Shure Aonic 50 review

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Most people scoff at the thought of spending $300 on headphones. But Shure ups the ante with its $400 noise cancelling headphones, the Shure Aonic 50. But don’t let the price talk you out of considering this headset, because it is worth the money. These are among the best ANC headphones out there, and I sincerely think you’ll love them as much as I do.

Who should get the Shure Aonic 50?

An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones in brown leaning against a coffee carafe.

The Shure Aonic 50 is available in black and brown.

  • Remote workers should get a pair of noise canclling headphones. Shure’s ANC technology is effective and helped to keep me focused throughout the workday.
  • Frequent travelers will appreciate how well low-frequency noises are quieted by the noise cancelling technology. Plus, the 20-hour battery life means you can take this on international flights and still have juice for any layovers.
  • Audiophiles will cling to these headphones as they have a 3.5mm headphone jack for anyone with FLAC libraries, and a slew of high-quality Bluetooth codecs aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, LDAC are supported to get optimal wireless audio.

Using the Shure Aonic 50

An aerial picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones with the ear pads removed and to the side.

The earpads twist off and are easy to wipe clean.

Everything from the packaging, carrying case, and headset just screams quality with the Shure Aonic 50. It’s obvious that the good people at Shure are proud of this headset, and they have every right to be. The plastic housings look great and keep things lightweight, while the stitched leather headband looks sophisticated, yet eye catching. Leather-wrapped earpads are just as handsome and happen to be removable. This kind of design elongates the life of headphones while also making them easier to clean.

Beauty and grace aside, the headphones aren’t very portable compared to their main competitor, the Sony WH-1000XM3. Unlike headphones from Sony, Bose, and Audio-Technica, Shure didn’t engineer folding hinges. The ear cups rotate flat for storage, but it would be nice to see a more versatile form factor. On the other hand, the structure makes the Aonic 50 more durable and less susceptible to breakage.

The Shure Aonic 50 are my favorite noise cancelling headphones to date.

While this is a large headset, it manages to remain comfortable with glasses. Headphones usually give me pause as a bespectacled listener, but these worked incredibly well with my frames. The clamping force is tight enough to keep the ‘phones on my head without crushing my skull. Weight is evenly distributed across the malleable headband, reducing the chance of hotspots former at the crown of your head.

Onboard controls

An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones onboard button controls and switches.

Shure skipped the touch controls, instead opting for onboard tactile buttons.

The right ear cup houses all of the buttons you need to control the headset including a noise cancelling and ambient listening switch, power and Bluetooth pairing button, and volume/playback controls. It was easy to find the raised multifunction button for accessing Google Assistant, which was supremely useful for setting timers while baking.

Take full control with the ShurePlus Play app

Shure’s mobile app is available on both iOS and Android and app functionality is identical across platforms. If you want to control the noise cancelling intensity and how much environmental noise is let in via ambient aware mode, you have to get the ShurePlus Play app. It’s also an easy way to check battery levels, play local music files, and receive firmware updates. You can also EQ the sound if you’re not a fan of Shure’s default sound signature.

How good is the noise cancellation?

A chart depicting the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling performance and attenuation.

The Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling is excellent and aided by high-density memory foam earpads.

The noise cancelling is excellent, especially when it comes to blocking out low-frequency sounds like A/C units, washing machines, and outside traffic. The Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones more effectively cancel out midrange sounds (200Hz-3kHz), but if you’re a frequent flyer, it doesn’t get better than Shure’s ANC headphones.

This headset came in the nick of time as my roommate temporarily works from home in light of our city’s shelter in place orders. Using the Aonic 50 helped to reduce the background noise of her various conference calls and made it easier to focus on urgent projects.

ANC headphones are an excellent tool for anyone who works from home.

Not only are noise cancelling headphones a great productivity tool, but they can also protect you from certain types of hearing loss (e.g. noise-induced hearing loss). Since the headphones are so good at combating external sounds, you’re less likely to increase the volume to dangerous levels as a way of manually blocking out foot traffic and such. If you spend a lot of time flying or commuting via subway, the Shure Aonic 50 could help preserve your hearing.

Connection quality and Bluetooth codecs

An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones headband stitching leaning against a Kalita Wave pourover set.

