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In (mostly) eschewing its app, Sonos did the Ace headphones a favor

Sonos Ace in soft white.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The idea of Sonos headphones has been around for years. Back into the previous decade, even. And while we await the first Sonos Ace review to arrive, it’s worth pondering a few things.

No, not why Sonos is making headphones. That comes down to basic business strategies, and it’s something that CEO Patrick Spence has been plenty clear about in the months leading up to the Sonos Ace announcement. You make things to make money, and Sonos expects the Ace to “drive immediate revenue.” (In other words, Sonos expects people will definitely buy them.)

Here’s what he had to say in November 2023, in his first public statements about what would unsurprisingly turn out to be the Sonos Ace.

“While current market conditions remain challenging,” Spence said in Sonos’ fourth-quarter 2023 earnings call, “this is the beginning of a multiyear product cycle where we expect to reap the rewards of our R&D investments. This cycle begins with our entry into a new multibillion-dollar category in the second half of the year that will complement our current offering, delight customers, and drive immediate revenue.”

So the why is the simple part. The how is what really had me thinking all these months.

Sonos Ace beside Apple iPad running the Sonos app.
You can use the Sonos Ace headphones with the Sonos app — but you don’t have to. And that’s a good thing for now. Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos products are distinct in that they have always leveraged Wi-Fi in ways that few (if any) companies did in that space before. They aggregated multiple music services in a single app and made pairing speakers in multiple rooms as easy as it could be. Yes, other platforms — like (ahem) Google, and of course Apple — have joined in. But the Sonos experience still feels different from those other platforms.

So how, exactly, would the Sonos Ace headphones fit the Sonos paradigm? It turns out they mostly don’t. At least not at first. At launch the most Sonos thing about the Ace is that they’ll pair with the Sonos Arc soundbar for some “TV audio swapping,” which is great if you have an Arc but want to use your Ace headphones to listen to whatever’s on TV. But headphones can’t be at their best only when they’re tied to another not-inexpensive product. (The Sonos Arc costs $900.) Headphones — even high-end headphones — are meant to be simple. They should work with any device, and they shouldn’t require an app to do so (apart from a music streaming service app, of course). In a lot of ways they’re meant to be relatively dumb accessories.

And given the state of the Sonos app in mid-2024, that’s maybe the best thing about the Sonos Ace, at least in these early days. The Sonos app just got a major rebuild that appears to need some major rebuilding already. That’s not great. And if the Sonos Ace were required to use the Sonos app to merely work as a way to get sound into your ears, that’d be as close to a death sentence as the headphones could get.

Fortunately, that’s not the case. As it stands today it’s very much like any other set of headphones in that they’ll work just fine on their own, but you’ll need the app to do things like tweak EQ and set up spatial audio and head tracking. (And presumably firmware updates.)

But the really important stuff — music and audio playback — so far can be left in control of the music apps that do it best. Sonos did the right thing in worrying about the hardware and not trying to do too much with the Ace right out of the gate and having full Sonos-like integration with the app.

And we probably should be thankful for that.

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