Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Which noise-canceling headphones win?

This Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 face-off compares Sonos' first-ever headphones to one of the world's greatest flagship models. If you're looking to decide on the best noise-canceling headphones money can buy, this face-off will tell you everything you need to know. 

Although not everything about Sonos' first headphones was quite what I expected, they're masterfully engineered and boast several unique features to rival the Sony flagship. The Sony XM5s have been around since May 2022, and despite strong competition from new rivals they have consistently managed to maintain their position at the top of several buying guides thanks to their great sound quality, wide features and strong noise canceling. But how do they compare to the all-new Sonos? 

In this face-off, I weigh up the pros and cons of two of the best headphone models I've tested, but which will be the market leader? Read on to discover the differences, and which are the best headphones for your needs. 

Sonos Ace vs Sony WH-1000XM5

(Image credit: Future)

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Specs compared

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Header Cell - Column 0 Sonos AceSony WH-1000XM5
Price$449 / £449 / AU$699$399 / £379 / AU$649
Size7.52 x 6.3 x 3.35 inchesNot specified
Weight11.4 ounces8.8 ounces
Battery life (rated)30 hours (ANC enabled)30 hours (ANC enabled)
ConnectivityBluetooth 5.4 with SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive and aptX LosslessBluetooth 5.2 with SBC, AAC and LDAC support
Special featuresAdaptive ANC, ambient listening mode, Bluetooth multipoint, quick charge, customizable sound, Dolby Atmos and Dolby Head Tracking support, physical controls, integration with Sonos Arc soundbarAdaptive ANC, Ambient Sound Mode, DSEE Extreme Audio, Bluetooth multipoint, customizable sound, quick charge, passive mode, 360 Reality Audio

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Price and availability

Sonos Ace black and white headphones on table

(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. That feels a bit steep given the market competition and makes the Sonos Ace $50 more expensive than the Sony WH-1000XM5. 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.

Available in black, blue, or silver color options, the Sony WH-1000XM5 launched in May 2022 at $399 / £379 / AU$649, although they can regularly be found for less. In fact, we just found them discounted in headphone sales at Amazon and Walmart

At the time of launch, the Sony XM5 introduced a refreshed design and eco credentials, which bumped up the price by $50 over the model they replaced. See how they compare in our Sony WH-1000XM5 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4 face-off.

In terms of overall cost, the Sony headphones continue to offer a mind-bending feature set and are the more attractively priced model overall. 

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM5

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Design

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 with flowers

(Image credit: Future)

Both headphones have strong build and design, but I prefer the sleek and luxe styling of the Sonos Ace. You're sure to get noticed wearing either of these upmarket headphones on your head or hanging around your neck when on your travels, but the Sonos Ace has more bling thanks to the metal accents to the hinge, Content Key control, and beam-forming microphones and vents. 

Just like the Sony's, the Ace headphones are a fold-flat design but have a slimmer profile. Both models come supplied with a hard carry case made using recycled materials. 

The headband on the Sonos Ace is wider and has softer padding. The sturdy aluminum frame allows the earcups to slide out or retract to get the right fit. The Ace sat comfortably on top of my head without any undue pressure and the weight was evenly distributed. Clamping force, on the other hand, was a bit higher than I'd like for long-term comfort levels, and the earcups applied too much pressure against my ears. 

Black and ecru (off-white) color versions against a office window

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Sony WH-1000XM5 design was updated for the 2022 launch and opted for a slimmed-down chassis, narrow synthetic leather headband, and simpler earcups. They offer good comfort levels and I like the slightly larger aperture of the earcups, which helped my ears feel more comfortable when wearing the Sonys. 

The Ace headphones are heavier at 11.4 ounces compared to the featherweight feel of the Sony WH-1000XM5 at 8.8 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. They also seem to wear better than black versions, and the Sonys in particular are prone to showing scuffs and sticky finger marks.

Winner: Tie

Recent updates

Update June 10, 2024: This section was updated to a tie, which more accurately reflects the strengths and weaknesses of the headphones in terms of their design. 

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Controls

Sonos Ace headphones volume button

(Image credit: Future)

The Sonos Ace uses physical buttons while the Sony WH-1000XM5 integrates a mix of touch and physical controls. 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 your noggin. 

The tactile Content Key on the right earcup of the 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. 

The Sony's touch controls are on the right earcup allowing users to navigate playback commands and volume up/down. Navigation is reliable but I found turning the volume up and down could sometimes be unresponsive via the touch control. The left earcup on the Sony has a physical button that allows you to cycle through your noise-canceling options.

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 Sony 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: Sonos Ace

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Sound quality

Sonos Ace headphones on man's head

(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to sound delivery, the Sonos Ace and Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones represent top-tier performance. Although each has its strengths and your preference for one or the other will come down to personal taste, the Sony WH-1000XM5 gives a stronger presentation across a wide range of music styles.

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 feel a bit basic compared to the Sony's comprehensive Headphones app, and when it comes to adjusting EQ you only get bass and treble controls. Not that any adjustment was needed, though.

Vocal clarity was spectacular on Elbow's "Gentle Storm," with the keyboard, drums and percussion of this stripped-back recording perfectly nuanced in the soundstage.  

The Sony WH-1000XM5 being worn by Tom's Guide's Ryan Epps.

