I have quite a few Sonos speakers scattered throughout my home, including the brand's two previous soundbars: the $899 Arc and the $449 Beam 2. For the last week, however, I swapped out my Beam 2 that I use on my 50-inch TV and replaced it with Sonos's newest and most entry-level soundbar, the $279 Ray — and I have to admit, the transition from the Beam 2 to the Ray has been surprisingly smooth.
Sonos has managed to squeeze a really superb sound out of the Ray's compact body. That said, the Ray still isn't quite on par with with Beam 2 — especially when the Beam 2 flexes its muscles by playing content that supports Dolby Atmos — and comes with some key tradeoffs.
So, if you are struggling deciding between Sonos's Beam 2 or Ray, it really comes down: are those key tradeoffs are worth the $180 difference between the two soundbars?
What's good about the Sonos Ray?
You won't find a better-sounding soundbar for under $300
The Sonos Ray is about three-fourths the size of the Sonos Beam 2 and isn't as quite as sophisticated as it packs a total of four drivers (two mid-woofers, two tweeters) compared to the Beam 2's seven. The surprising thing, however, is that Ray sounds almost as good when playing most content — at least in my little 170-foot TV room. This is because Sonos specially tuned those four drivers, using custom waveguide technology as well as supporting Trueplay (so you can fine-tune its sound for the room it's in), and it sounds impressively good with punchy bass, clear midrange and highs.
It feels and works like Sonos's more expensive soundbars
The Ray is just as easy to use as any other Sonos soundbar — in fact, it's even a little easier. Because it uses an optical connection instead of HDMI, all you have to do is connect the Ray to your TV, turn off your TV's default speakers and follow the in-app instructions. There's no toggling between HDMI inputs, like with Sonos's other soundbars.
And once it's setup, the Ray can work just like any of Sonos's other soundbars. It can be integrated in a home theater system with two Ones (or Play:1s) and a Sub, if you like, or it can play in a multi-room group. And it's all easily controlled via the Sonos app. And it also works with night mode (called Night Sound) and dialogue mode (called Speech Enchancement), which reduces the bass and elevates dialogue, respectively.
What are the tradeoffs with the Sonos Ray?
No Dolby Atmos is the big one
Out of the three soundbars that Sonos now makes, the Ray is the only one that doesn't support Dolby Atmos. And that's actually quite a big deal given that Atmos — an immersive sound technology that enables the soundbar (or speaker) to trick your ears into thinking that sound is coming from all around you — is probably the most sought-after feature that home theater enthusiasts look for.
That said, the Ray isn't a soundbar designed for movie buffs; it's for people who want a simple solution to upgrade their TV's sound. (And if they have an older TV that doesn't have the HDMI hookups necessary for the Beam 2 and Arc soundbars.)
The Ray isn't ideal for larger rooms (or larger TVs)
The Ray has been specially tuned so that it sounds best in small-to-medium sized rooms and if your listening to it head-on. There's no side-firing drivers that in the Beam 2 and Arc (which helps with Dolby Atmos), and I found the Ray suffers if you're in a larger room and you're moving around; I set it where my Arc is normally in my main TV room for testing and discovered this. However, in a small room, the Ray still sounds pretty killer if you're not positioned centrally.
No voice assistant is a bummer, but not a deal breaker
Aside from Dolby Atmos, the other big omission with the Ray is that it's not a "smart" soundbar — it can't be integrated with Alexa or Google Assistant. This means you can can't use voice commands to do things like turn the volume up or down, ask queries about pop culture of the weather, nor request music when the TV isn't on.
It's a little bit of bummer, but it's also reassuring knowing that I don't have to worry about somebody listening to me if I forget to turn the mic off. Plus, I almost always use my Apple TV's remote for volume control, anyway.
It's also worth noting that Sonos is about to roll out its first-ever smart assistant, Sonos Voice Control, which will allow you to use your voice to do things like group Sonos speakers together as well as answer your music queries (on most services, sans Spotify). However, since the Ray is not "smart-enabled," this new voice assistant will not work on Ray.
Sonos Ray: The Verdict
The biggest compliment I can say about the Ray is that it feels and sounds like a Sonos soundbar — for the size and price, it's excellent.
However, the biggest competitor to the Ray is the Beam 2 — and the $180 extra price gap. If you take watching sports, shows and movies seriously, it makes absolute sense to skip the Ray and spend the extra dough on the Beam 2. But if you're a little bit frugal or you have an older TV, then Ray is one of the best bang-for-your-buck soundbars you can buy.