I tried Sonos Ace headphones, and they might convert me to loving over-ears

Sonos’ first headphone fit really is ace

Sonos Ace headphones laying on their case
(Image: © Future)

Early Verdict

From our time with the so far, the Sonos Ace are premium-feeling headphones with glorious sound quality – and their trick of switching instantly to work with the Sonos Arc instead of Bluetooth is very nice… if you have that soundbar. The lack of support for the Sonos ecosystem otherwise feels like unrealized potential, but they're hard to fault for the overall feature list.

Pros

  • +

    Plush, high-end design

  • +

    Dolby Atmos spatial audio from phones or TVs

  • +

    Hi-res wired and wireless support

Cons

  • -

    Maybe not as comfortable with glasses

  • -

    Noise cancellation weaker than Bose

  • -

    Using with Sonos Arc reduces battery life

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The Sonos Ace are finally here. The leaks were true, and Sonos' first headphones were finally, officially unveiled to the world. But they’ve been launched into a saturated market filled with the best headphones, made by some of the biggest names in audio – brands that have now secured themselves loyal fanbases. And at their very core, a pair of headphones is just a pair of headphones, so what does Sonos Ace bring to the table that should convince you to switch allegiances – or to invest in a pair of over-ear headphones for the very first time?

The Sonos Ace's feature-list is long: angled 40mm drivers, active noise cancellation with a transparency mode, multi-point pairing, Snapdragon Sound hi-res Bluetooth with aptX Adaptive, USB-C lossless wired audio, 3.5mm wired connectivity, Dolby Atmos spatial audio support with head tracking, the ability to play 3D audio from a Sonos Arc soundbar (with support for more Sonos soundbars to come in an update) – lots to tempt you.

In my opinion, a pair of the best over-ear headphones will lose me or secure me with their fit. Let me tell you up front that I really don’t wear over-ear headphones… until now that is. The Sonos Ace are the first pair I would wear. 

Why have I gone over-ear headphone-less until now? I’ve found them to either be too uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time; they make my ears too hot and sweaty; they ruin my hair (it’s OK to be vain, right?); and I personally find the best earbuds to be superior both in terms of sound and noise isolation. 

The Sonos Ace has completely changed my perception.

Having spent some time with them ahead of their launch (we're still working on our full, exhaustive final review), the Sonos Ace are some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever worn – thanks to a lightweight build, the use of plush memory foam and vegan leather, and a hinge mechanism that promises every user will get the perfect fit.

Let’s talk about fit, baby

Sonos Ace headphones in soft white being worn on head

(Image credit: Future)

The main cause of my epiphany is how the Sonos Ace fit on my head. Over-ear headphones are a totally different beast to their in-ear counterparts. The latter usually ship with various sizes of ear tips to help individual users find the most snug fit. Over-ear headphones don’t have this luxury, instead they have to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, which is no easy feat. 

Where the Sonos Ace headphones excel for me is the aforementioned intuitive hinge mechanism. And said mechanism is stylishly implemented – it’s chromed to provide a contrasting accent against the soft white or black color of the headphones, and is integrated inside the ear cup as opposed to being visible on the outside (which Sonos points out is preferable for people with long hair, though that's not a concern for me). It also has enough movement to ensure no matter who’s wearing them, the ear cups remain glued to the side of the head.

Sonos Ace headphones hinge mechanism

The internal hinge mechanism on the Sonos Ace headphones is responsible for ensuring a secure fit. (Image credit: Future)

Admittedly, the Sonos Ace headphones aren’t the only ones to provide this kind of adjustment. The Apple AirPods Max – with which the Sonos Ace have drawn a number of similarities in the looks department from onlookers – employ a similar, pivoting ear cup design. But Apple’s set of premium headphones weigh 73g more than the Sonos Ace, and while the Cupertino cans have a knitted mesh headband to help alleviate that weight, in my opinion it doesn’t quite do enough. In my brief experience wearing the AirPods Max, I found them too heavy to wear for long periods. I’m sure current owners will disagree, and that’s perfectly fine, but I haven’t encountered any such issues with Sonos’ first headphone attempt.

However, as much as I love the comfort levels here, I'll hand over to TR's Managing Editor for Entertainment, Matt Bolton, for a brief counterpoint:

"I've been finding the Sonos Ace very comfortable in terms of the headband, but as a glasses wearer, I've struggled with wearing them for long periods. They're pushing my glasses' arms in a little firmly, creating a sense of soreness over an hour or so. I noticed particularly while using them to watch a movie via my Sonos Arc, since there was no distraction at all. It's possible that adjusting how I have them on my head will improve things, but I found them less comfortable than my Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones – and my also glasses-wearing partner agreed, and she has a smaller head."

Slim pickings

Sonos Ace headphones in soft white being worn on head

(Image credit: Future)

Did I mention I could be considered vain earlier? Well, here's another picture of me. 

Another facet in my disdain for over-ear cans is their (usually) large profile. I’m personally not a fan of rocking a major extension of my ears while walking down the street. The best similarity I can provide is that I feel I look like Makka Pakka from the children’s TV show In the Night Garden… gormless expression and all. 

