As someone who has bought into the Sonos ecosystem to a nigh-on foolhardy degree, I was not expecting much from its new Ray soundbar. Not because the preeminent force in wireless speakers tends to make bad products, but rather I was trading down to a budget-minded soundbar from the premium $899 Sonos Arc. On the weekend of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Stranger Things 4 and the Champions League final no less. These are the very definition of first world problems to be dealing with, but I’d be lying if I wasn’t a little bit miffed.
Of course, that was until I plugged the Ray into my 4K TV and gave it a go. While I’m not going to tell you this diminutive $279 boom box is every bit as good as its more premium cousins, it makes a strong case for itself. You see, however much money you have to spend on a speaker for your TV, what you really want to feel is a sense of scale from the device. Explosions should not sound like a ripple in the wind, hushed voices should cut through your room like a knife through butter and the roar of a crowd needs to convey that visceral rush of ecstasy.
As much as you won’t find perfection in the Ray, it gets this important stuff right. How did I figure this out? When that “Running Up That Hill” scene hit in Stranger Things, I was on the edge of my seat, fully bought into the thrill ride.
Small but mighty
In Sonos terms, the Ray is its third and cheapest soundbar to buy. It sits beneath both the ultra-luxe and truly spectacular Arc, and the still plenty accomplished, mid-range Beam that was refreshed last year with Dolby Atmos abilities. If you know much about speaker tech then you’ll find that the Ray has pretty much none of the top tier stuff associated with products that are double its price. That means no room-filling Atmos, no HDMI connectivity and no in-built voice assistant. I’m not going to tell you that none of this stuff is important, but it is less important in a speaker that’s knowingly designed for smaller TVs. Especially since the Ray packs a surprising audio punch for a product its size. At just 22 inches wide and a smidge under 4 inches deep, it tucks nimbly away after a speedy app-enabled setup without any risk of overhang or imposing itself on your room in general.
Being a Sonos product, you can also use it as a regular speaker for podcasts, playlists and listening to the new Kendrick Lamar record on infinite repeat. You can tune the Ray’s audio to your house using Sonos’ Trueplay tech, it’ll receive regular updates via the Sonos app and will play nicely with any other products you choose to pair with it such as the Sonos One or that heavily rumored Sub Mini that’s in the works. Honestly, you could happily use the thing as a dinner party speaker if the occasion demanded it. Although you’re going to lose a little in the way of clarity if you really ramp yours up to 11, there’s no doubting its blockbuster credentials at half that volume with weighty bass being well-balanced with its treble and mid-range.
Sonos Ray verdict
All of which begs the question, should you actually buy a Ray? If you’re still yet to invest in a soundbar for your TV, then this Sonos enters the affordable fray as an immediate contender for your cash. As much as the JBL Bar 5.0 Multibeam and Roku Streambar are both well-regarded alternatives, they don’t come with the same pedigree and longevity via software updates and potential add-on speakers. Judged solely on its own performance, the Ray manages to feel like a luxury while being the kind of product you can treat yourself to without wincing at the expense. It may just be the perfect starter Sonos speaker. Preorder the Sonos Ray soundbar below, which is estimated to ship June 7, 2022.
This story was originally published on British GQ with the headline, “The Sonos Ray Is Your Perfect Starter Soundbar”.