Sonos Ray soundbar: Hands-on | CNN Underscored

Sonos makes some of the best soundbars money can buy — the $899 Sonos Arc is our current luxury pick — but they don’t come cheap. To remedy that, the audio giant announced the new $279 Sonos Ray. By offering the most affordable and compact Sonos soundbar to date, the company sees the Sonos Ray as a great and affordable way to start building your own Sonos sound system. It launches on 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 about to introduce a new voice assistant that lets you control all your Sonos devices hands-free. After a behind-the-scenes look at all of Sonos’ new hardware and software, here are some first impressions.

Sonos Ray: The Most Affordable Sonos Soundbar

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

While the Beam and Arc fire sounds from multiple directions, the Ray has all its acoustics up front. As such, you can comfortably tuck it into an entertainment center without worrying about echo or distorted sound, as I saw during a short 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 HER’s “For Everyone” came through loud and clear, and it was easy to hear the subtle background noise from Charli XCX’s. “Twice” to locate. I was particularly impressed with how much bass was generated from such a small speaker, and that it never overpowered the rest of each track.

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

Mike Andronico/CNN

Despite its lower price point, the Ray works like any Sonos soundbar – meaning you can pair it with other Sonos products to create your own home entertainment system or enjoy multi-room audio anywhere in your home. You also get standard Sonos features like Trueplay, which allow the soundbar to optimize itself for whatever room it’s in; Speech Enhancement to amplify spoken word and nighttime sound, lowering the volume of louder sounds while keeping dialogue audible.

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

Sonos Roam gets new colors in time for summer

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 the best portable speaker. So it made me happy to see 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 a big fan of blue).

If you’re in the market for a Roam and want something that really stands out on your warm-weather travels, the new colors are now available for the speaker’s usual $179 price. Note that these new shades are available exclusively for the standard Roam, not the cheaper $159 Roam SL that omits the internal microphone.

Sonos Voice Control

Sonos

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

We saw Sonos Voice Control in action during a short demo, and the feature seems to work pretty smoothly. When a Sonos representative said, “Hey Sonos, play ‘One More Time’,” the speaker quickly retrieved 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 asked what song was playing, they were greeted by the voice of none other than Giancarlo Esposito (of “Breaking Bad” and “The Mandalorian”), who will be Sonos Voice Control’s primary voice for US users. Sonos noted that Voice Control was specifically designed as the best hands-free way to control music on your Sonos speakers, citing customer feedback that third-party options can sometimes be slow or inaccurate when retrieving specific songs.

Sonos Voice Control launches on June 1 and works with all Sonos voice-enabled speakers. That includes everything from the core 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 the device and your voice requests are not 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 at launch, with support for more services.

the takeaway

Mike Andronico/CNN

Sonos soundbars have long been our favorites, and we’re happy to see the company introduce a more affordable option to its lineup for those unwilling to spend $500 to $800 to upgrade their TV sound. The new colors of the Sonos Roam add a nice personality to what was already a great Bluetooth speaker, and we’re curious how Sonos Voice Control compares to that of Alexa and Google Assistant.

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

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