Wednesday, 03 August 2022 08:16

REVIEW: Ray meets Beam Gen. 2 - Sonos cannibalism? Featured

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Over the past year, Sonos has launched two new soundbars – an upgrade to the Beam, and the brand new Ray, which is a bit of a leap forward in Sonos' soundbar range. We have been allowed to borrow both models for participation in a solid test round, trying to find out which of them is the best purchase.

The streaming and multi-room giant Sonos has a long track record with soundbars, starting in 2013 with the popular Playbar. It gained a good position in the market quite immediately, and there is reason to assume that in addition to the product's quality, it is also due to Sonos' ecosystem. I have had occasional contact with a copy of Playbar that has been in the possession of a close family member for a long time. My first test of a home theater setup from Sonos happened in 2017, where the fresh Playbase ended up under the stethoscope together with a pair of Play:1 and a Sub Gen 2.

At the time, it was the Playbar that was the only model, and thus also the top model together with the PlayBase, which was a rather different concept that turned out to be a bit of a flop. During the summer of 2018, the more affordable Beam model arrived. Both Playbar and Playbase disappeared two years ago, around the same time as the new Arc flagship model was launched. Arc was the first soundbar for Sonos with both HDMI ARC and Dolby Atmos, with dedicated up-firing Atmos-speakers. 

Sonos Beam Gen 2

When the 2nd generation of Sonos Beam arrived in October 2021, this appeared to be a minor revision of its predecessor, but with some very important upgrades. At the time the price was NOK 500 hagher than its predecessor, and now has a price tag of NOK 4,999. Or five thousand, as we used to call it in the Western Norway.

The size was the same, and so was the equipped drivers. This is a 3.0 setup, which may eventually be expanded to a 5.1 setup. There is a tweeter in the enter, and four midrange/bass drivers, two of which are in the middle on each side of the tweeter, while the other two sit at each end, and are strongly angled outwards. In addition, there are three passive bass drivers in the cabinet. All five active drivers are each powered by a separate class D amplifier.

But the CPU was greatly improved, and is promised to have 80% improved capacity compared to its predecessor. Visible differences are the grill. The fabric grill on the previous version has been replaced by a perforated polycarbonate grill. The appearance may have been eaqually nice on the previous grill, but a polycarbonate grill must be assumed to have far better durability.

One of the most important upgrades is present at the back of the soundbar, although it is not visible. The HDMI connector has been changed from ARC to eARC, and this means for many manufacturers an opening for Dolby Atmos, although it is not strictly a prerequisite for everyone. Among other things, it has to do with the ARC output on the TV. In any case, eARC gives the possibility of a higher bitrate, and thus also the possibility of Dolby Atmos in a high-resolution version, if the connected HW and software otherwise allow this.

For Sonos, in any case, eARC has enabled Dolby Atmos on Beam Gen 2, even though it is the "light version" that generates 3D sound using HRTF and DSP. And in addition, Beam is now compatible with DTS Surround, although DTS HD-Master or DTS-X are not supported.

Sonos Ray

The very latest soundbar is Ray, and at the same time is by far the smallest soundbar Sonos has ever made. And also the absolute most affordable, and to be honest it's more price than size that separates Ray from Beam. And a number of other properties, of course.

Because in addition to the fact that the Ray has a price tag of 60% of the price of the Beam Gen 2, there are also some rather significant downscalings on the equipment list here. We start with the equipment, and the fact that this is a 2.0 setup, which can be expanded to a maximum a 4.1 system. The drivers in Ray consist of two tweeters that are angled outwards, as well as two midrange/bass elements concentrated in the middle. In addition, there is a slightly creative double bass reflex system, where the ports are two 180-degree tubes. No upward-facing drivers here, and it wouldn't really make sense without Atmos anyway. Each individual driver has its own Class D amplifier.

On the Ray, Sonos has gone back to what was the current Latin on the first two soundboards. HDMI ARC/eARC has been replaced by an optical input. Actually this works well when I have made the necessary adjustments in the Philips TV's sound out settings, except that Dolby Atmos is not available. And since Ray is not compatible with Atmos anyway, it is easy to forgive that part. But I'm still a little unsure whether Sonos' move to drop HDMI was a profitable choice.

