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Home / Reviews / Audio / Headphones / Sonos Ace review: brilliant sound and design – but they just miss the target

Sonos Ace review: brilliant sound and design – but they just miss the target

Sonos' long-awaited headphones are here. And despite their superb quality, numerous questions remain.

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Stuff Verdict

A brilliant pair of noise-cancelling headphones with well-thought-out design. But they’re costly – and the way they don’t integrate with the app properly is bizarre.

Pros

  • Excellent, sound quality and detail
  • Epic noise cancellation
  • Beautifully designed
  • Quality controls

Cons

  • No TrueCinema at launch
  • Awkward app integration
  • Rivals are well-embedded
  • TV Audio Swap doesn’t yet work for all soundbars

Introduction

Sonos was rumoured to be developing a pair of headphones for years. And when I say years I mean many, many years. Its acquisition of the remnants of Scottish headphone brand RHA a few years back (and the subsequent renaming to ‘Sonos Scotland’) only added to the intrigue.

The $449/£449 Sonos Ace is the long-gestated fruit of that labour. Officially Sonos says they have been in development for three years, codenamed Duke. Yet despite patent leaks and some rather basic info, it wasn’t until recently that they properly leaked. And that’s quite remarkable given the effort involved.

How we test headphones

Every pair of earphones and headphones reviewed on Stuff is used for a minimum of a week’s worth of daily listening. We use a playlist of test tracks made up of multiple genres to assess sound, and use our years of experience to compare to other models. Manufacturers have no visibility on reviews before they appear online, and we never accept payment to feature products.

Find out more about how we test and rate products.

Design and comfort: a masterclass

Sonos Ace comes in the company’s trademark black and white variants, though the white isn’t a pure white like the speakers; instead it’s an off-white. And that only adds to the comparison with the similar colour of Sony’s WH-1000XM5s. Given they’re our number one headphones of the last couple of years, they’re a natural comparison with Sonos Ace.

Sonos has clearly worked hard on the design. Everything is soft-touch. The branding is subtle. Hinges are hidden away in the earcups. The headband uses different types of memory foam across its length. A subtle green colour in the right headphone lets you know which way around they should go (though I always prefer a big L and R). You can feel the no-doubt thousands of iterations this went through.

The colour-coded soft case is compact and surprisingly rigid, though it’s not that easy to unzip. The choice to go for a magnetised pouch for cables is design over substance; it’s actually not that easy to get the cables – USB-C to 3.5mm and USB-C to USB-C – aren’t that easy to stuff into it or get out.  

The headphones are mega comfortable. You don’t really get fatigued from wearing them – what you actually get fatigued from is being in a secluded sound bubble. And that’s no different to any other high-end noise cancellers. Everything is smooth to the touch – there is a lot of quality in the fit and finish for sure. They can’t really be faulted.

Sound quality: up there with the best

The headphones are, for the most part, standard Bluetooth 5.4 active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones that use custom 40mm drivers. They supports Dolby Atmos spatial audio when you’re listening to compatible music. Head tracking is supported, but you can toggle this on in the app should you want it. I don’t get on that well with head tracking personally, so after a short test I turned this back off. You can also customise the EQ in the app should you wish.

Sound quality is excellent – right up there with the very best around. The clarity is barely believable at times – I was listening in a noisy environment to Lana Del Rey’s Normal Rockwell and, well, it was like I was in a listening booth rather than walking down the street. Classical music absolutely soars. I can imagine some with bassier tendencies may be a little disappointed, but you can change this in the EQ settings.

Sonos Ace does support lossless audio if you are using them wirelessly with a Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound-compatible device using aptX Lossless. However, those devices remain thin on the ground. If you have a digital audio player, you can cable them up via to Sonos Ace via USB-C to get lossless too.

The noise cancellation is excellent and I feel it’s up there with the best-in-class. I did have a few crackles when I first engaged noise cancelling, but a software update soon appeared and this didn’t reoccur. They were absolutely brilliant on a train where there was a lot of background noise from passengers as well as the train itself.

One technology that the Sonos Ace will support later this year is TrueCinema. It’s essentially, TruePlay for headphones. It optimises sound for your living space for a “hyperrealistic listening experience” says Sonos. We’ll have to see how that works when it appears but it would have been a boon to have it at launch.

Controls and other smarts: plentiful extras

Up to 30 hours of battery life is on board while there’s a three-hour life available after a three-minute quick charge. The battery life is not that exceptional, then, but is more than plentiful. Certainly I’ve had no issues here so far.

So many headphones have complicated controls. So it’s great to be able to note that Sonos has excelled here, despite changing things up a little. A single button on the left ear cup is for power and for Bluetooth pairing – there’s no holding down to power off then wondering if they’ve gone off. Two devices are supported and you can enable this via a toggle in the app.

