Sonos Ray soundbar – small dog, big bark (review)
The Sonos Ray soundbar reminds me of those small dogs that think they can take on bigger dogs several times their size – big bark and no fear of defeat.
The $399 Sonos Ray soundbar can take on far bigger and more expensive soundbars and with its small dog tenacity comes out the victor. Its sound is way, way better than its size or price dictates. Then we have come to expect great sound for Sonos, and it does not disappoint.
First, some observed Sonos philosophy
I have no insider knowledge, just experience with the brand over several years. It is a US company that began with a sole mission – to help the world listen better.
We made the strategic choice to make everything all white and all black. But this makes it a lot harder to manufacture. You’re dealing with many different materials that sit next to each other, and all those parts have to match so that the outcome looks very clean and elegant. These colours are long-lasting and not super trend sensitive. If you think about Shadow Black or Lunar White, they’re very neutral colours. There’s longevity around colour choice, but there’s also this longevity around durability and making sure that from a technical perspective, these products last a long time.Kitty Suidman, the Design Director of Colour, Material, Finish (CMF) and Product Sustainability at Sonos.
Until its recent colourways experiment with the Sonos Roam (Sunset, Wave and Olive), its products have always been, well, black and white.
Sonos has always been about interoperability.
It uses Wi-Fi for whole-of-home and multi-room audio streaming because Bluetooth simply did not cut it (at that time) until the Sonos Move and Roam offered Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Wi-Fi also meant that it could support Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, iOS and any connected sound source.
Sonos is not about cheap or shoddy
It ignores downward price pressures or cost-cutting to compete with the mass brands. It holds over 500 patents that give it a unique Sonos Sound signature. Then it develops a product that meets its standards and puts a fair price on it. Finally, it makes installation and use flawless via its S2 App.
The listener comes first. Our products are simple to set you and use, and we continually work on fine-tuning that experience (with regular firmware and App updates).
Sonos to embrace the new Matter standard
This may lead to greater interoperability of the Internet of Things. It also has the largest support for streaming platforms – Spotify, Apple, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, Audible, Tidal, Deezer and dozens more.
Sonos is more than speakers. It is an open platform providing greater access to the whole sonic culture. We are building bridges, expanding our platform, forging new partnerships and pushing the limits of what’s possible.
Why am I telling you this?
Because the Sonos Ray soundbar has enormous heritage and such amenity, it would be crazy to buy anything else. At $399, it enables a whole new set of buyers to experience superb Sonos sound.
Sonos Ray soundbar
|Website||Product page and Support Page|
|Replaces||Nothing – it is a new lower-cost 3.0 soundbar category|
|Colour||Sonos White or black matte polycarbonate case|
|Support||Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple AirPlay2 and inbuilt streaming services, Sonos Radio|
|Connects||Wi-Fi 2.4 or 5Ghz or Ethernet cable|
|Size||559 x 95 x 71 mm x 1.95kg|
|What it is not||Voice assistant compatible (needs another speaker).|
No BT, but you can Wi-Fi stream to it as a multi-room speaker
|Price||$399 inc free delivery and 100-day return policy|
|From||Sonos Online, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi, Good Guys, Videopro|
|County of manufacture||US designed and made in China|
|About||Sonos is an American Audio company based in Santa Barbara, California [Est 2002]. It develops and manufactures smart speakers to play music simultaneously in multiple rooms.|
|More||CyberShack Sonos news and reviews|
First impression – Small Dog, big bark (exceed)
Our First Look article said it would blow you away, and we need to put that in perspective by looking at use cases.
It is a small front-firing 3.0 soundbar at 559 x 95 x 71 mm x 1.95kg and as such, you cannot expect it to have the performance of a larger soundbar like the 5.0 Sonos Beam Gen 2 at 651 x 100 x 69mm x 2.8kg. But in the right circumstances, it is impressive.
Those circumstances include a smaller room area, and as it is forward-firing, it does not use psychoacoustics (bouncing sound off ceilings or walls) to ‘hack your ears’ into thinking it is a surround soundbar. The key advantage of this is that you can place it almost anywhere – under or over a TV, on the wall, in or on a TV stand etc.
And as it is purely a 3.0 soundbar, it does not need complex down-or-up-mix technology. It can decode Stereo PCM (free-to-Air TV), Dolby Digital up to 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround.
As it uses a Digital Optical connection, it can connect to any older TV, games console etc. It is flexible and adds an immediate and impressive sound upgrade.
I love the Sonos build quality, and the White colour is quite fetching.
- Download the Sonos App (Android or iOS)
- Create an account if you don’t already have Sonos gear
- Plugin the Sonos Ray soundbar to power
- Use Ethernet connection or Wi-Fi connectivity
- The App finds the Sonos Ray soundbar and asks you to enable the mic to hear a pairing tone.
- It will then update any firmware.
- Allocate it to a room (for voice assistance)
- Plug the Optical Cable into the TV and soundbar (no HDMI)
- Make sure the TV is set to Optical out or External Speakers, and you will start to hear sound. The App also sets up the TV remote to control the sound
- You can use the $59 wall mount, or it has two standard M5 5mm thread mount holes
That is it – and it is fool-proof. In years of reviewing Sonos, I have never experienced a set-up issue.
Sonos S2 App (Exceed)
The App for iOS or Android has a vast array of features. Perhaps most important is Trueplay (iOS only), which tunes the speaker to your room. Android users – borrow an iPhone, and you will be impressed at the difference it makes to the out-of-the-box sound.
The app also features an EQ, Loudness, Speech Enhancement and Night mode. When the soundbar is in use, you can enable
- Night sound reduces the intensity of loud sounds while increasing the level of quieter sounds, making dialogue clearer without turning up the volume.