Design

The design-consept is actually quite similar on both Beam and Ray, and they both have the same grill construction in perforated polycarbonate. As always, Sonos' products have simple shapes. It has become a kind of trademark that seems to have served them well. The basic shape of both Beam and Ray is a kind of über-long race track, but with the difference that on Ray it has been flipped over on its side, and the grill has of course followed. In addition, the side walls are sloped backwards. Personally, I think that Beam looks a little better. And I am happy that both review samples came in white, but they are also available in black.

The usual minimalist touch panel is present on both soundbars, and contribute to a familiar interface.

System and setup

Sonos' ecosystem has not received a top rank for nothing. It is still the most thorough streaming platform that covers everything you need from streaming services, in addition to an extremely large number you don't need - at least not in Norway. And the multi-room system and other additional services such as alarms have been fine-tuned and perfected over the two decades the company has been in existence. Perhaps it was Sonos that in its time could take credit for shifting consumers' focus from piracy copying MP3 files to far more sustainable streaming.

And this refinement of the ecosystem is also shown when installing the two soundbars we have on the test bench this time. Many of the improvements we have already experienced and written about in connection with other Sonos products, but since it has been quite a while since we have reviewed a home cinema system from Sonos, some of the innovations are new in connection with this test.

As always, setting up a device from Sonos is a pleasure. It's all intuitive, and even that is bordering on redundant since we are led to most things. Like when we are asked if we want to connect surround speakers or a subwoofer, and the menu finds already configured components in the system that may be suitable for the task. Or when we have selected the two surround speakers, and Sonos plays a sound from one of them, and asks if it is the left surround speaker.

The effective Trueplay function has also been improved in a way that inspires confidence in that we are initially directed to sit still with the mobile in the Sweetspot for a period of test tones, before we have to walk around the floor with the mobile waving in the usual way. And the result seems to be better than ever, and we can proudly boast that we still own an iPhone - Android is still not an option.

I was also mildly delighted by the useful "Now Playing" screen in the mobile app, showing which audio format is being received via eARC on the Beam, or optical input on the Ray. Furthermore, there are direct icons to activate/deactivate speech enhancement and night sound (reduced dynamics). In the setup menu, you also have the option to adjust the level of the surround speakers individually for music and film/TV. Very nice, although I also wish it was possible to turn off the surround speakers for stereo music without affecting the movie/TV sound setup. And for the Atmos-compatible Beam, it is also possible to make a simulated height adjustment.

 

THE TEST

As part of the test setup, a pair of Play:1 placed on a stand has been used for approx. 110-degree angle from the viewing direction as surround speakers, as well as a Sonos Sub (gen 2). The Play:1 has a sound reproduction that is identical to today's Sonos One, and are excellent companions as surround speakers. Depending on the location, the Ikea Symfonisk Picture Frame could also have been used, which we tested a year ago. And the expected result would be quite equal, but slightly different.

These supplementary surround speakers have not been used during the entire test. In the initial round, music was played in stereo, and then both Beam and Ray played alone, without connected peripheral speakers or a Sonos Sub.

During the test of music and film in Dolby Atmos, the full setup was initially used, although we also ran a round with surround and sub switched off, and also with both parts switched off - in other words, four different variants for each soundbar. And then it must be specified that although only Beam is compatible with Dolby Atmos, there was of course a reproduction in 4.1 surround also on the Sonos Ray.

Music in stereo

Playback setup:

  • 1: Beam Gen. 2 - configured alone
  • 2; Ray - configured alone
  • Listening position in sweetspot

Test track

  1. Odin Staveland. Parade – Sillajass
    Beam: It sounds more closed than usual. The mid-bass is a bit swollen
    Ray: About as the Beam

  2. Erik Friedlander. Bohemia After Dark – Oscalypso
    Beam: Requires some volume to wake up. But then the sound works quite well
    Ray: Sounds surprisingly similar to Beam.
  3. Arild Andersen. Patch of Light – Hyperborean
    Beam: Warm sound. Not very detail-focused, but this is a nice listening
    Ray: A little more open at the top?

