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Sonos Ace vs Apple AirPods Max

Can the home theater-focused Sonos Ace outperform Apple's noise-canceling AirPods Max?
By

Published onJune 5, 2024

Sonos Ace
MSRP: $449.00
7.4
Check price
Positives
Premium build quality
Dolby Atmos with head tracking
aptX Lossless via Snapdragon Sound
Integration with Sonos soundbars
Negatives
Tight fit for large ears
No IP rating
Default sound
Limited app features
Expensive
The Bottom Line.
Sonos has made a brave first step into the headphone market with the Sonos Ace. These premium headphones are designed for people who want to bring the immersiveness of a home theater experience wherever they go. However, the Sonos Ace isn't immune from its own share of first-gen fumbles, with room for improvement in regards to sound quality and ANC performance.Read full review...
Apple AirPods Max
MSRP: $424.99
8
Check price
Positives
Nice design and solid build quality
Amazing active noise canceling and transparency mode
Comfortable ear pads and fabric headband
Decent battery life
Button and digital crown are great to use
Good sound quality with no distortion
Great connection strength with Bluetooth 5.0
Negatives
No 3.5mm headphone jack becomes a pain
Uses a Lightning connector instead of USB-C
Proximity sensors and voice assistant activation do not work on Android or Windows
No aptX or LDAC high quality codec support
The smart case is absolutely terrible and provides no protection
Microphone quality is just okay
The Bottom Line.
While the Apple AirPod Max is a great pair of headphones with best-in-class active noise canceling (ANC) and a good sound signature, it also has a few annoying quirks that make it very obviously an Apple product. If you live in the Apple ecosystem and already love your AirPods Pro, then the AirPods Max is more of the same just in a pair of over-ears.Read full review...

The Sonos Ace and Apple AirPods Max are two premium over-ear headphones that cater to different audiences. The AirPods Max seamlessly integrates with Apple’s ecosystem, offering features like Spatial Audio, auto-pause, and easy device switching for iOS users. On the other hand, the Sonos Ace is designed to bring an immersive home theater experience on the go, with support for Dolby Atmos, head-tracking, and integration with Sonos soundbars.

While the AirPods Max excels in noise cancelation and transparency mode, the Sonos Ace offers more flexibility in terms of wired and wireless connections, as well as codec support. Both headphones deliver good sound quality but with distinct tuning preferences, making the choice between them largely dependent on the user’s ecosystem, preferred audio experience, and specific requirements.

Editor’s note: this article was published on June 5, 2024, and is the first version of the article. Updates will follow as the market changes.

What’s it like to use the Sonos Ace compared to the Apple AirPods Max?

The AirPods Max have a sleek all-metal design that looks and feels premium but is also quite heavy at 385g. The Sonos Ace opt for a lighter plastic and steel construction that still feels durable yet is more comfortable for extended wear. Both have well-padded ear cups, though the Sonos isn’t as deep, which could be an issue for those with larger ears.

In terms of controls, Apple keeps things minimal with the digital crown for volume/playback and a single button for ANC/transparency. Sonos has a more comprehensive button/slider layout with separate controls for volume, playback, ANC, and even a slider to swap audio to Sonos soundbars.

Which ecosystem do you want to invest in?

The AirPods Max auto-pause audio when removed from your head and resumes when you put them back on—a convenient touch missing from Sonos. However, the lack of a power button means the AirPods Max is always on when not in its case, needlessly draining the battery.

Connectivity differs vastly, too. The AirPods Max lacks a 3.5mm jack and requires pricey adapters for wired use. The Sonos Ace includes USB-C and 3.5mm cables in the box, but the AirPods Max integrates seamlessly into Apple’s ecosystem over wireless.

So, in essence, the AirPods Max offers a more streamlined but Apple-centric experience. At the same time, the Sonos Ace opts for greater flexibility at the cost of slightly busier controls and design.

The Sonos Ace features a tactile slider (Content Key) and buttons for playback, volume, and mode switching.