(Image credit: Future)

Sony's Headphones control app gives you the option to manually adjust the 5-band equalizer, but the default setting is pretty nicely balanced to begin with. Listening to Christine and the Queens "Tilted" the Sony's frequency range handling sounds smooth and refined. Listening on my morning commutes put a spring in my step. Bass levels are strong, and my only criticism is that upper treble details lack a little expression. 

Nevertheless, there's exceptional layering of the upper bass and mid frequencies while listening to "La Ritournelle" by Sébastien Tellier, and the orchestral elements give a perfect sense of acoustic space with a wide and enjoyable soundstage. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed the listening experience on the Sonos Ace with their great clarity and more immersive soundstage, I felt that the Sony's delivered more warmth and had a richness to vocals that I like. In my test comparisons, I felt that the Sony WH-1000XM5 had a more relaxing sound profile, while still enabling me to hear every strand of the recording mix.

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM5

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Active Noise Cancelation

Sonos Ace being worn by Tom's Guide's Audio Editor Lee Dunkley

(Image credit: Future)

Sonos hasn't had any experience in the world of noise-canceling headphones until now, but the eight microphones are effective at neutralizing external sounds. There aren't any level adjustments to tailor the level of noise cancelation to your tastes or adaptive modes that identify your activity and adjust the level accordingly, but that's not a problem. 

The level of isolation provided by the Ace feels like a close match for the Sony WH-1000XM5. Barely any external sounds broke through during my tests. What's more, ambient mode is just as strong for situational awareness. Ambient sounds and conversations sound clear, and Sonos says the beam-forming external mics are geared for high call quality at both ends of the conversation.

As one of the top-ranking models in our best noise-canceling headphones, Sony's ANC performance is impressive. Without leaving any trace of how hard the ANC circuitry is working, the Sony WH-1000XM5 banishes pretty much all external sound and leaves a nice dark background against which your music can do its thing. 

It really is a close race between these two models, but the win goes to Sony for its additional ANC features that include Adaptive Sound Control to adjust the ambient noise levels based on your activity.    

Winner: Sony WH-1000XM5 

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Battery life

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5 placed on grass

(Image credit: Future)

Both models can be charged via USB-C port and claim a battery life of 30 hours with ANC enabled. That's pretty strong when compared to other price rivals like the Apple AirPods Max (20 hours) and Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones (24 hours). 

A 3-minute quick charge is expected to result in a 3-hour playback top-up. 

Additionally, Sony says the WH-1000XM5 are good for up to 40 hours with ANC off. The XM5 need a leisurely 3.5 hours to go from "flat" to full when charging via the USB-C input on the right earcup and can retain an hour’s-worth of power after 10 minutes or so. They are also USB-PD (Power Delivery)-compatible, and charged in this way can get three hours of power after just three minutes.

In terms of overall playback times, these two headphones are closely matched.

Winner: Tie

Sonos Ace vs. Sony WH-1000XM5: Verdict

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Header Cell - Column 0 Sonos AceSony WH-1000XM5
Price and value (5)34
Design (15)1413
Controls (10)109
Sound quality (25)2425
Active noise cancelation (20)18 19
Call quality (10)89
Connectivity (5)55
Battery life (10)99
Total Score (100)9193

Rarely have I seen two headphones be so closely matched as the all-new Sonos Ace headphones and Sony's class-leading WH-1000XM5. In some ways, the newer Sonos Ace headphones outshine the popular Sony flagship in terms of the slender styling and Sonos Arc soundbar integration with personalized home theater sound. It really is a close-run thing in terms of sound quality though, and even closer in terms of noise-canceling performance. 

There's no doubt about it, the Sonos Ace noise canceling headphones are a stellar fist attempt.

Ultimately, the Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones are the more affordable model, and what's even better is that they can be found discounted in the best headphone deals around right now. Their balanced sound continues to put a spring in my step, and I also appreciate how light they feel on my head compared to the higher clamping force when wearing the Sonos Ace. There's no doubt about it though, the Sonos Ace noise-canceling headphones are a stellar first attempt and Sony's closest rival yet.

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Lee Dunkley
Audio Editor

As a former editor of the U.K.'s Hi-Fi Choice magazine, Lee is passionate about all kinds of audio tech and has been providing sound advice to enable consumers to make informed buying decisions since he joined Which? magazine as a product tester in the 1990s. Lee covers all things audio for Tom's Guide, including headphones, wireless speakers and soundbars and loves to connect and share the mindfulness benefits that listening to music in the very best quality can bring.

  • Joe70
    Interesting how it's being claimed that they are so close. Sono's has been having problems of crackling and reported of being glitchy. Just like their sound bar that took a long time to get a fix this would be a big "No buy" for me. The design is very apple-esque and frankly having your name on the product in big letters is a little off-putting which its alreay bad enough on the Sony headphones. Might as well make the letters silver or gold!!! Also the S vs S comparison mentions that the earcups on the Sony are slightly bigger, more comfortable vs the Sonos tighter, hotter and heavier headphones and yet Sony loses.
    It makes it really hard for a reader to base their purchases when reviews are the way that they are.
    When buying $400-500 headphones the most important thing is sound quality so with that said the Sony headphones should be the choice unless you just want to be a clueless poser.
    Reply