  4. Arild Andersen. Hyperborean - Hyperborean
    Beam: Arild Andersen's bass sounds nice, but of course rolls off further up than you would like.
    Ray: A little brighter in tone, and that's not necessarily a disadvantage. Usable microdynamics

  5. Frank Zappa. Rubber Shirt – Sheik Yerbouti
    Beam: This Zappa classic works well.
    Ray: Here the sound balance is not as good as on the Beam.

  6. David and Susanna Wallumrød. Chelsea Hotel – Chelsea Hotel (Live)
    Beam : Susanna's vocals are reproduced well, the electric piano not so well.
    Ray: Here I prefer the slightly more open tone of Ray. Ray is also perceived to have a cleaner rendition of the vocals.

  7. Helene Grimaud. Silvestrov: Bagatelles I – XIII: Bagatelle I – Memory
    Beam: This is quite nicely reproduced, and with good room information
    Ray: Sounds a bit slimmer, on this track Beam is preferred

  8. Kleive, Reiersrud, Dissing. Kimer I Klokker – Den signede dag
    Beam: Surprisingly great intro, with lots of details, space and air.
    Ray: Somewhat surprisingly, there is less space and air here. And a bit more coloring in Dissing's vocals. Perhaps revealing some resonance in Beam, which is not present in the same way in Ray?

  9. Reiersrud, Kleive. Track 12 – Himmelskip
    Beam: Very nice intro. And despite very limited bass response, we sense the contours of some deep bass from the traffic in the surroundings in Odense
    Ray: Again a little less air and space - a little more dry. And maybe a bit cleaner than Beam? Nevertheless, it is probably Beam who draws the longest straw here.

  10. Jan Garbarek. Mission: To Be Where I Am – It's OK To Listen To The Gray Voice
    Beam: This works surprisingly well, with a nice tonal balance.
    Ray : Slightly leaner and drier.

  11. John Abercrombie. Red And Orange – Timeless
    Beam: Lively reproduction, but perhaps a tad unprecise bass.
    Ray: Surprisingly distinct and precise synth bass from Jan Hammer. But of course not very deep.

  12. Joni Mitchell. Overture / Cotton Avenue – Don Juan's Reckless Daughter
    Beam : Decent reproduction of the intro. Jaco's puch on the bass at 1:45 is manageable. Of course, depth is lacking here, and that was to be expected.
    Ray: Not really much less depth in the bass, just a slightly different overall balance. And actually a little more distinct. Pleasant balance when we finish the Overture, significantly better than on Beam.

  13. Kari Bremnes. Kanskje - Det Vi Har
    Beam: A bit of emphasis in the vocals, as in a good number of other setups.
    Ray: Kari's vocals work better here. The entire soundscape feels more controlled.

  14. Kari Bremnes. Like før dagen går ned - Og så kom resten av livet.
    Beam: A little resonance in the bass? Kari's vocals work well, it doesn't always do on this track.
    Ray: Kari's vocals lack a bit of body. Clearly better on Beam, and somewhat surprisingly also cleaner.

  15. Kari Bremnes. Barn av Blå Krukke – Blå Krukke
    Beam: Slightly clear V-profile in the sound.
    Ray: More dry reproduction with less room and timbre. Perhaps more correct, but not necessarily better?

  16. Kari Bremnes. A Lover In Berlin – Norwegian Moods
    Beam: An obvious dip in volume 1-sec. Into the song. ALso a little emphasis in Kari's vocals.
    Ray: This dip is not experienced in Beam. Strange phenomenon. Otherwise nice sound. Definitely best at Ray.

  17. Kari Bremnes. Du Har Set Dem – Moonstone
    Beam : Beam works well here. Nice sound in the vocals.
    Ray: Definitely a slimmer sound on Ray, and it doesn't suit this tune and mix.

  18. Keith Jarrett. For Miles – Bye Bye Blackbird
    Beam: This works surprisingly well. I like the hint of warmth experienced in Beam
    Ray: A little slimmer in sound.

