Sonos announces an entry-level soundbar and its own voice assistant

Sonos announced a new entry-level soundbar, the Sonos Ray, and its own voice assistant for music control. At $279, the Sonos Ray soundbar is far less expensive than the company’s other soundbars, the Beam at $449 and the Arc at $899, but you do give up several features for that savings. The company’s new voice assistant is quite snappy and is coming to all existing Sonos speakers with voice capabilites.

The Ray soundbar is intended for people wanting to step up to something better sounding than the built-in speakers on their TV, which the vast majority of people use for home theater audio, but don’t want to spend the money necessary for Sonos’ premium soundbars. As such, the Ray lacks features such as Dolby Atmos support or microphones for hands-free use.

Also missing on the Ray is an HDMI port. Instead, the soundbar connects to your TV’s optical audio out port. It also supports 802.11b/g/n WiFi and Ethernet for streaming music and integration with Sonos’ exception multi-room audio system. The soundbar also supports AirPlay 2 for direct audio casting from an iPhone, iPad, or Mac. There’s no remote included but it does have an infrared receiver so that you can use any existing remote, such as your TV or Fire TV remote, to control the Ray soundbar’s volume.

Inside the soundbar are two tweeters and two midwoofers to handle both mid-range frequencies and bass. If you’d like, you can pair the Ray with other Sonos speakers, like the $199 Sonos One SL, for rear surround sound. It’s also compatible with the Sonos Sub, however, pairing a $279 soundbar with a $749 sub is pretty ridiculous. There are rumors that Sonos will be releasing a less expensive sub soon, but nothing was announced today. The Ray does support advanced audio features found on Sonos’ more expensive soundbars, like speech enhancement and night mode. The soundbar is available to preorder now in either white or black and it will be released on June 7th.

The other notable announcement from Sonos today is their new in-house voice assistant. This voice assistant, which is triggered by saying “Hey Sonos,” isn’t really a competitor to Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri, as all it can do is control music playback. At launch, it will work with Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Pandora, and Sonos Radio. Notably missing from that list is Spotify. The assistant can still control music playback, such as pausing, stopping, and track control, for unsupported music services if content is already playing.

While Sonos’ voice assistant isn’t nearly as capable as other assistants, one advantage it does have is speed. Sonos’ assistant runs entirely on your local hardware, which means your voice never needs to be uploaded to the cloud for processing. Theoretically, that should make for noticeably shorter wait times from when you give a command to when that command is actually executed, not to mention the improved privacy of keeping your voice off of any servers.

Sonos’ voice assistant will be launching on June 1st. It is coming to all of Sonos’ existing voice-enabled speakers, all the way back to the original Sonos One launched in 2017. If you currently have Alexa selected as your Sonos voice assistant, you’ll still be able to make Alexa requests alongside Sonos assistant requests. However, if you’re using Google Assistant, you’ll have to disable it entirely to use the new Sonos assistant.

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