ActionControl key (slider)Noise control button
Action
Single press
Control key (slider)
Play/pause
Noise control button
Toggle ANC/aware mode
Action
Double press
Control key (slider)
Track forward
Noise control button
N/A
Action
Triple press
Control key (slider)
Track backward
Noise control button
N/A
Action
Long press
Control key (slider)
Swap TV audio
Noise control button
Activate voice assistant

The AirPods Max uses a digital crown for volume and playback, with a dedicated button for toggling ANC and Transparency mode.

ActionMedia controlsCall controls
Action
Noise control button
Media controls
Toggle ANC and Transparency mode
Call controls

Action
Headset: remove/wear
Media controls
Auto-pause/play
Call controls

Action
Digital Crown: rotate
Media controls
Adjust volume
Call controls

Action
Digital Crown: one press
Media controls
Play/pause
Call controls
Answer/end call; answer incoming call and put current call on hold
Action
Digital Crown: two presses
Media controls
Skip track
Call controls
Reject incoming call; answer incoming call and end current call
Action
Digital Crown: three presses
Media controls
Previous track
Call controls

Action
Digital Crown: hold
Media controls

Call controls
Reject second incoming call
Action
Customizable controls?
Media controls
Yes, ANC toggle only
Call controls
No

Should you use the apps of either Sonos Ace or Apple AirPods Max?

Both the Sonos and Apple apps offer additional features and customization options for their respective headphones.

The Sonos app provides access to an equalizer, head-tracking settings, and Bluetooth multipoint configuration. It also allows you to enable TV Audio Swap with compatible Sonos soundbars, enhancing the home theater experience. The Sonos app is available on iOS and Android.

The Apple app doesn’t offer an equalizer for the AirPods Max, but it does enable features like Spatial Audio and seamless device switching within the Apple ecosystem. While you can connect the AirPods Max to Android phones, Android users will miss out on all the additional features, such as proximity sensors or virtual assistants.

If you’re deeply invested in either ecosystem or want to take advantage of the unique features each app offers, using the respective app is recommended. However, if you’re primarily concerned with basic playback controls, the apps may not be essential.

How do the Sonos Ace and Apple AirPods Max connect?

Both headphones offer wireless connectivity via Bluetooth, but the Sonos Ace has an advantage in terms of wired options and codec support.

The Sonos Ace support Bluetooth 5.4 with SBC, AAC, and aptX Lossless via Snapdragon Sound. It also includes USB-C to C and USB-C to 3.5mm cables in the box, allowing for wired use with various devices.

The Apple AirPods Max, on the other hand, use Bluetooth 5.0 with AAC and SBC codecs. It lacks a headphone jack, requiring a separate Lightning-to-3.5mm cable (sold separately) for wired use. It also doesn’t support high-quality codecs like aptX or LDAC.

While the AirPods Max offer seamless connectivity within Apple’s ecosystem, the Sonos Ace provide more flexibility for wired and wireless connections across different devices and platforms.

Is battery life better on the Sonos Ace or Apple AirPods Max?

The Sonos Ace offer slightly better battery life than the Apple AirPods Max. In our standardized testing, the Sonos Ace lasted for 32 hours and 13 minutes with ANC enabled, while the AirPods Max lasted around 21 hours with ANC on.

Both headphones offer decent battery life, but the Sonos Ace have an edge, providing enough listening time for a couple of days’ worth of commutes or even a transatlantic flight.

It’s worth noting that the AirPods Max lack a physical power button and remains on for a few hours after being removed from the case, potentially draining the battery faster if not used regularly.

Do the Sonos Ace or Apple AirPods Max block noise better?

Both the Sonos Ace and Apple AirPods Max offer excellent noise canceling performance, but the AirPods Max have a slight edge in overall noise reduction.

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According to isolation testing, the Sonos Ace can reduce the loudness of external noises like buses, trains, and airplane engines by about 74% with ANC enabled. This is impressive, but the AirPods Max outperform it, achieving noise reduction of up to 83%.

