you will only notice that if you compare with discrete speakers. It is also not so inaccurate that the moving effects no longer match what you see on the screen. When a fish overshoots, you experience it that way. The subwoofer is relatively compact, but in its position close to the screen it integrates well. Farther away, less. If the megalodon hits a submarine for the umpteenth time, those impacts will really boom. Yes, action movie fans are not going to complain.
When going through the Dolby Atmos demos, the soundbar performs excellently in some areas, rather simply in others. With “Audiospere” the positioning of the ball is very good, with a good separation between effects on ear height and in height. Those high tones in particular resonate very well throughout the room. In “Amaze” the crickets are almost to the left and right of us, really very punishing, and thunder rolls quite deep across the room. The rainfall is less impressive: just a little too synthetic and it mainly takes place at the front of the screen, not all around. “Horizon” is the demo with the most diverse effects (and unfortunately also a voice-over), where we always pay close attention to the spaceships. On a discreet surround setup you hear that the first ship is immense, it sounds heavy and bulky, with a lot of sub bass, and the two battleships float spectacularly past you. The TCL conveys all those movements and experience, but the sound image is flatter and slightly less impressive than we like. It sounds like a mixed report, but the fact that the Ray-Danz sometimes shows real sound effects next to us in a room without walls close by is punishing. In short, in a certain room where other sound bars are going to disappoint in terms of surround, this TCL will present something nice.
It is good we find the experience when watching movies, how disappointed we are when we cast music from the Apple Music app on our Huawei smartphone. It sounds very thin and nasal, as if we are listening to a table radio. Increasing the bass settings doesn't really help; there is more deep bass, but a part of the frequency range is missing. Just check the sound mode – no, it has automatically switched to Music – and then stream via Airplay from an iPad. However, the result remains below par, only the center speakers seem to be playing. We only succeed in making music sound better by switching off the surround mode. The Ray-Danz does not suddenly become a musical high flyer, but then songs sound a lot fuller and more balanced. The funny thing about all this is that musical soundtracks sound ok with video content. Maybe something is going wrong here with the processing of PCM 2.0 via streaming. TCL, for its part, promises that the Ray-Danz will receive the necessary tuning and software updates.
The Ray-Danz TS9030 may not make the best first impression in terms of design. Some elements look very plastic-like and appear cheap. We also fear that those acoustic lenses will accumulate a lot of dust in the long term, so don't forget to dust. However, the performance of the TCL Ray-Danz is not bad. Movies are presented powerfully and the surround mode is cleverly placed in a sound bubble. A big advantage is that that bubble is also there if you are in a large room, without walls nearby. The Ray-Danz works well regardless of placement. For large open living rooms where you are approximately three meters from the screen, this is an excellent choice.