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Sonos Ace review: These headphones are almost as awesome as we’d hoped

Sonos Ace logo earcup close-up.
Sonos Ace
MSRP $449.00
“Incredible comfort, simplicity, and sound make us wish the Sonos Ace were fully integrated into the Sonos ecosystem.”
Pros
  • Excellent design and comfort
  • Intuitive tactile controls
  • Very good sound quality
  • Top-notch ANC and transparency
  • Fun Sonos soundbar integration
Cons
  • Lacks full Sonos system integration
  • No Wi-Fi streaming
  • TV Audio Swap needs improvement
Sonos Ace logo earcup close-up.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The Sonos Ace are a stunning achievement. And something of a disappointment.

As the company’s first set of wireless headphones, the $449 Sonos Ace hit almost every note you could ask for. They’re sleek. They’re comfortable. They sport very effective noise cancellation. They’re compatible with both wired and wireless lossless audio connections. They offer a spatial audio experience that, in some respects, is unique. Plus they boast a battery life that surpasses two of the biggest players in this space: Apple and Bose.

And if the Ace were made by almost any other company, I’d be unreserved in my admiration for these noise-canceling headphones.

But they’re not just wireless headphones made by any other company. They’re made by Sonos, which makes the most popular ecosystem of wireless speakers on the planet. That brings with it an additional set of expectations. Expectations that didn’t quite materialize.

Wishing for Wi-Fi?

Sonos Ace next to an iPhone 14 showing the Sonos app.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Let me address one very important aspect of the Ace before I dig into the overall experience of using them.

Despite bearing the Sonos brand, these are not Wi-Fi headphones (as many had hoped they would be). They’re Bluetooth headphones, and with the exception of one special feature (which I’ll get to in a moment) they work just like any other wireless headphones you can buy. Once the Ace are paired to your phone, simply open up any audio app and hit play.

A lack of  Wi-Fi means the Ace do not behave like Sonos’ other products. You can use the Sonos app to adjust certain Ace-specific settings — like EQ, ANC, and spatial audio — and for this kind of thing the app works well enough. But you can’t stream audio to the Ace from music sources you’ve added to the Sonos app. You can’t group them with other speakers or enable things like alarms or timers. And any hopes you had of being able to wander freely around your home or office, listening wirelessly through your Wi-Fi network (instead of being tethered via Bluetooth to your phone or computer), remain just hopes. At least for now.

This was an intentional decision on the part of the company, but I think it’s a missed opportunity. Sonos’ portable speakers (the Move, Move 2, Roam, and the new Roam 2) are designed to move seamlessly from Wi-Fi to Bluetooth and back again, and I think the Ace should be able to do so, too.

Moreover, I think the Sonos app should work the same way whether you’re at home or not. Why spend time setting up favorites, playlists, and other customizations if you have to give them up when you’re out of Wi-Fi range?

Ironically, this lack of full Sonos integration might just be the one thing that keeps Ace buyers from ripping the headphones from their heads in frustration: The newly redesigned Sonos app remains a chaotic mess of unsupported features and terrible performance, despite a stream of updates aimed at fixing it.

But ultimately this raises a very important question: If the Ace don’t play nicely with the rest of Sonos’ products, why buy them instead of one of the many superb alternatives?

TV Audio Swap for Sonos soundbars

Sonos Ace with a Sonos Arc.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos’ answer to that question is the Ace’s one unique feature. If you own a Sonos Arc soundbar, you can set up TV Audio Swap, which lets you pipe full Dolby Atmos spatial audio from the Arc to the Ace. Eventually, TV Audio Swap will work with Sonos’ other current soundbars, too. Curiously, Audio Swap uses Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth, which suggests there may be the possibility of greater Sonos integration at some point.

A long-press on the Ace’s multifunction button and any TV audio that was playing on the Arc shifts seamlessly to the headphones. As the name suggests, TV Audio Swap doesn’t let the two devices play simultaneously — it’s one or the other — so you won’t be able to use it to help one member of the family while everyone else listens to the soundbar.

Sonos Ace
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Audio Swap’s big selling point is its ability to deliver a spatial audio listening experience that (when listening to Dolby Atmos content with head tracking turned on), replicates what it’s like to sit in a room with a full 7.1.4 sound system. Even when the content isn’t Dolby Atmos, the spatial audio setting will do its best to “upmix” stereo or 5.1 sound into a 3D-like presentation.

It’s very convincing and makes for a far more engaging movie and TV experience than you’d get with a standard set of wireless headphones.

It’s also not quite as realistic or cinematic as Apple’s version of TV Audio Swap, which lets you send head-tracked spatial audio to a set of Apple AirPods Max or AirPods Pro when connected to an Apple TV 4K. This may improve when Sonos releases its TrueCinema feature later this year, which attempts to mimic your room’s real-world acoustics.