  19. Sigmund Groven, Knut Buen. The Sound of Telemark - Myllargutens Bruremarsj
    Beam: The violent sound in the machine hall at Rjukan is reproduced well, but other setups have clearly better control.
    Ray: A little less ambience on the Ray, and maybe it works better. Or maybe it's at least as good with the slightly warmer sound in Beam.

  20. Ketil Bjørnstad. Land – Odyssey
    Beam : This is actually reproduced very well (for being a cautiously mid-range soundbar)
    Ray: This is not a track that differentiates the two soundbars very much.

  21. Ketil Bjørnstad. Sylvelines Hus – Berget Det Blå
    Beam: Thin sound as always on this track.
    Ray: Here I prefer the slightly more sober rendition of Ray. Not least, the piano sound is more pleasant, even if it lacks body.

  22. Leonard Cohen. Happens To The Heart – Thanks For The Dance
    Beam: Surprisingly, and with a rasp in Cohen's vocals
    Ray: A slightly new phenomenon – the vocals seem a bit more distant on Ray than on Beam.

  23. Lynni Tree cream. Jealous Type – Storm
    Beam: This track works very well, although I miss more depth and punch in the bass.
    Ray: A bit more dry here. But not necessarily worse. More control over the vocals.

  24. Lynni Tree cream. Veslemøy – Haugtussa
    Beam: Musically rendered, without focusing on details. Nice warmth in the sound of Lynni's vocals.
    Ray: Less space and ambience.

  25. Mary Boyne. Chasing Myself Into Reality – See The Woman
    Beam: Works mostly fine, but this is a very demanding track that is far from being handled well by all setups. And there is a bit of rustling in the bass area some places.
    Ray: Here, the sound balance is not as good, and the vocals become a bit thin.

  26. Marianne Baudouin Lie. Many Thousands Gone – Atlantis, Utopia And Ulvedrömmer
    Beam: Nice sound from both cello and vocals
    Ray: Obviously less body in the reproduction of the Cello from Ray.

  27. Mats Eilertsen. Endless – Reveries and Revelations
    Beam: Good reproduction of details, although it is even better on good HiFI setups.
    Ray: Doesn't stand behind Beam on this track, except that Beam has a bit more substance in the mid-bass.

  28. Siri Swallow Band. Don`t Explain – Blackbird
    Beam: Surprisingly good bass reproduction, and Siri's vocals also have good presence.
    Ray: Again this phenomenon with less room and ambience from Ray. Here it's ok, but Beam gives a more grown-up sound.

  29. Beyonce. DONT HURT YOURSELF – LEMONADE
    Beam: Hard and raw, as it should be.
    Ray: A little kinder and more distant from Ray.

  30. Øyvind Kristiansen, Jonas Kilmork Vemoy. Forsaken - Hymns of Compassion
    Beam: A little rustle in the bass, again. But a large and nice sound image, even if it is a narrow stereo image.
    Ray : Again a slightly drier rendition.

  31. Radka Toneff. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress - Fairytailes
    Beam: I was expecting a lowdown with Radka, but it didn't come. Of course, that does not mean that it is not better on good HiFi setups.
    Ray: A slightly smaller room

  32. Angermanlandsmorgon - Past Present Future
    Beam: This works surprisingly well.
    Ray: Also works with Ray, and actually a bit more precise.

  33. Maria Joao – Mario Laginha. Horn Please – Cor.
    Beam: I am always happy when I am served this mood. Also from a soundbar in the cautious middle class.
    Ray: And in Budget Class

  34. Maria Joao. We`ll Be Just Beginning - Undercovers.
    Beam: The chorus on this track sounds harsh and distorted also with Beam, as on all other setups.
    Ray: Also on Ray. But the music and lyrics are fantastic.

  35. Marc Johnson. Freedom Jazz Dance - Overpass
    Beam: It won't be the same intense bass experience as on more bass-heavy setups.
    Ray: And of course Ray can't do anything about that either.

  36. Billie Eilish. Your Power – Happier Than Ever
    Beam: This works, although I'd like some deeper bass
    Ray: Here too of course, but Billie's vocals work well.

  37. Jeff Reily and Peter Anthony Togni. Ave Verum – Blackwood
    Beam: This bass clarinet sounds big and great also on Beam.
    Ray: A little drier on Ray, but still there is a lot.

