I used the new Sonos Ace headphones on a 14 hour flight – here's how it went

Sonos' first-ever headphones are great for the home – but how do they handle travel?

Sonos Ace 14 hour flight test
(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

Today, Wednesday 5 June, marks something of a landmark occasion for the best headphones. That's because Sonos has finally released its first-ever pair of over-ears, the Sonos Ace, after so many years of rumour and speculation.

The initial Sonos Ace reviews have been, well, 'mixed' is a fair word to use. I've seen some 3-star scores, a lot dishing out 4-stars, and a smattering of 5-star awards too. Personally I love Sonos' brand new headphones – despite their not inconsiderable £/$449 asking price – but I've been sure to put these headphones to task over the last two weeks.

One of the biggest trials I've thrown at the Sonos Ace was taking them on a trip from London to Hong Kong and back – the return flight officially listed at 14 hours and 40 minutes by British Airways. Not the length of time you want to be stuck in a big metal tube with a pair of sub-par headphones, that's for sure.

But the Sonos Ace headphones are no such disappointment. And I've been testing the best travel headphones for over a decade – so ensured the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones were also in my bag (but that's a comparison for another time) – having tested many dozens of pairs over the years. 

Here I'll detail how the Sonos Ace's comfort, design, durability, battery life, sound quality and travel case handled my epic long-haul trip. Has the wait been worth it and can Sonos' first-ever headphones live up to the hype and come out on top?

1. The comfort is unquestionable

Sonos Ace review

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

For me the single most impressive thing about the Sonos Ace is the comfort factor. I've never worn a pair of headphones that are more comfortable. It's almost like wearing air, despite a weight of 312g – about the same as a Big Mac and medium fries (save the drink).

Interestingly nobody else travelling seemed to notice I was wearing a pair of yet-to-be-released Sonos headphones – or certainly said nothing about it – which goes to show the laser-debossed logo on the right earcup is subtle enough. Or maybe people are too polite – but I've had plenty of frequent travellers query me before about various products in the past, from Twelve South's AirFly Bluetooth dongle to the Bose QC Ultra Headphones.  

In terms of design the way the hinges are hidden within the Ace's earcups are hidden away creates a really elegant look. However, these aren't folding headphones, so for repeat travellers who want the smallest folded footprint there are other over-ears more suited. It's also worth pointing out that, as with many headphones, the earcups can shift around marginally, giving a different character to sound quality. 

2. But sleep isn't quite perfect

Sonos Ace review

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

For long-haul flights I've learnt to sleep – on this one I paid the extra to get myself into a decent seat upgrade (which makes the Ace's asking price seem reasonable by comparison) – and, given the hiss and whine of aircraft engines (and, in fairness, fellow passengers), I've become accustomed to sleeping in headphones. Many other travellers do the same, because supplied earplugs are terrible. 

Most headphones aren't designed to sleep in, to be frank. There are some specialist ones for home use, such as the Philips Kokoon Sleep Headphones, but that's a whole other deal. But when you get the Ace's memory foam earcups pressing into the side of your head they unsurprisingly lose much of that comfort factor. The magnetically-attaching earcups won't pop off by accident, though, which is a sign of good design. 

I'm more used to sleeping in the Bose QC Ultra Headphones these days, which take my preference in this regard. But the Sonos Ace aren't unserviceable – and for the sheer comfort factor of normal wear get a big thumbs up. 

3. ANC is more impressive than first thought

Sonos Ace review

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

But whether my head was down for a nap or I was upright and using the headphones as normal, the active noise-cancelling (ANC) on offer here remained impressive. Which was contrary to my initial impressions when first introduced to the headphones behind closed doors about six weeks ago, back in April.

That's why real-world testing is such an important factor in how we test here at T3. As said in my Sonos Ace review, I've put the headphones through various situational tests, challenging the ANC with wind tear on walks, against my local gym's music blare-outs, on the commute and, this, on a long-haul flight. This isn't adaptive ANC, like some other brands, but sometimes I thought it could have been – as it does an epic job of blocking out external sounds. 

On the particular Boeing 787-10 aircraft covering my route, that meant a fairly decent throng of engine sounds and background air hiss (albeit less than the 777 – which also serves this route). That became unnoticeable on this flight. Any air steward queries meant popping an earcup off – although I could have activated Ambient, the only other ANC option, which permits a frequency passthrough. All in all a decent performance. 

4. Sound quality is ace – with some tweaks

Sonos Ace app

(Image credit: Sonos / Future)

Some of the first Sonos Ace reviews regarded the headphones as lacking in dynamism. I think that's a little harsh in the overall context of the market, as I've heard much less engaging pairs before. 

That said, you do need to ensure you have the Sonos app downloaded and tweak the sound profile to your preference. There's a Loudness switch to enhance lower volumes, for example. More importantly, however, is the +/-5 dual-band equaliser (EQ) – a lick of extra bass and even more treble gets these headphones to a good place. 

And once that in-app sound preference is set that's how the Sonos Ace continue to sound. So when I was watching an in-flight movie – Wonka if you must know, and yes it's brilliant – with that ANC in full effect, all those big musical numbers tickled my ears delightfully. Switching to Pete Tong's BBC Radio 1 show and the bass delivered amply – although it's not as monstrous as you'll find from some other low-end-focused cans. 

There was no threat to battery life either – the 30 hours on offer here would handle the LHR-HKG trip there and back in one charge. However, I did have further to go – to Taipei and back – and having not charged the Ace amply, the battery did call time on my return trip. No battery means no sound – so I had to switch to the in-flight headphones provided and, my oh my, that only goes to highlight the Sonos' significantly high comfort level.

5. But the case doesn't cut it

Sonos Ace review

(Image credit: Future / Mike Lowe)

One of the biggest criticisms to throw the Ace's way is the included carry case. It feels very much like a first attempt, as if it's not been tested for, y'know, actually carrying the headphones further than living room to kitchen or something. It didn't take long during my long-haul journey for the case to show its share of issues. 

First up, the case's material – made of 75% recycled plastic bottles, yet with a sort-of fluffy finish – seemed to reward contact with visible markings. I had scratched the case within my bag in little time – and it seems permanent. 

Secondly, the case's zip can get caught too readily, which is frustrating. That's made all the worse by the zipper line being easily 'pressed in' – something that happens easily within a bag during transport – and making the case even more difficult to open. 

Seeing as I spent most of this long-haul trip with the Sonos Ace around my neck, I wasn't too fussed about the case's shortcomings while listening. Besides, with ANC that challenges the competition, and comfort that's simply untouchable in my option, Sonos' first-ever headphones are a winner – and that's without even mentioning the at-home focus of TrueCinema and TV Audio Swap providing a unique addition for home cinema enthusiasts.

Mike Lowe
Tech Editor

Mike is the Tech Editor at T3.com. He's been writing about consumer technology for 15 years and, as a phones expert, has seen hundreds of handsets over the years – swathes of Android devices, a smattering of iPhones, and a batch of Windows Phone too (remember those?). But that's not all, as a tech and audio aficionado his beat at T3 also covers tablets, laptops, gaming, home cinema, TVs, speakers and more – there's barely a tech stone unturned he's not had a hand on. Previously the Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint for 10 years, he's also provided work for publications such as Wired, The Guardian, Metro, and more. In addition to his tech knowledge, Mike is also a flights and travel expert, having travelled the globe extensively. You'll likely find him setting up a new mobile phone, critiquing the next MacBook, all while planning his next getaway... or cycling somewhere.