Living with the Sonos Ray has taught me there’s one feature every soundbar needs, regardless of price

Soundbar: Sonos Ray
(Image credit: Future)

As regular readers will know (because I haven’t stopped banging on about it), I recently moved to a new house where I’ve been experimenting with stripped-back home cinema for the living room and dreaming of a proper home cinema in the garage.

This new house has also presented me with the opportunity to have a home office / gaming den for the first time, so I’ve inevitably also been experimenting with various devices with which to kit that out. After at-home tests of various computer speakers and soundbars, I've settled on the Sonos Ray.

The Sonos Ray was chosen for a variety of reasons, including the fact that I’ve run out of money and it’s pretty affordable, that there are already a fair few Sonos speakers dotted around the house so there’s multi-room synergy, and that it slotted really neatly under the old Samsung KS7500 TV that I’ve dusted off and started using as a monitor. It also sounds good by the standards of cheap soundbars. We complained about it being a bit lightweight and clinical in our review, but I enjoy its upfront delivery and general sense of fun.

Because the Ray was built to hit a very aggressive price, certain features were obviously nixed, and much has been made of the lack of Dolby Atmos and HDMI connectivity. I get it, those things would be nice to have, of course, but Atmos is really hard to do well with cheap kit and using optical instead of HDMI is actually fine if Atmos is already off the table.

However, there’s one feature the Ray lacks that I’m really surprised I miss: Alexa.

I’m no Alexa power-user. On the contrary, I use it regularly for the same three things as everyone else: playing music, setting timers and alarms, and adding things to a shopping list. I also have smart bulbs dotted around the house and use Alexa to control those.

Still, I do some combination of those things several times a day, and I’ve become so used to every speaker in the house responding to voice commands that I’ve found myself issuing them to the Ray without thinking and becoming frustrated when nothing happens.

I know it’s the epitome of a first-world problem and I’m hardly expecting violins, but it’s got to the point for me that having to break my flow when working or gaming in order to find my phone, open the (pretty rubbish) Alexa app and type ‘toilet paper’ into the blasted shopping list is really annoying. Inevitably, I either yell “add toilet paper!” in the hope that the Alexa-enabled speaker in another room hears me, or I don’t add toilet paper to the shopping list at all and, a few days later, disaster strikes.

I could, of course, simply add an inexpensive Alexa speaker to the home office, but that would be an extra bit of tech clutter that I don’t really want and shouldn’t really need, because if you can buy an Alexa speaker for peanuts, it should be built into every soundbar – even one as affordable as the Sonos Ray.


Check out our Sonos Ray review

These are the best cheap soundbars you can buy right now

And here are the best Alexa speakers

Tom Parsons

Tom Parsons has been writing about TV, AV and hi-fi products (not to mention plenty of other 'gadgets' and even cars) for over 15 years. He began his career as What Hi-Fi?'s Staff Writer and is now the TV and AV Editor. In between, he worked as Reviews Editor and then Deputy Editor at Stuff, and over the years has had his work featured in publications such as T3, The Telegraph and Louder. He's also appeared on BBC News, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4 and Sky Swipe. In his spare time Tom is a runner and gamer.