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The $279 Sonos Ray is the most affordable Sonos soundbar yet — and we went hands-on

CNN logo CNN 5/11/2022

Sonos makes some of the best soundbars you can buy — its $899 Sonos Arc is our current luxury pick — but they don’t come cheap. To fix that, the audio giant announced the new $279 Sonos Ray. By offering its most affordable and compact Sonos soundbar yet, the company sees the Sonos Ray as a great, and affordable, way to start building your own Sonos sound system. It’s launching June 7 in white and black, and you can pre-order it now.

In addition to the Ray, Sonos is launching new color options for its excellent Sonos Roam Bluetooth speaker, and is getting set to debut a new voice assistant that will make it easy to control all of your Sonos devices hands-free. After a behind-the-scenes look at all of Sonos’ new hardware and software, here are some early impressions.

Sonos Ray: The most affordable Sonos soundbar

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The Sonos Ray isn’t just the company’s most attainable soundbar — it’s also the smallest. It borrows much of its sleek, understated aesthetic from other Sonos speakers, but within a simplified design purpose-built for smaller living room setups. At 22 inches wide, it’s a bit smaller than the 25-inch Sonos Beam, and a fraction of the size of the premium, 45-inch Sonos Arc.

Whereas the Beam and Arc fire sound out from multiple directions, the Ray has all of its acoustics up front. As such, you can comfortably tuck it within an entertainment center without worrying about any echo or distorted sound, as I saw during a brief demo session with the soundbar.

Sonos played a number of music tracks and movie clips, all of which revealed some impressive acoustic chops for a $279 soundbar. The smooth vocals of “For Anyone” by H.E.R. came through loud and clear, and it was easy to pinpoint the subtle background chimes of Charli XCX’s “Twice.” I was particularly impressed by just how much bass was generated by such a small speaker, and that it never overwhelmed the rest of each song.

Watching movies on the Ray was similarly enjoyable. During a hilarious argument in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” the soundbar’s clear dialogue made it easy to follow both the neurotic timbre of Eddie Brock and the menacing, bassy growl of Venom. When we switched to a chaotic battle between Dr. Strange and Spider-Man in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” it was easy to hear subtle sounds (such as the thwip of Spidey’s web-blasters) amid the chaos of a collapsing New York City.

© Provided by CNN Mike Andronico/CNN

Despite its cheaper price, the Ray will work like any Sonos soundbar — meaning you can pair it to any other Sonos products to create your own home entertainment system or enjoy multi-room audio all throughout your home. You’ll also get standard Sonos features like Trueplay, which allows the soundbar to optimize itself to whatever room it’s in, Speech Enhancement for boosting spoken word, and Night Sound, which lowers the volume of louder noises while keeping dialogue audible.

So what are you giving up at $279? Aside from the fact that the Ray is smaller, it also lacks voice control for hands-free streaming. There’s no Dolby Atmos support, nor is there an HDMI eARC port for streamlining the amount of wires in your TV space. Still, the Ray’s feature set is pretty impressive for the price, and we’re eager to see how it compares to its bigger siblings in the real world.

Sonos Roam gets new colors in time for Summer

© Provided by CNN Mike Andronico/CNN

The Sonos Roam is Sonos’ most travel-friendly speaker, and we love it — in fact, it’s our current high-end pick for best portable speaker. So, it made me happy to see that it’s getting three new colors in time for summer fun, including Olive, Wave (blue) and Sunset (red) variations that all looked great in person (I’m especially partial to the blue).

If you’re in the market for a Roam and want something that’ll really stand out during your warm weather travels, the new colors are available now at the speaker’s usual $179 price point. Just note that these new hues are available exclusively for the standard Roam, and not the cheaper $159 Roam SL that forgoes the internal microphone.

Sonos Voice Control

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Perhaps the biggest new addition to Sonos’ lineup is Sonos Voice Control, a new first-party system for controlling the vast majority of Sonos speakers with your voice alone. While Sonos speakers already support popular voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant, the company is positioning Voice Control as a faster, simpler and more secure option for those who want true hands-free control over their Sonos sound system.

We saw Sonos Voice Control in action during a brief demo, and the feature seems to work pretty snappily. When a Sonos rep said “Hey Sonos, play ‘One More Time’”, the speaker quickly pulled up the song from the user’s default music service (in this case, Apple Music). They went on to adjust the volume using very natural language such as “turn it up” or “quieter.” And when they asked what song was playing, they were greeted by the voice of none other than Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, The Mandalorian), who will be the primary voice of Sonos Voice Control for US users. Sonos noted that Voice Control is designed specifically to be the best hands-free way to control music on your Sonos speakers, citing feedback from customers that third-party options can sometimes be slow or inaccurate when pulling up specific songs.

Sonos Voice Control launches on June 1, and will work with all voice-enabled Sonos speakers — that includes everything from the staple Sonos One to portable Bluetooth options like the Sonos Move, but not the new Sonos Ray or the Sonos Roam SL. The company says everything is processed on-device, and that your voice requests will never be stored, transcribed or sent to the cloud in any way. The voice assistant will work with Sonos Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer and Pandora upon launch, with support for more services to follow.

The takeaway

© Provided by CNN Mike Andronico/CNN

Sonos soundbars have long been some of our favorites, and we’re happy to see the company bring a more affordable option into its lineup for those not willing to spend $500 to $800 to upgrade their TV sound. The Sonos Roam’s new colors add some nice personality to what was already a great Bluetooth speaker, and we’re eager to see how Sonos Voice Control stacks up to the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant.

We’ll be putting the Sonos Ray through its paces to see how it holds up to the best Sonos speakers, so stay tuned for more.

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