Sonos' latest product is an ultra-compact sound bar in a stylish design, but it's completely missing a HDMI port, which made us a bit unhappy...
Sonos Ray is the new, small, sound bar from the audio giant behind brilliant products like Playbar and Five, and it's really compact. Super-compact, even. At only 55 centimetres long with a depth of a mere nine centimetres, it's actually one of the few soundbars that's actually not much bigger than a loaf of bread and as such the Ray is very well suited to being placed on your desk, or under your computer monitor. That's not how it's meant to be used, however, but rather under your TV, with Sonos claiming in its marketing material that the Ray offers "big Hollywood sound" from its tiny chassis. That's not true, of course, but as a speaker it's perfectly fine.
Inside the Ray there are four speakers, two of which are tweeters and two are mid-woofers that handle the midrange and bass. For being as small as they are, the speakers manage amazingly well to build a credible sound profile especially at lower frequencies and this of course is thanks to Sonos' smart digital signal processing. It must be said, however, that the Ray is not built to play very loud as the sound crackles relatively quickly. Instead, it's at lower volumes and perhaps mainly when watching TV where speech and dialogue are the main aspect of the soundscape that this system comes into its own. Sonos says that the Ray is mainly built for those who don't want a big device or a full-fledged sound system in their living room, but just a small invisible mini bar under the TV to improve the TV sound, which is usually flat and tinny. And yes, of course they're right.
The functionality of the Ray is, as usual with Sonos, locked to their own app, but as long as you have the stomach for it, it all works super smoothly. There's a system for speech amplification, one for room acoustics that boosts sound according to how much room echo exists, and a night mode that, as usual, limits loud explosions and other effects and puts a "cap" on the sound that the Ray can push out. There is one problem with all of this, however, and what I consider to be the single biggest weakness of this bar, and that is the complete lack of a HDMI (Arc) port. Sonos has only plugged in an optical input, which means that your TV doesn't immediately recognise the device as an sound bar and your TV remote never understands what is being plugged in. You then have to manually teach this to your TV using the Sonos app and the whole process feels reluctantly old fashioned in all the wrong ways.
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Of course there should have been an HDMI port on the back of the Ray and of course it should have come with Arc support. There's also no support for Dolby Atmos or Dolby True HD and on the whole I'd even call this system obsolete before it's rolled out in stores. As a simple, plasticky generic stereo speaker, it's really quite okay. It plays relatively balanced audio with good control but the sound positioning and stereo separation is extremely limited and the lack of HD audio support and a HDMI port means I would never choose it over, say, the Sony HT-G700 or Samsung HW-Q810A. The two bars sound even better, bigger, have better audio positioning, support all HD audio formats that exist, house an HDMI Arc port, and come with external bass box. And here, unfortunately, Sonos gets truly dominated by the competition.