Smart speaker maker Sonos releases its first headphones, the Ace

Home audio giant Sonos is branching out with its first foray into headphones, the $449 Sonos Ace. Announced on Tuesday, the Ace takes aim at the high-end market currently dominated by Apple, Sony, and Bose.

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The over-ear headphones boast features designed to appeal to existing Sonos customers and entice newcomers. Available in black and white, the Ace goes on sale June 5th.

“This has been the most requested product from our customers of all time,” says Sonos CEO Patrick Spence. “Tens of thousands have asked for headphones, and that’s a powerful message.”

Spence sees a significant opportunity in the headphone market, a $5 billion space experiencing double-digit growth – a welcome contrast to Sonos’ recent struggles. The company reported a wider-than-expected quarterly loss earlier this month, leading to a stock price drop.

Spence hopes the Ace will attract new customers to the Sonos ecosystem and bolster revenue. The company anticipates reaching $1.7 billion in sales for fiscal 2024 (ending September).

A key differentiator for the Ace is its “swap” feature. This allows users to seamlessly switch audio from a connected Sonos Arc soundbar to the headphones using Wi-Fi. While initially limited to newer soundbars for technical reasons, future compatibility with older models is planned.

“The swap feature is a game-changer,” says Spence. “It creates a compelling reason for existing Sonos users to choose our headphones and encourages others to invest in the complete Sonos experience.”

Sonos emphasizes comfort and noise cancellation as key selling points, aiming to address common customer complaints about competing headphones. Additionally, Spence highlights the Ace’s superior sound quality compared to Apple’s AirPods Max ($549).

The feature list is impressive: eight microphones, stainless steel construction, vegan leather ear cushions, spatial audio with head tracking, and a future update for room-based surround sound enhancement.

For intuitive control, the Ace offers a variety of hardware buttons: volume control with audio swap functionality, a noise-cancellation toggle, and an “Aware mode” similar to Apple’s Transparency mode for increased ambient noise awareness. Battery life is a strong 30 hours, with a quick-charge option providing three hours of playback time in just three minutes.

The Ace is the first of several new hardware products planned by Sonos in the coming years.  Also announced on Tuesday is the Roam 2, a mobile speaker with improved controls and Bluetooth pairing, addressing user feedback on the first version.

Looking beyond headphones, rumours suggest Sonos is developing a TV set-top box, in-ear headphones to rival AirPods, a large party speaker, and updates to its existing soundbar lineup.  Spence acknowledges the long-term potential of the television market and expresses a commitment to further innovation in headphones.

Sonos is making a bold move beyond the living room. The success of the Ace and future hardware ventures will determine if the company can effectively compete in new categories and reignite investor confidence.