Forget AirPods Max 2 — I want these 5 things from Sonos headphones

AirPods Max
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Sonos has long been rumored to be working on a pair of headphones capable of going toe-to-toe with Apple’s AirPods Max. We’ve been expecting the multi-room audio specialist to target the best headphones on the market with a pair of premium cans since 2021. And it’s been whispered the company has actually been working on them since at least 2019.

But now it seems a near-certainty we’ll be listening through Sonos headphones before the year is out. CEO Patrick Spence confirmed during an earnings call Sonos would move into a new product category by the fall and the latest rumors claim they’ll be launched by June.

Concrete details are still hard to come by, but some have suggested the Sonos headphones will retail for around $449, putting them squarely in the premium price bracket and in amongst the AirPods Max ($549), Bose QuietComfort Ultra ($429) and Sony WH-1000XM5 ($399). Sonos’ other audio products all launched in the premium price bracket before more affordable options began to trickle through, so I’d expect the headphones to be no different.

And while design is still a closely guarded secret, a patent that appeared all the way back in February 2021 gave us a clue that Sonos would be focusing on an over-ear design. That patent also gave us a glimpse at a potentially killer feature that Sonos could implement with its debut headphones: Swap. The idea is, much like the Sonos Roam is able to do, you can “swap” the music from your home Wi-Fi Sonos speakers to your headphones and back again seamlessly with just the press of a button. If you’re already embedded in the Sonos ecosystem, that’s a tantalizing option that might just sway some people away from the prospect of the AirPods Max 2.

Of course, it will always come down to sound quality when we’re talking about premium audio equipment. But here’s five other things I really want to see from Sonos if and when the company does pull the curtain back on its first pair of headphones.

1. Strong battery life

Sennheiser Accentum in black and white

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

Twenty hours. That’s the minimum Sonos should be shooting for with a pair of premium wireless headphones that could cost upwards of $400. While 20 hours would see me through a commute, full workday and some evening listening without a charge, I’d argue there’s scope for more. After all, the Sony WH-1000XM5 can last up to 30 hours — enough to (just about) fly from London to Los Angeles three times. 

Meanwhile, just to point out where the gold standard lies, the Sennheiser Accentum over-ear noise canceling headphones (pictured above) can keep going for 50 hours and will achieve 5 hours of listening time from just 10 minutes attached to a charger.   

2.  All-day comfort and good physical controls 

Sonos headphones

(Image credit: German Patent and Trademark Office)

As much as battery life means I could wear the Sonos headphones all day, that’ll only be happening if they’re comfortable to wear. That means (and taking into account all the tech packed inside) a weight maximum of around 12 ounces (340g) and nicely cushioned ear cups with a soft and supple headband. 

Weight distribution will be key and having the ability to quickly swap out earcups if they get damaged or dirty would be nice too. 

Lastly, and this is big on my wishlist; decent physical controls. Apple borrowed the Apple Watch’s Digital Crown for adjusting volume on the AirPods Max and it’s one of my favorite features. 

Sonos headphones

(Image credit: USPTO)

If Sonos is going to add the requisite volume and power buttons or dials, it’s my hope they’ll be contoured or otherwise textured so you can adjust volume, skip tracks or enable a transparency mode simply by touch. 

3. Colors

Sonos Roam orange speaker being held up in the desert at sunset

(Image credit: Sonos)

If I were a betting man, I’d lay some considerable cash on the fact the Sonos headphones will come in a choice of two colors: black or white. It’s been the Sonos hallmark for as long as the company has existed and I don’t really think the tradition will be broken by the arrival of headphones. 

And while I appreciate good ol' black and white can pretty much fit into any home or office aesthetic, the company does offer the portable Sonos Roam speaker in a variety of colors — surely it can do the same with its headphones?   

Cast a look over the best over-ear headphones out there and you’ll see it’s the same old story: black, white and silver. Obviously the AirPods Max come in a few different hues and there’s the tan leather and “Royal Burgundy” look on the Bowers & Wilkins Px8, but that’s about it. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but it sure is nice to have a splash of color here and there.

4. An exceptional app experience 

Sonos Era 300 with app

(Image credit: Sonos)

Sonos' industrial design and sound tuning is incredible. I wish I could say the same about its software. Sadly, the Sonos app freezes, disconnects or just downright crashes all too often in my house. I’d hardly call the UI intuitive and the load times are frustrating. It’s not all bad news; setting up new products is usually handled well thanks to on-screen prompts and video tutorials.

I’ve no doubt I’ll be able to get a pair of Sonos headphones added to my system, I just want to be able to pull audio from different sources or fiddle and adjust sound profiles without having to force close and reload the app several times.  

5. Audio format and connection versatility

Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. AirPods Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I’ve avoided getting into the weeds on sound quality and performance as I have no doubt any Sonos headphones will have this area pretty well covered. What I would like to see is versatility in both the audio format support and the hardware connections. That means I’d expect wireless audio via Bluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive codec support to be a given when connected to compatible playback devices. But furthermore, there should be support for the likes of aptX Lossless Audio for the highest quality Bluetooth streaming.

While I’m almost certain Sonos will forego the 3.5mm analog cable connection in favor of a USB-C, I really hope the company includes a USB-C-to-3.5mm analog cable in the box. Actually, while we’re at it — a nice carry case wouldn’t go amiss, either.

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Jeff Parsons
UK Editor In Chief

Jeff is UK Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide looking after the day-to-day output of the site’s British contingent. Rising early and heading straight for the coffee machine, Jeff loves nothing more than dialling into the zeitgeist of the day’s tech news.

A tech journalist for over a decade, he’s travelled the world testing any gadget he can get his hands on. Jeff has a keen interest in fitness and wearables as well as the latest tablets and laptops. A lapsed gamer, he fondly remembers the days when problems were solved by taking out the cartridge and blowing away the dust.