Sonos Ray on trial. The $ 299 soundbar is a perfect Trojan horse for bringing multiroom audio into your home

Ray, that is, ray. A tractor beam, like that of Star Trek, which also wants to bring all that public to the Sonos galaxy up to now kept away from the non-negligible entrance prices of the American brand, especially for home theater solutions.

These are the premises under which Sonos Ray was born, the new Sonos soundbar, which with its 299 euros becomes the entry point of the brand, just below Beam (499 €), which at this point is an intermediate choice, and Arc (€ 999), the top of the range.

The Ray soundbar, available in black and white colors (the one we tested), was one of the products presented a few weeks ago in New York by Sonos, in a press conference we have already talked about close to the event.

Sonos Ray, the soundbar for everyone from 299 euros. Also announced is the Sonos virtual assistant specializing in music and privacy-proof

Go to the deepening

It must be said that, compared to the classic 3.1 Sonos layout with soundbar, two surround channels and sub-woofer in Ray’s case, at least for the moment, it is complex to think about adding the sub-woofer too: the only sub in the Sonos range ( € 849) has totally unbalanced costs, practically triple the Ray alone. It has long been rumored that a cheaper version of the Sonos subwoofer will arrive: when the time comes, Ray (and his owners) will also be able to add the very low frequencies.

For the moment, in our test, we tested Ray’s rendition “naked and raw” at first; and therefore also in surround mode, with the help of two One SLs: not surprisingly, Sonos itself offers the Ray + 2 One SL kit at 697 euros, a choice that, as we will see, is to be recommended.

What is and what is not Sonos Ray

Let’s start by clarifying what Sonos Ray is not, so as to make it clear who this soundbar is not suitable for.

First of all, Ray is not a top of the range product, for those who do not want to compromise: there are other products for this target. Starting from the fact that, in a world entirely focused on object-oriented audio, Ray is not a Dolby Atmos soundbar. Nor is it a soundbar capable of creating a virtualized surround sound field. Looking at the purely geometric characteristics, it is a soundbar that cannot be placed in front of a low TV: its height of over 7 cm is not compatible with all televisions with pedestals or feet that are too low.

So what is Ray? First of all, it is a stereo speaker capable of giving a full and well-intelligible voice to TVs which, the flatter they are, the worse they sound. But above all it is an economically viable solution to enter the world of Sonos – which still remains the “paradise” of the multi-room – from the door of the soundbars.

A soundbar that, let’s say it clearly, is also a speaker for music playback to be used even when the TV is off and therefore is more than the classic soundbar all “barrels and effects”. In fact, it is clear from the first listen that Ray has been designed above all to play well with music, as per Sonos tradition, compatibly with small dimensions and contained volumes: 55cm wide and less than 10 deep.

An entry level that seems to have been created at the table

Sonos Ray is a product that was born with a precise mission: to create a low entry point in the home theater range of the brand. Probably to better resist the offers of the competition, especially those of Bose, which like Sonos is American and also very strong in the USA.

Sonos Ray is a 2 x 2-way stereo soundbar, each mono amplified in Class D

To place its paw in the 300 euro area, Sonos had to work in “subtraction” so as not to excessively disturb Beam, who, traveling at an altitude of 500 euros, must be able to distinguish himself well. And since Sonos couldn’t afford to step back on audio quality, which is a bit its trademark, and not even on the signal management electronics and smart functions, there was nothing left but to cripple the connection mode: goodbye HDMI (and said in 2022 it makes your wrists tremble) and here is the reappearance of only the optical input. The few explanations given by Sonos in New York in this regard do not hold up: the official position is that all the TVs have the optical output, even those (how many?) That do not have the HDMI ARC output. Explanations that do not hold up, also because Sonos itself has always provided an HDMI-optical adapter with Arc and Beam as a retrofit for any TV without HDMI ARC.

The truth is probably different. Seeking differentiation, Ray was stripped of two things: HDMI input and Atmos compatibility (which obviously needs HDMI). It can be fine anyway, of course; but you need to know before buying that the product you are taking is a young man dressed as an elderly person. And the dress won’t make the monk, but it still counts.

A comparison between the three Sonos soundbars: from the top Arc, in the middle Beam and then Ray. The internal layout and width change, but the height remains similar.

The only consolation: the optical cable is present in the package and avoids the classic scene of “I bought it and I can’t make it work” due to the banal lack of an optical cable.

The real limit of the optical input is the management of the remote control

If a soundbar can only handle conventional 5.1 encodings (Dolby Digital and DTS), then why not let the optical input suffice? The answer is simple: because if there is one thing that works and well, it is the CEC communication over HDMI, thanks to which if you raise or lower the volume on the TV remote control, the soundbar behaves accordingly, always, deterministically, without problems. Without HDMI, goodbye CEC and therefore goodbye also bidirectional digital communication between soundbar and TV: the optical connection, although digital, carries only the audio signal and cannot carry control messages.