Still, Sonos’ version is more versatile than Apple’s as it works with any TV audio coming through the Arc soundbar, and not just audio that originates from the Apple TV 4K. And if you don’t like how spatial audio (and/or head tracking) sound, you can disable them and listen in standard, two-channel stereo instead.

For all of Sonos’ fanfare around the feature, Audio Swap feels like it still needs some polish. Volume levels aren’t always preserved — if the Arc is set to 75% when you swap to the Ace, it will retreat back to 15% when you swap back, even if you tell the system you want it louder. Sometimes it worked, mostly it didn’t.

I couldn’t get the Ace to get loud enough. Levels 1-45 were almost inaudible, while levels 46-99 sounded more like what I would have expected from 1-45.

Sometimes, swapping from the Arc to the Ace resulted in a crackling, staticky audio on the headphones. Attempting the swap again usually fixed it. And sometimes, the Ace’s audio would fall out of sync, by as much as a second. When this happened, only restarting the show or movie proved to be a reliable solution.

I’m also peeved that Sonos has chosen to restrict Audio Swap to HDMI content. You read that right: If you’re streaming music from the Sonos app or AirPlay to the Arc, Audio Swap is unavailable.

As fun as Audio Swap is (when it works), you not only need a Sonos Arc to take advantage of it, you also need a reason to use it. For me, there are hardly any times when I’m watching our main TV (the one with the Arc) and I don’t want to be listening out loud.

Inspired design

Sonos Ace full view.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Normally when we say “that’s an inspired design,” we mean that the design is inspirational, and while that could be said of the Sonos Ace, I mean it literally: You can clearly see where Sonos took inspiration specifically from Apple’s AirPods Max and Sony’s WH-1000XM5. It’s as if Sonos grabbed these two products and created a hybrid of both, then infused it with its own DNA.

That sounds like it could go sideways really fast, but Sonos’ designers have an unerring sense of simplicity. And the Ace are, in my humble opinion, gorgeous. In some ways, the Sonos Ace are more Apple than Apple and more Sony than Sony.

Sonos Ace headband slider close-up.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

The matte-finish plastic (in your choice of black or soft-white) resists fingerprints better than Sony’s, and the color-matched, tubular stainless steel headband sliders combine reassuring strength with high-end looks. The magnetically attached ear cushions (which Apple also uses) is a nice touch.

Some have complained that the XM5 don’t make their owners feel like they just spent $400. The Ace manage the opposite feat (and even more considering they cost an additional $50), with materials and build quality that go well beyond what we’ve become accustomed to.

These extra ingredients come with additional weight, but Sonos seems to have made some very intentional choices: The Ace weigh 11.18 ounces. That’s not quite as featherweight as the XM5 (8.82 ounces), but it’s still about 17% lighter than the AirPods Max (13.6 ounces).

The fold-flat design, while not loved by all, makes the Ace very travel friendly whether you use the provided hard-shell case, or you simply slip it beside your laptop. That’s mostly thanks to the ultra-low-profile earcups. They don’t just look good on your head — combined with the Ace’s 1-inch-wide headband, they create a thinner package than either the XM5 or AirPods Max.

Great comfort

Simon Cohen wearing the Sonos Ace (front view).
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Balancing clamping force so that a set of headphones exert just enough pressure to stay put, yet not so much that they cause discomfort (plus engineering a headband that simultaneously provides grip and cushioning), is something that even the most experienced headphone brands occasionally get wrong.

While not quite as comfy for me as the Sony XM5, I wore the Sonos Ace for hours at a stretch, and they remained pressure-free, even while wearing glasses. The ear cushions provide an excellent acoustic seal and yet never make my ears feel too hot. Or at least, they don’t get hot during normal use — exertion like running or working out will definitely push the limits of comfort. Side note: Sonos says the Ace will survive such activities, but they do not carry an official IPX rating for water or sweat resistance.

Smart, simple controls

Sonos Ace earcup controls close-up.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos has almost entirely shifted to touch controls on its speakers, including a new gesture-based volume slider on the Move 2, Era 300, and Era 100. But one of the hallmarks of good design is knowing when to keep an existing approach for the sake of consistency, and when to change course for the sake of usability.

For the Ace’s controls, Sonos went with three physical buttons. The right earcup has a button for switching between active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency modes (and triggering voice assistants), and a clever multifunction button/slider for playback, volume, and call management.

The only other control is a small button for power and Bluetooth pairing that sits on the bottom edge of the left earcup. Each control can be used while wearing gloves.

