“Shure's Aonic 50 are some of the better sounding headphones around, but they're expensive”
- Superb sound
- Effective noise cancellation
With the release of the $400 Aonic 50 wireless headphones, Shure has taken on a new challenge: Finding solid footing in a field that’s already heavily populated by stellar products. With the Aonic 50, Shure leaned into what it knows best – making incredible-sounding headphones – and made do on other features. The result is a product that may not distance itself completely from competitors, but one that certainly created some breathing room.
I’ve been using these headphones for conference calls since many people around the world began working from home. When it came time to review them, I had to rummage through my home workspace to find the box for the Aonic 50 because, well, I couldn’t remember what it looked like.
What I found was a circular package with the headphones and their carrying case seated snugly inside. Included with the cans — which are available in black or brown trims — are a 3.5mm audio cable, a quick-start guide and manual, and a USB-C charging cable. Standard accessories, sure, but important all the same.
Either way you go, connecting (and staying connected) is simple. The included audio cable allows for plugging into a laptop, or any of the remaining devices that still have a headphone jack, and listening passively without turning the headphones on.
Bluetooth is similarly simple, as the Aonic 50 automatically enter pairing mode when you press the power button at the bottom of the right headphone cup. The Aonic 50 feature Bluetooth 5 technology — with support for codecs like aptX, aptX HD, AAC, LDAC and SBC — and I can vouch that connecting wasn’t an issue during the more than 30 hours of wireless listening I’ve spent auditioning them.
Look. I don’t need to tell you that, when it comes to being easily portable and travel-friendly, earbuds are often a better option. Headphones are objectively heavier, bigger, and more of a hassle to haul around.
Disclaimer out of the way, the Aonic 50 are a set of perfectly portable headphones. Shure managed to find a crossroads between durable, flexible, and comfortable in its design of these cans. While not indestructible, they feel sturdy. While not weightless, their size feels distributed well across the entire fit. While not fully foldable, the cups can toggle 90 degrees to allow the headphones to fit flat into their carrying case.
The earpads and the memory foam with which they’re outlined provide the kind of comfort you’d hope for in a $400 pair of headphones, and the controls included on the right cup were easy to operate once I committed their exact locations along the cup to memory. I still don’t know if I would pick these over a set of earbuds to lug along for a daily commute, but they were plenty comfortable for long dog walks and a weekend’s worth of chores.
Even for a brand so highly touted for its audio quality, it’s not enough to just lean on solid sound these days. In contrast to the Aonic 215, Shure’s wireless earphones that debuted alongside the Aonic 50, these headphones come with features that can help justify their retail price. You can still get similar or better features for the cash you’d be spending, but these headphones prove they belong at the table.
Shure claims up to 20 hours of battery life, with the “up to” portion of that phrase dependent on how loud you crank the volume and how much noise you’re canceling out. I’ve had to charge these exactly once in the time I’ve used them, and when I did, an hour connected to an outlet netted me 88 percent battery life. These would get you through multiple workdays or cross-country flights without a hiccup.
As mentioned, Shure has built most of the controls into that right headphone cup. Side buttons adjusts the volume and a center button offers a wide variety of uses, including shuffling through tracks, answering calls, and activating a voice assistant. There’s also a switch that allows you to navigate between Shure’s environment mode, neutral mode, and active noise cancellation. It’s all there, and they’re easy to use.
The issue that Shure runs into — through no fault of its own, really — is that I’m obligated to size the Aonic 50 up against our reigning champs in not one, but three headphone categories. The Sony WH-1000XM3 are our favorite noise-canceling cans, wireless headphones, and headphones in general. When you start to put the $400 Shure headphones side-by-side with the Sony – which had retailed for $350 but can currently be picked up for $300 – the Aonic 50 start to look like less of a bargain.
The Sony model features 30 hours of battery life in a single charge, putting Shure at a significant disadvantage despite being the pricier model. Beyond that, even though I liked using Shure’s included controls, Sony has had multiple models to refine its commands, and it shows.
This is all to say, if you’re looking into the Shures, it won’t be because of their features. Frankly, they’re good, but par for the course at a price that should at least be hitting birdies. If you’re paying for the Aonic 50, you’re paying for sound quality.
I can talk about the battery life and controls of the Aonic 50 until the cows come home, but at its core, sound is Shure’s bread and butter. Their cost will cause most to ask a lot from the audio quality of these cans, and rest assured, they deliver.
I had the opportunity to test the Aonic 215 earphones just before moving on to these headphones, and the most significant flaw I found with its sound was the absence of adequate bass. It’s admittedly at least partially personal preference, but it’s hard to replicate a track the way it was meant to sound without filling out the entire range.
The Aonic 50, with their 50mm drivers and a frequency response range of 20 Hz to 22,000 Hz, took care of this. The low end doesn’t overpower you; it hits that sweet spot, where the bass makes its presence known free of distortion. Rum by Brothers Osborne had the authority I had previously missed. Heavier tracks, like Post Malone’s Enemies, didn’t skip a beat.
Of course, it’s not all about the bass. Songs like Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel showcased masterful stereo imaging. And yes, I can’t listen to that song without thinking of Reservoir Dogs, either.
Other selections, like an acoustic version of Peter Frampton’s Baby, I Love Your Way, was an immersive journey that truly sounded like Frampton himself was belting and plucking away in my living room. If the picture isn’t clear enough yet, these things sound awesome.
The active noise cancellation built into the Aonic 50, and the pair of features that go along with it, are solid, but maybe not as impactful as you’d expect in a pair of premium headphones. With corresponding toggles of the switch on the right cup, you choose between three modes. Environmental mode pipes in noise from your surroundings; neutral mode represents the middle ground, relying on the headphones’ natural noise isolation abilities; and active noise cancellation, well, doesn’t need much explanation.
I found the ANC to be effective. I was able to mostly drown out barking dogs as I worked, and as I stepped into my backyard for fresh air, the neighbor mowing lawns next door was just a faint growl in the background. There is a semblance of white noise with ANC on, though I only noticed it in quieter settings.
Shure’s free ShurePlus Play app presents the ability to adjust both environmental mode and active noise cancellation, depending on which feature you’re using at the moment. The app also has an equalizer to tune the sound of the headphones, but if you ask me, the Aonic 50 has an ideal sound signature as is.
The single issue I can take with the noise cancellation features of the Aonic 50 is that they just aren’t special. And, when you’re priced to compete against excellent noise-canceling headphones like the Bose 700, you need to be special to set yourself apart.
Shure’s Aonic 50 headphones are some of the better-sounding cans you can find, and there’s nothing objectively wrong with the features they offer. But they’re expensive, and while they’re fine noise-canceling units, they just aren’t as good as a $400 price point would suggest they’d be.
It would be tough to find something in this price range that sounds significantly better. In terms of features and active noise cancellation, though, you can spend $100 less and not miss much with the Sony WH-1000XM3. Or, pay the same price and forgo some sound quality for improved ANC with the Bose 700.
The Aonic 50 feel quite durable and are backed by a brand that’s been at it for nearly a century. These headphones are going to last.
If sound quality is paramount to you, and factors like features and noise cancellation take a back seat, yes. Buy the Shure Aonic 50 – you won’t regret it. But if a cheaper, more well-rounded product sounds like closer to your cup of tea, buy the Sony WH-1000XM3 and don’t look back.
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