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Sonos Ray vs Beam (Gen 2) vs Sonos Arc: Which soundbar is best for you?

, Deputy editor · ·
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data; projecting how events might unfold based on past events or how products and services compare against each other.

(Pocket-lint) - Sonos offers three soundbars in its portfolio; the Sonos Ray, Sonos Beam (2nd Gen) and the Sonos Arc.

Arc is a full-fledged, Dolby Atmos sound system, with HDMI eARC, Alexa and Google Assistant support, plus several other bells and whistles. It sits at the top of the company's soundbar range.

The Sonos Beam (Gen 2) arrived in 2021 and succeeded the original Beam. It is a smaller, more compact and cheaper soundbar but offers support for virtual Dolby Atmos. The Ray is the most affordable Sonos soundbar, also compact in size but it doesn't offer all the same features as Beam.

So which is the better Sonos soundbar for your setup? We compare the Arc, Beam (Gen 2) and the Sonos Ray to help you decide.

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You only need look at the three Sonos soundbars to see that there's an obvious difference in design aesthetic. All three can be wall-mounted or set on a TV stand, but the Beam (Gen 2) and Ray are more likely to be found on the latter. Both are small enough to be fairly anonymous when sat in front of a television and in the Ray's case, the speaker grille is on the front only, which means it can be set within a TV stand too.

The Ray and Beam soundbars are very much designed for use with smaller televisions - 32 to 50-inches, for example. They will greatly enhance the sound experience when compared to a smaller set's built-in speakers, and they both will happily sit out of the way when placed in front.

The Arc, on the other hand, looks more like a traditional soundbar and is likely to be matched with much larger TVs. It is much longer and more soundbar in shape than both the Beam and Ray.

In terms of connectivity, all three devices have 2.4GHz Wi-Fi and Ethernet ports to hook up to your home network and the internet.

The Arc and Beam (Gen 2) up the ante when it comes to connection to a TV though. That's because both come with a HDMI port supporting HDMI eARC. The original Beam supported the older HDMI ARC standard, while the Ray opts for optical connection. This will mean that the Ray will be compatible with older TVs that may not offer HDMI eARC or HDMI ARC but that also means no Dolby Atmos support.

The Sonos Arc and Beam (Gen 2) require more bandwidth to receive Dolby Atmos and higher resolution audio streams. A HDMI ARC connection can do, but the TV must support Dolby Atmos itself so that's worth remembering.

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Naturally, the Ray and Beam are not as capable when it comes to audio presentation as Arc.

The Ray has two midwoofers, two tweeters and split waveguides to project the sound, with one projecting outwards and the other forwards. We are yet to hear it, but given Sonos' track record, it's likely to offer a decent upgrade to the audio most TVs - especially smaller ones - are capable of.

The Beam (Gen 2) sports four mid-range drivers and one tweeter for a clean, clear front-facing audio experience. That provides a better soundscape than most TVs are capable and the virtual Dolby Atmos experience is in fact very good. 

The Sonos Arc has eight drivers and three tweeters, with angled speaker units left and right, plus two angled upwards specifically for use with Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

This effectively means that the Arc provides a wider, taller soundscape that is much more immersive. The Beam (Gen 2) does try its best to recreate virtually and it does a good job, while the Ray isn't likely to be able to compete here, nor would you expect it to at its price point.

All three soundbars can be added to, with the Sonos Sub a great option for extra bass and a couple of Sonos One or Sonos One SL speakers good options to provide rear channels to a home cinema setup.

The Ray, Beam (Gen 2 ) and Arc are Sonos speakers first and foremost, so while they are great at expanding and enhancing TV viewing, they also work well to play music through, either standalone or as part of a Sonos multiroom system.

The Beam (Gen 2) and Arc both have Alexa and Google Assistant support, so can be voice controlled and work as voice assistants for search and even controlling the rest of your smart home devices. They will also support Sonos Voice Control, which you can read more about in our separate feature.

The Ray doesn't have a microphone on board so it doesn't offer the smart assistants on its feature list. It does however, offer support for Apple AirPlay 2 like the Beam and Arc, along with most other Sonos features like adjustable EQ, Trueplay tuning and soundbar features like Speech Enhancement and Night Sound.

The Beam (Gen 2) and Arc also have HDMI CEC capabilities though, allowing you to control your TV, soundbar and any other connected devices with just one remote (you can also opt for IR control, if you so desire). Ray only offers IR control.

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Naturally, considering the Arc has more speaker units inside, is larger and has more audio functionality, it is more expensive than the Beam (Gen 2) and the Ray. And that might be a major factor in your purchasing decision.

The Sonos Ray is the cheapest option at £279 / $279 / €299, while the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is usually £449 / $449 / €499 so you save quite a bit opting for the Ray. The Sonos Arc meanwhile, is £899 / $899. That's double the price of the Beam (Gen 2) and triple that of the Ray.

If you have a smaller TV or living room, you might never need the extra oomph of the Arc and therefore can save yourself a packet opting for the Beam (Gen 2) or Ray.

However, for a smart Dolby Atmos-capable soundbar, with Alexa and Google Assistant on board, and the enter suite of Sonos streaming abilities, the Arc is actually very reasonable if you do fancy splashing out more on your home entertainment.

The biggest decision to make is what you actually want your soundbar to do. If you simply need something to improve the audio performance of your TV viewing, while also presenting all the cool music streaming features of a Sonos system, the Ray could be more than ample for you.

If you want that but with a few extra bells and whistles like virtual Dolby Atmos and smart assistants, the Sonos Beam (Gen 2) is a great middle option.

If you are looking for a neat home cinema system that has plenty of room for new features in future, the Arc is a very compelling offering - one without compromises. Albeit at a heftier price point.

When we write versus features on Pocket-lint, we don't just compare the spec sheets. Instead, we are pulling in our experience of the products and the market as a whole to not only highlight the differences but what they actually mean.

In this case, we have reviewed both the Sonos Arc and Sonos Beam (Gen 2) in full and we continue to use them day-to-day in our home, with the former in the living room and the latter in the bedroom. We've yet to hear the Sonos Ray so the analysis of this product comes from information we have been given and information available in the public domain.

The aim of this feature is to help you work out which Sonos soundbar is the best for you and your setup, explaining what you get and what you miss out on when opting for each model to help you make an informed choice.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle and Rik Henderson. Editing by Chris Hall.