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The brand new $279 Sonos Ray is the corporate’s most reasonably priced soundbar but, and it has two core functions. The primary, like every entry-level soundbar, is to free you from having to hearken to your TV’s atrocious built-in audio system. However the Ray can also be designed to be an attractive gateway into the Sonos’ multiroom audio platform. To hit a value level of below $300, Sonos eliminated lots of the superior options supplied by its dearer Beam and Arc soundbars. The Ray doesn’t assist Dolby Atmos, and it lacks HDMI connectivity altogether. As an alternative, you hook it as much as your TV utilizing an optical audio cable.

I’ve spent just a few days testing the Ray, and it delivers spectacular sound for such a compact soundbar. There’s quite a bit to love about its efficiency — each when it comes to TV audio and music playback. Its forward-facing audio system imply you possibly can place it in a good media stand cupboard, and its sound will stay constant. However Sonos’ determination to lean on an older-style optical enter has led to inconveniences and frustrations that don’t exist with the HDMI-enabled Beam or Arc.

The primary challenge boils all the way down to the way you management the soundbar. Not like the Beam and Arc, which settle for quantity instructions from many alternative remotes by HDMI-CEC, the Ray will solely work with infrared (IR) remotes. And, as I realized, even then issues might be iffy. I attempted quite a few instances to get the Ray to work with the distant for TCL’s 6-Sequence Google TV. I’m sure it’s an IR distant — obstacles between the distant and TV can block the sign — however, for no matter cause, the Ray by no means acknowledged it. Your expertise may be higher, particularly in the event you’ve received a common distant. However, in case your distant communicates with the TV over radio frequency (RF) or Bluetooth, you’re hosed. (Sonos has a assist web page for organising sure LG, Apple, and Samsung remotes.)

The Ray solely helps optical enter from TVs and doesn’t embrace HDMI connectivity.

In my case, I ended up having to make use of the Sonos app on my cellphone (or the contact controls on the highest of the soundbar) to regulate quantity, which grew annoying. Ease of use has objectively suffered because of no HDMI. That is an space the place the corporate’s new voice management service might be useful in the event you additionally personal one in all Sonos’ sensible audio system, however that gained’t clear up the distant drawback.

I attempted this many, many instances, and the Ray simply wouldn’t take to my TV’s distant.

The Ray takes after the Arc and Beam in its design, with a perforated entrance grill and tapered physique that slopes outward on the entrance. This soundbar is small and lightweight sufficient to simply carry round with one hand. And its dimensions would lend nicely to utilizing the Ray as a desk speaker. However right here once more, the restricted enter choices diminish that potential considerably. Until your PC has an optical output, getting wired audio to work might be tough, however you’ve at all times received Spotify Join, Apple’s AirPlay 2, and Sonos’ huge record of supported music providers at your disposal. A 3.5mm aux enter would’ve been good. Beneath a TV, the Ray appears at dwelling paired with a 55-inch or smaller set and fairly small in the event you put it subsequent to a 65-inch TV. The extra highly effective Beam and Arc make extra sense for bigger screens.

The Ray has the identical capacitive contact controls as different Sonos soundbars.

Contemplating it solely has 4 drivers — two centered midwoofers and two tweeters that unfold sound to the perimeters with the assistance of bodily waveguides — the Ray’s acoustics are spectacular and higher than my outdated, very primary Vizio soundbar or one thing just like the Roku Streambar. Within the standalone configuration, you’ll solely be getting stereo sound. However you possibly can increase to a encompass system by including in matching pairs of different Sonos or Ikea Symfonisk audio system and the Sonos Sub.

I think most individuals will use the Ray by itself, and even on their own, it had no hassle filling my bed room with sound. However I might think about it struggling and sounding narrower in giant, open dwelling rooms. There’s little or no sense of immersion or directional audio for the reason that Ray lacks the spectacular encompass sound virtualization of the second-gen Sonos Beam or the various additional drivers from the Arc. A part of this once more comes all the way down to the optical enter. The Ray solely helps stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS audio; neglect about Atmos, and even Dolby Digital Plus is a no-go.

The Sonos Ray appears a tad undersized when paired with a 65-inch TV.

When listening to music, the Ray isn’t sonically that far off from the Sonos One sensible speaker. It’s received a well-balanced, full sound with bass that I’d describe as… competent. However it might massively profit from a devoted subwoofer; the rumored Sub Mini can’t come quickly sufficient. The Ray handles gaming pretty nicely. I didn’t encounter any noticeable audio sync points whereas utilizing my PS5 for a number of hours, so the optical connection isn’t with out advantages. As with the Beam and Arc, iPhone and iPad homeowners can activate Trueplay and use the mic on these units to optimize the Ray’s sound for the particular room it’s in. This characteristic stays absent on Android.

The place the Sonos Ray shines essentially the most is dialogue readability. Voices come out of this soundbar with wonderful separation and stay straightforward to listen to irrespective of how a lot motion is going on on display screen. It’s an evening and day distinction in comparison with built-in TV audio system, the place audio is commonly muddy and dialogue might be arduous to comply with. The Beam and Arc are technically superior to the Ray on this division since each have devoted middle channels, however I used to be utterly glad with the crisp voice replica on Sonos’ newest soundbar. It’s a noticeable power when listening to music as nicely.

The Ray matches seamlessly into Sonos’ whole-home speaker ecosystem and allows you to wirelessly get pleasure from audio from each main music streaming service. I really like how enveloping it feels after I’ve received the identical music enjoying at completely different sides of my room on the Play:5 and Ray. One other neat trick is the flexibility to play TV audio in your different Sonos audio system round the home, so that you don’t should miss out on listening to the information or any massive sports activities recreation moments whereas working up a meal within the kitchen.

The design takes after the Arc and Beam.

Sonos is contending with loads of competitors at (and nicely under) the Ray’s $279 value. Most funds soundbars don’t present the identical Wi-Fi music playback capabilities, however many at the very least embrace Bluetooth — which the Ray doesn’t — and firms like Vizio typically bundle in a subwoofer to go together with the reasonably priced soundbar. This makes the Ray a difficult proposition. When you’re dedicated to diving into Sonos’ ecosystem, it makes for a really succesful starter soundbar and might be supported with software program updates for a few years to return. And it upholds the corporate’s repute for sound high quality, acting at a stage above most entry-level soundbars. That’s very true when listening to music.

However, within the period of HDMI eARC, the Ray is held again by its lone optical enter. Sonos has clearly calculated that the goal marketplace for the Ray gained’t suppose twice about its lack of HDMI connectivity or immersive Dolby Atmos encompass sound. Not everybody cares about having the very best, and loads of folks might be utilizing this soundbar with a secondary TV.

Even so, you shouldn’t overlook the opposite tradeoffs. The Ray won’t work together with your TV’s distant, and a few folks will inevitably reject the notion of paying almost $300 for a stereo soundbar in 2022. An eventual Sub Mini seems like a much-needed piece to this puzzle. However taken by itself deserves, the Ray doesn’t disappoint so long as you’re bought on the whole lot it’s able to and don’t thoughts the concessions Sonos settled on in constructing it.

Pictures by Chris Welch / The Verge

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