The headband is both gorgeous and comfortable.

The headphones connect via Bluetooth or by wire as Shure includes a 3.5mm headphone jack on its Aonic noise cancelling headphones. The Bluetooth 5.0 firmware affords a 10-meter wireless range and contributes to the headset’s 20-hour official battery life. On-the-move audiophiles will enjoy these because all of the major Bluetooth codecs are supported: aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, LDAC. Whether you’re listening from an iPhone or Android smartphone, you’re bound to experience the best quality audio while moving about.

Bluetooth multipoint is supported by the Shure Aonic 50, meaning you can connect the headset to two devices at a time. I use this all the time to work from home as a means of keeping one ear on incoming calls and the other on desktop notifications and music.

Shure’s ANC headset supports all the high-quality Bluetooth codecs you could want.

If you’re like me and have a Tidal HiFi subscription, you’ll get plenty of use out of the included TRRS cable. Shure respects the importance of lossless audio and it’s great to see the company retain the aged input unlike the Beats Solo Pro ANC headphones. It’s also practical in case the battery depletes unexpectedly.

How good is the battery life?

Shure claims a 20-hour battery life with noise cancelling turned on. Our battery tests are ongoing, but 20 hours is a great starting point. If other premium ANC headsets are any indication we’ll see the Shure ANC meet, if not exceed, the official 20 hours of playtime.

What do the Shure Aonic 50 sound like?

A chart depicting the Shure Aonic 50 frequency response.

The Shure Aonic 50 dynamic drivers reproduce an accurate sound which works well for all music.

As a legacy audio company, Shure knows how to create a pleasing sound signature and keeps the frequency response nice and neutral with these 50mm dynamic drivers. The 70-300Hz bump makes it easier to perceive vocals. I found this particularly enjoyable with powerful, soulful vocals from the likes of Brittany Howard. Oh, and don’t worry about that short dip from 3-4.5kHz, that’s something we often see from well-informed audio companies—this kind of de-emphasis prevents some resonances within the ear canal.

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Passive isolation is also great thanks to the high-density memory foam earpads. This kind of material really lets the noise cancelling technology shine. This means your music is unlikely to succumb to the horrors of auditory masking. You’re able to enjoy clear, accurate audio since your brain doesn’t have to process a bunch of background noise.

Lows, mids, and highs

Samm Henshaw’s song Church (feat. EARTHGANG) sounds absolutely wonderful through these ‘phones. It begins with a choir harmonizing “Ohs” while quick, repeated claps are relayed through both channels. Just 10 seconds into the track, Henshaw raps the first verse as the piano chord pattern Bm-D-E underscores his vocals. Other drivers would struggle to clearly reproduce this coalescing instrumentation, but not Shure Aonic 50.

Henshaw’s vocals are easy to hear throughout the song, even during the choruses which introduces bassy brass horns that could easily mask his voice through the wrong headset. I loved how clearly the tambourine comes through even as the bassline kicks in at 3:05. This instance showcases the audio engineering prowess that went into this headset.

How’s the microphone quality?

A chart depicting the Shure Aonic 50 microphone frequency response limited to the human voice band.

The Shure Aonic 50 microphone struggles to transmit particularly low vocals, which can make some users sound “distant” or “hollow.” The benefit is that it nullifies certain background noises like A/C units.

Microphone quality is good and certainly good enough to get you through any sort of professional conference call or video chat. The sloping de-emphasis from 50-400Hz appears more dramatic than it sounds in reality. As you can hear from the voice demo below, my voice is relayed clearly despite being low: the fundamental frequency range of my voice ranges from 160-240Hz. As we noted in our scoring audit earlier this year, most people tend to prefer a response like this in their headphones and headsets because it combats something called the proximity effect. By reducing the sensitivity to lower-frequency sounds, you avoid that “too-close-to-the-mic” overly-bassy sound that some headsets imbue their audio with. Additionally, higher-frequency sounds that are needed for speech intelligibility are also easier to hear. If there’s a microphone company you should trust, it’s definitely the makers of the most iconic vocal mics of all time.

