Uh oh! I think I really like the Sonos Ace headphones

 Disclaimer: I am not an audiophile. I like things that sound good to my ears, and that's about as far down the rabbit hole as I care to go. If you have qualms with the opinions I express here as a result, please file a complaint with your local law enforcement, who I am very sure will give a shit.

I don't particularly enjoy reviewing things. Writing comprehensive diatribes about products doesn't, you know, rev my engines. Sure, every once in awhile I'll experience something so indescribably foul that I feel compelled to shoot a warning beacon into the air in the hopes that I can save other people from the torment to which I was subjected. But when it comes down to it, there are plenty of other things I'd rather do with my time, my website, my sanity, than documenting every little think about a thing the thing in my skull thinks.

But I bought the Sonos Ace headphones a week ago, and after spending a lot of time listening to podcasts, music, games, and video stuff, I am, honestly, pretty pleased with them. I like them. I might even really like them! I like them enough that I might have one of my friends pass them a folded piece of paper in Study Hall that says: Do you like Keenan? Y or N (circle one).

Maybe we'll go to prom![1]

So, to be clear, this isn't a review of the Sonos Ace headphones, but this is me answering very real and legitimate questions I have definitely, totally been asked in case anyone else might also think they could like these headphones and needs a little big of a nudge in one direction or another.

Okay, first question!

Keenan, why the Sonos Ace?

I've had pretty good experience with their products over the years. The sound system in our living room is comprised of a Sonos Arc and two Sonos One SL speakers as rear satellites. I have had very few issues, and, by and large, I love the sound these things pump out. I'm always blown away by the fact that the Sonos One SL are wireless. Something something technology and magic. That experience alone put these high up on my radar, which I am not confident works as a metaphor, but I am confident you know what I mean.

I should probably note that I am not a heavy user of their app, which I understand is a major point of contention with many Sonos customers out there at the moment. To me, the app is fine. I barely have to interact with it.

Aside from the trust I have in the overall sound and build quality of their products, the feature that swayed my purchasing decision the most was the Ace's alleged ability to transfer audio from the Arc sound bar directly to the headphones and back with the push of a button. That sounded fuckin' cool and exceptionally useful to me! My previous headphones were the AirPods Max, and while I could obviously use those with the Apple TV, the same could not be said for when I was playing the Xbox or PS5. My hope for the Ace was that they would be able to add new functionality, while completely replacing the AirPods Max (and also my Steelseries Arctis Nova Pro headset for PC gaming).

What was wrong with the AirPods Max and the... Arc..tis... Nova Pro? Steelseries? Whatever that is?

Look, I loved my AirPods Max for awhile. I got them when they launched a few years ago, and I've always enjoyed their sound. I thought they were comfortable. I liked that they were (kinda) pink! I liked that, when they worked, they were pretty seamless in switching between my various little Apple devices. The problem is that, with time, their reliability took a huge hit. It wasn't uncommon to put them on and just have them not recognize they were being worn. Or they would simply not show up on my phone, the device I used with them the most. I would often have to plug them in and unplug them again to kick them into gear. When that didn't work, I'd have to hard reset them. When that didn't work, I'd have to factory reset them and go through the whole setup process all over again. This happened multiple times in the last year, and it sucked! It got to a point where they caused more frustration than anything.

Also, it needs to be said that their standby battery life from the day that I got them was fucking abysmal. Apple's insistence that these lil bastards didn't need a power button, that they were smart enough to enter a low power mode when you weren't wearing them is—I mean, uh, what's a polite way to say fucking delusional? So God forbid you forget to put them back in their little case, lest you put them on a day later only to find they were nearly drained of power. COOL.

Oookay, and the Steelseries?