  38. Chiaroscuro Quartet. String Quartet No. 1 – Beethoven: String Quartets
    Beam: Not very great in details and geometry, but it sounds good.
    Ray: It clearly sounds leaner from Ray

 

Summary stereo

In summary, the listening impressions of music in stereo provide an ever-so-small surprise. Because even if the overall impression is that Beam performs better than Ray in this exercise, that does not apply to all tracks. Ray sounds consistently a bit drier and also a bit more precise on some tracks. But at the same time clearly slimmer, so here there is plenty of room for personal opinions.

The biggest surprise is probably that both soundboards do surprisingly well as a stereo reproducer, even though the sound image is of course narrow. And the sound shows that this is, after all, a big deal for a soundbar. But for Audiophile.no's reader group, it will probably be appropriate to use a Beam or Ray for music as well, even though most probably have a main system or two that they use for dedicated listening.

Reproduction in Surround

Playback setup:

  • 1: Beam Gen. 2 - configured alone
  • 2: Ray - configured alone
  • Supplementary set with Sonos Play:1 as surround speakers
  • Sonos Sub
  • Listening position in sweetspot

  • Reference setup:
    • Onkyo TX-NR696
    • Front channels reproduced with Linn Chakra 6-channel power amplifier with active crossover for Linn Ninka
    • Linn speaker set

 

Music in Dolby Atmos

We include some music samples to find out how this setup copes with playing music in Dolby Atmos. The music is taken from TIDAL via Apple TV and Chromecast with Google TV, and is thus a version of Dolby Atmos that is reproduced in Dolby Digital+, not in HD as we get when the music is played from Blu-Ray. And here is a complete setup with both Sonos Play:1 as surround speakers and Sonos Sub in the respective Beam and Ray setups.

And then, for the record, we repeat that even though the Ray is not Atmos compatible, the music is rendered in Dolby Digital 4.1 surround, while in the Beam setup it is rendered in Dolby Atmos 5.1 (not 5.1.2, since the height channels are DSP-simulated)

Jan Gunnar Hoff - Home

First up is Jan Gunnar Hoff's beautiful release Home, which was featured at my Record Tasting at the end of May this year, and where it received top marks. Like all releases from 2L, this one has a fantastic sound, and the possible setback is therefore extra large for this Sonos setup with Beam Gen. 2 if it does not deliver.

And the Sonos Beam delivers beyond all expectations, with a very large soundstage in width and a bit of height as well. Admittedly, there is a lot more precise sound image from my reference setup, especially in terms of greater width and more precise definition of the room. But this is still unashamedly well delivered by a soundbar in lower middle class.

With the Sonos Ray , the difference to the reference set-up is clearly bigger, but this mostly applies to the sound balance. This is a somewhat interesting observation, which we will return to in the summary

Det Norske Jentekor - Stille Grender

On this release, there is a bigger difference between the Sonos Beam setup and the reference setup. The latter plays cleaner and with greater clarity. This is especially true in the fantastic intro of Carols of the Bells, with Tord Gustavsen's piano and an enormous rendering of the room in Uranienborg Church. And it is probably the piano that is the biggest litmus test on the subsequent tracks as well, because the Norwegian Girls' Choir conducted by Anne Karin Sundal is also reproduced surprisingly well by the Sonos Beam setup.

This is also clearly approved with the Sonos Ray setup. Perhaps especially the rendition of the choir is surprisingly good with Ray in front.

Kraftwerk – Der Katalog

This album is a gem in both stereo and Dolby Atmos, and it is of course the latter edition that we are evaluating here.

It sounds big and great on the Sonos Beam setup. Nevertheless, there is something about the sound balance that is obviously better in the Reference setup, together with an increased precision. But very clearly approved performance by Sonos.

With the Sonos Ray setup, the difference in precision compared to the reference setup is quite striking. But that doesn't prevent it from being a good rendition with the Ray setup as well.

Summary music in surround/3D

In this exercise, the difference between the two Sonos setups and my reference setup for surround is clearly less than for music reproduction in stereo, although the differences are more than noticeable. There is, among other things, a very large gap in precision and sophistication, but the Sonos setups still do a surprisingly good job here.

