Sonos-Ray-side

With the new Sonos Ray soundbar, you now have a spectrum of choices for bringing Sonos sound into your living room. The $799 Sonos Arc is the Papa Bear, with a huge sound and a price to match; the $449 Sonos Beam is the Mama Bear, a midsize soundbar with a midrange cost; and the new $279 Sonos Ray is the Baby Bear, a small soundbar with an affordable price.

The Ray has a lot going for it — from very good sound to affordable cost — but isn’t a great match for everyone due to some of its limitations. Wondering if it’s the right Sonos soundbar for you? Here’s what we think after living with one for several days.

Very good sound in a small package

The Sonos Ray is a small soundbar that produces well-balanced sound and is relatively affordable. While it lacks some of the latest features (such as HDMI and Atmos), it offers many of the best advantages of the Sonos system. The Ray would be a good fit in a small apartment or a bedroom — if you have the right TV connection.

What we liked

Better sound than you’d expect from a small soundbar

Sonos-Ray-controls-logo

You won’t have trouble finding space for the Ray, which measures 22 x 3.7 x 2.8 inches. It’s slightly smaller than the Sonos Beam, though not as small as Polk’s MagniFi Mini (however, the MagniFi Mini comes with a sizable subwoofer). At that size, the Ray is a good match for computer monitors and smaller TVs under 55 inches.

Despite its svelte form, the Ray delivers well-balanced sound, with nice treble and bass tones. Voices are clear and resonant — I could understand the eccentric inflections of Julia Child’s voice in “Julia” without needing captions.

It’s not going to wow you with deep low-end effects, but it has enough bass to improve the watching experience. When the Batmobile revs up in The Batman, the Ray produced a satisfying roar. It wasn’t enough to rumble the floor, like the Beam and MagniFi Mini can, but it’s still impressive for a small soundbar without a subwoofer.

I was more impressed with how the Ray handled music. The low hum of the bass on Jon Batiste’s “Freedom” resonated deeply but his vocals were still clear in the mix. The distorted guitars on Wet Leg’s “Chaise Longue” sounded detailed and the snare drum was sharp. The Ray could easily be the main speaker for music in a small apartment.

The price is right

Sonos Beam (above); Sonos Ray (below)

Sonos has a reputation for delivering premium products at a premium price — sort of like the Apple of audio — but at $279, the Ray can almost be considered affordable. It’s $170 less than the Beam and only $50 more than the MagniFi Mini (currently on sale for $229.95).

Yes, you can find small soundbars for much less, but they won’t sound this good and the quality will be lower. Despite its lower price, the Ray has the same quality build that other Sonos speakers have. It looks like it costs more than it does.

Sonos’s simplicity and best features are included

sonos-ray-app-4

The Ray is a Sonos speaker, and that brings with it several features that most soundbars and wireless speakers lack.

If you have other Sonos speakers, you can use the Ray with them for multi-room sound. The Sonos app makes adding the Ray to your system simple. Like when you bring a pair of AirPods near an iPhone, the app senses the Ray once you plug it in. The soundbar plays a sound that your phone registers and the app walks you through the rest of setup. It’s just about as easy as it gets.

The Ray includes room correction, called TruePlay, to automatically adjust the balance of the sound to the space it’s in. That’s a rare option in a soundbar at this price. You can also use the app to switch on voice enhancement — making dialog more prominent in the mix — as well as manually adjust treble and bass levels.

The Ray also supports Apple AirPlay 2 if you don’t want to use the Sonos app to control music. But, like all other non-portable Sonos speakers, the Ray doesn’t do Bluetooth.

What we didn’t like

It lacks input options

Sonos-Ray-ports

The Ray is missing more than Bluetooth. I guess some sacrifices needed to be made to achieve its size and price.

The biggest thing it lacks is HDMI. The Ray uses digital optical audio to connect to your TV. The quality of digital optical is very good and most TVs (but not all, especially older ones) offer this output. But my computer monitor doesn’t — and the Ray could make an excellent speaker with a large monitor. The Ray doesn’t have an auxiliary input, so you can’t connect a 3.5mm cable.  Be sure to check your TV’s output before adding the Ray to your cart.

Because it doesn’t have HDMI, the Ray also can’t support Atmos surround sound. I don’t think that is a big deal though — small soundbars don’t deliver the benefits of Atmos, such as height, very well.

It has a narrow sound when watching movies

Sonos-Ray-cable

While the Ray produces crisp treble and good bass without a subwoofer, it doesn’t spread sound as wide as the MagniFi Mini or the Beam. The Ray has two tweeters and two midwoofers, and they point straight at the listener. That’s great for stereo sound, but it doesn’t have any speakers on the side for a virtual surround experience. When the Peter Parkers swing across the screen in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” I missed the sense of movement that the scene has when watching with the Beam.

There’s no smart assistant

Sonos-Ray-logo

Most Sonos speakers come with smart assistants built-in: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and soon Sonos Voice Control, the company’s new first-party assistant. In addition to allowing you to control smart devices in your home, a voice assistant is handy for controlling playback, whether that’s adjusting the volume without touching the remote or changing the tune that’s playing.

The Ray doesn’t include any of these options, though if you have another smart speaker on your network, you can use it to control the Ray.

Bottom line

If you’re looking for a small soundbar to go with a TV in a small apartment or bedroom, the Sonos Ray should be high on your list. It produces very good sound overall, with impressive bass for a unit without a subwoofer. If you have other Sonos speakers, it’s a natural fit and adds another option for multiroom sound. And it’s competitively priced at $279.

For most people, the Sonos Beam will be the best soundbar match in the Sonos lineup. But if you think the Ray is the just-right soundbar for you, check that your TV or monitor has a digital optical output since it lacks HDMI or an auxiliary input.

How it compares to other soundbars we tested

Size

22 x 3.7 x 2.8 inches

25.63 x 3.94 x 2.72 inches

13.4 x 4.3 x 3.2 inches (soundbar); 14.4 x 14.4 x 7.4 (subwoofer)

32.2 x 3.9 x 2.8 inches

Inputs

Digital optical

Digital optical, HDMI eARC

Digital optical, HDMI eARC, 3.5mm audio jack

Digital optical, HDMI, USB

Supported formats

Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround

Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Atmos

Dolby Digital 5.1

Stereo PCM, Dolby Audio

Voice control

No

Sonos Voice Control, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant

No

Yes (Google Assistant and Alexa via Voice Remote)

Connectivity and extras

Wi-Fi, Ethernet, AirPlay 2

Wi-Fi, Ethernet, AirPlay 2

Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Google Cast

Wi-Fi, built-in Roku streaming player

Colors

White, black

White, black

Black

Black

Subwoofer included

No

No

Yes

No

Price $279 $449 $229 $179