Sonos Ray connections are very simple: power supply, optical input and network cable, the latter not mandatory since the soundbar can be connected to the Internet and other Sonos speakers via Wi-Fi.

For this reason, Ray has on board an IR sensor capable of receiving signals from the TV remote control. In this way, after a very short learning procedure, Ray also submits meekly to the volume controls set by the TV remote control. But it’s still a one-way connection: the remote and the TV don’t really know what volume level the soundbar is at. This means that, even if the TV does not play (it must be set at the menu level to turn off the internal speakers) it has the volume indicator that goes up and down but inconsistently with what the soundbar does. Despite this, you can still control Ray’s volume without having to log into the Sonos app.

Worse goes with those TVs that have a Bluetooth remote control (which is very convenient, since there is no need to “point” the remote control at the TV): in this case, the “volume up” and “volume down” buttons do not gives rise to no IR emission and therefore Ray receives nothing and can do nothing. This gives us a bit of the dimension of how this soundbar is born “old”, at least in this respect.

The owners of TVs with a BT remote control therefore have only two ways: either they deactivate the Bluetooth from their TV, hoping that the remote control reacts by switching to pure infrared emission; or you just have to buy an infrared remote control compatible with your TV and use that.

Or, as in the case of the Sony TV that we are testing in the editorial office at the moment, one of the two remote controls available (the Bluetooth one) must be placed in the drawer and only resorted to the cheaper one that still uses infrared.

There is always the possibility to control the soundbar through the app or the superior touch controls, in clear Sonos tradition.

The listening test: excellent with music, soft with soundtracks

Sonos Ray, it must be said, has outstanding musical qualities. An AB comparison with the Ones grappling with tracks from different musical genres is clearly in favor of the soundbar. Ray is more “rounded”, more complete in the midrange than the One, even with more convincing bass; as the layout suggests, and thanks to the more lateral ducts facing outwards, the much better spatiality. The Ones seem just a little more efficient and return louder sound pressure at maximum volume than Ray does. But diffusion in the environment at normal levels is more than guaranteed.

If we take into account that Ray costs only 70 euros more than the One, the choice of this soundbar, where it can be useful, is clearly preferred to that of a One. It has microphones on board, fully adheres to the Sonos ecosystem and sounds better; plus it is also a soundbar. Obviously if you are looking for a hyper compact speaker or want to create a stereo layout, the One is still the preferred entry solution, but it is certain that a prudent buyer will be inclined to consider the possibility of using Ray instead of One when in presence of a TV.

The cinematic vision is very pleasant, even if all acoustically confined to the front quadrants: Ray, despite the name that could suggest concepts of sound projection, it does not react in a particularly creative way to the stresses of the 5.1 signals. We think the “homework” of the stereo downmix reported on Ray’s clever 2 x 2-way layout. Despite this, it makes a good leap forward compared to conventional TV audio: finally full-bodied and intelligible voices, present soundtracks, wider dynamics.

The comparison with other solutions (such as for example with the top of the range Arc) show a very “soft” Ray character: probably for the bass reflex loading of this cabinet, there is a kind of “damping” effect of the sound system that causes perception to be much less impulsive. Bumps are smoothed out and the sound is always controlled and never annoying, but certainly those looking for bangs, sparks and super-fast transients better seek their luck elsewhere. Sonos Ray is apparently more “rigid”, loaded to create otherwise non-existent bass and therefore less “mobile”.

Of course, the low frequencies cannot be punched in the belly: the volume of the kick drum is missing. But everything is relative and a lot depends on habits: those who come from another home theater system should go and try Sonos Ray before buying so as not to have surprises and disappointments. Those who come from TV audio can go on with their eyes closed: the improvement is evident.

To make things even better, you can follow Sonos’ advice and also opt for a pair of One SLs to go alongside Ray. The SL version is fine, a little cheaper, which has the only difference in the lack of microphones: it does not matter, since the microphones are already present on the soundbar and those are enough to give voice commands to Alexa or Google Assistant and, to tend, also to the voice assistant Sonos, expected in Italy next year.

The company of the two Ones, in a home theater layout, has three tangible advantages: first, finally, the surround effect feels good, a discrete channel effect and not reconstructed, very believable. So Ray also seems to come out of the front quadrants and manage the whole room.

The second advantage is a “reinforcement” in the bass: the Ones help fill the scene from this point of view. Involvement benefits greatly from this.

The third advantage is the possibility of using the system in dual stereo when not listening to the TV but listening to music for example: the One repeats Ray’s stereo signal, creating a field that is no longer nothing of stereo, but fills the room. in a more competitive and uniform way. This mode is strongly recommended in case of party or background creation.

And right in the kit from just under 700 there seems to be the squaring of this Ray, which is thus balanced, convincing, engaging. Waiting, of course, for a cheaper and therefore more leveled sub to come out at Ray’s price. Probably in the near future the entire kit (Ray + 2 One SL + cheap sub) will be around 1000 euros: in this case it would be an excellent wireless home theater solution with all the advantages of the Sonos ecosystem.

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