Sonos Wants to Get Off Your Shelf and Own Audio Everywhere

Creating something that people will constantly touch and wear, rather than a speaker that they mostly interact with via an app or via a few simple buttons on top, proved to be a formidable challenge for the brand, which perhaps explains why it’s taken so long for the Sonos cans to land.

Sonos designers and sound engineers spent years making sure everything from fit (they used more than 500 different head shapes) to the gloss and durability of the paint on the headphones (which Spence admits was a shockingly annoying pain point).

Early in our conversation, Spence acknowledges that to play in a space with Apple, Sony, Bose, and other heavy hitters in audio, you need to launch with a formidable product. Anything less would spell disaster. “It’s our first entry into a $5 billion category that is growing by double digits every year,” he says. “So this is going to be the way millions of customers get to know Sonos.”

While focusing on making sure the experiences of new listeners with the Ace headphones are as good as possible, Spence concedes that the company also needs to retain existing customers who want to add a great pair of headphones to their Sonos ecosystems.

“We’ve had tens of thousands of customers that have requested that we do headphones,” he says, “So it’s pretty cool to actually be delivering something that people have been asking for.”

But heeding the cries of existing customers for cans does not bring headphones into an existing Sonos setup. To do just this, features such as the ability to use the Ace to take over for a Sonos Arc soundbar in your living room, or the ability to map your room and recreate it in the spatial audio of the headphones, aim to please long-term Sonos users.

Durability and longevity are also key. Spence claims that the brand’s headphones will be the longest-lasting on the market. Sonos has, for years, said it will support even discontinued products for five years after they aren’t on store shelves, which is better than most brands can promise.

Rough Seas

The shift to the new portable era hasn’t been without its hiccups. For one thing, the recently updated Sonos app has been buggy for a few weeks. I personally haven’t had any issues, but multiple members of the WIRED Gear team who have set up Sonos products since the recent update have experienced issues getting devices to pair, updating firmware, and generally getting them to work properly in the home.

This is a concerning trend, and one that we will keep an eye on as we continue to test Sonos’ latest products. (In addition to the Ace, we also have the new Roam 2 Bluetooth speaker in for review, and we haven’t yet had any connection issues.)

That said, the Sonos team has historically been extremely responsive to users when it comes to listening to and issuing fixes to the app as it is made aware of them. I’ve personally seen my own app and devices update multiple times during this short review period, and I expect fixes to keep on coming.

Still, it’s not great to always have to update your software, and there’s really no way to justify the new app issues other than to note them and to say that it’s clear there is truth to Sonos’ claims it is working on solving them.

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