Sonos Ace is the AirPods Max alternative I've been looking for

Sonos Ace
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After years of anticipation, Sonos has finally released its first pair of headphones in the Sonos Ace, and while the end product isn't entirely what fans of the multi-room audio specialist were hoping for, they're every bit as premium as we've come to expect from the brand.

In terms of features, the new Sonos headphones are comparable to a number of cans on the market. However, the first competitor that springs to my mind is Apple’s AirPods Max.

As an Android user who's always admired Apple's AirPods Max from afar, I was excited to see new premium noise-canceling headphones which offer a similar level of sophistication.

Once I did get to check the Sonos Ace for myself, it didn't take long for me to realise that these headphones are the AirPods Max alternative I've been looking for — even improving upon Apple's flagship cans in a number of ways.

They're prettier than AirPods Max

The Apple AirPods Max vs the Sonos Ace

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At first glance, the Sonos Ace exudes an air of luxury, both in terms of its stylish design and the materials used. Although they're similar to Sony's WH-1000XM5 in terms of shape, the high-end look and feel of the Sonos Ace brings it closer to Apple's flagship over-ear headphones.

That's not to say that I'm entirely in love with the AirPods Max design — truth be told, I believe Apple's over-ear headphones walk a fine line between supremely elegant and utterly stupid looking. But while the design of Apple's cans may not be for everyone, there's no denying that they look as expensive as they are. 

I've always been a fan of the AirPods Max's telescoping, stainless steel arms, but absolutely loathe the look of its mesh canopy headband. Thankfully, Sonos Ace has adopted the AirPods Max's sliding stainless steel arm design, but done away with its ugly mesh headband in favor of a cushioned memory foam alternative that evokes Sony's flagship over-ears.

Another plus is that the Sonos Ace comes with a proper zip-up case in the box; one which looks nice and takes up less space than you might expect when you consider that these headphones don't fold down to a smaller size (the ear cups do flatten, though).

Some have complained that the case's zipper can get snagged easily, but I personally haven't experienced that. Either way, anything is better than AirPods Max's Smart Case, which makes it look like you're carrying your headphones around in a brassiere.

Sound quality and noise canceling are top notch

Sonos Ace being held up

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Given Sonos' reputation for audio excellence, and the fact that its products are frequently featured in our best soundbar and best Bluetooth speakers lists, I expected nothing short of superior sound quality from the company's first foray into headphones. Thankfully, the Sonos Ace has met my expectations.

Right out of the box, Sonos Ace is able to deliver a remarkably clean sound with an impressively wide soundstage for a pair of closed back headphones — all while maintaining a good balance of rich bass thanks to its ported acoustic architecture. 

Admittedly, it would have been nice for the Sonos app to offer a more robust set of EQ settings beyond some sliders for bass, treble and balance. However, it's evident that Sonos engineers have spent a significant amount of time tuning the Sonos Ace for a great first impression — to my ears, they already sound more or less perfect at default settings. Simply put, I would not be surprised if the Sonos Ace nabs a spot on our best audiophile headphones list. 

Everyone will agree that sound quality is paramount when it comes to searching for the best headphones, however, what you don't hear is arguably just as important these days. 

In this regard, Sonos Ace's noise canceling prowess is top tier, but still slightly outclassed by Sony's WH-1000XM5 and Bose's QuietComfort Ultra headphones. That's not to say that Sonos Ace's ANC underwhelms — a single press of the ANC button still eliminates all ambient noise, giving you that feeling of being in a vacuum. However, deeper sounds will still cut through, albeit at a lower volume than normal.

Battery lasts longer than AirPods Max

Sonos Ace

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Even the AirPods Max's most ardent defenders would have to admit that Apple's flagship cans offer mediocre battery life, only providing "up to 20 hours" of listening time with ANC or 'Transparency' mode enabled. For a pair of headphones priced at $549 / £499 / AU$899, that's a bitter pill to swallow.

Thankfully, Sonos Ace advertises 30 hours of listening time with ANC or 'Aware' mode switched on, which is considerably more than what you get from Apple's headphones. You even get 3 hours of playback from just 3 minutes of charging, which is very impressive.

Not only does Sonos Ace best the 24-hour battery life offered by Bose's excellent QuietComfort Ultra headphones, it also matches Sony WH-1000XM5's 30 hours of juice. That said, Sennheiser's Momentum 4 Wireless still holds the crown with 60 hours of ANC listening time.

Final thoughts

When rumors first began to circulate that Sonos was working on a set of premium headphones, I immediately started to think about what they would need to offer to be the AirPods Max alternative I'd always wanted. I honestly believe that Sonos Ace has achieved that in all the ways that matter to me, whether it be design, comfort, sound quality, ANC or battery life.

Of course, there are a number of areas where the Sonos Ace could be improved — the lack of lossless audio support over Wi-Fi is disappointing, given that Sonos famously offers this functionality across its multi-room speakers and soundbars. 

The ability to transfer audio from the Sonos Arc soundbar to the Sonos Ace is a neat feature, but it's surprisingly limited to just that soundbar and iOS for the time being (though support for Android and other Sonos soundbars will arrive later in the year).

That said, I've still found the Sonos Ace to be an outstanding set of noise-canceling cans which offer excellent sound quality and a beautiful design. While the Sonos Ace is admittedly expensive at $449 / £449 / AU$699, it still undercuts the AirPods Max by a significant margin while offering more functionality, making them a shoo-in for our best headphones list.

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Stephen Lambrechts

Stephen Lambrechts is the Managing Editor of Tom's Guide AU and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming for the last 15 years. Before Tom's Guide, he spent several years as a Senior Journalist at TechRadar, had a brief stint as Editor in Chief at Official Xbox Magazine Australia, and has written for such publications as APC, TechLife Australia, T3, FilmInk, AskMen, Daily Telegraph and IGN. He's an expert when it comes to smartphones, TVs, gaming and streaming. In his spare time, he enjoys watching obscure horror movies on physical media, keeping an eye on the latest retro sneaker releases and listening to vinyl. Occasionally, he also indulges in other non-hipster stuff, like hiking.