The audio cues for this work well and it’s clear when they’re on and when they’re off. You can also switch between transparency, ANC and Aware Mode easily using a nice tactile button on the right ear cup. There are audio cues, but it’s not so obvious which mode is which unless you have noise in the background. You can also hold this button down for voice control which could get a little confusing but as I was told, this isn’t enabled at launch.

The other main control is on the right and it’s called the Content Key. This is a complete multifunction control that enables you to handle phone calls as well as control audio and slide to change the volume. Removing the headphones also pauses audio (controlled in the app) while you can also choose to answer a phone call by putting the headphones on. Unlike many early versions of this tech when it didn’t always work that well, here the pause/resume when you remove them is really on point.

TV Audio Swap is what really sets the Sonos Ace apart from other noise-cancelling headphones. It enables you to to switch audio from your soundbar to the headphones with a single press of the Content Key. This only works wih Sonos Arc initially and unfortunately I didn’t have access to a Sonos Arc for the purposes of this review. It also doesn’t work with Android at the moment.

However, Sonos was clear to me that support would come to all current-generation soundbars over the coming months, even the base-level Ray. Sonos confirmed to Stuff that this feature works using Wi-Fi, although Sonos is clear in its materials not to state that the headphones use Wi-Fi. Presumably, this is to avoid confusion that Sonos Ace can connect to other Sonos products like speakers and fully integrate with a Sonos system – because it can’t. That is a bit of a shame though – if Sonos Ace can take over audio from a soundbar, why not another Sonos speaker?

Sonos Ace and the Sonos app: a confusing tale

Sonos’ recent app woes have been well documented. It’s not a particularly happy story with may even loyal customers feeling aggrieved that a functioning app has been broken with the vague promise that things will be better in the long term. I’ve had a lot of problems with it – vague error messages and my entire system seemingly forgotten about being just a couple. These problems will pass though and setting up the Ace was fairly trouble-free. But there is a problem.

Sonos app

You need to set up Sonos Ace with the app. You need to fine-tune Sonos Ace with the app. But when you’re listening to music though, say, Apple Music, the app completely ignores the headphones. They do appear in settings as a separate entity from the rest of your system. It doesn’t even appear in your devices menu. It’s not treated like another Sonos device – you can’t play to Sonos Ace from the app and you can’t see what’s playing. That feels… rather odd to say the least.

Why can’t it just show what’s playing anyway, even if you can’t use it as another device in the app?

Sonos app 2

Sonos Ace verdict

The app issue is a big one – because you might as well just be using any pair of high-end headphones. TV Audio Swap aside, Sonos hasn’t provided a compelling reason for buying the Ace even if you have a Sonos system. And we feel that’s a massive miss.

Of course, the reasons to buy are still plentiful. The design is lovely. The sound quality is absolutely superb. And the noise cancelling is right up there, too. Indeed, they can be so absorbing that you feel like you need to rejoin the real world after. The elephants in the room are also-excellent rival choices from Sony, Sennheiser, Bowers & Wilkins and more – all available for significantly less under $300/£300. You just need to decide if the Sonos name is enough to persuade you to part with significantly more cash.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

A brilliant pair of noise-cancelling headphones with well-thought-out design. But they’re costly – and the way they don’t integrate with the app properly is bizarre.

Pros

Excellent, sound quality and detail

Epic noise cancellation

Beautifully designed

Quality controls

Cons

No TrueCinema at launch

Awkward app integration

Rivals are well-embedded

TV Audio Swap doesn’t yet work for all soundbars

Sonos Ace tech specs

Audio40mm custom drivers, Dolby Spatial Audio with head-tracking, aptX for lossless
Microphones8 beamforming mics
WirelessBluetooth 5.4
Battery1060mAh, 30 hours with 3 min for 3 hours fast charge, USB-C
Dimensions7.52 x 6.3 x 3.35 inches /191 x 160 x 85 mm
Weight11oz / 312g
Profile image of Dan Grabham Dan Grabham Editor-in-Chief

About

Dan is Editor-in-chief of Stuff, working across the magazine and the Stuff.tv website.  Our Editor-in-Chief is a regular at tech shows such as CES in Las Vegas, IFA in Berlin and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona as well as at other launches and events. He has been a CES Innovation Awards judge. Dan is completely platform agnostic and very at home using and writing about Windows, macOS, Android and iOS/iPadOS plus lots and lots of gadgets including audio and smart home gear, laptops and smartphones. He's also been interviewed and quoted in a wide variety of places including The Sun, BBC World Service, BBC News Online, BBC Radio 5Live, BBC Radio 4, Sky News Radio and BBC Local Radio.

Areas of expertise

Computing, mobile, audio, smart home

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