Sonos Ace ear cushions.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Supplementing these controls is a pair of wear sensors in each earcup that can be used for auto-pause and auto-resume of music when you take the Ace off your head or replace them.

The multifunction control works seamlessly. Press once for play/pause, twice to skip forward, and three times to go back. Sliding it up or down once (it’s spring-loaded) bumps volume up or down one increment, while holding it in one of these positions provides a continuous change. The gestures produce subtle feedback tones to let you know everything is going as expected.

Better yet: The multifunction button has an entirely different tactile feel from the ANC button. My thumb never failed to find the right control at the right time.

The ANC button is slightly less effective. To avoid loud clicking sounds inside the earcups, Sonos has used a soft-touch mechanism. It’s perfectly silent. But sometimes — even though I thought I had pressed it deeply enough to trigger the mode change — I needed to press it again a little harder.

When the presses are recognized, the shift from ANC to transparency happens very quickly.

If there’s one thing I would change, it would be to add a control for turning head tracking on and off without using the Sonos app.

ANC and transparency

Sonos Ace lying flat.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos says it developed a proprietary solution for the Ace’s noise management system, and it shows.

Though it can be hard to nail down precise numbers without calibrated measurement gear, my time comparing the Ace to its rivals has convinced me that Sonos has once again threaded the needle between Apple, Sony, and in this case, Bose too.

The Ace are more effective at masking external sounds than the AirPods Max, and at times, they even seemed to surpass Sony’s XM5 — an astonishing accomplishment. Only Bose’s class-leading QuietComfort Ultra Headphones outflanked the Ace in the silence department, and even then it was a close call.

I recently returned from a trip to Scandinavia, and the Ace proved to be superb travel companions, killing almost all unwanted cabin noise inside the aircraft. Even the loud crying of a baby seated two rows behind me was reduced to the point where it was a mild background sound that could be ignored if I wanted to.

The one area where the Ace trails the competition is wind noise. Even a very light breeze could be heard despite the ANC system’s best efforts to squash it.

Transparency also was excellent, though in this category there is Apple and then there’s everyone else.

Which is to say the Ace provide very clear reproduction of your surroundings. From that point of view, it really doesn’t feel like you’re wearing headphones. The only telltale sign is when listening to your own voice, which doesn’t sound quite as natural as the AirPods Max. But we’re really talking about small differences. Unless you repeatedly put on the Ace and then the Max, you probably wouldn’t notice.

That Sonos sound

Sonos Ace with one ear cushion removed.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos speakers sound great — it’s one of the chief reasons the company has become so popular. The Ace follow suit, with a sound signature that is very pleasing and balanced, right out of the box. I think they’re also the first Sonos product that hasn’t inspired me to immediately reach for the EQ adjustment to increase bass.

There’s very good clarity across the frequencies, and plenty of detail in the midranges, where it counts. Bass is warm-toned and carefully controlled, providing a strong, grounding presence without stomping on the mids or muddying the highs. The Ace aced my usual torture test of playing Billie Eilish’s bad guy at 75% to 80% volume, letting Eilish’s whispery vocals make their way to my ears without being trampled by the song’s insistent and powerful bass notes.

Audiophiles may feel underserved by the Ace’s limited EQ options — they get the same bass/treble sliders in the Sonos app as all of Sonos’ other products — but for most folks, that’s plenty of control to achieve the specific sound they’re after. Pushing the bass slider to its maximum, for instance, provided more low-end boost than I’d ever want or need.

What you don’t get is an especially wide or detailed soundstage for stereo listening. Some headphones (especially open-back models) can create a sense of openness, reproducing the sensation of listening to stereo speakers in a room. The Ace tend to keep things closer to your head. It’s not a bad thing, just something to be aware of if you have strong preferences in this area.

Sonos Ace connected to an Android phone via USB-C.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos has equipped the Ace with the usual SBC and AAC codecs, which work with vast majority of Bluetooth devices, but it has also included Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound technologies, for use with compatible Android smartphones. Among the enhancements is support for lossless, CD-quality sound via aptX Adaptive. With wireless earbuds, I can usually hear the subtleties that Qualcomm’s codecs reveal, but with the Ace, they were less apparent.

What I did notice, however, was an improvement in detail and compression when I connected the Ace using its two wired options: USB-C and 3.5mm analog. USB-C is the perfect option for Android phones (and iPhones 15 and newer) when you want to get the best possible sound quality, although the supplied cable is far too short to make this comfortable. Fans of dedicated headphone amps and DACs may prefer the analog connection, despite the fact that the Ace re-digitizes that analog signal before finally converting once more to digital.

The Ace compare very favorably to other wireless headphones at this price. While not as punchy or vibrant as Sony’s WH-1000XM5 or as clear through the mids as the AirPods Max or Sennheiser Momentum 4 Wireless, the Ace are a great listen, whether for music or video content.

