Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: which should you buy?

When it comes to wireless headphones, there's a new kid in town. Over the last two decades Sonos has remained the undisputed kind of multi-room audio, and now it's branched out into the world of wireless headphones with the Sonos Ace. But it can't just waltz in and take charge – the established players are going to put up a fight.

Bose is one such rival. The US company invented noise cancelling headphones, and currently leads the pack with its QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

If it wants to make an impression, Sonos will have its work cut out. Let's see how it fares.

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: price

The Sonos Ace go on sale on 5th June for £449 / $449 / AU$699. That's not cheap, especially for a brand with no track record in the highly competitive headphones space.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones launched at the end of last year for a very similar £450 / $429 / AU$649. They have seen some discounts though, especially around big sale events like Black Friday and Amazon Prime Day. The Ace aren't likely to see any deals anytime soon, and possibly never in their lifetime (Sonos discounts are about as rare and miserly as Apple ones).

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones **

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: design

A hand holding the white Sonos Ace and black Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones by their headbands with a grass lawn in the background.

(Image credit: Future)

Overall, we quite like the design of the Sonos Ace. Like other Sonos devices, they're minimalist (with no visible hinges) but with some nice touches that stop them looking bland. The Sonos logo is nice and subtle, but shimmers when it catches the light. Memory foam (coated in vegan leather) cushions the earpads and headband, while they're lightweight with nicely judged ear clamping pressure. The stainless steel yokes that make the headphones slide along the headband when adjusting really add to the premium feel.

Not all of our team members were enamoured with the design, however. Some found the earcups too small, and without enough room for their ears to breathe, they soon heated up. But those with smaller ears had no complaints.

The earcups swivel flat, but they don't fold up like the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones, so they'll take up more space in a pocket or bag than Bose's model. Sonos has opted for physical button controls, whereas the Bose have two buttons alongside a capacitive touch strip – which you will prefer will depend on personal preference, but we do enjoy the reliability of a button press (though it has to be said, the multifunction slider does feel a bit cheap).

Two finishes are available – black or soft white – and both feature differing shades of earcup mesh to distinguish between left and right. 

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones are also a premium offering, featuring metal yokes and pleather headband and earcups. They come in a Black or White Smoke finish.

Again, the grip pressure is just right, and the capacitive strip is intuitive and responsive for adjusting the volume. Unlike the Sonos, there's no wired listening over USB-C.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones **

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: features

A hand holding the white Sonos Ace and black Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones by their headbands in front of some vinyl sleeves.

(Image credit: Future)

The Ace are bursting with features. Bluetooth 5.4 is onboard, and they're compatible with lossless audio from Snapdragon Sound’s aptX Lossless and Apple’s ALAC codecs. They don't support next-gen codecs like Auracast and LE Audio, but Sonos hasn't ruled them out in future headphones. The same goes for wi-fi – one of the most rumoured features is conspicuous by its absence, but Sonos is keeping an open mind. Sadly that means they can't integrate to your Sonos multi-room system, though there are some neat home cinema features involving a Sonos soundbar that we'll come on to.

The 30-hour battery life (with Bluetooth and ANC activated) is six more than the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones' 24. What's worse is that the Bose's battery life drops to 18 hours with the Bose Immersive Audio feature enabled. 

Wear detection pauses/resumes playback when you take the headphones off/put them back on respectively, while spatial audio with dynamic head tracking plays nice with the Dolby Atmos format, including that and and 360 Reality Audio tracks from Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal and Deezer. The Sonos app lets you toggle playback settings like spatial audio (and dynamic headtracking separately), and tweak the equaliser.

Now the home cinema features. TV Audio Swap plays the sound from your Sonos Arc soundbar through your headphones at one touch for private viewing – in our demo, this was seamless and instant, though we did have some issues with lip syncing and crackling. Hopefully this will be fixed soon via a firmware update. 

TV Audio Swap only works on the Arc at the moment, but will come to other Sonos soundbars – Beam Gen 2, Beam Gen 1, Ray – in due course (older products like the Playbar won’t be supported).

TrueCinema calibration analyses your room and adjusts the headphones' audio to be more spatial and immersive, so it sounds like you're listening through a home cinema system instead of cans. This feature will roll out later in the year.

The Ace's battery will drain faster when connected to a Sonos soundbar, but they should still last two nights of movie watching in a row.

Bose's Immersive Audio tech launched with the Ultra Headphones – it's essentially Bose's take on spatial audio. There are two modes – Still and Motion, depending on whether you're stationary or moving. Like the Ace, the Ultra include Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Sound Technology suite which gives them aptX Adaptive support and the latency and stability benefits the tech brings. Multipoint Bluetooth is also part of the package, for connecting wirelessly to two sources simultaneously and then seamlessly switching between them.

On paper, the Sonos Ace play a good features game. But the issues we experienced, plus the fact that TrueCinema isn't ready for launch means we have to give this round to Bose.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones **

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: sound

Black and white pairs of Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones lying on a black surface

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Sonically, the Sonos Ace just aren't up to it. Premium over-ear headphones is a fiercely competitive market, and the Ace leave a lot to be desired in terms of sound quality.

It's likeable enough, but a bit conservative for our liking. Sonos has played it safe, and that's not to its credit. It's all a bit congested too, with a lack of spaciousness and distinction between each elements. It all just merges into a blurry, confused mess. 

Details levels aren't bad, but they're still trounced by the Bose. The QC Ultras are a lot bolder and more powerful, especially in the low end, and while the Ace does dig up some pretty deep low frequencies, it's at the expense of the other parts of the frequency range. As a result, it misses out on some finer details.

They're a little better with TV and movie content, and spatial audio does widen the soundscape. Fingers crossed this gets even better when the TrueCinema features finally rolls out.

The Bose QuietComfort UltraHeadphones might sound a bit uptight at first, but once they've had time to bed in they loosen up considerably, providing a wonderfully entertaining sound. Their enthusiasm for their source material spans genres, with a precise, punchy delivery that will get your toes tapping. 

Highs and lows alike sound rich and refined, while there's a real sense of dynamism. We're not wholly sold on Bose's Immersive Audio, especially as it drains the battery quicker. But you can always leave it off.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones **

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: noise cancellation

Sonos Ace headphones connected to Sonos Arc in living room setting

(Image credit: Sonos)

You toggle between the Ace's ANC and Aware (transparency) mode by pressing the button on the right earcup. There are no other levels of ANC. While it does dampen down general background noise, you do find some frequencies getting through.

It's nowhere near as advanced as Bose's ANC tech. CustomTune calibration automatically optimises the ANC depending on your surroundings, while Bose Aware Mode with ActiveSense automatically adjusts the amount of ANC you’re hearing, so your music isn’t drowned out by particularly loud noises. You can also set your own ANC presets and adjust the amount of ambient noise that comes through.

It's probably the best ANC performance available, reducing train rumbles and other loud sounds to a mere murmur. And with all these customisation options at hand, it's up to you how much noise you want to block out.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones **

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: verdict

We had high hopes for the Sonos Ace, but they don't live up to the hype. Their flagship features are buggy or not available yet, while their bread and butter (sound quality and ANC), though not bad, can't match the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. And at the same price as the Bose with little to no likelihood of a discount, they're going to be a tough sell.

We like the Bose enormously. Their sound has a lot more energy and personality than the Sonos, they're well designed and fold down to fit in a pocket or bag. And the noise cancellation is still the best going. No contest.


Read our Sonos Ace review

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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.