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Tom’s Guide
Tom’s Guide
Lee Dunkley

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Which noise-canceling headphones win?

Sonos Ace vs Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones.

This Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones face-off compares Sonos' first-ever ANC headphones with Bose's top-ranking best noise-canceling headphones. We've already covered several other near rivals in our Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 and AirPods Max vs. Sonos Ace face-offs. Still, the Bose QC Ultra Headphones have a more closely matched price, so how do they compare for a similar amount of money?   

In this face-off, I weigh up the pros and cons of two of the best noise-canceling headphones I've tested to tell you everything you need to know. Read on to discover the differences, and which of these two masterful noise-canceling models are the best headphones for your needs.

(Image credit: Future)

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Specs compared

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Price and availability

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The Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones launched in October 2023 at an MSRP of $429 / £449 / AU$649. At the time of writing, I found the Bose flagship discounted to $379 at the Bose store as well as online retailers including Amazon, Best BuyWalmart, and Crutchfield. That's a $50 saving on the original price, and one of the best headphone deals around right now. 

They're available in black, white smoke and sandstone color options.

(Image credit: Future)

The Sonos Ace headphones officially went on sale on June 5, 2024, priced at $449 / £449 / AU$699 on Sonos' website and online retailers including Best Buy, Amazon, and Crutchfield

The price feels a bit steep for a first model, given the market competition and discounts regularly found on rivals. Sonos isn't known for sales on individual models, so I am not expecting to see a price drop on these until Prime Day or seasonal sales at the end of the year. 

They're available in matte black and soft white finishes, which also feels a bit out of step with rivals in terms of color choice options at the price.

In terms of overall cost, the Bose headphones are more attractively priced and can regularly be found discounted. 

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Design

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Both the Bose QuietComfort Ultra and Sonos Ace are expertly crafted, and feel robust and durable in the hand and on the head. Each model has their brand motif printed on the headphones — Bose is displayed on the back of both of its earcups, whereas Sonos is visible on the right earcup only. 

The Bose QuietComfort Ultra are a chic and well-crafted headphone with great craftsmanship and a foldable design. The twistable earcups can be folded, which makes them more practical for travel, and the headband is slightly wider with substantial soft padding. 

The sturdy aluminum frame allows the earcups to slide out or retract to get the right fit, while the premium leather wraps around the headband and earcups provide impressive long-term comfort. The bundled hard carry case feels substantial and has cutouts for owners to collapse and stow the headphones securely when on the move, but Bose doesn't mention whether its made using any eco materials. 

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The Sonos Ace headphones are a fold-flat design only, but the earcups have a slimmer profile. Sonos' hard carry case is made using recycled materials. The headband on the Sonos Ace has soft padding and the earcups slide out or retract to allow wearers to get the right fit. While the Ace felt comfortable on my head without any undue pressure from the headband, the clamping force applied too much pressure against my ears. 

The Ace headphones are heavier at 11.4 ounces compared to the noticeably lighter feel of the Bose at 8.9 ounces. When swapping between the two headphones during my listening tests, my ears quickly got hot under the Sonos Ace earpads.   

It's a matter of personal taste, but both models look slightly better in their lighter finishes over the non-descript matte black versions.

Overall, the Bose headphones are noticeably lighter and feel more practical for travel.  

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Controls

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The Sonos Ace uses physical buttons while the Bose QC Ultra Headphones integrate a mix of touch and physical controls. Touch controls are on the right earcup for the Bose to navigate playback commands, and I particularly like the addition of the volume control strip. 

Both models can access voice assistants and have reliable wear detection that stops playback when they are removed from the wearer's head and then starts automatically when they're placed back on. 

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The tactile Content Key on the right earcup of the Sonos Ace gives play/pause, and volume up/volume down, while a secondary button is for noise control on/off, aware mode, and voice control options. The Content Key is a neat touch, and I particularly like the degree of control it brings when adjusting the volume level. 

Advanced mic arrays give both models excellent speech recognition and vocal capture when using the digital assistant. Firing up Alexa or Google Assistant with their wake-word phrase on the Bose was instantaneous, while on the Sonos wearers need to press and hold the button on the right earcup. Once enabled, voice commands on both headphones were addressed as quickly as they were received.

Winner: Tie

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Sound quality

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The Sonos Ace and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones represent top-tier performance in terms of sound quality. Both have their own sonic signature, and your preference for one or the other will come down to personal taste. Both are capable of handling aptX Adaptive audio from supported Android devices such as a Sony Xperia 1 IV smartphone. I updated both models to the most recent Android firmware versions (1.6.7 for the Bose QC Ultra / 2.9.3a for the Sonos Ace).

Immersive Audio is the headline feature of the Bose QuietComfort Ultra. The universal spatialized audio is made possible by proprietary digital signal processing software, so whatever music source or streaming platform you use, you'll benefit from immersive listening on Bose's newest flagship.

