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Sonos Ray soundbar review: the cheaper compact TV audio upgrade | Gadgets

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Sonos’s latest compact soundbar, the Ray, has achieved a welcome balance for consumers by cutting unnecessary features for a lower price, while still packing top-quality audio for a serious TV sound upgrade and unrivalled multiroom music.

Costing £279 ($279/A$399) it is an all-in-one, which means you don’t need a separate subwoofer or other speakers for full sound. It slots under the excellent £449 Beam and £899 Arc soundbars as Sonos’s entry level unit. The question now is – do you really need to spend more?

With a smaller, flatter design than the larger Beam and Arc, its four speakers face straight out of the front grille, making it easier to slot into TV stands without affecting the sound. In size terms, it is slightly wider than a full-sized keyboard and fairly short, stopping it blocking your view of the bottom of the TV screen on a cabinet, which can be a problem for taller rivals.

The top of the Sonos Ray showing touch-sensitive buttons for control of playback and volume.
It has touch-sensitive buttons on the top for pause/play and volume. Swipe between the volume buttons for track skip. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Hidden in a recess in the back are connections for power and ethernet, if you don’t want to use wifi. However, there is no HDMI port, instead you must rely on the much older optical cable to connect your TV. Most TVs have an optical port, which makes things simple but limits the sound formats the Ray supports to the older Dolby Digital or DTS, not the newer Dolby Atmos soundtracks.

I think this is a corner worth cutting for a lower price. Since movies with Dolby Atmos also contain standard Dolby Digital soundtracks, the Ray will still be able to play everything.

A series of screenshots from the Sonos app showing the setup procedure for the Ray soundbar.
Setting up the Ray is straightforward: plug it into power, slot the optical cable in the back and into your TV, then follow the instructions in the Sonos app on an Android or iPhone to connect to wifi, check the connections and set up volume control using your remote. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The one notable potential problem with soundbars that lack an HDMI port is how to control volume. Using the optical cable means your television cannot control the soundbar through HDMI-CEC, a connection that allows most TVs to control soundbars and other devices via one remote. TVs with motion or voice-control remotes, such as many in the LG range, may not be able to adjust the Ray’s volume – so you will need to use the phone app or press the buttons on the soundbar. However, a standard infrared TV remote or those of set-top boxes such as Sky Q or an Apple TV will be able to increase and decrease sound no problem.The Sonos app will check for you as part of the setup routine.

Watching TV

The Sonos Ray soundbar viewed from an angle sitting on a TV cabinet in front of a television.
Used with Sky Q and on-demand content through an Apple TV box, everything stayed in perfect sync, which is not always the case with soundbars. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Simply start watching TV to automatically switch to the audio from your show or movie. The Ray sounds throughly impressive for its size and price, beating much larger, more expensive rivals.

Dialogue is super clear, even when the action is thick and fast. On-screen action has suitable punch and energy, remaining precise and controlled at all times. There is more bass than I expected from a compact all-in-one system, handling all but the very largest explosions with aplomb. Only a system with a separate large subwoofer would be capable of more.

The speaker can get very loud indeed, with 40% volume more than enough for a reasonable-sized British living room. But it also has a dedicated dialogue enhancer and a night mode, which suppresses dynamic range to keep things intelligible at lower volumes. The sound is more direct than more expensive models, however, creating less of a virtual surround effect than the Beam.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 55.9 x 9.5 x 7.1cm

  • Weigh: 1.95kg

  • Speakers: two tweeters, two midwoofers

  • Connectivity: wifi b/g/n, Optical, Ethernet, IR, AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect

  • Audio formats: stereo PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS Surround

  • Software: Sonos S2

  • CPU: Quad-core 1.4GHz A-53

  • RAM: 1GB

Listening to music

The front of the Ray soundbar showing the Sonos logo in its centre.
The two midwoofers and two tweeters hidden behind the grille produce really excellent music sound quality. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It is even better with music, producing room-filling sound with good stereo separation from such a narrow bar, clear vocals, crisp highs and plenty of bass for all but the deepest of notes. Most music genres sound brilliant but rock tracks such as AC/DC’s Back in Black blasting out at the start of Iron Man were particularly good.

It streams music over wifi controlled by the Sonos app, supporting practically every major service, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music and BBC Sounds, plus Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect.

It can be grouped with other Sonos or Ikea speakers for synchronised multiroom audio or linked with surround speakers and a separate sub for a home cinema set up. The Ray also supports Sonos’s Trueplay automatic tuning system using an iPhone or iPad, if you have one.

Sustainability

The Ray is generally repairable and limited replacement parts are available on its site. The company commits to a minimum of five years of software support for feature updates after it stops selling a product but has a track record of much longer, including bug and security fixes for its legacy products.

