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Sonos Ace review: Solid competitive debut

Sonos Ace review: Solid competitive debut

Sonos Ace

The much-rumoured Sonos Ace headphones will satisfy anyone looking for a pair of premium headphones. Yes, they may disappoint some existing Sonos users — due to some limitations at launch — but there's still plenty to like, from the thoughtful design to the excellent active noise cancellation (ANC) and transparency mode. In short, it's competitive, with some nice extras if you have a compatible Sonos soundbar. And that's a good start for Sonos' first-ever headphones.

Quick specs

  • Custom-designed 40mm dynamic driver
  • Bluetooth 5.4 with Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound AptX for Lossless
  • TV audio swap feature with compatible Sonos soundbar
  • 30 hours playback with ANC (3 hour with 3min charge)

Sonos has certainly done its homework. The Sonos Ace looks and feels like premium headphones. You get a stainless steel frame wrapped in vegan leather. Concealed hinges — that won't catch any stray hairs — swivel to fold the ear cups flat, though the headphones cannot collapse for travel. Sonos has also gone with physical buttons instead of iffy touch-sensitive controls. Turn it on or start Bluetooth pairing via a button on the left ear. A button on the right ear cup switches between ANC and Aware mode (transparency). Finally, the Content slider key on the right lets you adjust volume, control media playback, and activate the headphones' headline TV Audio Swap feature.

The memory foam earcups and headband are soft and comfortable. The fit is spot-on — the clamping force isn't overly strong, but the headphones don't feel loose. You can remove the ear cushions — held in place by magnets — by simply pulling them off. At 312g, the Sonos Ace weighs a bit more than competitors like the Sony WH-1000XM5 and the Bose QuietComfort Ultra (both around 250g), but it's lighter than the Apple AirPods Max (385g). I have worn the Sonos Ace for several hours without feeling fatigued. My matte black review set also seems fairly resistant to fingerprint smudges and other stains. It's available in soft white if that's a concern.

Sonos Ace
Credit: Vincent Chang/Can Buy or Not

What makes the Sonos Ace different is TV Audio Swap. Press and hold the Content key to switch the TV audio from a compatible Sonos soundbar to the headphones for private listening. It works for any source that's connected to the soundbar, including game consoles. Dolby's Head Tracking feature is also supported so if you move your head around, the audio switches between the left and right ears. However, TV Audio Swap currently works only with the Sonos Arc. It will be available later for the Beam (Gen 1 and Gen 2) and Ray. Also coming later is TrueCinema, which calibrates the Sonos Ace to your room's acoustics for a more immersive experience.

You'll need the recently-revamped and much-criticised Sonos app to set up the TV Audio Swap feature. But it's only working on the iOS version. I couldn't configure the feature in the Android app. The app also lets you update the Sonos Ace's firmware, adjust the EQ (treble, bass, and loudness), and enable/disable wear detection. Unlike with Sonos speakers, you can't add the Sonos Ace to a room in your home using the app. Most of the time, I'm using them like any Bluetooth headphones, without even opening the app.

Sonos Ace
Attention to detail: You can distinguish the right and left ear cups by the colours of their interior mesh cover. The right ear cup is grey while the left is black. Credit: Vincent Chang/Can Buy or Not

The Sonos Ace supports lossless audio over Bluetooth for Android devices that have Snapdragon Sound. Compatible devices include smartphones from Chinese smartphone brands, but not Samsung or Google. For Apple users, you'll need to connect the headphones via its USB-C port for lossless audio. There's no 3.5mm jack, but a USB-C to 3.5mm cable is included. The Sonos Ace sounds as good as its competitors in this premium space, like the similarly-priced Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2e. The Sonos Ace sounds detailed with good separation and a wide soundstage, while the bass is punchy. However, the bass does have a bit too much reverb at times, and it becomes muddy compared with the S2e.

Sonos says the Ace headphones come with “world-class” ANC. The noise cancellation is certainly excellent, right up there with the top headphones, though the Sony WH-1000XM5 seems marginally better. I was more impressed by the Aware mode or transparency mode that lets in ambient noise via the Sonos Ace's eight beamforming microphones. It sounded natural, without any hissing or latency. Almost as if you're not wearing any headphones.

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If you're wondering why Sonos went the conventional Bluetooth route instead of Wi-Fi (like its speakers) for streaming audio, the short answer is battery life. The Sonos Ace only uses Wi-Fi for TV Audio Swap when it's streaming from the Sonos soundbar. And boy does it drain the battery fast. In my testing, Wi-Fi streaming depleted the battery by 8% after an hour. In comparison, streaming music using Bluetooth saw the battery drop by 4% after around two hours. ANC was enabled for both scenarios. The headphones are rated at 30 hours with ANC, but you can likely get more.

At S$699, the Sonos Ace undercuts the Apple AirPods Max (around S$800), but it's more expensive than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra (S$599) and the Sony WH-1000XM5 (S$569). In fact, the two-year-old Sony headphones are selling at S$469 now. The differences between these premium headphones are often marginal in terms of sound quality, ANC, and battery life. It ultimately boils down to your preferences, like whether you want physical controls or touch-sensitive ones. And if you can make use of the Sonos Ace's TV Audio Swap. Get these headphones from TC Acoustic or its official store on Lazada.

Note: Review unit provided by Sonos.

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Solid debut, with more to come

Buy it at Lazada

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