I don't want to talk about it! I was duped into thinking they'd be terrific because of how much I loved their predecessor, the Arctis 7. To Steelseries's credit, the Arctis Nova Pro do sound good, and the hot-swappable battery rules, especially for long gaming sessions. But the software that is essentially required to install to get them working properly is beyond awful. I cannot even begin to detail the hours and hours and hours of frustration of having to wrestle with the malignant beast that is Steelseries Sonar, a piece of software that felt specifically designed to piss me off.

Oh, and if I wore them for more than an hour, the inside of my left ear would start to feel actual, physical pain! WHAT?!

If you are considering buying the Arctis Nova Pro for PC gaming, I implore you: DO NOT DO IT. THEY ARE AWFUL AND NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. PLEASE. They are the Mountain Dew VooDEW Zero Sugar of gaming headsets.

Alright, so you like the Sonos Ace. Why?

Sound good.

Okay, yeah, I really enjoy how they sound. That's kinda, like, the big one, right? They are pleasing to my ears. I've left the EQ flat this entire week, so the way they sound out of the box is satisfying. Slightly warmer than the AirPods Max. I could see how some people might think the bass is slightly overtuned. Though I tend to be pretty sensitive to overblown bassiness, and these don't bother me in the slightest.

I've spent the week with the Sonos Ace listening to songs that I am very familiar with, songs that have a lot of playtime on the AirPods Max, and not once during that period have I missed or regretted replacing those.

They're also extremely comfortable. I never balked at the weight of the AirPods Max, but the Sonos Ace are noticeably lighter, while somehow not feeling cheaper. They aren't so light that I've forgotten that I'm wearing them, but they've come close. And they're comfortable enough that I can wear them for hours with no noticeable fatigue.

What about the fancy features? Transparency mode. Noise canceling. Spatial Audio. That stuff.

I'm just gonna say it. I think Spatial Audio kinda sucks. There were certain scenarios where it sounded good with the AirPods Max, but it mostly felt hollow, and think it's actually worse with the Sonos Ace. The head tracking stuff still feels pretty gimmicky, and is only truly useful in situations where I'm stationary, staring at a screen. Unfortunately, I tend to wear headphones around the house a lot, so the head tracking just becomes distracting, and it's kind of a pain in the ass to have to go into the app whenever I want to enable/disable it, so I've mostly left it off.[2]

On the other hand, I am blown away by the Transparency Mode (Aware Mode is what Sonos calls it) and Active Noise Canceling. Aware Mode is, honestly, nearly as good as the Transparency Mode with AirPods. In some ways, it's even better. The clarity and accuracy of sound piped in from the mics is stellar. It does occasionally clip in weird ways with sudden loud noises, like dishes clanking together when I'm unloading the dishwasher. But they're less sensitive than AirPods Max in that situation. I haven't had to put noise canceling on when doing the dishes like I would with the AirPods, because those could often produce unpleasant sound that hurt my ears.

The big complaint I have with Transparency Mode is that the Sonos Ace create a better seal on the ear than the Max, which contributes to a plugged ears sorta feeling when talking. I can hear my voice in my head as well as the sound coming in from the mic. It's the only time where I really notice I'm wearing headphones. Somehow the AirPods Max just nails that, but the Sonos get so close that I've largely adjusted.

But that seal also helps noise canceling excel. This was an area where the AirPods Max began to struggle—they were great for awhile, but with time and firmware updates, their capability diminished. Time will tell if the Sonos Ace succumb to a similar fate, but where they're at now, the noise canceling capability seems better.

Is there anything you miss from the AirPods Max?

The Digital Crown. It feels so good, and was perfect for adjusting volume. All of the buttons on the Sonos Ace are nice. They're very functional, but they don't quite feel as premium and satisfying to use as the Digital Crown.

lmao do they liek have an actual real case the airpod case is soooo stupid

Hi, yes, thank you for participating. They have a real case and it is nice, though I worry about ripping off the zipper every single time I open it.

