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Tech

Sonos Ace review: a high-priced competitor

In late May, Sonos announced that it was getting into the headphone game with the $449 Ace. This addition made perfect sense: the company has spent more than 20 years establishing itself as a trusted and reliable name in the world of connected home audio. Additionally, almost every other consumer electronics manufacturer has entered this industry at some point.

There’s a lot to be said for taking your time to get a product right, but waiting for the right moment may be too late. Over the past few years, the category has transformed from one dominated by Bose to something much more competitive. QuietComfort is no longer alone, as companies like Sony and Apple have come up with competitive products.

Like these companies, Sonos enjoys great brand loyalty. For many people locked into the Southern California company’s home ecosystem, there’s plenty of reason to believe it will successfully translate its speaker expertise into a pair of headphones. Indeed, Sonos delivers excellent sound with the Ace.

Image credits: Brian Heating

If there are any Sonos users who have been hesitant to buy a new pair of headphones until the company entered the category, go for it. They offer just about everything you’re looking for in a premium pair of wireless earbuds. I have a few complaints, but nothing that will stop me from continuing to wear the Sonos Ace.

I strongly suspect, however, that even some of the most dedicated Sonos fans have already purchased the Sony WH-1000XM5 or AirPods Max, for example. So the question is whether Sonos can win them back with the Ace. And above all, is there anything here to convince people with no affinity for the brand to take the plunge?

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

Looks are subjective, but for my money, Sonos got the design right from the start. I’ve never been a fan of flashy headphones or those with too much chrome. The Ace takes a minimalist approach to design, with rounded colors and soft curves. We’re thankfully on the other side of attempts to replace every button with a touch-sensitive surface, and Sonos is putting all three Aces to work.

The overall design is thin and lightweight, fitting comfortably into the included slim carrying case. There is no auxiliary input for flights. Instead, the headphones come with a USB-C to audio jack cable.

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

Image credits: Brian Heating

Comfort is a little more mixed. In terms of fit, the Ace feels great on my head. The headband and ear cups are nice and soft. I wore the headphones on a roundtrip flight from New York to Austin last week. Not once did I feel that dull pain that comes with poorly fitting over-ear headphones.

For better or worse (mostly for worse), Austin also gave me the opportunity to test the headphones while the capital was in summer before the games. This is where I switch back to headphones. As nice as the leather padding is, it doesn’t breathe at all, turning my ears into a real swampy mess. I’m not a huge 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 ranks first among the competition. The music is rich and full, with great separation. The default EQ is excellent, with no element overwhelming the rest of the mix. Those who opt for the Ace over equivalent headphones from Bose, Apple and Sony won’t be disappointed. The same goes for active noise cancellation, which is a godsend on the plane.

Image credits: Brian Heating

Sonos has always been an ecosystem play. Once you buy a speaker, you’re suddenly hooked. This will ultimately be a big selling point for the Ace, although at press time the benefits are limited. Currently, this doesn’t go beyond the ability to transfer audio between the headphones and the Arc soundbar.

The Ace is a contender in a crowded market, but they’re still looking for that silver bullet to really stand out from the pack. However, from the first generation of products, Sonos has respected its commitment to great-sounding products.

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