Not least this applies to the Beam-based setup. And a side effect here is that the two surround speakers, which actually have a better sound than the soundboards, help to lift the overall sound balance. And of course the Sonos Sub's entry has a rather formidable effect on the sound and tonal balance. The bottom line is that listening to music in Dolby Atmos with these Sonos setups certainly pays dividends, although a dedicated multi-channel setup normally gives better reproduction.

FIlm

Against the Ice

The first film in the testing of these two soundboards is the fascinating film Against The Ice , which is based on the book with the perhaps even more apt title Two Against The Ice . A drama that is not only about the battle against nature and the ice, but also the internal drama between captain Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the inexperienced volunteer Iver Iversen (Joe Cole). And one of the film's strengths is that it is not an orgy of ever-increasing fierce battles against nature, but just as much a drama between the two opposite personalities Mikkelsen and Iversen.

Beam Gen. 2

The film has a very good soundtrack in Dolby Atmos, and this is reproduced surprisingly well by the Sonos Beam Gen 2. And it goes without saying that a very significant prerequisite for the good result is that the Beam is accompanied by two Sonos Play:1 as surround speakers and a Sonos Sub. In this configuration, it is very easy to forget that this is not a full-fledged surround setup with a receiver and a 5.1.2 speaker setup. But with a direct comparison with the reference set-up, it becomes obvious that the latter has a clearly better sound balance and control.

Ray

Against the Ice also plays great on the Ray setup, but there is a moderate difference from the Beam Gen. 2 with the same setup. This difference is mostly about sound and control, and to a lesser extent about the 3D properties. The lack of Atmos compatibility is very moderate

The Gray Man

The Russo brothers have picked up on the fact that the most tone-setting agent films are CIA-based with locations in Europe, preferably with classic capitals as a backdrop. But what they seem to have missed a bit is that film series such as Mission Impossible and the Bourne films also place a lot of emphasis on a story that engages. The Gray Man tries to compensate for this by surpassing both of the mentioned sizes by having even more scope of frantic action scenes, to such an extent that the whole thing is in danger of becoming boring. The film is nevertheless saved by a couple of usually strong actors. Not least that applies to the charismatic Ryan Gosling in the ultimate leading role as agent "Six", even if his performances in various films are a bit one-faceted. Billy Bob Thornton is often an equally good actor, but in this one he is a bit average - probably because of the character he is set to play. But the acting performances of these two on one scale must be weighed against an unconvincing secondary lead character in Lloyd Hansen, played by Chris Evans. The other acting performances are somewhere between these two extremes.

Beam Gen. 2

But all these hectic action scenes make the film a suitable element in a test track for home cinema sound. The soundtrack is very good, and is offered in Dolby Atmos. And also on this film, the Sonos setup consisting of Beam Gen surprises. 2, 2x Play:1 and a Sub. Not least the 3D rendering is good, and shows that Beam Gen. 2 is well suited in a Premium Sonos setup for movies, although it would probably have been even better with full-blooded Atmos

Ray

With Ray, we are therefore down to Dolby Digital 4.1, and miss the height information that Dolby Atmos can give us in an Atmos setup. Perhaps a little surprisingly, there is not such a dramatic difference between Beam Gen. 2 and Ray in terms of the surround experience, and it is partly related to the fact that Beam Gen. 2 after all only has an HRTF DSP-based Atmos decoding. But even in a direct comparison with the reference set-up, it is to a greater extent differences in timbre that dominate than differences in surround experience. In other words, it's an unashamedly good surround experience with the Sonos Ray as well. In that exercise, there is a much more dramatic difference with or without Sonos One as surround speakers than between Ray and Beam. Actually also than between Ray and the reference setup. But we are still talking about the surround experience, not the entire sound experience.

Summary film in surround / 3D

This exercise demonstrates that it is film these soundboards are primarily made for, although they do a nice job in stereo, and an even better job in music in surround. With movie watching in Dolby Atmos on the menu, it's a great performance from these two Sonos setups, and of course the best from Beam, which is Atmos compatible

Stripping down the layouts

Here we take a quick round where we test what happens when playing a film if the complete setups in 5.1 and 4.1 are stripped down. And then we have to bear in mind that the peripheral speakers represent a value of approx. four thousand for the surround speakers, and eight and a half thousand for the Sub. In other words, these total setups have a value of 3.5x Beam and just over 5x Ray, respectively. This provides an important perspective.