Shure Aonic 50 microphone demo:

What did prove problematic was how the mic relayed high-pitched background sounds. My roommate was doing the dishes five meters away from me as I spoke to my mom over the phone. My mom was stunned that it wasn’t I who was cleaning the dishes due to how ineffectively the background noise was filtered out. Obviously, you shouldn’t be recording podcasts on this thing, but it will work for phone calls.

How does the Shure Aonic 50 compare to other ANC headphones?

There are two headsets that Shure has to go up against with the debut of its Aonic noise cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose Headphones 700. Let’s get a quick rundown of how the headsets shake out.

Shure Aonic 50 vs Sony WH-1000XM3

Sony’s flagship headphones have been at the top of our list for a long, long time. After all, the WH-1000XM3 checks all the right boxes: it’s (relatively) affordable, sounds great, has top-notch noise cancelling, and lasts for 24 hours with ANC on. It has yet to be usurped by another set of cans, but the Shure Aonic 50 gives Sony a run for its money. Rather, the Shure Aonic 50 would if it weren’t $150-$200 more than Sony’s headset.

If you prioritize noise cancelling effectiveness or microphone quality, you may find it worth getting the Shure Aonic 50, as the Sony cans don’t do a great job mitigating the proximity effect in calls. That said, Sony’s headphones are pretty dang good at blocking out sounds of all frequencies. In fact, they outperform Shure’s headphones across the midrange. Frequent flyers may find it easier to justify the price compared to standard desk jockeys.

The Sony WH-1000XM3 makes more sense for most consumers compared to the Shure Aonic 50.

Sony’s headphones are made from less premium materials—another reason costs are lower←but the plastic ear cups are touch-sensitive. It’s also a more portable headset. The ear cups can both fold flat and rotate up toward the headband, providing listeners with more options on how to store it.

Both headset apps let users dictate ANC and passthrough intensity, EQ the sound, and more. Sony and Shure each know how to make an exceptional headset. Listeners who demand the best when it comes to construction, sound, and noise cancelling need Shure’s headphones. For most consumers, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is more than good enough.

Shure Aonic 50 vs Bose Headphones 700

Neither the Shure Aonic 50 nor the Bose Headphones 700 (pictured, black) have folding hinges.

The Bose 700 Headphones use touch controls and have three buttons in total, one of which is for pairing, another is for controlling the level of ANC. and a third which can activate the Google Assistant.

The all-plastic Bose Headphones 700 have a similar architecture to the Shure Aonic 50 as the ear cups only rotate flat and not inward. Just like Sony’s headphones, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 have touch-sensitive panels that register gesture controls. During testing, Adam found command reception flawless. Bose’s headphones are pricedthe same as Shure’s headset. You’re paying for the company’s respected reputation—update shenanigans aside.

Rather than using a standard 3.5mm input, Bose’s headphones have a 2.5mm input. It’s not a huge deal as Bose supplies a cable with the headset, but if it breaks, it’s more of a pain to find. Another frustration of the Bose Headphones 700 is the lack of high-quality codec support. I mean, you’re paying a huge premium for just AAC and SBC streaming. This is perfectly fine for iPhone users, and is compatible with Android—but the problem is that performance can be highly variable on Android devices from phone to phone. This means you may not necessarily get high-quality audio with this $400 headset.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:

Battery life is great; our testing yielded just over 21 hours of listening on a single charge with ANC maxed out. However, noise cancelling leaves a lot to be desired. There’s no debate: the Shure Aonic 50 handily outperforms the Bose 700 here. Sound quality is a bit closer though, as the Bose headphones have a neutral-leaning frequency response until the 1kHz-mark. We see a dip here that functions similarly to Shure’s slight treble dip.

If you’re torn between the Bose Headphones 700 and Shure Aonic 50, save for a bit longer and get Shure’s headset. Or, settle for slightly worse microphones and build quality and grab the WH-1000XM3 instead.

Should you buy the Shure Aonic 50?

An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones headband adjustment mechanism.

The ear cups rotate flat to more easily stow the headphones in a backpack.

Yes, the Shure Aonic 50 are my favorite noise cancelling headphones yet. The headset merits its $399 price: sound quality is stellar right out of the gate and ANC performance is tough to beat. The Shure Aonic 50 is sure to serve you well for years to come and makes a strong case for viewing expensive headphones as an investment.

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