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The AirPods Max consistently cancel low and midrange frequencies more effectively than the Sonos Ace, making for a quieter commute or plane ride. However, both headphones provide good isolation and noise canceling capabilities, making them suitable for noisy environments.

Do the Sonos Ace sound better than the Apple AirPods Max?

Both the Sonos Ace and Apple AirPods Max offer good sound quality, but they have different sound signatures that cater to different preferences.

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The AirPods Max have a more neutral and balanced sound profile, with a slightly reduced emphasis in the upper midrange and a minimal boost in the sub-bass region. This results in clear vocals and a modest but controlled low-end response.

In comparison, the Sonos Ace have a more pronounced bass emphasis, especially in the sub-bass and mid-bass regions. This can add warmth and depth to the sound but may also cause fatigue during prolonged listening sessions, particularly with bass-heavy music.

The chart below shows how the sound of the Sonos Ace and AirPods Max was assessed by the Multi-Dimensional Audio Quality Score (MDAQS) algorithm from HEAD acoustics.

Both headphones score very well. According to our virtual panel of listeners, most people will enjoy the default sound of these headphones.

Do the Sonos Ace or Apple AirPods Max have a better microphone?

For microphone quality, the Ace and AirPods Max appear to be on par at the most basic level. Neither was an initial standout as a headphone mic, though their general capabilities should be enough to retain vocal quality under varied use cases.

Sonos Ace microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Ideal conditions):

Sonos Ace microphone demo (Office conditions):

Apple AirPods Max microphone demo (Office conditions):

Sonos Ace vs Apple AirPods Max: Price and availability

The Apple AirPods Max was originally released in 2020 and still goes for $429 at Amazon today. We do expect Apple to release a second-generation version sometime soon, which could mean the original see a price drop. The Sonos Ace launched in 2024 and goes for $449 at Amazon and is the first and only headphones from Sonos.

Should you get the Sonos Ace or Apple AirPods Max?

Deciding between the Sonos Ace and Apple AirPods Max depends on how invested you are in their respective ecosystems and what features matter most to you.

sonos ace and airpods max
The Sonos Ace and AirPods Max look very similar in white.

If you’re deeply entrenched in Apple’s world of devices and services, the AirPods Max is the more logical choice. Its seamless integration with iOS, Spatial Audio support, auto-pause sensors, and superior noise cancelation make it the ultimate wireless headphones for Apple users. However, the lack of a 3.5mm jack and the need for adapters is frustrating.

On the other hand, the Sonos Ace are an excellent option for those who want an immersive, home theater-like experience on the go with Dolby Atmos and head-tracking. Its versatile wired and wireless connectivity also makes it more platform-agnostic. But it can’t quite match the AirPods Max’s noise cancelation prowess. For users deeply invested in the Sonos speaker ecosystem already, the Ace provides cool features like swapping audio to your Sonos soundbar.

Ultimately, if you prioritize a tightly integrated, clean experience centered around Apple’s ecosystem, the AirPods Max is superb, albeit expensive. But if audio versatility, unique sound tuning, and home theatre capabilities are paramount, the Sonos Ace stands out as the more flexible, if still pricey, option among the best headphones.

See price at Amazon
Sonos Ace
Sonos Ace
Great build quality
Dolby Atmos support
Integration with Sonos soundbars
See price at Amazon
Apple AirPods Max
14%off
Apple AirPods Max
One of the best ANC
20-hour battery life
Well-built pads

Frequently asked questions

Yes, both headphones have microphones that allow you to take phone calls hands-free when connected to your smartphone.

No, neither headphone utilizes touch controls. The Sonos Ace has physical buttons and sliders, while the AirPods Max relies on its digital crown and a single button.

The AirPods Max lack any official IP rating for water/sweat resistance. The Sonos Ace also does not have an IP rating listed.

The Sonos app provides a basic EQ to adjust the sound profile on the Ace headphones. Apple does not include an EQ for the AirPods Max.

Neither the Sonos Ace nor AirPods Max officially support wireless charging. Both require wired charging via USB-C or Lightning cable, respectively.

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