The soundbar does not contain recycled material but Sonos has committed to the use of recycled plastics and designs with disassembly in mind for repair, refurbishment and recycling from 2023. It offers trade-in and product recycling, and publishes annual responsibility and sustainability reports.

Price

The Sonos Ray costs £279 ($279/A$399).

For comparison, soundbars start at under £100, with more capable models costing from about £200, such as the Creative Stage 360 or the £270 Bose TV speaker.

Verdict

The Ray is a compact, high-quality sound upgrade for your TV from Sonos. It sounds miles better than most all-in-one soundbar systems at under £300 and still has the simple, minimalist and easy to live-with experience the brand is known for.

A few corners have been cut compared with the more expensive Beam and Arc soundbars, such as removing smart speaker functions, reducing the number of speakers and virtual surround effects, and ditching the HDMI port in favour of the old optical connection.

But I don’t think most will miss them. The Ray stillproduces impactful TV and movie sound and is even better with music, without needing a separate subwoofer. Plus, it has the advantage of Sonos’s excellent multiroom audio platform, which is compatible with a massive range of streaming services and is kept constantly updated with a very long support life.

You can certainly get cheaper soundbars with more features but very few are as compact and sound as good as the Ray.

Pros: compact and attractive, great TV or music sound, super-clear vocals, Night Sound mode, easy setup, wifi, extensive music service support, multiroom audio system, long support life, can be extended with additional speakers.

Cons: no HDMI only optical, some TV remotes won’t control volume, no Dolby Atmos, no Bluetooth, no mics for smart speaker functions, limited surround-sound effect without additional speakers.

The Sonos app on an iPhone pairing with the Sonos Ray during set up.
The Sonos app automatically detects, updates and configures the Ray within a few minutes, making it simple to get set up. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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Meditation app Calm sacks one-fifth of staff | Meditation

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The US-based meditation app Calm has laid off 20% of its workforce, becoming the latest US tech startup to announce job cuts.

The firm’s boss, David Ko, said the company, which has now axed about 90 people from its 400-person staff, was “not immune” to the economic climate. “In building out our strategic and financial plan, we revisited the investment thesis behind every project and it became clear that we need to make changes,” he said in a memo to staff.

“I can assure you that this was not an easy decision, but it is especially difficult for a company like ours whose mission is focused on workplace mental health and wellness.”

The Calm app, founded in 2012, offers guided meditation and bedtime stories for people of all ages. It received a surge of downloads triggered by the 2020 Covid lockdowns. By the end of that year, the software company said the app had been downloaded more than 100 million times globally and had amassed over 4 million paying subscribers.

Investors valued the firm, which said it had been profitable since 2016, at $2bn.

In the memo, Ko went on: “We did not come to this decision lightly, but are confident that these changes will help us prioritize the future, focus on growth and become a more efficient organization.”

More than 500 startups have laid off staff this year, according to layoffs.fyi, a website that tracks such announcements.

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Let there be ambient light sensing, without data theft • The Register

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Six years after web security and privacy concerns surfaced about ambient light sensors in mobile phones and notebooks, browser boffins have finally implemented defenses.

The W3C, everyone’s favorite web standards body, began formulating an Ambient Light Events API specification back in 2012 to define how web browsers should handle data and events from ambient light sensors (ALS). Section 4 of the draft spec, “Security and privacy considerations,” was blank. It was a more carefree time.

Come 2015, the spec evolved to include acknowledgement of the possibility that ALS might allow data correlation and device fingerprinting, to the detriment of people’s privacy. And it suggested that browser makers might consider event rate limiting as a potential mitigation.

By 2016, it became clear that allowing web code to interact with device light sensors entailed privacy and security risks beyond fingerprinting. Dr Lukasz Olejnik, an independent privacy researcher and consultant, explored the possibilities in a 2016 blog post.

Olejnik cited a number of ways in which ambient light sensor readings might be abused, including data leakage, profiling, behavioral analysis, and various forms of cross-device communication.

He described a few proof-of-concept attacks, devised with the help of security researcher Artur Janc, in a 2017 post and delved into more detail in a 2020 paper [PDF].

“The attack we devised was a side-channel leak, conceptually very simple, taking advantage of the optical properties of human skin and its reflective properties,” Olejnik explained in his paper.

“Skin reflectance only accounts for the 4-7 percent emitted light but modern display screens emit light with significant luminance. We exploited these facts of nature to craft an attack that reasoned about the website content via information encoded in the light level and conveyed via the user skin, back to the browsing context tracking the light sensor readings.”

