Hands-on with the Sonos Ace, the first Sonos headphones

hands-on with the sonos ace, the first sonos headphones

Hands-on with the Sonos Ace, the first Sonos headphones

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After nearly a decade of Sonos customers clambering for headphones, the company is getting ready to launch its first-ever pair on June 5.

Can Sonos successfully translate its track record of impeccable-sounding home audio devices to a new category? And do they keep the excellent spatial sound that Sonos is known for? We recently had a chance to test the new Sonos Ace headphones at a preview event in Manhattan to find out.

About the Sonos Ace headphones

hands-on with the sonos ace, the first sonos headphones

The Sonos Ace headphones seemingly take a design cue from the Apple AirPods Max.

First thing’s first, the price. The Sonos Ace will retail for $449 on release, putting them squarely in the upper echelons of mainstream wireless headphones pricing and in direct competition with the Apple AirPods Max. Sonos quotes the Ace as having 30 hours of battery life, 50% more than the AirPods Max.

They even look a tad similar, though the Sonos Ace eschews the mesh headband and watch dial for a much more refined design. Minimalism is the name of the game, and according to Sonos CEO Patrick Spence, the Ace are intended to be “the most premium headphones yet.”

The two slim earcups, each containing a 40mm driver, are nearly identical save for a Sonos logo on the right cup to differentiate them, and they slide along stainless steel rails into a comfortable headband covered in memory foam and wrapped in vegan leather. The hinges that attach each rail to its respective earcup are hidden to prevent wear and tear. The ear cushions are magnetically held in place and keyed to each cup, and Sonos plans on selling replacement cushions day one. While the earcups can’t hinge inward and fold down, they can lie flat for storage in the accompanying travel case.

The controls are similarly minimal, although Sonos is skipping touch capacity in favor of a simplified physical layout. One button on the left turns the Ace on, one on the right toggles between active noise cancellation and aware mode (with an option to disable ANC entirely in the Sonos app), and above that is the content key. This is a slider that can be used to move the volume up and down, but also pressed to play or resume content, or held to enable audio swapping with a compatible Sonos soundbar. It’s intuitive in practice, and users shouldn’t have to worry about fumbling for buttons in the dark.

hands-on with the sonos ace, the first sonos headphones

The Sonos Ace don't fold up, but the cups rotate flat to fit in the travel case. A magnetically attached bauble holds the charging cables.

Audio swapping, or passing sound from your TV through your Sonos soundbar into the Ace, is being touted as a major selling point. Sonos claims that by tracking the wearer’s head position and using a binaural renderer, native Dolby Atmos audio or stereo sound mixed to 7.1.4 channels can be interpreted through the Ace as spatial surround sound. This works in tandem with what Sonos calls TrueCinema, software that listens for a signal from your soundbar to map the room you’re sitting in to help fine-tune the output. This data is saved on the soundbar itself, so multiple pairs of Ace headphones can connect to a soundbar without needing to redo the room measurement.

The end result, according to Sonos, is a wide sound stage that not only mimics the experience of listening to your content through a full 7.1.4 system. The Ace will launch with audio swapping compatibility with the Sonos Arc soundbar and eventually all other Sonos soundbars “down the line.”

The Sonos Ace headphones will be available in black or Soft White and come with a travel case in the corresponding color.

How do the Sonos Ace feel and sound?

hands-on with the sonos ace, the first sonos headphones

In our short time with them, the Sonos Ace felt comfortable and had excellent sound.

None of that matters if the Sonos Ace don’t sound good or feel uncomfortable to wear. Although I only had a few hours of time with them, neither seemed to be the case.

Despite their weight (11 ounces, or 312 grams, 24% heavier than the Sony WH-1000XM5), the headphones are comfortable to wear, with just the right amount of clamping force and memory foam ear cushions that provide ample space around each ear and are soft enough that I didn’t notice any pressure on the arms of my glasses.

Sonos claims that the curvature of the headband was engineered and tested to accommodate the broadest possible range of head sizes, though we’ll have to test this more thoroughly—alongside longer-term comfort—once review units are available.

Fit and finish aside, the Sonos Ace sound superb. The company claims that they’re tuned specifically to highlight vocals and spatial audio and the demos I experienced put both front and center. The midrange reproduction is excellent, whether it was Billie Eilish crooning in “What I Was Made For” or a snippet of a historical podcast. Bass is good but not overwhelming, and it was easy to pick out the individual instruments in every song Sonos provided as well as where it was located. Not exactly the same as sitting front row at a live performance, but there was a sense of verticality that I haven’t experienced on any other pair of headphones to date.

Noise canceling seems quite good, too, though admittedly we were only able to test this in a controlled environment (loud white noise pumped in over Sonos Era 300 speakers). Swapping between ANC and aware mode is instantaneous and doesn’t pause your content, though it does come with a beep to let you know it’s happening.

I normally eschew ambient sound or pass-through modes on noise-canceling headphones because, frankly, they sound awful most of the time, but aware mode on the Ace is largely free of hissing or other distortion. I snapped my fingers while toggling between both modes and the difference was immediately apparent (it was inaudible with noise canceling enabled).

Sonos sound swapping

hands-on with the sonos ace, the first sonos headphones

The Sonos Ace are designed to integrate within the Sonos ecosystem and can connect to the Arc soundbar.

Sonos is leaning hard on the fact that you can link your Ace headphones with your Arc soundbar, and my initial impressions are that it sounds pretty dang good. I was treated to two clips, one from the Barbie movie and another from a David Attenborough nature documentary.

Pressing the content key paired the soundbar with my headphones seamlessly in the Sonos app, where toggles for spatial audio and head tracking then appeared. The difference between stereo and spatial audio was immediate and obvious—toggling between the two felt like opening up the sound stage to the entire room or switching between closed and open-backed headphones.

The head tracking worked exceptionally well, likely in part due to the hardware-level inertial measurement system baked into the Ace. Sonos says that the soundbar should be able to pass audio from any device hooked up to the TV over HDMI including game consoles, so expect immersive gaming in titles that support it. Sonos is using a proprietary connection method to link the Ace with a soundbar and couldn’t give hard numbers on the added latency, but claims it’s below human perception.

Overall the experience left me excited to try out the Ace more thoroughly, though our sound swapping test failed at one point and filled my earcups with nothing but static. It’s unclear if this was a source, audio decryption, or app issue, but hopefully, it was a problem with whatever device Sonos was using to output content from and not from the Ace or Arc themselves.

We’ll test the Sonos Ace and report back in our full review. For now, you can preorder the Sonos Ace on Sonos’s website starting today, with orders expected to ship June 5.

hands-on with the sonos ace, the first sonos headphones

Product image of Sonos Ace Headphones

Sonos Ace Headphones

Sonos' new Ace headphones are the first of its kind that offers top-tier sound quality, new sound swapping features and more.

BUY NOW

at Sonos

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