Sonos Ray Is a Budget Soundbar to Ease You Into a Home Filled With Music

Sonos Ray
Sonos Ray is a budget soundbar that may serve as an entry point to the company's ecosystem of speakers. TYLER HAYES

Sonos Ray looks like a budget TV soundbar, and it acts like one, too. But secretly, or not so secretly, I think Sonos has bigger plans for this new device. On its own, the $279 Sonos Ray is pretty modest. It's limited to connecting to a TV with only an optical cable, and it doesn't have any microphones for direct voice control. What it does offer is an entry point into a whole-home music system.

The larger Sonos ecosystem has a speaker fit for any room. There's Sonos Five for impressive, party-level sound. There's also Sonos One for music in the bedroom or office. The Sonos app connects all of its speakers together, including soundbars like Ray and Arc, and can play the same song across them all at the same time. I think the company is pushing into more budget-conscious products to get consumers hooked to upsell them later to this whole-home music lifestyle.

This isn't a nefarious plan to sell speakers. In fact, I think Sonos probably does the best job at controlling speakers across a home. So if someone buys a Ray to enhance their TV's sound and ends up with a few more Sonos speakers around the house, they can expect a great product experience. But as a standalone basic soundbar, Sonos Ray is simply fine. It does its job without a lot of fanfare or fuss.

TL;DR

Pros:

  • Small footprint for tight spaces
  • AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support

Cons:

  • Connection to TV via optical cable only

Buy at Sonos.

Sonos Ray Soundbar Specs

Sonos Ray
Sonos Beam (bottom) is small, but the Sonos Ray on top of it is even smaller. TYLER HAYES

Inside the small soundbar are four Class D digital amplifiers, two tweeters and two high-efficiency midwoofers. The speaker supports stereo pulse-code modulation (PCM), Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround audio formats. Again, the speaker itself is a little boring with no real surprises on the whole.

The audio quality is certainly bigger than its physical size, but this is common for Sonos, which has managed to build excellent speakers for more than a decade. The physical size of the Ray is neat. Looking at pictures doesn't do it justice: It's small. If there's an attribute about the Ray to make you consider it over a soundbar from Vizio or LG, it's probably its compact size. It should get as loud as you'll ever need it to, but it can still be put onto plenty of small shelves inside entertainment centers.

Through the Sonos mobile app, you can adjust the EQ of Ray, turn on Speech Enhancement, Night Sound and tune the speaker's sound specifically for its placement in the room with True Play. (For those not familiar, Night Sound reduces the intensity of loud sounds, and Speech Enhancement boosts voice frequencies.) Plus you can send audio from an iPhone to Ray with AirPlay 2 support.

Sonos Ray's use of an optical cable to connect to a TV is the defining feature of this product. It's forever stuck as a decent soundbar and nothing more as audio over HDMI evolves. For now, the Ray should connect to nearly all TVs with that single optical cable. It can do 5.1 surround sound, but as TVs and technology march on, it will eventually fade from universal access. This is another reason why it should primarily be thought of as a soundbar for a secondary TV that doesn't have all the latest features.

Sonos Ray Movies and Music

Sonos Ray
The Sonos Ray is a budget soundbar that's compact enough to fit almost anywhere. TYLER HAYES

I've used all the soundbars Sonos has ever released and up until now, Sonos Beam (Gen 2) with Dolby Atmos support and a dynamic sound was the best pick as a blanket recommendation. It can be paired with a Sonos Sub and wireless rear speakers to deliver robust audio performance, but it's not as expensive or physically big as the Arc.

The Ray soundbar at $279 is probably the right entry point for even more people who only want an upgraded audio experience over a TV's built-in speakers. Ray can still be paired with the Sub or wireless rear speakers if you want to go down that path later, but mostly it excels at bringing fuller sound to movies and enhancing on-screen dialogue.

Watching the James Bond movie No Time To Die, I was impressed with Ray's ability to give car chases and explosions a bigger presence. The overall movie sound was especially delightful under a volume level of around 45 percent. Raising the volume into the 75 percent range showed off the speaker's limit for keeping sound balanced. Sure, it can get loud, but the midrange frequencies were muddier and everything was less distinct as the volume elevated.

Across different shows and movies, I didn't notice anything special about Ray's stereo separation. The audio mixing was noticeable, however, while watching the movie Baby Driver, when sound spread much wider than its short speaker length.

Even if the optical cable isn't a factor, I still don't recommend the Ray for large, cavernous living rooms. It works better for bedrooms and smaller living areas. Using it in that context likely won't demand bumping the volume over 50 percent, meaning some of the sound issues won't be encountered very often.

To my ears, Ray has a similar sound profile while listening to music as the Symfonisk Picture Frame from Sonos and Ikea. Both products have more bass presence than expected but can't get close to the same lasting resonance as the Sonos Five does, for example. Both speakers ultimately feel a little hollow. The Sonos Ray is, again, a very suitable music speaker for a bedroom or small living room where volume doesn't need to be pushed as hard as it would in larger spaces.

Sonos Ray
The back of the Ray has an Ethernet port, optical cable and power connections, and a button used for setting up Sonos speakers. The speaker also has two screw adapters to mount the soundbar on a wall. TYLER HAYES

Should You Buy Sonos Ray?

As long as you're going in with clear eyes about what Sonos Ray is and what it's for, it's a great choice for an entry level soundbar. There are cheaper audio bars out there that sound just as good, but they're probably a lot bigger and might not have all the Wi-Fi connectivity in tow.

The Sonos Ray is a soundbar that can fit nearly anywhere. It does a lot in a small space and brings pretty decent sound to movies and TV shows. The Ray's ability to tap into Sonos' Wi-Fi music ecosystem is its huge benefit. It allows you to stream audio from dozens of services directly on the speaker when it's not being used with a TV.

Much like Apple, Sonos doesn't make cheap products—it makes products with pared-down features for less money. That's what the Ray is. And as long as that's what you're expecting, you should be thrilled with the experience.

Buy at Sonos for $279.

Newsweek may earn a commission from links on this page, but we only recommend products we back. We participate in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.