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Sonos Ray hands-on: Small size, small price, big sound

At $279, the Sonos Ray soundbar is the company's most affordable model yet, here are our first impressions

Sonos Ray
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

Pros

  • +

    Compact design

  • +

    Can be placed in a cabinet

  • +

    Great vocal clarity

Cons

  • -

    No Dolby Atmos support

Sonos Ray specs

Price: $279
Colors: Black, White
Ports: Optical digital in, Ethernet
Size: 22 x 3.5 x 2.8 inches
Weight: 4.3 pounds

The Sonos Ray is Sonos's most affordable piece of home entertainment hardware yet. Priced at $279, the Ray strips back the size and specs of the company's best soundbars to make a starting a Sonos system a little bit more accessible.

With no Dolby Atmos support, it's complicated to compare the Ray to the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) and Sonos Arc. But since it's designed for smaller spaces, and even to sound balanced when situated in a cabinet, there's a stronger appeal to AV equipment newbies or anyone who hasn't owned a soundbar before. Better yet, it works with TruePlay tuning and dozens of music streaming services via the Sonos app.

Despite donning a budget price tag by Sonos standards, we wouldn't count the Ray as one of best cheap soundbars. We need to conduct a full Sonos Ray review before determining how it stacks up against similarly-priced models and other Sonos soundbars. For now, here are our hands-on first impressions and everything else you might want to know.

Sonos Ray first impressions: Price and availability

The Sonos Ray costs $279 / £279 and is available as of June 7, 2022. To compare it to other Sonos soundbars, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) costs $449 and the Sonos Arc costs $899.  

Sonos Ray first impressions: Design

Sonos Ray

(Image credit: Future)

The Sonos Ray design follows Sonos's familiar design language. It's smaller than the second-gen Sonos Beam, though doesn't look all that different with a flat top, forward-facing grille and Sonos logo front and center. The Ray even comes in black and white like other Sonos soundbars. 

What perhaps is different looks-wise is that the grille sits flat, it doesn't curve around the top or sides like the Beam or Arc models do. As it's made for a smaller space, it's not attempting to flood a room with sound. In fact, it was designed in way that it could be placed in a cubby or cabinet under your TV without comprising sound quality. 

Sonos Ray

(Image credit: Future)

Finally, the Sonos Ray port array is a significant deviation from many modern soundbars. It features an ethernet cable and optical line in — yep, no HDMI connectivity. Since it doesn't support HDMI ARC/eARC or the audio return channel for formats like Dolby Atmos, an optical port alone gets the job done. Sonos also points out that this should make the Ray compatible with older TVs as well as the best TVs right now.

Sonos Ray first impressions: Sound quality and features

The Sonos Ray features all-new interior architecture, promising balanced sound, crisp dialog and powerful bass. To achieve stellar sound in a smaller form, the Ray uses split wave guides for the tweeters and bass reflex system.

Though we'd like to do more in-depth performance testing, we had the chance to listen to several music samples on the new Sonos soundbar. The vocals in "For Anyone" by H.E.R. demonstrated how the split tweeters both target listeners sitting on the couch but also reach outward to create immersive sound. While the bass wasn't the most body-shaking we've heard, it felt distinct and intentional.

Sonos Ray

(Image credit: Future)

Listening to "I Don't Live Here Anymore" by War on Drugs, the electronic synths sounded balanced in a way I'd describe as signature Sonos sound. Similarly, the vocal clarity in "Twice" by Charli XCX captured the the singer's unmistakable auto-tune grovel.

We also watched a clip of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, to get a taste of how the soundbar handles motion and steers the sound with visual content. This is something we'll spend a longer time analyzing, but we were encouraged to see how the Ray gave both Eddie Brock and his alien psyche their space to speak during a contentious bit of dialog.

As for additional features, the Sonos Ray can be tuned for a room using TruePlay, plus it has a speech enhancement mode and night listening mode as well. There's no Google Assistant or Alexa support like most other Sonos speakers, nor can it field queries through the new Sonos Voice Assistant. It can group with other Sonos speakers like the Sonos One to create surround sound, though.

Sonos Ray first impressions: Outlook

There's plenty of testing to be done for the Sonos Ray, but from what we've seen, Sonos is serious about making its sound quality more accessible. Still, whether the trade-offs truly make the Ray worth it compared to Dolby Atmos soundbars is yet to be seen.

Kate Kozuch is an editor at Tom’s Guide covering smartwatches, TVs and everything smart-home related. Kate also appears on Fox News to talk tech trends runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following (she'll find you if you don't.) When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her on an exercise bike, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.