Sonos makes some of the best soundbars you can buy, including its mid-tier Sonos Beam (Gen 2) and the affordable Sonos Ray. But though they share similar features and styling, there are some big differences between these two soundbars beyond their price. Follow below to see which is right for you.
Pricing and Value
- Sonos Beam (Gen 2): $449 MSRP
- Sonos Ray: $279 MSRP
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s discuss the bottom line. The Sonos Beam (Gen 2)‘s $449 price point puts it in the middle of the lineup, about half the price of the company’s flagship soundbar, the Sonos Arc.
That sum gets you an impressive feature set, including the options you’d expect from Sonos, like the ability to add other Sonos speakers as you go to create a surround sound or multi-room audio system, convenient tuning and smart features through the Sonos app, and even virtualized Dolby Atmos. (The Beam does not offer dedicated upfiring drivers for Atmos like the Arc.)
The Sonos Ray aims to pack in the value as well, offering a solid helping of the features you’ll get from its siblings, including networking and smart features, for well under $300. To get so affordable, however, the Ray cuts some convenience options such as an HDMI ARC/eARC connection, as well as any Dolby Atmos support.
How important those features are to you will depend on how you intend to use your soundbar. But it’s worth keeping in mind that, while the Sonos Beam is pricier, it’s also the more versatile bar when it comes to how it both sources and delivers your TV’s audio signal.
Design and Build
Sonos Beam Gen 2’s design specs:
- Dimensions: 2.72in x 25.63in x 3.94in (69mm x 651mm x 100mm)
- Weight: 6.2lb (2.8kg)
- Colors: Black, White
Both the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) and the Sonos Ray are built to be not only stylish and minimalist but also extremely convenient when it comes to fitting into your setup. Their white or black color schemes allow you to tailor either bar to your home decor, while neither option rises above three inches high, making them easy to fit below most TVs.
Sonos uses advanced acoustic techniques along with digital signal processing to make either bar’s soundstage expand beyond its size. But the Beam (Gen 2) is particularly effective given that it fits a relatively immersive virtual Dolby Atmos into an acoustic chamber that barely expands past 25 inches wide (more on that later).
Sonos Ray’s design specs:
- Dimensions: 2.79in x 22in x 3.74in (70.9mm x 558.8mm x 95mm)
- Weight: 4.29lb (1.95kg)
- Colors: Black, White
The Sonos Ray is also an audio acrobat, squeezing a powerful punch of cinematic sound from its own micro-sized frame. It employs a different acoustic design pattern than its predecessor to give it some extra groove for its size, growing in a crescendo pattern from back to front. As such, it stands a smidge taller than the Beam (Gen 2), though its width is three inches shorter.
Both soundbars share similar aesthetics and design cues elsewhere, including their sleek matte-plastic exteriors, metallic grilles up front, and a small control center of touch-ready keys on their topsides.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)’s connectivity options:
- Inputs: HDMI ARC/eARC, Ethernet, digital optical (with converter)
- Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2
As touched on above, connectivity accounts for one of the most important differences between these two systems. Both soundbars offer easy setup and excellent network features over Wi-Fi and Ethernet, including Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect. But the Beam (Gen 2) utilizes HDMI ARC/eARC for TV connection while the Sonos Ray only supports digital optical connection.
If you’re scratching your head about the difference, there are two key reasons HDMI ARC/eARC is superior. First, it allows for the transmission of higher bandwidth signals and surround sound formats. The newer eARC connection supports Dolby Atmos decoding in both its lossy (Dolby Digital Plus) format and—for newer TVs with eARC support—lossless Dolby Atmos via Dolby TrueHD.
Second, and perhaps most notably for daily use, HDMI ARC/eARC allows for easy communication with your TV over CEC (Consumer Electronics Communication). This means you can use virtually any TV remote for automatic control of your soundbar’s power and volume as long as CEC is engaged on your TV.
Sonos Ray’s connectivity options:
- Inputs: Ethernet, digital optical
- Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2
For its part, the Sonos Ray’s limitation of digital optical connection means it supports only lower-bandwidth audio formats with limited surround sound decoding. Without an HDMI connection, the Ray also won’t automatically detect your TV remote, meaning you may have to get creative when it comes to controlling the system (more on that below).
Of course, if you have an old TV without HDMI ARC, your only option will be an optical connection. Still, this limits the Ray’s future-proofing when you do decide to upgrade your TV.
One other point of note: In true Sonos fashion, neither soundbar supports Bluetooth connections, offering only Wi-Fi streaming. That said, network features like the ability to connect multiple Sonos speakers in a group help to make up for this omission.
Controls and Features
Perhaps the biggest advantage of getting any Sonos soundbar is its remarkable versatility when it comes to both controlling and expanding your home audio system.
