The new Sonos Ray soundbar is, there is no getting away from this, the well-known audio brand’s most inexpensive piece of the home theatre puzzle. In the pecking order, it sits below the Sonos Beam (it’s a considerable difference between ₹51,999 and ₹37,999 on the price tag). To get to this price, Sonos has had to remove a large chunk of features, when compared with the more recent (and more expensive second-generation Beam), including HDMI connectivity and Dolby Atmos audio.
In a way, the Sonos Ray is the logical successor for the still-on-sale first generation Beam (it still commands ₹43,999), albeit with changes to the number of amplifiers, tweeters, woofers and passive radiators. The good thing is, the Sonos sound signature doesn’t seem to have been compromised, which should hold this in good stead against competition which includes the Sony HT-S40R (this is around ₹34,900) and still clings to a relatively archaic composition involving multiple speakers and a wireless subwoofer (there are still fans of this approach, but most home spaces don’t allow such luxurious spreads).
A case of going to the extremes for cost saving?
It is disappointing that the Sonos Ray has skipped Dolby Atmos audio support, and your only real option for connecting this with the TV being the optical audio port – HDMI audio input from the TV (most now have ARC, or audio return channel) is just better in terms of stability, detailing and wider audio format support.
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This leads us to another possible stumble – the issue of how you’ll control the Ray soundbar. There is no dedicated remote. Unlike the Beam, which will accept a variety of TV and universal remotes because of its ability to read the HDMI-CEC commands from the TV, the Ray doesn’t. It’ll only work with infrared (IR) remotes, and you’re out of luck if your TV’s remote isn’t compatible. In our case, the Ray refused to play along with the OnePlus Android TV remote. The Sonos Ray never got around to recognize it.
It will be a recurring theme for TVs that have radio frequency (RF) or Bluetooth remotes, the latter in particular increasingly becoming common with smart TVs. You may be better off if your TV allows controlling volume levels through an optical port connection, which luckily for us, the OnePlus smart TVs do. Alternatively, the Sonos app for Android phones and the iPhones will be your port of call – this’ll mean the Ray has to remain connected with the home Wi-Fi. By removing HDMI as a connection option, a pandora’s box of troubles have been unleashed.
Good sound does come in small packages
Even though the Sonos Ray is an appreciably compact soundbar (the designers have done a really good job with this), there hasn’t been any compromise on the audio hardware. Inside are four Class-D amplifiers, two tweeters, two mid-woofers (as the name suggests, these are to handle mid frequencies) and a bass reflex system that has a low velocity port for lower frequencies. The sound signature is typically Sonos-esque, which is a mix of neutrality and width. Even without any tweaks in the app, the Ray is able to fill a medium sized living and dining room space with absolute ease.
That said, while Trueplay tunes the sound according to your room to a fair extent, the Ray will not deliver a very immersive multi-directional sound experience if that’s what you are looking for. That’s the Sonos Beam’s expertise. Also, and we harp on about just the optical audio connectivity, the Ray supports stereo PCM, DTS and Dolby Digital audio standards. No Dolby Atmos for your Netflix binging.
This soundbar does well as a music speaker too (there’s Wi-Fi and AirPlay 2 for Apple’s devices) with enough lower end for up-tempo music. However, it’s primary use-case would be with a TV, and it’s the dialogue delivery that the Sonos Ray excels in. TV shows, movies, sports and even a bit of gaming on the PlayStation 4 come through nicely with crisp dialogues which at no point feel too sharp or unnaturally tuned for crispness. It is even more creditable since the Ray doesn’t have dedicated center channel.
The Sonos Ray does well on the design front, with the cues picked up from the Beam and the Arc. That gives it a pleasant personality as it sits beneath or just in front of your TV. A perforated grille at the front, touch controls at the top and curved sides, add to the family resemblance.
Sonos Ray should have been a simpler choice
The Sonos Ray is not an easy recommendation, even though the Sonos name itself should have assured that to an extent. The simple reason is, for India, a price tag of ₹37,999 isn’t exactly a budget purchase for most homes (at least within the target demographic; the richer folks will not consider the Ray anyway). This much monetary outlay must be followed through with genuine value.
While the Sonos Ray absolutely delivers on the core requirement of good audio (it is in a different league, compared with frankly atrocious audio most TVs deliver), it’s missing a lot that would have added futureproofing for the purchase. Think of this as an entry-level soundbar in Sonos’ world, but it isn’t priced according to the expectations of many of us.