Sonos Ray vs. Sonos Beam: Which TV Soundbar Should You Buy? Is it worth paying $450 for the Beam or is the $280 Ray plenty? We compared them so you don't have to.

Back in 2017 Sonos released one of its best products for the money: the Sonos One smart speaker, which offered great sound and an affordable entry into Sonos’ excellent whole home audio system. When the Sonos Beam soundbar appeared it wasn’t the same kind of slam dunk, in part due to its relatively high price. Now, with the arrival of the Sonos Ray soundbar, the company finally has a One equivalent for its TV speakers. 

The Beam costs a lot more than the Ray, but it gives you Dolby Atmos, bigger sound and built-in voice control. Is it worth the extra cash? What are the other differences? I compared both side-by-side in CNET’s audio lab to find out. Read on to find out which one of these excellent TV soundbars you should choose.

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The Sonos Ray is a simple, stereo soundbar which offers a big sound in a relatively compact package. It offers digital optical connection to a television and Wi-Fi for streaming music. It features a sleek design and promises an easy setup process. It’s perfect for small TVs but will also suit gaming setups or small living rooms.

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The Sonos Beam is more than a step up, it’s on a completely different level. It features the same great design and streaming, multiroom-capable music system, but adds a number of key features like HDMI and Dolby Atmos playback, which helps it sound better with movies.


At $450 the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is not a cheap soundbar (it sits above my own $300 and $400 sweet spot) but the product does have some key advantages. At an almost 40 percent discount the $280 Sonos Ray is much more affordable but the differences between the two speakers are significant. One thing to consider is that the money you save on the Ray could buy you a couple of Symfonisk bookshelves rears, which would help increase the sense of immersion with movies.

Optical vs. HDMI connections

One of the biggest changes to the Ray is that it now includes an optical port instead of the HDMI connector featured on the last two soundbars. How big of a deal is this? If you have an optical port on your TV, and most TVs do, then that’s not an issue at all. Simply connect the cable in the box to your TV and then the Ray, and your television should be able do the rest.

There are a number of key advantages to using an HDMI cable including HDMI (CEC) which controls power between the units, as well as advanced formats like Dolby Atmos. Of course, while the Beam is designed to take advantage of this format the Ray cannot. 


Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

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Dolby Digital vs. Dolby Atmos (faux) surround

Even if the TV says it’s Dolby Atmos capable, if you’re watching without an audio system you’ll be watching it in stereo…  and it’ll be fairly poor quality at that. The best way to improve intelligibility on your TV is to get a soundbar, and helpfully both the Ray and the Beam both offer Speech Enhancement modes.  

As compact single speakers neither the Ray nor the Beam can provide true surround effects, but both can handle Dolby formats. The Sonos Ray may be a stereo soundbar but it includes Dolby Digital decoding as well as tweeter waveguides which make the soundbar sound much bigger than it really is. The Beam can take advantage of Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Atmos audio formats too, and sounds even bigger.

Which one sounds better?

There’s one reason I call the Ray the “Sonos One soundbar” — it’s because they sound similar to each other. The speakers share a tight, slightly-closed sound which is great for rock music and pop. Yet, the Ray is still able to deliver excellent dialog reproduction, even if the Speech Enhancement feature is only subtle.

The Beam sounds a little different, bigger, and that’s thanks to both its beam-forming side speakers and its excellent Dolby Atmos emulation. If you watch the latest blockbusters, like Dune or Mad Max: Fury Road. the speaker will literally fill your room with sound, especially in the height dimension. This is something the Ray as a stereo bar simply can’t do.


The Sonos Ray

Do you need built-in Alexa or Google Assistant voice?

The Sonos Beam has a voice assistant onboard but the Sonos Ray does not. To me, this isn’t a huge problem because buying a soundbar without a voice assistant can save money, especially if you already have one in the room. There’s a wealth of affordable smart speakers out there, such as the Amazon Echo Dot ($17 at Amazon), Google Nest Mini or the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential (on sale for $25), and all of these can control Sonos speakers. Sure, you miss out on the new Sonos Voice Assistant, but its functionality is limited for now. 

Which should you choose?

Apart from the key differences above, the Ray and the Beam (Gen 2) share a lot of similarities. They’re a similar size and design, and both feature the excellent Sonos multiroom system. 

If you want something to pair with a smaller TV or to go into a games room the Sonos Ray is an excellent choice, and it’s also the one I’d choose if you want something that’s going to play a lot of tunes. Meanwhile the Sonos Beam’s bigger, louder sound means it’s suited to larger rooms and it sounds a whole lot better with movies. 

No matter which you decide on, both offer excellent value and a definite upgrade path should you wish to enhance the system down the road.  

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