Sony, Sennheiser, and even Apple, I would argue, are all guilty of bestowing large, protruding ear cups to their headphone designs. Sonos, however, has managed to implement a much slimmer profile that I find much more attractive. It is still plainly obvious I’m wearing a pair of over-ear headphones, but their slim profile cuts a less noticeable silhouette. 

To me, it screams premium, and the soft white finish of the pair I received is a smart choice by the audio maestro. Sonos could have opted for the more plain white finish of its speakers, but in the words of its director of design, it would have looked too “techie”. The soft white finish, by contrast, is less 'in ya face' and a startling reminder of how much influence a color can have on a product.  

Physical touchin’

Whatever happened to physical button controls? Aside from a power button, most pair of modern over-ear headphones employ various forms of swipe gestures and taps to control playback. It’s meant to be intuitive and perhaps ‘cool’, but in my experience I’ve found it to be a bit of a gimmick. They generally require you to tap on an exact point on an ear cup but, since you can’t physically see what you’re doing, it rarely results in the desired action the first time. Swiping to adjust volume or track selection I find yield more successful results, but at the cost of looking a bit silly. 

Close up image of Sonos Ace headphones Content Key

The silver Content Key can be used to carry out 7 different functions (Image credit: Future)

The Sonos Ace use physical buttons for all controls – no taps or gestures here – and the brand has cleverly created a single button to handle a ton of different actions. The Content Key on the right ear cup can play or pause a track, can be used to skip a song or go back to the previous song you were listening to, can adjust volume levels, answer or reject calls – and, finally, can instantly switch to pick up whatever's coming from your Sonos Arc soundbar.

Also on the right ear cup is a button to adjust noise cancellation settings, or summon the voice assistant of your device. On the left ear cup is a power button that also handles Bluetooth pairing.

Sounding out

Sonos Ace headphones in black

The Sonos Ace headphones also come in black, matching the black coloring of its speakers (Image credit: Future)

Okay, I've talked about comfort enough, let's talk about sound quality. As I said, our full Sonos Ace review is still being worked on, but I can say already that they deliver a well-balanced, detailed presentation. 

Bass control and impact are good, as is detail. The equalizer settings within the recently updated (and somewhat controversial) app – which wasn't without its issues it must be said – enable you to adjust bass and treble, and to good effect. I'm normally a bit of a bass fanatic, but I've not yet felt compelled to turn the Ace's bass level up to the maximum of 5. 

Here's more from Managing Ed Matt Bolton, from his experience: "As is usually the case with Sonos, mids are really well-represented, and they feel a bit more forward than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. At this stage, I wouldn't say that's a good or bad thing, it just feels like a different sound profile. Out of the box, the Sonos are a little warmer and more excited, the Bose offer a little more bass extension and more expansiveness in a slightly more neutral-feeling balance.

"I've also tried them with my Sonos Arc, and they do a fantastic job with dialog especially, and the head tracking works excellently for keeping the center channel right on your TV. I haven't been blown away by the 'spatial audio' feeling so far – but I need to spend more time with them to make a full judgment on that. But the system of switching from phone to TV and back works seamlessly for me, and setting it up in the app gave me no issues either.

"It did, however, highlight the reason that Sonos probably hasn't enabled using them with the Sonos Wi-Fi system at this time: it massively cuts battery life to use them this way. I dropped 10% of the remaining battery life per hour, which would make about 10 hours in total – compared to 30 hours claimed by Sonos for Bluetooth listening. And one thing I noticed is that, while they auto-pause when you take them off, they don't automatically turn off if you don't play anything for a while, so you might find that they've run down their battery if you're not careful.

"The noise cancellation is a step behind the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. It's still very good, and will stand tall among the best noise cancelling headphones, but when using them in the exact same environment, the Bose cut out noticeably more outside noise."

Sonos Ace facing up, showing the inside of the earcups

(Image credit: Future)

Should you buy the Sonos Ace?

From my time wearing the Sonos Ace, I haven’t felt inclined to take them off. Not just because of the sound, but because of how they fit.

They're clearly very accomplished headphones, and while the lack of support for Sonos system in general will disappoint serious fans, their connectivity with the Sonos Arc (and more of Sonos' soundbars in the future) is a really nice addition that works seamlessly.

Their high price feels generally justified – the performance and general feel of them is good enough to battle with the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones and AirPods Max – and the Sonos Ace beat them both when it comes to pure features when you add it all up. But noise cancellation is definitely behind the Bose, so we'll reserve final judgment until we finish our full Sonos Ace review.

But I think that if you want a very premium, very stylish, very nice sound pair of headphones, you won't be disappointed.

Max Langridge
Staff Writer

Max is a senior staff writer for TechRadar who covers home entertainment and audio first, NBN second and virtually anything else that falls under the consumer electronics umbrella third. He's also a bit of an ecommerce fiend, particularly when it comes to finding the latest coupon codes for a variety of retailers. Hailing from the United Kingdom, Max spent a combined five years writing for What Hi-Fi? and Pocket-lint, before moving to Australia in 2018. After a brief stint writing for men’s lifestyle publications, Max is back to working on his first passion of technology.

With contributions from