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Sonos Botches App Refresh, Long-Awaited ‘Ace’ Headphones!

by June 11, 2024


Sonos Mobile AppAs I reported a few weeks ago, the all-new Sonos app was designed to give users an “easier, faster, and better experience.” But so far, that has not been the case for Sonos users, many of whom are disappointed in the company after suddenly losing important features when the app was updated. The new app rolled out without a number of core capabilities that Sonos users were accustomed to in the outgoing version of the app. Simple features like alarms and sleep timers were missing, and core functions like the search and playback of locally-stored files were either missing or unusable. The new app also dropped the ball on accessibility features that were available in the old app, leaving blind and visually-impaired users without crucial voice-control features they rely upon to use their Sonos gear.

Chris Danielson is a blind Sonos user who works for the National Federation of the Blind. He spoke with the Washington Post about the difficulty he encountered after the app update, saying that it took him several minutes of hunting with voice-over controls just to play music from the new Sonos app — something that was effortless before. Sonos should have warned people to skip the app update if they use voice-over screen readers, he said. According to the Post, Sonos says that it “missed some software flaws” and will be restoring more voice-reader functions as soon as possible. According to Danielson, the company had a good reputation for making its products accessible for people with disabilities. “Overnight they broke that trust,” he said.

Sonos’s app release and how the company initially handled complaints were a blueprint for how to inspire loathing.

— Shira Ovide, Washington Post

There are clearly people who are having an experience that is subpar. I would ask them to give us a chance to deliver the actions to address the concerns they’ve raised.

— Patrick Spence, CEO of Sonos

As of the time of writing, Sonos had just pushed out an app update fixing a handful of bugs and restoring some (but not all) accessibility functions in iOS, reportedly allowing VoiceOver to properly interact with individual elements of the Sonos app's new home screen. Sonos says that VoiceOver can now be used to navigate and control the app better than before, and that the TalkBack feature is now supported for the Now Playing Screen, System View, and Add Product functions. The company has also provided a timeline for additional fixes, such as the restoration of local music library search and playback, which is expected in mid-June along with further improvements to navigation for visually-impaired users.

Once you add a feature into a platform — this is the important thing for us to continue to remember as we go through this — once you add it, it may become one person’s most important thing, and that matters most to that person.

— Patrick Spence, speaking to The Verge

So why would Sonos release its “reimagined” app when it was not yet ready for prime time? Why not do a public beta of the new app, offering it as on optional preview alongside the old, fully-functional app? Why push users to adopt a half-baked experience? The answer comes in the form of the company’s long-awaited wireless headphones, which became global availability on June 5th, 2024. The new Sonos Ace headphones ($449) were designed alongside the new app, and won’t work with the old app. So unless Sonos was willing to delay the launch of a potentially huge product, the company essentially had no choice but to proceed with the premature app refresh.

Sonos Ace Headphones

Sonos Ace driver

The $449 Sonos Ace is the first headphone product from Sonos, and the company says that a wireless headphone has been its most-requested product for years now. But as I will discuss momentarily, the Ace may not be the Sonos headphones we’ve been waiting for. Before we discuss what the Sonos Ace isn’t, let’s talk about what it is and what it can do. The Ace is a premium over-the-ear bluetooth headphone with Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) and custom-designed 40mm dynamic drivers that “render each frequency with impeccable precision and clarity,” according to the company. The headphones feature a ported acoustic architecture for enhanced bass response, and they boast “the most precise and immersive home theater experience possible,” thanks to Sonos’s new TrueCinema technology.

Fans have asked us for years to bring the Sonos experience to headphones — and we knew our first foray into the category needed to champion the type of innovation and sound experience Sonos has become synonymous with. Sonos Ace leverages everything we’ve learned over two decades as an audio leader to bring stunning sound, sleek design, and long-standing comfort to one of the largest and most popular audio categories worldwide.

— Patrick Spence

TrueCinema technology, coming to the headphones later this year via a firmware update, “precisely maps your space, then renders a complete surround sound system for a listening experience so realistic you’ll forget you’re wearing headphones.” The Ace also combines Spatial audio and Dolby Atmos support for audio immersion with dynamic head tracking, which promises to keep you in the center of the sonic action better than ordinary headphones. The result is “your own private cinema,” according to Sonos. The Sonos-exclusive feature that existing Sonos users will appreciate most is the Ace’s ability to instantly swap TV audio from a compatible Sonos soundbar to the headphones with just the tap of a button. Beyond that, the Ace operates like many other ANC bluetooth headphones, with defeatable noise cancellation and an “Aware” mode that increases awareness of your surroundings. The Ace promises a solid 30 hours of battery life. Should you be running low, the Ace offers the ability to add 3 hours of battery life via a quick 3-minute charge, using the included USB-C cable.