Did you experience any annoying issues during setup, like perhaps where instead of getting to listen to the headphones right away, the Sonos app decided instead that you needed to spend ten minutes updating your fucking headphones, and also when that was done the TV Swap feature wasn't working until you discovered a random Reddit thread (because official Sonos support articles didn't have this documented at all) that made you dig into a setting tucked away in the bowels of the Sonos app and find a way to update the Arc's Wi-Fi settings to function properly with the Ace? Also, unrelated, do you find it a weird and slightly annoying choice that Sonos decided to call these headphones the Ace, when they have the Arc sound bar? Do you think that might be confusing to people?


Have you had any issues since?

No, actually. And to that point, I'm kinda blown away by how cool the TV Swap feature is. Once I got it set up properly, it really is just as easy as holding down the volume slider button thing for a second and it pops whatever audio is coming through the Arc sound bar[3] on over to the headphones. The quality is stellar, and it solved exactly what I hoped it would—I can play the Xbox or PS5 through these lovely headphones and not be annoying to my wife or my dog.

Any discernible latency with that?

Not that I can perceive. I was a little shocked to read RTINGS review, because in their testing they did notice some distracting latency. This has not been my experience at all. It's been basically flawless. So, uh, your mileage may vary?

Battery life!

Not a question! But it's good. Better than the AirPods Max (and not just because some genius put a power button on them). I've been happy with how long they last. No, I have not done any actual tests, because I value my mental health too much. Sonos claims 30 hours. I'm just gonna say that feels right.

Anything you're disappointed by?

The fact that I can't go fully wireless with my Windows PC. The Bluetooth connection on my PC is actual garbage. BUT, these have a USB-C port that I can connect either to the USB-C port or the 3.5mm jack on my PC. The wire is annoying, but dealing with the Steelseries software was exponentially more annoying, so this is a tradeoff I am happy to deal with.

What was your favorite song to listen to on them?

"Never Ever (feat. Susanne Sundfør)" by Röyksopp.[4] I am listening to it on repeat right now and it is very good.

Any final thoughts?

$450 is a lot to ask for headphones. The fact that these boast sound comparable to the AirPods Max, for $100 less, is nice. I actually ended up trading in my AirPods Max and knocking $130 of the purchase price. Knowing that I was replacing two annoying headphones, as well as adding functionality to my existing home audio setup, made that easier to justify.

If you don't have a Sonos sound bar, I don't know if I would say, "Hey, yo, run out and buy these." They are damned good, but something tells me you could be equally pleased with something comparable from Bose or Sony for a similar or cheaper price.

Are these actually questions people sent you? Sometimes it's hard to tell if you're serious or not.

I think life is full of wonderful little mysteries that we don't always have the answer to. You have to ask yourself whether or not it's worth sanding away every little bit of whimsy just to experience the feeling of superiority of knowing something. I, personally, understand the inclination. I was trained from a young age to look for answers—specifically, the right answers, as though the right answer is a thing that exists in all circumstances. But as I get older, I am often distressed by how imprisoned we are—collectively-speaking, of course—by literalism. Sometimes things can just be, and when we learn to just accept that in those situations there is, in fact, no right. No wrong. No objectivity. I mean, Christ, there are people out there who don't like The Last Jedi. I could drive myself fucking insane trying to convince them that it is the best thing Star Wars has produced since Empire,[5] but the reality is that there's no way to produce any sort of factual evidence for a completely subjective claim. We'd all be better off if we learned to accept that it's not always possible to explain things. Some things just are, and that's okay. We don't need to spend our lives trying to correct perceived injustices.

  1. omg do u think we'll get married?? ↩︎

  2. Worth pointing out that while I don't mind the Sonos app for managing the headphones, I do miss the fact that these are not nearly as tightly integrated with iOS. Something to be said for first-party peripherals—when they work. ↩︎

  3. And Soon™ to their other sound bars. Neat! ↩︎

  4. Also that music video rules. ↩︎

  5. Which I unironically believed until Andor came out. ↩︎

A Very Good Blog by Keenan

15 Jul 2024 at 19:58

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