Spatial audio and head tracking

Sonos Ace side view.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos’ approach to spatial audio on the Ace is unusual and requires a bit of an explanation.

Earlier, I told you about how you can get a spatial audio experience when using the Ace with the Sonos Arc and TV Audio Swap. Sonos considers this a discrete feature because the computational heavy lifting required to take a true 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundtrack and render it for headphone listening is done by the soundbar, not the Ace.

It’s why, in the Ace’s settings inside the Sonos app, you’ll see Spatial Audio and Head Tracking as separate options under a TV Audio Swap heading (if you have a Sonos Arc).

Just above that section, under Sound, is a second Head Tracking option. This one is purely for Bluetooth audio. The key difference between them is that Sound Head Tracking won’t add any additional spatial audio processing. If you’re listening to stereo, it’s still stereo. If you’re listening to Dolby Atmos, via Apple Music or Amazon Music as examples, it’s still Dolby Atmos. The only thing that changes when you enable Head Tracking is your relationship to the sound as your head moves.

When enabled, the main components of your audio (vocals, lead instruments, etc.) stay fixed in space directly in front of you, giving you that listening-in-front-of-a-stage feeling. When disabled, your music moves with you, as it would on any regular set of headphones.

Sonos says this head-tracking option has been optimized to work best with Dolby Atmos content, which makes sense given that Dolby Labs helped with the technology. It’s hard to argue: If you like Dolby Atmos Music, the Ace’s head tracking makes the immersive listening format sound even more lifelike. But I was equally impressed by just how good Dolby Atmos Music sounds on the Ace, even when head tracking isn’t in use.

Call quality

Simon Cohen wearing the Sonos Ace (rear view).
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

I really like making calls on the Sonos Ace indoors. Voice pickup is excellent. And if you switch to transparency mode, you’ll get the same benefit as I described earlier: hearing yourself clearly, which is the key to reducing fatigue when using earbuds or headphones for calling.

Even in the busy hubbub of a crowded coffee shop, your callers will be blissfully unaware of your surroundings.

Outdoor settings can prove more challenging. Traffic noises tend to be a lot louder than any sounds you get inside. The Ace almost entirely eliminates them, but doing so can take a toll on voice pickup. At times, your voice may simply disappear as the algorithms fight to suppress unwanted sounds while keeping your voice audible.

Battery life

Sonos Ace inside travel case.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

Sonos states the Ace get 30 hours of playtime with ANC engaged, and considerably more when it’s off. So far, that seems to be accurate. My only hesitation is that Sonos has historically had trouble with battery life not quite living up to expectations. The Sonos Roam, for instance, initially tested well, hitting close to its 10-hour rating. However, over the following months, many users reported dramatically lower battery life.

Still, even if the Ace end up lasting less than the advertised 30 hours, it won’t be a total deal-breaker. The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones top out at 24 hours and Apple’s AirPods Max only get 20 hours of life. I suspect for most people, that’s enough.

The verdict

For a company that has never produced a wearable product in its entire 22-year history, the Sonos Ace headphones are a remarkable achievement. In one fell swoop, Sonos has created a product that easily goes toe-to-toe with best wireless cans you can buy, and in some cases exceeds what they can do.

The Ace don’t push the envelope on sound quality — I suspect some very critical listeners will still prefer Sony’s WH-1000XM5, Bose’s QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, or Sennheiser’s Momentum 4 Wireless. And yet, by any measure, they sound great. If you’ve resisted spending this kind of money on a set of wireless cans until now, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Sonos Ace with a Sonos Play:1.
Simon Cohen / Digital Trends

With noise-canceling and transparency modes that are unqualified successes, and tons of wireless and wired connection options, the Ace feel like they’re future-proofed for years of enjoyment. And their exclusive TV Audio Swap feature, while still a bit clunky and in need of refinement, will no doubt win many fans within the Sonos community over time, especially as Sonos adds its non-Arc soundbars to the private-listening party.

Where the Ace truly shine, however, is their comfort and simplicity. At the end of the day, they’re simply one of best-designed sets of wireless headphones on the market. Software can be incrementally improved over time. How a set of headphones fit and feel is much harder to change.

None of this changes the fact that the Sonos Ace fall short of their full potential. They don’t take advantage of their built-in Wi-Fi connection to create the kind of seamless experience Sonos fans were hoping for. And while that’s a blessing in disguise at the moment given the current sorry state of the Sonos app, it prevents Sonos owners from seeing the Ace as a must-have complement to their existing home audio system.

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Simon Cohen
Simon Cohen covers a variety of consumer technologies, but has a special interest in audio and video products, like spatial…
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