Without Sonos Sub

The sound balance for both setups obviously suffers at the bottom because the sub is omitted, and this applies to an even slightly greater extent for Ray than for Beam, even if the difference between these is not very great. The Sonos Sub is an essential prerequisite for a credible and full bass reproduction.

Without Sub and Surround speakers

The depth of the sound image collapses, and somewhat surprisingly, the tonal balance also suffers from this. This is probably related to the fact that Play:1 helps to improve the sound balance in the entire set-up.

With Sub, but without surround speakers

The deep bass is of course back, but I miss the depth of the sound image perhaps even more than I missed the deep bass.

Beam or Ray?

As you have probably already calculated, there is no definitive answer as to which is the best purchase of Beam Gen 2 or Ray. It all depends on many factors, such as personal preferences, and which overall setup you are aiming for if you intend to invest in more Sonos right away or later.

If we start with the fundamentals, my view is that the sound difference in stereo is perhaps less than I had anticipated. There are a number of differences between the two soundboards, but not everything goes unequivocally in Beam's favour. In surround, the difference is slightly greater, but not dramatically much. And a registration that was noted further up was that the difference in tonal balances to my ears is far more important than the surround reproduction of the soundboards in a solo configuration. It's important to note - Atmos in DSP version is a tiny boost, but not the same as a HW version.

So the choice between Beam and Ray in a solo configuration makes for sleepless nights - the differences are clear, but are they worth the price difference where you get a Ray at 60% of the price of a Beam, if you don't intend to expand your setup eventually?

What appears to me to be crystal clear is that the Ray + 2x Sonos One SL is quite obviously worth the difference from a Beam in a solo configuration, and by a large margin. This setup costs approx. seven grand NOK, and plays surround fantastically much better than a single Beam. It simply provides a much better sound experience. And of course you can't escape the new next dilemma - what about a Beam + 2x Sonos One SL for 9k? My answer is "go for it!", at least if you have the money, partly on the grounds that the percentage price difference is less than between Beam and Ray in solo configuration. And what's more, you are closer to a full-fledged setup if you later expand to a complete setup with Sub.

And then, of course, we've come to the big elephant in the room. At the time of writing, a Sonos Sub costs NOK 8,499, which is a very high price for a sub in a setup that ranges from the budget class to the lower middle class in terms of price. And then it is somewhat interesting to know that there are strong rumors that Sonos has plans for a Sub Mini. These rumors have been triggered, among others, by Sonos themself, which has leaked the term on some technical pages. And the substance of the rumors is of course reinforced by the fact that it makes very much sense to launch a more affordable sub, although the quality must of course be expected to be somewhat lower. I would perhaps go so far as to say that it is absolutely necessary that a smaller and more affordable sub comes along, a sub that can match the lower end of the soundbar sector of Sonos. Assuming it will be significantly less expensive than today's Sub,

Conclusion

In this review, there has been a lot of focus on the differences between Beam and Ray. That has been my primary agenda, but at the same time it may have overshadowed the fact that both Beam and Ray are unashamedly good soundbars in their respective price ranges.

Beam Gen. 2 has a surprising reproduction in both stereo and surround, and provides an excellent user interface and good value for the five thousand NOK you hve to spend. You also get the same good user interface with the simpler Ray, and the choice is ultimately whether you want to choose this simpler version which costs 40% less than Beam. Both of these soundbars offer good value for money, and Ray perhaps even more so than Beam Gen 2. And you get Sonos' superb ecosystem no matter what you choose.

 

The retail price for the Sonos Beam is NOK. NOK 4,999
The retail price for the Sonos Ray is NOK. NOK 2,999

 

Read more about Beam Gen 2 at Sonos
Read more about Ray at Sonos

Read 453 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 August 2022 11:00
Karl Erik Sylthe

Redaktør i Audiophile.no

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