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Sonos Ace headphones hands-on: Joining your home theater setup with the push of a button

The company just announced its first wireless headphones that arrive June 5 for $449.

Billy Steele for Engadget

After years of rumors and leaks, Sonos has finally pulled the wraps off of it's much-anticipated entry into a new product category. Today, Sonos announced the Ace headphones: a meticulously designed, feature-packed set of premium cans from the company that made its name with multi-room audio and stellar sound. But, that reputation was built on speakers and soundbars, and now Sonos is lending its mix of aesthetics, acoustics and tech to headphones. The Ace is first and foremost a set of Bluetooth noise-canceling headphones that can be used on the go, but it's also got some unique home theater chops that work in tandem with its soundbars. You'll have to wait a bit longer to try to the $449 headphones, but you can pre-order them now if you're already convinced.

Design-wise, these Sonos headphones have a refined look that draws some inspiration from the company's speakers. Sonos opted for a mix of matte finishes, stainless steel and leather for its high-end look, keeping everything black on one version while using white with silver accents on the other. Even with the premium materials, the Ace weighs 11 ounces (312 grams). That's lighter than the AirPods Max which is 13.6 ounces (385 grams) thanks so some use of plastic.

"It's all in the interest of doing something that's going to make this light and comfortable for the customer," Sonos CEO Patrick Spence told Engadget. "We knew it had to be premium, just like all the speakers that we've designed, but we felt like we could do this in a different way than anybody else."

A key aspect of the Ace's design is the hidden hinge, which Sonos has placed in the ear cup. The company says this puts less stress on cabling than a folding mechanism, but it also argues that it just looks better. Sonos chose physical controls rather than a touchpad, assigning those functions to a multi-purpose button it calls the Content Key. Here, you have volume and playback controls along with the ability to switch between ANC and transparency modes. A single button on the opposite side handles power and pairing. Like Apple, Sonos uses removable, magnetic ear pads on its headphones, and plans to sell replacements in the future.

Inside, 40mm custom dynamic drivers power the Ace's sound. Sonos promises "impeccable precision and clarity" across the EQ with spatial audio and dynamic head tracking for increased immersion. These headphones also support lossless audio over Bluetooth if you're streaming from a device with Qualcomm's Snapdragon Sound. They also offer lossless listening over USB-C if you prefer a wired connection for that purpose. And if the stock tuning doesn't suit you, the company allows you to adjust bass, treble and loudness from the Sonos app.

White headphones laying flat on a small table, showing the buttons on both sides.
Billy Steele for Engadget

Active noise cancellation (ANC) is onboard the Sonos headphones and there's an Aware mode when you need to let in ambient sounds. The company says the Ace is equipped with eight beamforming microphones that pull double duty with ANC and voice targeting, so you'll be able to use them during calls. The headphones also have wear detection sensors which will automatically pause movies or music when you take them off. Sonos says you'll be able to use the Ace for up to 30 hours on a charge with ANC on, 10 hours more than the AirPods Max and on par with Sony's WH-1000XM5. The latter of which is our current top pick for best wireless headphones.

None of this is a surprise given how many of the details broke cover before the official reveal, but Sonos did manage to keep secret how the Ace would interact with its other products. While the company's app will carry key features for the headphones, the interaction with other Sonos speakers is unique here. The Ace has a feature called TV Audio Swap that sends the audio from a Sonos soundbar to the headphones as long as you're in range. To make this happen, the company says the Ace switches to Bluetooth LE to maintain a connection with the app for controls and settings while Wi-Fi allows it to sync with a soundbar. At launch, the swap functionality will only work with the Sonos Arc, but the company says it will come to both generations of Beam and Ray in the future.

"What we realized is for the majority of the population, and for the many use cases of headphones, the best way to do it is the Bluetooth first with connectivity to the system," Spence said. "Because what's more important to the customer is power management and battery life."

There's also a version of the company's TruePlay tuning on the Ace, but it's called TrueCinema. When it arrives later this year, the feature will map the room your soundbar is in to create a complete virtual surround system inside the headphones. The goal here is to mimic the acoustics of the room you're in so that maybe you'll forget you're even wearing headphones.

"It's more natural, because often times the headphones will be tuned to a perfect room," Spence explained. "We thought it was better to have it tuned to the room that you're actually in because it would create the effects that you would expect."

After some time listening to both music and movie clips on the Ace, I'm impressed with what the company has built in terms of sound quality. There's pristine detail and heightened immersion with Dolby Atmos content that make the headphones a complement to a home theater setup. However, the most surprising thing about the Ace to me was how well the TV Audio Swap feature works.

Once the headphones have been added to your collection of devices in the app, all you have to do is press the Content Key button to switch the sound to what's coming from your soundbar. It's quick and easy, and there's no jumping, popping or other distractions when you hop back and forth. I can see a lot of people using them so that they can still hear the finer details of Dune or every shot of John Wick 4 when their family has gone to bed.

Even if your content isn't 7.1.4-channel Dolby Atmos, Sonos' 3D virtualization tech will upscale it so it sounds comparable. The company has also developed its own head tracking processing that learns from your position and the direction you're looking so that it's not constantly recentering if you look down at your phone. Unfortunately, the head tracking, spatial audio and the TV audio swap with Sonos Arc will only be available in the iOS version of the Sonos app at launch. Android compatibility is coming "shortly after."

The Sonos Ace headphones are available for pre-order today from the company's website for $449 and will begin shipping on June 5th. While that's more expensive than flagship models from Bose, Sony and others, it's $100 less than the AirPods Max.