- Speech Enhancement boosts audio frequencies associated with the human voice. Turning this feature on makes dialogue easier to hear.
This is impressive, if not unique, for a $399 soundbar. Hearing-impaired will experience far clearer dialogue and not annoy the neighbours with a soundbar turned up loud so you can hear it.
What, no HDMI? Pass
It was a logical move not to have an HDMI connection. But that is for two reasons. First, it is not a Dolby Atmos soundbar requiring 48Gbps eARC bandwidth. Second, it can use a more effective and lower cost Digital to Analogue converter (DAC) instead of complex HDMI decoders.
What is inside? Exceed
There are four speakers and D-class amps. It has two full-range woofers for mid-range and vocal frequencies, two tweeters for a crisp and clear high-frequency response, and two passive micro ports that pump out solid and deep bass. Waveguides widen the sound stage.
You can add a matching pair of Sonos One/SL ($319/289 each), Sonos Five ($799 each) or older Play:1, Play:3, and Play:5 (Gen 2) to make this a 5.0 soundbar and the Sonos One Sub ($1099) to make it a 5.1 soundbar. But that defeats the purpose of this $399 soundbar, and we can recommend far lower cost 5.1 How to buy a soundbar that meets your needs? (guide) and 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos Five tips for better TV sound – Dolby Atmos for beginners (guide) soundbars.
How does it sound? Exceed
It has heaps of mid-bass kicking in from about 43Hz-100Hz, strong high-bass (100-200Hz), flat mid/low-treble (for clear dialogue 200Hz to 5kHz) and a slightly recessed mid-to-high treble to avoid the upper register harshness.
Its native sound signature is a hybrid between warm and sweet for movies and most music genres, and the Sonos trademark neutral sound signature that you can do pretty well anything with via the S2 App and its EQ.
It also has quite a wide 2D soundstage, so it will suit larger TVs.
Audio-wise it is perfect for music – 3.0, loud, clear dialogue, low/no distortion, great bass, warm/sweet sound signature (or neutral) and nice left/right separation. This is strong competition for the Sonos Five at $799, although it cannot be stereo paired or used as rear speakers for the Beam Gen 2 or Arc.
Power use – PASS
It consumes a small amount of power in its sleep state as it is always on. When in use, its power requirements are barely measurable.
Should I buy the $699 Sonos Beam Gen 2 5.0 Dolby Atmos capable soundbar at $699?
The Beam Gen 2 has support for virtual Dolby Atmos and eARC connectivity. It can decode up to 32 audio channels, including eight-channel, 24bit/192kHz uncompressed data streams at speeds of up to 38Mbps.
It can decode a wide range of audio formats, including stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos and multichannel PCM. Music lovers will also appreciate that the Beam Gen 2 supports Amazon Music’s Ultra HD audio and Dolby Atmos Music.
We put both side-by-side to the test, and for free-to-air TV and up to 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS streaming video, the Sonos Ray Soundbar held its own. When we tried them in a larger open space lounge room, and with Dolby Atmos and 5.1 surround content, the Sonos Beam Gen 2 – quality Dolby Atmos compatible soundbar (review) was ahead.
Our advice – the Sonos Ray Soundbar easily adds impressive 3.0 sound to any TV. If money is not an issue, you get a wider soundstage and Dolby Atmos effects from the Beam Gen 2.
Who is Sonos Ray soundbar for?
Sonos knows that most people don’t regularly watch Dolby Atmos content – you don’t need that immersive format support to enjoy high-quality sound from your TV.
It is for a new Sonos audience who wants an all-in-one mini-soundbar with loads of volume and a very listenable warm and sweet sound signature. So, it is for those in apartments, for the bedroom TV, gamers, those without a Dolby Atmos TV, wanting a classy multi-room speaker with all the Sonos S2 app features.
And, existing Sonos owners won’t be disappointed either.
Sonos Ray 3.0 Soundbar brief specs
- $399 and available from 7 June from Sonos Online, Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi and Sonos retailers
- Warranty: 12 months
- Colours: Matte Black or White polycarbonate
- 559 x 71 x 95mm x 1.95kg
- Inputs: Power, Ethernet and Optical In (syncs with most TV IR remote controls)
- Wi-Fi 2.4GHz
- Sound format: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital 5.1, and DTS Digital Surround
- Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Airplay2 with suitable separate smartphone or smart-speaker
CyberShack’s view – Sonos Ray Soundbar adds immediate and impressive sound to any TV.
I was sceptical that a diminutive soundbar could perform to Sonos’s high standards. It does in spades. It is a perfect 3.0 non-Dolby Atmos soundbar at a sound quality and price that puts many more expensive all-in-one up to 5.1 soundbars to shame.
I understand that a lower-cost sub-woofer is coming soon that may be the perfect match – I can’t justify the current Sub Gen 3 ($1099) for this. In fact, on that point, a lower-cost set of rear speakers instead of the Sonos One/SL would be welcome, too – you would need the whole 5.1 package to come in under $1000 to be really competitive.
But know the limitations of what you are buying. There is just enough performance gap between it and the $699 Sonos Beam Gen 2 to make the choice easy.
It offers 3.0 channels of clear, exceptional sound in a compact design and gets our unreserved buy tick.
Sonos Ray soundbar 3.0$399
- One of the best lower-cost 3.0 soundbars offering better App features
- Small and compact – lots of placement options
- Big bass and excellent sound from a small soundbar
- Great vocal clarity and night mode (for the hearing impaired)
- IR receiver for TV remote control use
- None really for a $399 3.0 soundbar
- It is not currently economically viable to expand it