Sonos is said to be close to launching its first ever pair of headphones. This would be quite a departure for the brand, which has built a reputation as the king of multi-room audio. Will Sonos' excellent track record help it break into the personal audio market? Here's everything we know so far about the Sonos wireless headphones...
The exciting news is that the Sonos headphones could launch this year. The cans were a no-show at the firm's March 2021 event – the Sonos Roam speaker hogged the limelight – but recent patent leaks seem to confirm that a pair of Sonos headphones are on the way.
Interesting. And if the Sonos headphones are next up, will they be on-ear, over-ear or in-ear? Wireless? There's even talk of them supporting wi-fi and Bluetooth, which could enable truly lossless streams. And if Sonos' recent acquisition of a startup is anything to go by, they could boast truly next-gen wireless audio.
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 news
We had hoped that the rumoured Sonos headphones would show up in 2021. In a call with investors in February last year, Sonos CEO Patrick Spence promised "to deliver innovative new products", and said a new device would launch in March.
That device turned out to be the (rather good) Sonos Roam Bluetooth speaker. But as Spence also promised to launch"two new products a year", we were hoping to see the Sonos wireless headphones show up next.
Alas, the whereabouts of the rumoured Sonos headphones remain unknown. We're hoping that they break cover in 2022 but supply chain issues, which have delayed many products in the last couple of years, could push the release back to 2023.
Though a launch could be a lot closer than that. Pete Pedersen, Sonos' VP of global marketing and communications, recently posted on LinkedIn (opens in new tab) that the company is searching for an advertising agency to help with one of its "most ambitious projects in our history." The successful agency would need to demonstrate experience of "launching a new brand/product/service in an established category" and "creating a new category for an established brand". Which sounds to us suspiciously like it will be responsible for launching the Sonos headphones.
CEO Patrick Spence also told investors recently that the firm would be “focused on launching new products in our existing product categories" for the remainder of this financial year. Which means Sonos headphones wouldn't launch until September at the earliest. The wait goes on...
Sonos headphones: price rumours
Sonos' consumer audio products tend to go for premium prices, whether its wireless speakers or soundbars. Hence we'd expect any Sonos wireless headphones to go for a premium price, with potentially a more affordable product further down the road. That's certainly the way Sonos approached the speaker and soundbar categories – in the former, the Sonos Move was followed by the Sonos Roam, while in the latter, the Sonos Playbar was followed by the Sonos Beam.
The rumoured Sonos headphones might not come close to the cost of the Apple AirPods Max (£549 / $549 / AU$899), but we expect them to be similar to well-respected and well-established rivals from Sony and Bose.
For Sonos, it's a fine line 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, so an asking price of over £400 ($550, AU$700) is probably off the cards.
According to Bloomberg's sources, the Sonos wireless headphones will cost around £220 ($300, AU$400). That would undercut Sony's range toppers by quite a way. Would Sonos charge that much less than the current industry best? We're not convinced. We're placing our bet around the £370 ($515, AU$660) mark.
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 2020.
The patent shows two designs, both of which take an over-ear, wireless form. They both have oval ear cups that are angled slightly so that the lower part sits a little further forward on the wearer.
As you can see from the image above, the headphones 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 – not only do they feature premium materials and an "obsessive craftsmanship", they also let you swap the ear cups 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.
But hold your horses. Will Sonos' headphones actually be an in-ear pair? The US firm recently took a controlling stake in Glasgow-based RHA Audio (recently renamed Origin North Ltd). RHA was founded in 2011, and specialised in wireless in-ear models like the TrueConnect 2. Would Sonos really buy an in-ear specialist if it was going to make over-ear headphones? Were the past patents misleading? Or will Sonos launch both over-ear and in-ear designs with a full range of headphone styles?
To add to the intrigue, a May 2021 Sonos patent spotted by Zats Not Funny describes two different wireless earbuds designs, including one with detachable battery plates that look to be roughly the size of a thumbnail and attach (possibly magnetically?) to the outer body of each bud. Consider the waters considerably muddied.
Sonos headphones: features
The first patent to leak points to some pretty cool new features. Chief among them is Swap, which lets the cans work seamlessly with your home Sonos speakers like the Play:5.
Here's how it works. 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 happens seamlessly, so the song doesn't miss a beat.
It debuted in the Sonos Roam earlier this year. With Sonos' latest Bluetooth speaker, it's activated by a long-press of the play/pause button.
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.
A more recent patent – spotted in August 2021 – suggests that Sonos' headphones will support wi-fi and Bluetooth. The addition of wi-fi would presumably allow the headphones to stream music directly from the internet, rather than via Bluetooth device. It could also enable truly lossless streams at 24-bit/192kHz.
It seems that Sonos' engineers are still grappling with the problem of how to cram two wi-fi antennas (and the extra batteries need to power them) into a pair of headphones. If Sonos could crack it, it could be give the company's first cans a nice USP.
But there could be another USP in store: next-gen Bluetooth audio. Sonos recently acquired T2 Software, a Louisville, Kentucky-based startup whose specialism is implementing Bluetooth LE Audio, a new standard of Bluetooth Low Energy that promises higher-quality audio over Bluetooth while optimising a device's battery life. Speculation is rife that Sonos will implement the tech in its first pair of wireless headphones.
T2 previously worked with Bose. More recently, it had been working on implementations of Bluetooth LC3, an audio codec for the new Bluetooth LE Audio standard. LC3 is designed to transmit higher-quality audio at lower data rates than currently possible. This will have a major benefit to the battery life of all devices involved, including smartphones, wireless speakers and, yes, wireless headphones.
LC3 can also send out multiple audio streams simultaneously for better stereo pairing and more seamless voice assistant integration. And it can stream to multiple devices at once – so more than one pair of headphones could listen to the same audio simultaneously – much like a multi-room system working over wi-fi.
If this comes to fruition, the Sonos headphones could have quite the feature set.
The August 2021 patent also detailed 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 (opens in new tab) 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 of playback on a single charge, thank you very much. But then if its next-gen Bluetooth audio saves battery as promised, we could be looking at much, much more...
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, wi-fi and industry-first features like Swap and next-gen Bluetooth audio, it could be a real game-changer.
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