Sonos Ace Headphones: Design

Sonos Ace whiteSonos Ace black

The headphone reportedly uses lightweight, premium materials — they’re mostly plastic, with metal in strategic spots for strength and aesthetics. There is extensive use of memory foam and vegan leather, from the custom headband to the ear cups that hide a hinge, promising “the perfect acoustic seal without catching on hair.” Inside the cups, an innovative mechanism allows for “precise adjustment to equalize pressure and create an exceptional acoustic seal,” according to Sonos. The stainless steel headband smoothly extends and stays securely in place, we’re told. The ear cushions are replaceable — part of Sonos’s focus on making the Ace “built to last and made for daily wear.” They are also said to be responsibly made using circular materials —  materials that have been recovered from their first use and reprocessed to be used again in a new product. As a result, the Ace requires 17% less virgin plastic than comparable competitors. The included travel case is made mostly from recycled plastic bottles. One handy design feature is the use of contrasting colors inside the ear cups, making it obvious which cup goes on which ear. The fold-flat design should also make the Ace fairly portable.

Sonos Ace represents our ambition to create moving sound experiences that are equal to the moment we live in. It is an exciting new chapter as we embark on what it means to design for personal listening. True to Sonos’s heritage of premium products, each individual detail of Sonos Ace has been expertly crafted, custom designed, and tuned by the world’s leading sound experts to give you a listening experience unlike any other.

— Maxime Bouvat-Merlin, Sonos Chief Product Officer

Sonos Ace Headphones: The Downsides

According to the marketing info, the Sonos Ace offers lossless sound. But most users will not experience lossless audio quality most of the time, if ever, with the Ace. There are two ways to get lossless audio into your ears through the Ace. You can connect the headphones to an audio source via USB-C, or you can connect via bluetooth to a compatible Android device with Qualcomm Snapdragon Sound and AptX Lossless support. There’s no lossless bluetooth for users of Apple iOS devices. And as I have bemoaned before, the list of Android devices that support AptX Lossless is woefully short, and does not include any devices from Samsung or Google — makers of the most popular Android phones and tablets.

What about Wi-Fi?

Sonos Ace on modelBecause lossless bluetooth is still largely unavailable, and because the whole Sonos ecosystem has been built around Wi-Fi from the start, many hoped (and frankly, expected) that a Sonos headphone would include a Wi-Fi connection for lossless wireless audio and access to the full-featured Sonos experience. Instead, Sonos has introduced headphones that basically won't work as part of an existing Sonos system. Many Sonos users, including my brother Dan, wanted wireless headphones that they could add to their existing multi-room systems, like any other Sonos product. Headphones that they could choose as a Wi-Fi music source from the Sonos app. Headphones that could be grouped together with other headphones in a “zone,” as you can with multiple speakers, to make it easy for groups to watch together without disturbing others. And headphones that could play catch to an instant swap of music playing on your home speakers, so when you walk out the door, the music needn’t be interrupted. There is even a precedent for this last feature. The Sonos Roam bluetooth speaker can auto-switch from Wi-Fi mode to bluetooth mode when you leave the house, and auto-switch back when you return home, allowing your tunes to seamlessly leave the house with you and then play on your home system again when you get back. These are the features that many Sonos users were anxious to experience in the first Sonos headphones. Without them, the Sonos Ace is “no better than Sony or Bose,” according to one disappointed member of the Sonos users forum. One challenge for Wi-Fi headphones is that using Wi-Fi eats up battery life more quickly than does a bluetooth connection. But I think many users would accept reduced battery life in exchange for the features described above. As part of a complete Sonos system, Sonos headphones would likely have more of an at-home use case than a typical wireless headphone designed for use on the go. Nobody watches TV for 30 hours at a time. How hard would it be for the Ace to have a selectable Wi-Fi “Home mode,” or a charging cradle that would make recharging more convenient on a nightstand or side table?

I was looking forward to Sonos headphones being able to access all my configured Sonos audio services directly over Wi-Fi just like any other Sonos kit. Instead it’s very disappointing to realize that they’re not really part of the Sonos family at all.

— Paul Grimshaw, Sonos User

Future Updates?

According to TechRadar, it's possible that an option to use the Sonos Ace within the context of a multi-room Sonos system could come in the future, but it’s not currently planned. The headphones do have Wi-Fi antennas built in, but currently they are only used to connect the Ace to a Sonos soundbar for the handoff of TV audio. At launch, this handoff feature only works with the Sonos Arc soundbar, but will be coming to the Sonos Beam, Sonos Beam Gen 2, and Sonos Ray at some unspecified time in the future. Those Sonos users who focus more on TV audio will likely be big fans of this feature, and of the Sonos Ace headphones in general. Users who are more into music and whole-home audio might be disappointed by the Ace in its current form. Do you think the Ace headphones will satisfy existing Sonos users who have been asking for a Sonos headphone, or has the company failed to deliver key features that would differentiate the Ace from competitors made by Sony, Bose, and Apple? Share your thoughts in the related forum thread below.

More information: Sonos Ace Headphones


About the author:
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Jacob is a music-lover and audiophile who enjoys convincing his friends to buy audio gear that they can't afford. He's also a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles.

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