It looks like Sonos is making a pair of headphones. This would be quite a departure for the brand, which has built a reputation as the king of multi-room audio. But if the Sonos track record is anything to go by, then we're certainly interested to see the company try its hand at something new.
And the Sonos headphones could be here very soon indeed. In a recent earnings call with investors, Sonos' CEO Patrick Spence said the firm would launch a new product in March 2021. While he didn't give any details, speculation is rife he was talking about Sonos' first wireless headphones.
The firm has since sent out an invite for a launch event on 9th March – see more about it below.
We've rounded up all the latest Sonos leaks and rumours, and sprinkled a bit of industry knowledge of our own into the mix, to bring you the best possible idea ahead of a launch. And if we're in the right ballpark, it looks like we're in for a treat...
Sonos headphones: release date
The Sonos headphones could be here very soon indeed. In his recent call with investors, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence promised "to deliver innovative new products", and said a new device would launch in March.
The firm has also sent out an invite for a hardware launch event on 9th March. The invite shows someone walking through a field, hinting that whatever device launches will be portable.
That could refer to Sonos' second Bluetooth speaker that was spotted recently. Or it could be Sonos' first pair of headphones. Spence did confirm for sure that "in the next year" there would be a product in a new category for Sonos. So this makes us very confident that the headphones are coming in 2021. Whether it's March or later in the year, we'll find out soon enough.
Sonos headphones: price
For consumer audio, Sonos speakers tend to have a small premium over competitor products – wireless speakers and also soundbars. So with its first headphones, we would expect to see something on the more premium side, with potentially a more affordable product further down the road. That's certainly the way Sonos approached the speaker and soundbar categories.
While any Sonos headphones perhaps won't trouble the Apple AirPods Max's astonishingly high price of £549 ($549, AU$899), we can expect them to be similar to well-respected and well-established rivals like Sony and Bose.
Sony's superb WH-1000XM4 (which have been some of our favourite over-ear headphones since they launched) retail for £350 ($350, AU$550), while Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 go for £350 ($399, AU$550).
It's a tricky line for Sonos to walk. Price them too low, and consumers won't expect great sound quality. Too high, and they will turn off some potential buyers. Sonos has a large and dedicated following, but it's not quite at Apple levels of slavish dedication. Hence an asking price of over £400 ($550, AU$700) is probably off the cards.
According to Bloomberg's sources, the headphones will cost about £220 ($300, AU$400). That would undercut Sony's range toppers by quite a way.
Sonos headphones: design
Headphones come in all shapes and sizes: in-ear, on-ear, over-ear, wireless, wireless earbuds, sporty models, and so on. It seems like Sonos is going for an over-ear wireless model, as detailed by a patent that emerged in September last year.
The patent shows two designs, both of which take an over-ear, wireless form. They both have oval earcups that are angled slightly so that the lower part sits a little further forward on the wearer.
They look like a pretty standard pair of over-ear cans, but the devil is in the detail. Apple's AirPods Max raised the bar somewhat in the design stakes lately – not only do they feature premium materials and an "obsessive craftsmanship", they also let you swap the earcups for replacements. Handy if yours wear out, or you just want to sport a different colour for a change.
Replaceable parts are of course more sustainable and something we're also seeing in wireless speakers such as the B&O Beosound Level, and indeed the Sonos Move (Sonos now sells a replacement battery kit for the Move).
Given that Sonos recently pledged to deliver "innovative new products", and that it has already adopted a culture of replaceable parts in its other products, there's a high likelihood that its first headphones will look to play on this.
This was bolstered by another patent recently. As well as mentioning interchangeable ear cushions, a USB-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, it shows a sleeker look courtesy of headband rods that flow directly into the outer ear cups (the original design relied on a more traditional rocker bracket).
Another neat new touch is the Sonos logo, which is now proudly displayed on the ear cup. Though as it's printed in broken line text, it's not fixed in that position.
Sonos headphones: features
The first patent also points to some pretty cool new features. Chief among them? Swap, which lets the cans work seamlessly with your home Sonos speakers like the Play:5.
The idea is simple. You come home listening to your headphones, and can 'swap' the music to your home Sonos system, so the same song switches to play from your Sonos multi-room speakers. It should happen seamlessly, so the song doesn't miss a beat.
As the patent puts it: "For example, if a particular piece of content is currently playing on the wireless headphones, a swap changes the playback to play that piece of content on one or more other playback devices on the local network."
The "one or more" is crucial here. It means that what's playing on your headphones could 'swap' to blast from every speaker in your house, as long as they're all on the same network (and presumably are all Sonos speakers).
It's not something we've seen in headphones before, though we have seen something similar in other devices – for example, apps that let you start watching a TV show on your phone and pick up where you left off on your TV when you come home. Some headphones can also detect when you take them off and pause what's playing. Sonos' feature would seem like a natural evolution of these two functions.
Other than that, the patent shows all the usual bells and whistles: voice assistant control (as seen on the firm's multi-room speakers and soundbars, like the Beam), volume slider, playback controls and a mic for handsfree calls. In fact, according to a Bloomberg report, which predates the patent's emergence, the headphones will work with multiple virtual assistants, much like the Sonos Arc and Sonos One speakers.
We would also expect active noise cancelling (ANC), though how many levels and whether – and how much – control the wearer has over it remains to be seen. One of the patent designs mentions a rotating knob, which would give the wearer control over the ANC. The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 (pictured, above) give you 10 levels of ANC to choose from – Sonos doesn't have to match that necessarily, but some control would be nice.
Lastly, battery life. The AirPods Max manage 20 hours between charges, while the Sony WH-1000XM4 manage 30. We would expect Sonos to deliver somewhere between these two figures, though a lot depends on what kind of feature set it offers. No noise cancellation? Then there's no excuse for not giving us more than 30 hours playback on a single charge, thank you very much.
Sonos headphones: initial verdict
Launching a premium pair of noise-cancelling wireless headphones is no mean feat – competition is fierce at that end of the market, with Sony, Sennheiser, B&W and Bose all vying for supremacy. It's only been made harder by the recent entry of industry titan Apple into the space.
In its 20-odd years in the business, Sonos has built a solid reputation as an audio pioneer, so a move into headphones could be a very smart one indeed. If it can marry a desirable design, great sound and a killer feature set complete with an industry-first feature like Swap, it could be a real game-changer.
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