Sonos' first headphones are the most comfortable we've tested, but they're hindered by software bugs - 12 minutes read

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Rumors of a pair of Sonos-branded headphones have been swirling for nearly as long as the company has been a household name. After all, Sonos sells many popular wireless speakers and soundbars, so why not add a pair of headphones to the mix?

Following years of speculation, Sonos' long-awaited headphones have arrived. They're called the Sonos Ace ($449), and they perform great for a pair of flagship Bluetooth headphones. But the keyword there is Bluetooth. Many fans hoped the brand's first headphones would work like its portable Roam and Move speakers, which use Bluetooth on the go but also support WiFi to stream music at home and group with other Sonos audio gear. However, WiFi streaming on the Ace turned out to be wishful thinking.

Don't get us wrong, the Ace still stack up well against the best over-ear headphones from Bose, Sony, and Apple. But they don't do a lot to stand out from the pack. The biggest difference, on paper anyway, is the Ace's ability to pair with a Sonos Arc soundbar for private listening, but we could not get this feature to work with our setup. We also ran into an issue with some faint signal noise with transparency mode engaged.

Still, despite some hiccups, it's no small feat that Sonos' first headphones offer performance that rivals many top competitors. Even with their quirks, the Ace's mix of great sound, fantastic noise-canceling, and an incredibly comfy fit results in a formidable pair of high-end Bluetooth headphones.

The Ace headphones are well-designed and easy to use

The case is stylish and functional.

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Apart from the issues we encountered with the headphones' TV Swap feature (more on that below), the Ace's setup experience is as slick and smooth as you'd expect from a brand of Sonos' pedigree.

Opening the box reveals a fuzzy gray case made from 75% recycled plastic bottles. Unzip it, and you'll find a minimalist pair of matte headphones in black or Soft White wrapped around a bean-shaped pouch. Designed to harbor the Ace's dual USB-C cables for wired playback and charging, the pouch attaches via a strong magnet at the case's center, efficiently utilizing the space. The whole layout feels equally aimed at style and substance.

The headphones themselves borrow aesthetic touches from rivals like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra and Apple AirPods Max but with a Sonos twist, bearing the same elegantly stripped-down design cues found across all Sonos products. From the Ace's sleek rounded ear cups and laser-etched logo to their steel arms and cushy, vegan-leather pads, this is a familiar package that still manages to strike its own chord.

On the right ear cup are dual control buttons, including a multi-function "content key" for playback and volume via a mix of taps and slides. There's also an adjacent key to swap between noise canceling and transparency modes. The two keys are easily distinguishable by touch for error-free control in nearly any setting. On the left cup is the power/pairing key and a USB-C input for charging and wired playback. 

Downloading the Sonos app helps you quickly pair the headphones to your mobile device and add them to your list of Sonos devices where you can monitor status and battery life. Tapping the Settings icon lets you adjust features like bass and treble, head tracking for spatial audio effects, and multi-point audio to pair the headphones to a second device like a laptop or tablet.

The flexible band and fluffy pads give the Ace an edge in comfort

The Ace are incredibly comfortable to wear.

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Comfort is always subjective, but we can say without hesitation that the Ace are the most comfortable noise-canceling headphones we've encountered, beating out favorites like Bose's QuietComfort Ultra and the Sony WH-1000XM5. After a week of wearing the Ace nearly all day, every day, we rarely experienced an inkling of discomfort.

Frankly, we're not sure how Sonos did it. At 313 grams, the Ace are lighter than Apple's AirPods Max, but still outweigh both Bose and Sony's top models by a good 60 grams. You can definitely feel the heft as you swing your head around, but somehow between their ultra-soft pads and taut yet judicious clamping force, they manage to pull off the proverbial headphone trick of nearly disappearing on your head over time.

The fit is also quite stable, staying put even on light hikes and other semi-rigorous activities. Without an IP certification for water resistance, we wouldn't recommend the Ace for sweaty jogs or gym regimens, but they're excellent companions for nearly any other task.

The sound is rich, smooth, and detailed

Audio performance is on par with other top wireless headphones in this price range.

Ryan Waniata/Business Insider

The Ace offer a smooth and mellow sound signature. They have a penchant for digging up lush and vivid instrumental timbres, all spread across a deep and expansive soundstage. The overall performance stacks up well with some of the best-sounding headphones in their class.

The Ace do exhibit a darker tonal color than you'll find in rivals like the spritely Bose QuietComfort Ultra. But this doesn't affect the Ace's talent for exposing fine details. Horns are breathy and full. Strings are smooth and lush. Acoustic guitars ring with a golden sheen. The ability to precisely place all these instruments in the mix may be the Ace's most impressive sonic feature, allowing you to explore each instrument independently or simply sit back and let them wash over you.

There's some sparkle in the treble for pristine clarity in high-flying percussion and loads of definition in instruments like buzzy synths and distorted electric guitars. At the other end, bass is full and punchy without being overwhelming. Unlike many headphones we test, the bass is fairly balanced by default, though we still dropped it down a notch or two in the EQ settings to clear up space in the soundstage. We also turned off the Loudness setting, which tended to make things sound a bit boomy.

On occasion, we wished for a bit more presence and clarity in vocals and dialogue, particularly when listening to podcasts, but we never struggled to hear minute details like vocal fry or room echos, allowing us to notice sounds we'd missed in previous listens. Hardwiring the Ace via a USB-C-to-3.5mm cable offers even better definition, including support for lossless audio at up to 16-bit/48Hz resolution. 

