Sonos products have never been cheap; in fact, the company increased prices for most of them last year. But Sonos has also recently released some products that push things into a more affordable territory. Last year, the company brought in the $179. from portable Sonos Roam speakerand later followed with a microphone-free version at $159, the cheapest Sonos yet. However, home theater speakers have remained premium products, with the radius of $449 the cheapest soundbar option the company makes.
That changes today with the Ray, Sonos’ most compact and inexpensive soundbar, arriving on June 7. At $279, it doesn’t compete on price with low-cost options like Roku’s $130 Streambar† But in a demo earlier this week, it was clear that the Ray is a powerful soundbar that will offer a massive upgrade over just about any TV’s built-in speaker. Sonos made a few compromises to hit that $279 price point, but I think it makes more sense for a lot of people than spending $449 on the Beam.
Like other Sonos speakers, the Ray connects to Wi-Fi so you can stream audio to it from a range of popular services. You can group it with other Sonos speakers for multi-room playback and send songs to them via AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect. Because it’s a soundbar, it connects to your TV with an optical cable to play the audio that comes through your TV. And as with other Sonos soundbars, you can wirelessly pair the Ray with the Sonos Sub for extra bass, or a pair of Sonos One speakers for true rear surround sound. This last point makes it an ideal starting point for a Sonos home theater system that you can build over time.
To keep the price below $300, Sonos has made some changes that it doesn’t think will be a major concern for its target audience. Because the Ray uses optical audio instead of HDMI, it has less audio bandwidth than the Beam and Arc soundbars. This means that the Ray can only decode stereo PCM, Dolby Digital and DTS Digital Surround; it’s incompatible with Dolby Atmos, a big difference from Sonos’ other home theater products. However, it does retain an Ethernet port for faster network performance.
Sonos also skipped a mic here, so you can’t use it directly with the new Sonos Voice Control feature or other assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant. Plus, the Ray has simpler internal speakers than what you’ll find on the Beam and Arc. All together you get two midwoofers in the middle, two tweeters with split waveguides to broaden the soundstage of the speaker, a bass reflex system that delivers a surprising amount of low-end performance, and four Class D amplifiers.
The speaker has a tapered design and front-firing speaker components, unlike the Beam and Arc. Sonos says this is so you can put the Ray in a media stand without the sound bouncing off the walls. This is part of the overall vision for a product built for smaller spaces than other Sonos soundbars, which are both big and loud. (As is common with Sonos products, it comes in both black and white, both of which should look good in a wide variety of homes.)
Sure, the Ray’s speaker setup is more modest than more expensive Sonos speakers, but in practice it still delivers an impressively balanced listening experience, whether it’s music or movies. Sonos said it focused on areas where it felt built-in TV speakers were particularly lacking, such as dialogue playback and bass. Both features were definitely noticeable in the demo. Of course we’ll have to listen a little closer to see how it compares to other soundbars from Sonos and its competitors, but the Ray made a positive first impression. Like other Sonos speakers, you can use an iOS device to enable Trueplay speaker tuning technology to optimize the Ray’s sound for your specific environment.
At first glance, it looks like the Ray offers a lot of value for $279† In some ways, Sonos is positioning it as the “gateway drug” for its home theater setup, similar to how the Roam serves as a gateway to the Sonos ecosystem. Like the Roam, the Ray costs more than some competing products, but that price gets you a full-fledged Sonos device with all the benefits that entails, including a focus on audio quality. You could certainly get a cheaper soundbar, but Sonos isn’t trying to be the cheapest in any way. Instead, it tries to bring the power and clarity of its other soundbars into a smaller, more affordable package. How successful it will be remains to be seen, but on the face of it, the Ray was able to attract many people who were interested in something like the Sonos Beam, but were otherwise put off by the price.
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