Whether you choose the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) or Ray, the S2 app (available for Mac, Windows, iPhone/iPad, and Android) will get you connected to your network in minutes and initiated into the Sonos ecosystem. This allows you to connect other Sonos speakers like the Sonos One, IKEA Symfonisk bookshelf speakers, or even portable speakers like the Sonos Roam into a multi-room audio system or surround sound system.
You can easily add speakers like a subwoofer (for a fee, of course), including the Sonos Sub Mini to beef up the bass. All speakers are controllable via your smartphone with the app. Those with iPhones can even tune their soundbar to their listening space via Sonos TruePlay.
When it comes to soundbar controls, Sonos’ unified software makes the process nearly identical for either bar. You can tune the bass and treble, engage settings like Night Mode, switch to and control audio from different sources, and stream from multiple streaming services all from your phone.
That’s a good thing, considering Sonos soundbars don’t come with their own remote control. As such, whenever you aren’t using the Sonos app, your soundbar will be reliant on your TV’s remote, and that’s where the Sonos Ray is at a slight disadvantage. Without HDMI ARC/eARC, the Ray needs to be programmed to read the signal directly from an IR (infrared) TV remote.
That takes a few extra steps to set up, and because the Ray relies on IR, some newer remotes may not be compatible. (You can learn more about which TV remotes will work with the Sonos Ray by checking Sonos’ remote requirements.)
One last point of difference between the Beam (Gen 2) and Ray: smart home control. While both soundbars support Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for smart home features (as well as Sonos Voice Control), the Sonos Ray does not share the Beam’s built-in microphone. You’ll need your mobile device or a separate smart speaker instead to control your smart home.
Sonos Beam (Gen 2)’s audio specs:
- Drivers: Four elliptical midwoofers, one tweeter, three passive radiators
- Amplifiers: Five Class-D digital amplifiers
- Supported formats: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, Dolby TrueHD, Multichannel PCM, Dolby Multichannel PCM, DTS Digital Surround
Both of these soundbars shine when it comes to audio performance, offering clarity, presence, and power that goes well beyond what you’d expect from a compact soundbar. Sonos is known for its exceptional musicality, which is exemplified in either bar, serving up your favorite movies, TV, and music with a balanced, premium flavor.
That said, if you’re curious at all about Dolby Atmos performance, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is the obvious way to go. While the Beam’s sound signature is on the brighter side, it can’t match bars with dedicated upfiring drivers like the Sonos Arc. Its acoustic chamber employs what Sonos calls “frequency-based psychoacoustic techniques” to digitally expand the frequencies above and beyond its tiny frame.
The result is a relatively expansive soundstage that delivers some engaging cinematic moments. While demo tracks like the Dolby Atmos “Amaze” short are the most obvious examples, the Beam does a fine job with Atmos scenes in well-produced movies, too. Scott’s first trial of the size-shifting suit in “Ant-Man” is a prime example, with effects like the rushing water in the bathtub and the gigantic rave rising effectively above the bar’s nimble profile.
Sonos Ray’s audio specs:
- Drivers: Two full-range woofers, two tweeters, bass reflex system
- Amplifiers: Four Class-D digital amplifiers
- Supported formats: Stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS Digital Surround
While the Sonos Ray can’t match the Beam (Gen 2) in the Atmos department, don’t sleep on this soundbar’s excellent audio skills. It sounds far heftier than a bar its size has a right to, punching out a surprising amount of bass response from its small frame, while tempering that with poise, clarity, and well-defined details.
Going back to the “Ant-Man” example, gunshots hit with authority, while the thumping wings of the multiple ant-copters (and regular helicopters) offer some guttural brawn. Thanks to careful design and digital compression, dialogue is rarely overshadowed or distorted, while the bar seems to be squeezing every physical ounce of sound it can muster from its micro-sized frame.
Which Sonos Soundbar Should You Buy?
While it’s always good to save money, the answer to this question inevitably comes down to what you want from your soundbar—and your TV’s compatibility.
If you’re looking for a more versatile soundbar that can grow with your home theater, including dabbling in some Dolby Atmos fare, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is the obvious choice. While it certainly begs a deeper investment, its HDMI ARC/eARC connection makes it simpler to use and control, while its compatibility with Dolby Atmos lets you explore more cinematic soundscapes now and in the future.
If, instead, you just want something small and simple that will rev up your TV sound—and you have a TV remote that either uses IR or is known to be compatible—the Sonos Ray is a great value. Its audio quality goes well beyond your TV sound. It’s also great for music, and unlike a lot of the soundbars in its price class, it is network ready and expandable to build a full surround system.
Depending on your needs, you really can’t go wrong with any Sonos soundbar. All that’s left to do now is check your budget and pull the trigger.