Immersive Audio gave a phenomenal first impression. With the "Still" setting, I felt like I was listening to live music. Sounds appeared to have more space around them and felt like they wrapped around my head. I wouldn't say that it always felt entirely natural, and some elements of music that I know well were less prominent with Immersive Audio enabled. But it gave an impressive sense of spaciousness that stays anchored to a fixed point no matter where I moved my head. 

The "Motion" setting delivers the same dynamic listening experience while on the go but keeps the immersive sound experience equally balanced to the same level in each earcup. 

Bass levels appear to be slightly stronger when either of the Immersive Audio modes are selected. This may be intentional as it helps to draw you into using the mode, but the Off setting feels far more natural in terms of stereo soundstage even if the bass sounds leaner. The Immersive Audio settings are fun and the sonic presentations are livelier than what you’ll hear from Apple or Sony’s spatial audio, too. Not to mention the QC Ultra’s headtracking is spectacularly accurate with zero latency.

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Sonos says the sound tuning process for the Ace headphones involved over 1,000 content creators from all kinds of music genres. It's paid off with a rewarding headphone performance that has great vocal clarity and a wide immersive soundstage experience. They have a sound that is terrifically engaging with a presentation that expands outside of the physical earcups and gets close to the kind of lively and natural sound balance I've often associated with open-back audiophile headphones.

The sound menus for the Sonos Ace are limited to bass, treble and loudness modes within the Sonos app, while the Bose Ultra headphones have a three-band EQ and several preset modes including Bass Boost Treble Boost, Bass Reducer, and Treble Reducer from within the Bose app.

Vocal clarity on the Sonos was spectacular on Rhiannon Giddens' "At the "Purchaser's Option" as well as Elbow's "Gentle Storm," with the strings, keyboard, drums, and percussion of these stripped-back recordings perfectly nuanced in the soundstage. While the Bose's signature sound balance has a richness and warmth that I found very pleasant, I needed to adjust the EQ for a better balance on the QC Ultra Headphones, as they lacked the mid-frequency openness and sense of clarity I got from listening to the Sonos Ace.

Winner: Sonos Ace  

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Active Noise Cancelation

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One of the main reasons why I've pitted these two headphones together is to see which have the better ANC performance. 

There's no doubt about it, the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones have the best noise-canceling performance I've encountered. They have a selection of presets to allow you to tailor the level of ANC to a particular activity. Set to Max, I could barely hear anything of what was going on around me and I'd say that nearly 95% of unwanted sounds were silenced during my testing.

The Bose completely silenced the world around me to the point where I couldn't hear anyone in the office. My keyboard taps were non-existent, as was the sound of the kitchen faucet when I turned it on to top up a glass with cold water. Any blaring noises that caught my attention sounded like background effects on songs. 

Bose continues to lead the way with the most powerful noise neutralizing headphones you can buy.

With no prior experience in the sector, Sonos should be applauded for producing one of the most competitive noise-canceling headphones yet. ANC isn't quite up to the standards of the class-leading Bose Ultra Headphones, but there's never any sense of the ANC circuitry at work, and they manage to banish pretty much all external sound during my test comparing them with the Bose. 

It really is a close race between these two ANC models, but Bose continues to lead the way with the most powerful noise-neutralizing headphones you can buy. Rarely have I heard ANC so effective, allowing me to luxuriate in my favorite music without distraction.   

Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones 

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Battery life

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Both models can be charged via USB-C port. Bose says the QuietComfort Ultra Headphones give 24 hours of continuous listening on a full charge. That said, enabling Immersive Audio brings that estimate down to 18 hours. Allow up to 2 hours for the headphones to fully charge, and the fast-charge feature provides up to 3 hours of playtime from a 15-minute charge.

The Sonos Ace headphones claim a battery life of 30 hours with ANC enabled, and a 3-minute quick charge is expected to result in a 3-hour playback top-up. 

In terms of overall playback times, Bose still lags behind the competition, suggesting that its powerful noise-canceling capabilities are a more of a drain on battery life. 

Winner: Sonos Ace

Sonos Ace vs. Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones: Verdict

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These two headphone models are closely matched, and they are separated by only marginal differences in a few areas. What you want from a pair of headphones will determine which is the best model for you. 

If you want the best noise-canceling, then the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones continue to be the go-to choice. You'll also pay as much as $70 less for the Bose versus the Sonos, depending on whether the former is on sale.

While I enjoyed the Immersive Audio tech championed by Bose and the slightly more attractive price, the Sonos Ace have a more open and natural sound, deliver longer battery life and can integrate with a Sonos Arc soundbar for personal home theater. Which one you go for may simply depend on which special features you desire the most.

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