The Ace supports head tracking for stereo content, which keeps the sound anchored when you turn your head to mimic the effect of listening to speakers positioned in a fixed location. This is also supported with Dolby Atmos 3D audio when synced with an Arc soundbar, but we couldn't get that feature to work. However, with stereo content, head tracking works similarly to rivals, effectively simulating a home theater environment.

Noise-canceling and transparency modes are phenomenal, aside from one hiccup

The Sonos Ace (left) next to a pair of Bose QuietComfort Ultra headphones (right).

Ryan Waniata/Business Insider

The Ace's incredible noise canceling is a triumph worth celebrating. This is top-tier cancellation that stacks up with some of the best pairs available, seeming to suck the air out of the world and plant you in an isolation chamber of solace.

We tested the feature indoors with studio speakers playing sound effects as well as outdoors on hikes and dog walks, where it was most impressive. Tapping the button can almost extinguish the world, from city din to chirping birds. Even traffic-laden streets glide into a soft whisper.

In head-to-head tests, only Bose's mighty QuietComfort Ultra outpowered them, reducing sounds like keystrokes and drone effects to an even lower murmur. Even so, the Ace's ability to offer such stark silence without a modicum of added white noise makes them a contender for one of the best noise-canceling headphones you can buy.

The Ace also have an excellent transparency mode that's designed to let in environmental sounds to keep you aware. This mode is vividly clear and natural. It's so good that we were able to wear them virtually all day without skipping a beat, similar to Apple's latest AirPods. Though we weren't able to test the Ace directly against the AirPods Max, based on previous listening, we're confident you won't find a more natural-sounding transparency mode on the market.

However, there is one notable caveat to our praise. With this mode engaged, we occasionally heard mild connection noise in the right earcup. Sonos sent us two models to test and this issue was present on both. It's not enough to be a nuisance in most scenarios (it's audible only when connecting for a call or between songs in a quiet room), but it's still disappointing from headphones this pricey.

That said, it's not uncommon for debut products to arrive with a few bugs, so this could be ironed out with firmware.

The Ace's lack of WiFi streaming is disappointing, and we couldn't get TV Swap to work

The Ace's TV Swap feature is supposed to let you send audio from an Arc soundbar to the headphones.

Ryan Waniata/Business Insider

The Ace have many top features you'd expect from flagship noise-canceling headphones, like multi-point pairing, sensors to pause audio when you take them off, and various other settings from within the Sonos app. Their battery life of up to 30 hours per charge is highly competitive, and we could use them all day for multiple days without the need to charge.

However, the Ace's inability to group with other Sonos speakers to stream music and other audio sources over WiFi is something of a letdown, even if it would have been unique among their peers. It's not particularly surprising at this price — we would have expected another $100 or so added in to get seamless support for both WiFi and Bluetooth — but it does put the Ace in a somewhat siloed position within the Sonos ecosystem.

The consolation prize for the Sonos faithful is the ability to wirelessly switch audio between the Ace headphones and a Sonos Arc soundbar (and eventually the Beam and Ray). This is handled via a TV Swap button in the Sonos app, currently for iOS users only. This means you can hear movies and TV shows privately through the headphones without disturbing others. And this mode supports Dolby Atmos, so you can get a surround sound effect through the headphones. But even with an iPhone and a new Sonos Arc soundbar on hand, no matter how many times we tried, we couldn't get either pair of Ace headphones Sonos sent us to sync with the Arc.

Sonos' support team told us "You've encountered a rare bug that our team is aware of and working to address in a future release." The headphones use a 5GHz connection for this feature (despite their lack of full WiFi support), so it's possible our network played a part. But the fact that we could easily group the Arc with a Sonos Era 100 and Era 300 speaker for multi-room playback made the issue all the more curious (and frustrating).

We expect a firmware update to address this — this is Sonos, after all — and we'll update this review with any changes as we continue to test.

Should you buy the Sonos Ace?

There are some kinks to work out, but the Sonos Ace are impressive wireless headphones.

Ryan Waniata/Business Insider

The Sonos Ace's many talents, from their fabulous noise canceling and transparency modes to their comfortable fit and sweet sound, instantly put them in the conversation with other top wireless headphones on the market. From that perspective, they're worth considering for those with an ample budget.

That said, their lack of full WiFi compatibility with the Sonos ecosystem may disappoint some ardent Sonos fans, not to mention the troubles we encountered, like their mild connection buzz and refusal to sync with the Arc soundbar over our network. 

We still recommend putting the Sonos Ace on your shortlist — they're just too damn comfortable and well-armed not to be — but we'll wait until Sonos addresses the issues we encountered before giving them our full seal of approval.

Ryan Waniata

Freelance Writer

Ryan is a professional writer, editor, video host, and product reviewer. Since transitioning from audio engineering in Nashville in 2012, his portfolio has spanned the gamut, from entertainment op-eds and trends pieces to gadget how-tos and reviews on TVs, audio gear, smart home devices, and more. The author of hundreds of articles, his work can be seen on Business Insider, Reviewed, How to Geek, Digital Trends, and others.
While writing and editing are his primary gigs, he's also a seasoned video host and podcaster, having shot and written dozens of videos. In 2016 he created the entertainment podcast, Between the Streams, which ran for 150 episodes. Since becoming a product reviewer, he's been on a constant quest to find the perfect product (which he has yet to do). He feels a deep responsibility to find readers and viewers of his work the absolute best tech for their money, whatever the budget.
When he's not writing, editing, or evaluating the latest gadget, Ryan can be found singing and playing guitar or adventuring in the lush green forests and sandy beaches of the Pacific Northwest.

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