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Sonos Ray Soundbar Review
Review By @ 05:04pm 07/06/22

Product: Sonos Ray Soundbar
Type: Soundbar
Price: $399.00 AUD
Availability: Out Now

At around $400 dollarydoos, SonosBeam follow-up, Ray, is a bit of a sideward step for the audio brand. On the one hand foot, there’s plenty of promise when you look at Ray with specificity in mind, but you need to sort of be in a really strict position for its benefits to sate your needs. On the other, as a mid-level entry point hoping to benchmark itself as a top audio option at an affordable price, it fails to see the needs and requirements such an entry point may require from punters across the board. It also suffers from a bit of an identity crisis -- is it for TV and movies? Is it for games? Or is it for music? And pertinent to these questions is, can’t it just do all equally?

The answer to the first question(s) is muddied, which should answer the second -- but what we can say is that there are benefits to purchasing Ray, and we’ll cover those off first before we deep-dive into those ‘specifics’ alluded to above.

Like a Glove

One of the key selling points of Ray is its size. Modern soundbars don’t always fit with entertainment cabinets, and in a world where bezelless panels are the increasing norm, you want as little intrusion to your screen-viewing experience as possible.

In my own case, the Samsung HW N650 I have as my normal audio option actually intrudes on my screen by a few centimetres because it doesn’t fit my cabinet. The Ray, however, is a perfect fit and during testing I fell in love with it essentially being out of sight. It works, too, because all the speakers are front-facing as part of the grill, whereas my Samsung HW N650 features an acoustic beam running across its top, so having it tucked away in a cavity is a no-go situation (doubly so because of its size, natch). Obviously what this suggests is there’s a different audio outlay between the two, but really they’re not overly comparable as one is positioned as a high-end alternative to a proper 5.1 setup, while the other is as mentioned above; a mid-level entry point designed to take you away from tinny or empty-sounding TV speakers and into a world of more generous audio.

"In short, while small, compact and form-fitting, you also get the lesser end of the outlay spectrum...”

At 559mm wide, the unit fits snugly into any display unit, but can also be wall-mounted, and its stature is really quite chic, available in both black and white. It’s also very light, which will come into play in a moment, but for now it’s good to know that Ray is an easy unit to move around the place. It must be said, however, as a standalone unit you will experience a secondary audio outlay to what you might otherwise want (and therefore need) with a full Surround Set and it’s jarringly obvious how much better the unit would sound with a subwoofer., meaning you might still need to pony up for all the extras to get the best experience, which belies its strongest selling point.

All About that Bass

The Sonos Ray speaker grill consists of two tweeters and two mid-woofers, which is designed to offer up a mid-range all-round delivery of balanced sound. And it sounds big. But what I noticed most was that it felt artificially voluminous; like I was in a pub and the publican turned the main screen up for whatever the big game or fight of the day was. In some ways this isn’t wholly bad, and you can hear the added bass thrown in to offset the lack of a dedicated subwoofer, but it sounds less nuanced overall and a bit more like Ray is just amplified, for lack of a better word. But this is to be expected at the unit’s price-point and in what it’s trying to achieve. This isn’t a full bells and whistles release, and is more your entry-level option, and it is a decent one at that, if you have a specific function in mind.

"Unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver this in as subtle a way as you might hope, and appears less about an even mix and more about amplification...”

Another one of its selling points is the Speech Enhancement option for your panel viewing pleasure, which is a preset EQ for TV and movies where people who have trouble hearing dialogue over background sounds or music, should just be able to flick this on and get a better talkies experience. Unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver this in as subtle a way as you might hope, and appears less about an even mix and more about that amplification I mentioned above. Using FOXTEL for example, which is rife with programs, channels and ads at varying levels and mixes (please fix this, FOXTEL), the Speech Enhancement option didn’t help rectify any of the low mixes, nor did it manage to bring into clarity a dynamically consistent delivery of audio. I get that it’s not designed to fix that, but when the option is purported to be a dynamic one for all mixes, I was surprised it didn’t align this experience better.

In testing on streaming options across Netflix and Amazon Prime, there was a noticeable boost in dialogue, but again the updated mix didn’t feel as balanced to me. It should be said that I also tested Ray between my panel in the lounge (where I normally have the HW N650 setup), as well as from my PC in my office. And in the smaller room (my office) the audio outlay was infinitely better than in the larger lounge. Which might help inform what you actually pick Ray up for -- as a soundbar for PC gaming.

Music to My Ears

So that specificity I mentioned earlier, well for mine it came in Ray’s immediate symbiotic relationship with music. You see, for TV, movies and (especially) gaming, Ray is serviceable, but without going full Surround Set on it, the mid-level delivery of audio, especially in gaming, wasn’t earth-shattering over some other options on the market. It’s also a harder sell because of a few glaring omissions. Ray is not Bluetooth capable and only speaks to devices over your network (Ethernet or Wi Fi), and also doesn’t have an eARC HDMI option for connection. Instead it’s Network and Optical or bust. Which is just a huge oversight. You can also have it connect to your TV remote for universal access, or simply through the app, which I did on iOS. But it doesn’t come with anything dedicated in the control department.

Moreover, in conjunction with a lot of the device’s limitations mentioned above, also glaringly absent here is any sort of in-depth EQ. You can adjust bass and treble and that’s it. And beyond the Speech Enhancement option and a setting for nighttime viewing, the overall options for any level (heh) of customisation is severely limited. And for games, all of the above just makes it difficult to suggest if you’re looking for an expanded audio experience, and in particular one you can tinker with. (Tested mostly with Cyberpunk 2077 and Dying Light 2 Stay Human).

Ray shines as a music device, but as a catch-all entertainment option I found it mid-tier, at best. There’s clarity in what it delivers, but the lack of control for the user as well as testing it without a subwoofer or other speaker add-ons meant the overall delivery here was barebones. The lack of Bluetooth here is also an odd one. Still, the price could be right for anyone with a smaller space, and so to that end it might be best recommended in someone’s bedroom or smaller gaming space over something for the lounge. Or if you had an entertainment area in your house like an outdoor BBQing space or other, Ray could be a good fit for its expansive and near-dedicated music option.
What we liked
Lightweight and compact in design
Clarity in the sound it delivers
In a small room as an entry-level soundbar, it's serviceable
A great integration of music via the Sonos app
What we didn't like
It's mostly geared towards music
No Bluetooth really limits its functionality, connectivity and device options
Lack of custimsation for levels and EQ settings
Limited pre-sets and no device or dedicated use suites
We gave it:
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