Sonos Ace review: A high-priced contender

In late May, Sonos announced that it was getting into the headphone game with the $449 Ace. The addition made perfect sense: The company has spent the past 20-plus years establishing itself as a trusted, reliable name in the world of connected home audio. Besides, nearly every other consumer electronic manufacturer has entered the space at some point.

There’s a lot to be said for taking one’s time to get a product right, but waiting for the correct moment risks getting in too late. Over the last several years, the category has transformed into one dominated by Bose into something far more competitive. QuietComfort no longer stands alone, as companies like Sony and Apple have fielded competitive products.

Like those companies, Sonos commands its own intense brand loyalty. For many people locked into the Southern Californian firm’s home ecosystem, there’s plenty of reason to trust that it would successfully translate its speaker expertise into a pair of headphones. Indeed, Sonos is delivering excellent sound with the Ace.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

If there are any Sonos users who have been holding off on buying a new pair of headphones until the firm entered the category, have at it. They deliver pretty much everything you’re looking for in a premium pair of wireless headphones. I’ve got a few gripes, but nothing that’s going to stop me from continue to wear the Sonos Ace.

I strongly suspect, however, that even some of the most devoted Sonos fans have already picked up the Sony WH-1000XM5 or AirPods Max, for instance. The question, then, is whether Sonos can win them back with the Ace. And, more importantly, is there enough here to convince people without any affinity to the brand to take the plunge?

Sonos certainly isn’t looking to compete on price. At $449, they’re as or more expensive as the biggest names in the space, including  Bose QC Ultra ($429), Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399) or Apple AirPods Max ($449). Sonos always presented itself as a premium brand with price tags to match, and there was no reason to expect the Ace would be any different. The company has no interest in the race to the bottom that dominates the other side of the market, but it’s also clearly not interested in price as a selling point.

Looks are subjective, but for my money, Sonos nailed design right out of the gate. I’ve never been a fan of flashy headphones or those supporting excess chrome. The Ace take a minimalist approach to design, with rounded colors and soft curves. We’re fortunately on the other side of attempts to replace every button with a touch surface, and Sonos puts all three of the Ace’s to work.

The overall design is thin and lightweight, slotting comfortable into the included slim carrying case. There’s no auxiliary input for flights. Instead, the headphones are bundled with a USB-C to audio jack cable.

The left ear cup houses a power button that’s large enough to avoid having to fumble for it. There are two buttons on the right cup: The one on the bottom toggles between active noise cancellation and transparency/awareness modes. Above that is a “Content Key”; the oblong silver button manages important playback functions. Tap it to play or pause audio and slide it up or down to adjust the volume. It’s straightforward, easy to remember and has just the right amount of built-in function.

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Image Credits: Brian Heater

Comfort is a bit more of a mixed bag. In terms of fit, the Ace feel great on my head. The band and ear cups are nice and cushy. I wore the headphones on a New York to Austin flight and back last week. Not once did I feel that dull ache that comes with an ill-fitting set of over-ear headphones.

For better or worse (mostly worse), Austin also afforded me the opportunity to test the headphones as the capital city was pre-gaming summer. It’s here that I switch back to earbuds. As nice as the leather padding is, it doesn’t breathe at all, instead turning my ears into a swampy mess. I’m not a big fan of over-ear headphones for working out or even walking around, but if I were, these would rank low on the list.

But sound-wise, the Sonos Ace rank right up there with the competition. Music is rich and full, with great separation. The default EQ is excellent, with no single element overwhelming the rest of the mix. Those who do opt for the Ace over equivalent headphones from Bose, Apple and Sony won’t be disappointed. The same goes for the active noise cancelation, which is a godsend on the plane.

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Image Credits: Brian Heater

Sonos has always been an ecosystem play. Once you’ve bought into one speaker, you’re suddenly hooked. That will ultimately be an important selling point for the Ace, though at press time, the benefits are limited. It currently doesn’t extend beyond the ability to hand off audio between the headphones and the Arc sound bar.

The Ace are a contender in a crowded market, but they’re still in search of that magic bullet to truly let them stand out from the pack. As first as generation products go, however, Sonos delivers on their commitment to great-sounding products.

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