Ace Of Plays?

Sonos Ace is here, and EI has been testing them to uncover the performance and trade angle on this high-profile addition to the brand’s playback options. This product marks Sonos’ entry into an entirely new category.

After many years in the planning and much anticipation from fans of the brand around the world, Sonos has released its much-trailed and eagerly awaited headphones, Ace. It’s been a busy time for the company, with a new version of its app becoming available just ahead of this launch and a busy year ahead with launches that should interest installers.

The first question is, why should installers care about headphones? Well, if we are truly in the business of providing customers with exactly what they want/need then a decent set of headphones should be on the list of add-on sales. Not only for the convenience of playing loudly when it may not be appropriate, but also from a quality point of view. The good news is that Sonos has prioritised quality. These headphones are created to rival products like Sennheiser’s Momentum 4, Sony’s WH-1000XM5, Apple’s AirPods Max, and Bose QuietComfort Ultra. With a price tag of £449, Ace is not in the true luxury end of the market but is priced and designed to appeal to those looking for better-than-average performance.

Starting from the ground up, the product arrives in the brand’s now-familiar eco-packaging (the product itself contains 17% recycled plastic). The packing does manage to convey a sense of quality with a stylish design and a good-quality felt carry case containing a handy magnetised pouch for housing cables. The headphones themselves are an attractive take on this category with the Sonos logo embossed on the right ear cup. The logo is not too obvious, showing up mostly when light reflects off that part of the product. Lots of attention has been applied to comfort with faux ‘vegan’ leather-covered foam ear cups and headband, combining with a weight of 11 ounces or 312 grams. This means Ace is very comfortable to wear even for long periods.

For us, the standout feature of the build is the hidden hinge inside the headphones that combines with the chrome yokes, allowing them to articulate to the perfect position without getting caught up in hair, earrings, etc. The ear cups attach magnetically, meaning they can be replaced should damage or wear make it necessary. It’s also easy to work out which way around the headphones go as the inner speaker covering is different colours for left and right. Control of the product itself offers a rocker switch for volume, which also acts as a universal control point, allowing the user to press once for pause, double press to skip forward. Below the rocker, there is a switch that toggles between the different types of noise cancelling (full-on and a transparency mode when more awareness of surroundings is needed). The power button is on the left ear cup, completing an easy-to-find and responsive set of controls which all feel well built and solid. We found that after a few tries, the layout was easy to understand, and of course, users can also control what is happening inside the recently updated Sonos app. Sonos also offers five years of software support after it stops selling a product, so Ace should stay relevant for the user for a good period of time.

Sonos Ace

So, what are the standout features when it comes to Ace? Bluetooth 5.4 is on board and is the primary mode of connection, supporting SBC and AAC audio formats. Higher quality aptX Adaptive is also included (compatible with Android and Windows devices) as well as lossless aptX playback, available on a relatively small number of smartphones. Lossless music playback is also possible via USB-C. The equaliser in the Sonos app gives access to bass, treble and balance control and the product also supports Dolby’s spatial audio tech with head-tracking, generating an expanded soundstage for music. It also provides a useful upgrade when watching movies and shows with Atmos soundtracks.

Ace can be connected to two devices at once over Bluetooth. We found this useful for work periods or when multi-tasking was needed, such as watching content on a tablet and answering a call via a smartphone. Ace does include a Wi-Fi chip for connection to the network, but this is specifically for pairing with one of the brand’s soundbars for a home cinema surround sound feature, which we will cover later in the performance section. It’s important to note that Sonos Ace cannot be grouped with the company’s other speakers to stream music around the home via Wi-Fi. This fact has disappointed some consumer-focused reviewers and Sonos fans. Sonos’ response has focused on the wider compatibility available via Bluetooth and wanting to deliver reliability to end-users. Wi-Fi would also likely have an impact on battery life; however, the functionality is there, so who knows, as the Ace concept evolves, this might be offered as an option. Speaking of battery life, Ace is rated at 30 hours when connected for listening with a smartphone or 14.5 hours when connected to the Arc soundbar. A full charge takes around three hours, but there is also a rapid charge function allowing 10% of charge for three hours of playback in an impressive three minutes. The battery can also be replaced if needed. These ratings are reliable and if anything, Ace can go a little beyond them.

Something that Ace can do that no other headphone can is connect to the company’s soundbar range with the TV Swap feature. At launch, only the Sonos Arc is supported, but this is set to roll out to the rest of the range over time. Also, at launch, TV Swap is only available to Apple users and not Android, but this is also coming. Truecinema (a version of the Trueplay feature) that will adjust to each user’s space is also promised. One pair of headphones can be connected at a time for this feature. Currently Ace comes in two matte finishes – black or soft white.

Sonos Ace

We found the audio quality on Ace to be more than satisfactory, comparing well with similarly priced and positioned products. Those already familiar with good headphone performance will be satisfied, and those new to the concept will be suitably impressed. Input from the Sound Experience aspect of Sonos, where the brand leans on the expertise of creators to help voice and improve the quality of its products, is effectively on display here. It was no accident that Giles Martin, renown music producer and leader of the Sound Experience team, was present at the official launch of the product.

Bass is impressive and controlled, mids are pleasingly rounded and warm, while treble frequencies offer lots of detail. If the test of a good audio product is that users will notice new things about favourite tracks, Ace delivers that. Good overall balance (an obvious, but nonetheless necessary achievement) seems to have been the goal, and Sonos has achieved this in a pleasing way.

Using Tidal as a source, we went soft with tracks like Little Fluffy Clouds by the Orb and discovered all the necessary immersive atmosphere and weirdness this track is supposed to deliver. On the rougher side, with a frankly rather poorly recorded version of Dr Rock by Motorhead, Ace produced all the rawness and energy with aplomb.

A quick word on the noise cancelling features, these are particularly good on Ace and stand up to anything else out there at this price point, perhaps even going a little beyond, particularly in the awareness mode.

A long press of the main control button on Ace allows the user to step into the TV Swap feature. This can also be achieved from within the Sonos app. This feature allows the headphones to present a 5.1 or Atmos surround mix, and it can also ‘virtualise’ a similar experience using a stereo feed. Users can also turn the feature off and just listen to stereo if preferred. Using streaming to watch Top Gun Maverick and some episodes of recently released series such as The Acolyte and The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, this is where Ace really does deliver something groundbreaking. Immersion is very impressive and you really do forget you have them on. Impact scenes and dialogue are equally treated with care, so little of the creator’s intent is lost. Gaming also produces good results, with low latency and good connection between the audio and on-screen action.

Lastly, performance during a call is also pleasing, with the headphones’ eight beam-forming microphones in place to control noise and target the voice. Ace is very reliable in all scenarios for this feature.

Sonos Ace

There are some things that need to be added to complete the picture here. The Android compatibility and the availability of the Truecinema feature will add much to the product, but as an entry and particularly if you have existing customers who are users and fans of the brand, this is a very welcome add-on sale. There is no reason why Ace should not be recommended freely to your headphone-loving customers.

No more articles