5 reasons why I prefer Sonos Ace to AirPods Max (but you shouldn’t buy them)

Sonos has been a beloved brand for years, especially among Apple fans. It’s easy to see why: from the slick product design to the thoughtful eco-friendly packaging, Sonos offers a very Apple-like experience. Their home speakers and sound bars have a very “it just works” quality that may not satisfy the kind of audio nerds that demand extreme control via a big ‘ol receiver, but for everyone else simply looks and sounds great.

One audio area Sonos hasn’t even attempted, in almost 20 years on the market, is headphones. Sonos Ace changes all that. The first headphones from the Sonos brand, the Ace are direct competitors to the likes of AirPods Max, Bose QuietComfort Ultra, Sony WH-1000XM5, et al. In other words, they’re over-the-ear wireless headphones with active noise cancelling and a transparency mode and are priced on the “premium” end of the market at $449.

I’ve been using them for a couple of weeks now and if I’m honest, I’d reach for these over my AirPods Max any day, despite not having the tight integration that Apple-brand products enjoy (there’s no hands-free “Hey Siri” support, for example–you have to press a button to invoke Siri). There are a number of things Sonos gets right that Apple could learn from.

And despite this, I can’t recommend anyone buy them just yet. If you’re intrigued by Sonos Ace, you might want to wait a few months.

Better fit and comfort

AirPods Max are comfortable in many ways, but they don’t quite fit my head. This isn’t uncommon—I have a small head, and the smallest size setting for many over-ear headphones is just a tiny bit too big to fit comfortably. AirPods Max are like that, Sony’s WH-1000XM5 are not. And neither are the Sonos Ace. At the smallest settings, they fit just right.

But there’s a weight issue, too. AirPods Max weighs 385 grams, way more than something like those Sony XM5s (250g). Sonos’ are heavy as well at 312 grams, due in part to the steel bars in the headband and overall sturdy construction.

The top headband is soft and flexible, the removable earcups are soft and plush. They simply feel comfortable and steady on your head even during long listening sessions. It would definitely be nice if they shed a few grams more, but I would much rather wear these for a few hours than AirPods Max.

A better TV streaming solution

If you use an Apple TV, you can switch the audio over to your AirPods Max (if you’re on the same Apple ID) by opening the Apple TV control center and changing the audio output. It works pretty well, and it’s very convenient.

Unless you want to listen to something that is not coming from your Apple TV. If you’re streaming video through your smart TV, or playing a console game, that AirPods Max integration won’t do anything for you.

It’s going to be super annoying to some Sonos users that the Sonos Ace are not Wi-Fi connected like all other Sonos speakers. You can’t just join into any Sonos speaker group and directly stream from audio sources that you’ve linked to in the Sonos app. These are Bluetooth only (to extend battery life), so they have to stream audio from a linked source like your iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc.


However, they can pull off a pretty neat trick where you can link them to a Sonos soundbar, and then with a long press of the “content button” on the right earpiece swap audio from the soundbar to your headphones. It happens quickly, it’s reliable, it passes through Dolby Atmos for spatial audio, and the latency is low enough to be a viable solution for gaming.

Right now it’s only compatible with the Sonos Arc soundbar (others are coming in a software update soon) but it works with everything because it’s the sound that your soundbar would play. I really like switching with just a press-and-hold of the content button, too. Apple should make the AirPods Max’s Digital Crown work that way.

Multi-point Bluetooth

AirPods Max pair with one device at a time, but they also support Apple’s fast-switching wherein they will be paired automatically with other Apple stuff that uses your same Apple ID, so you can quickly switch to them.

Sonos Ace supports dual Bluetooth connections, so you can be simultaneously connected to Bluetooth sources (not just Apple products) and quickly switch between them. It’s essentially the same idea, only more flexible. They work great over the USB-C connection, too. Just plug in and you’re good to go. You can even plug the USB-C into your PS5 DualSense controller and they’ll work as a gaming headset straight away, and you can still use noise canceling and such.

You can turn them off!

You can’t turn off AirPods Max. There’s no manual way to do it. They just use some combination of the on-ear sensors and accelerometer to determine if you’re not using them, and eventually time out.


The Sonos Ace will eventually power themselves off as well, but there’s a power button that you press and hold for a couple of seconds to turn on or off. Yes, pretty much every pair of headphones has a power button. Sonos’ entry in the space is not unique, Apple’s are, but it’s worth pointing out what a pain the butt it can be not to have any sort of manual power button.

They sound great

Bose and Sony have sort of caught up to Apple on noise reduction, and the Sonos Ace is right up there as well. They do an amazing job of reducing repetitive noise like traffic, air conditioners, airplane noise, etc.

The transparency mode (Sonos calls it Aware Mode) is maybe tied for the best I’ve ever heard. Until now, nobody has been able to match the natural sound of AirPods Max’s transparency mode, and Sonos may have done it.

For other audio, it’s sort of a tie with AirPods Max, and whether you like these better than the comparable headsets from Apple, Sony, or Bose is more a matter of personal taste than technical excellence. I find the high end just a touch thin by default on the Ace, a bumping Treble up a notch or two on the (really anemic) EQ in the Sonos software fixes that right away. Microphone quality and noise reduction during calls are similarly great.

In general, it’s safe to say you don’t lose anything in sound quality with Sonos Ace over AirPods Max, and with support for lossless audio over USB (or when connected to the right Android device with apt-X Lossless) they might even be a little better.

But don’t buy a pair yet

There are a few little things that could be improved on the Sonos Ace. The case feels kind of cheap for a high-priced pair of headphones, for instance. It hardly seems worth focusing on that when AirPods Max have a case that’s worse than useless.

But on balance, even at $449 I would rather use these than the $549 AirPods Max. Even with the AirPods Max seemingly perpetually available at a discount…I’d use the Sonos Ace at the same price any day. They sound just as good, are more comfortable, and have more flexible connectivity options. And a power button.


But Sonos dropped a huge update to its all-important app recently and it has been a bit of a scandal. It’s a totally new architecture under the hood and a new interface, and while it certainly looks better and more modern, the Sonos users are not happy about it.

It’s missing a lot of features the old app had and it’s riddled with bugs. It took me two hours of troubleshooting to add a Sonos Arc soundbar after having previously set up the Sonos Arc headphones. There’s no queue or playing next in the music playback interface. The sleep timer is gone. Playing back local music is missing.

Sonos has already pushed out a software update to address some bugs and shortcomings and has a public roadmap for when we can expect the return of other features. If your only Sonos product is to be the Sonos Ace, some of these won’t be an issue for you. If you already have Sonos speakers or plan to get them, the app is a buggy and feature-stripped nightmare right now.

Yes, Sonos Ace cost more than the latest from Bose or Sony, but they’re cheaper than AirPods Max by $100. Even with AirPods Max seemingly always on sale somewhere, they may cost you less.

If you plan to use your headphones entirely and exclusively with Apple products forever, maybe the convenience of AirPods Max makes them a better choice for you (still, wait for a potential AirPods Max 2 later this year). If you ever want to connect them to anything else, or if you have or want to get a Sonos sound bar, you’ll probably like Sonos Ace better and pay less.

My advice is to wait a few months and look for the Sonos Ace to go on sale. Give it a slightly better price and a few months of app updates and the Sonos Ace will be a real winner.

Source : Macworld