Confirming earlier rumors, Sonos on Wednesday announced a new soundbar aimed at more budget-conscious buyers, as well as a new voice-control feature for its existing speakers.
The former is called the Sonos Ray and will be available on June 7 for $ 279 (226 pounds, 299 euros). It’ll slot in beneath the $ 449 Sonos Beam (Gen 2) and $ 899 Sonos Arc as the most popular connected speaker maker’s most affordable and most compact soundbar to date, measuring in 559 × 95 × 71 mm (so, about 22 inches wide) . By comparison, the similarly compact Sonos Beam comes in at 651 × 100 × 69 mm (about 25.6 inches wide). As with the Beam, the Ray’s small size should make it best suited to smaller rooms and secondary TVs, though Sonos posits the device could also work on a desktop and more generally positions it as a starting point for those interested in their first upgrade from their TV’s built-in speakers.
Paying less means you’ll sacrifice some features, though. Unlike the Beam and Arc, the Sonos Ray does not support Dolby Atmos virtual surround sound. It also lacks an HDMI port, instead opting for a lower-bandwidth optical audio port and an Ethernet jack as its only connectivity options, with no additional HDMI adapters in the box. The omission of an HDMI ARC port could make the cable situation a bit messier for those with more involved home theater setups, though Sonos says the Ray can still work in parallel with your TV remote through its IR receiver.
Also missing are any sort of microphones, which means there is no native support for voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. Privacy-conscious buyers may see this as a plus, if anything, though the lack of mics also means there’s no support for Sonos’ “Automatic Trueplay” feature, which allows certain Sonos speakers to tune their sound to best suit their placement in a given room (provided you have an iOS device). The Ray still supports Trueplay, but you’ll have to go through the tuning process manually. Like most Sonos speakers, there’s also no support for Bluetooth audio here.
In general, the Ray is a simpler piece of hardware than the Beam or Arc. This is a 3.0-channel soundbar, with all its speakers pointing out of a front-facing perforated hard-plastic grille. Internally, there are four amplifiers, two tweeters, and two mid-woofers; the Beam, meanwhile, packs five amplifiers, a tweeter, four mid-woofers, and three passive radiators for bass response. Sonos is now positioning the latter as its “high-definition” compact soundbar by comparison.
I was able to briefly listen to the Ray at a media event in New York City this week, and while nothing sounded particularly offensive, it is always difficult to glean meaningful insights from an audio demo in a manufacturer-controlled environment. Sonos says it has customized the Ray’s drivers to get a greater sense of width out of the soundbar’s small size, but it’s only so possible to get around a speaker’s physics, and the slightly larger Beam already wasn’t the best at producing thumping, low bass on its own. You’ll likely be sacrificing depth of sound for the convenience of a speaker that’s easier to fit in any room, as with most small soundbars. There are alternative soundbar systems around this price that support Atmos and come with a subwoofer and discrete satellite speakers. All that said, most Sonos home speakers have offered a nicely accurate and neutral sound in the past, so we’ll have to listen to the Ray more extensively to get a better sense of how it performs.
Elsewhere, there’s still a trio of touch-based playback controls on top of a typically minimalist design, which will be available in black or white. It’ll also be mountable, albeit through a proprietary mount.
Beyond that, the core appeal of most Sonos speakers is still here. The Ray is entirely controllable through the Sonos app and thus supports a variety of streaming services. It works with Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol, so you can beam audio to the soundbar directly from an Apple device. And it’ll pair neatly with any other Sonos speakers you own or — as Sonos hopes — may want to own in the future, allowing you to use them all in tandem in a wireless whole-home setup. If you wanted to expand the Ray with a Sonos Sub subwoofer and two Sonos One speakers as rear surrounds, you could do so with a little friction, though it would be very expensive. (There’s also nothing to suggest that Sonos will be yanking software updates for these devices any time soon.) Again, we’ll have to confirm whether or not the Ray lives up to the usual company standard in terms of audio quality. While there are plenty of cheaper soundbars out there, for those who have wanted to upgrade their TV audio and hop aboard the Sonos train, this could be the most approachable entry point.