It was this technique that enabled the proof-of-concept attacks like stealing web history through inferences made from CSS changes and stealing cross origin resources, such as images or the contents of iframes.

Snail-like speed

Browser vendors responded in various ways. In May 2018, with the release of Firefox 60, Mozilla moved access to the W3C proximity and ambient light APIs behind flags, and applied further limitations in subsequent Firefox releases.

Apple simply declined to implement the API in WebKit, along with a number of other capabilities. Both Apple and Mozilla currently oppose a proposal for a generic sensor API.

Google took what Olejnik described his paper as a “more nuanced” approach, limiting the precision of sensor data.

But those working on the W3C specification and on the browsers implementing the spec recognized that such privacy protections should be formalized, to increase the likelihood the API will be widely adopted and used.

So they voted to make the imprecision of ALS data normative (standard for browsers) and to require the camera access permission as part of the ALS spec.

Those changes finally landed in the ALS spec this week. As a result, Google and perhaps other browser makers may choose to make the ALS API available by default rather than hiding it behind a flag or ignoring it entirely. ®



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4 supports that can help employees outside of work

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Everyone has different situations to deal with outside of the workplace. But that doesn’t mean the workplace can’t be a source of support.

Employers and governments alike are often striving to make workplaces better for everyone, whether it’s workplace wellbeing programmes or gender pay gap reporting.

However, life is about more than just the hours that are spent in work, and how an employer supports those other life challenges can be a major help.

Family-friendly benefits

Several companies have been launching new benefits and policies that help families and those trying to have children.

Job site Indeed announced a new ‘family forming’ benefit package earlier this year, which is designed to provide employees with family planning and fertility-related assistance.

The programme includes access to virtual care and a network of providers who can guide employees through their family-forming journey.

Vodafone Ireland introduced a new fertility and pregnancy policy in February 2022 that includes extended leave for pregnancy loss, fertility treatment and surrogacy.

And as of the beginning of 2022, Pinterest employees around the world started receiving a host of new parental benefits, including a minimum of 20 weeks’ parental leave, monetary assistance of up to $10,000 or local equivalent for adoptive parents, and four weeks of paid leave to employees who experience a loss through miscarriage at any point in a pregnancy.

Helping those experiencing domestic abuse

There are also ways to support employees going through a difficult time. Bank of Ireland introduced a domestic abuse leave policy earlier this year, which provides a range of supports to colleagues who may be experiencing domestic abuse.

Under the policy, the bank will provide both financial and non-financial support to colleagues, such as paid leave and flexibility with the work environment or schedule.

In emergency situations where an employee needs to immediately leave an abusive partner, the bank will help through paid emergency hotel accommodation or a salary advance.

In partnership with Women’s Aid, the company is also rolling out training to colleagues to help recognise the symptoms of abuse and provide guidance on how to take appropriate action.

Commenting on the policy, Women’s Aid CEO Sarah Benson said employers who implement policies and procedures for employees subjected to domestic abuse can help reduce the risk of survivors giving up work and increase “feelings of solidarity and support at a time when they may feel completely isolated and alone”.

A menopause policy

In 2021, Vodafone created a policy to support workers after a survey it commissioned revealed that nearly two-thirds of women who experienced menopause symptoms said it impacted them at work. A third of those who had symptoms also said they hid this at work. Half of those surveyed felt there is a stigma around talking about menopause, which is something Vodafone is seeking to combat through education for all staff.

Speaking to SiliconRepublic.com last year, Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary said the company would roll out a training and awareness programme to all employees globally, including a toolkit to improve their understanding of menopause and provide guidance on how to support employees, colleagues and family members.

In Ireland, Vodafone employees are able to avail of leave for sickness and medical treatment, flexible working hours and additional care through the company’s employee assistance programme when going through the menopause.

Support hub for migrants

There are also initiatives to help people get their foot on the employment ladder.

Earlier this year, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar, TD launched a new service with education and employment supports for refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.

The Pathways to Progress platform is part of the Open Doors Initiative supporting marginalised groups to access further education, employment and entrepreneurship in Ireland.

As part of the initiative, member company Siro offered a paid 12-week internship programme for six people who are refugees. The internships include job preparation, interview skills and access to the company’s online learning portals.

Open Doors Initiative CEO Jeanne McDonagh said the chance to land a meaningful job or establish a new business is key to people’s integration into Ireland, no matter what route they took to get here.

“Some are refugees, some are living in direct provision, some will have their status newly regularised, and others will come directly for work,” she said. “Our new service aims to support all migrants in finding a decent job as they prepare to enter the Irish workforce, and to support employers as they seek to build an inclusive culture in their workplaces.”

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