Bluetooth 5.0 and wired listening
aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, LDAC
No folding hinges
Mic amplifies background noise
Update: August 19, 2020: This Shure AONIC 50 noise-cancelling headset review was updated to address improvements with firmware version 0.4.9. We’ve added new frequency response, microphone frequency response, and noise cancelling charts, as well as a new microphone demo.
Our world is polluted with all-encompassing sound. Whether it’s cars passing outside your apartment window or your kids running rampant, a moment of silence is nearly impossible to find. The Shure AONIC 50 affords just that: silence. Let’s find out what makes this noise-cancelling headset the best in its class and how the AONIC 50 merits its price.
Who should buy the Shure AONIC 50?
- Remote workers need a pair of active noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones. Effective ANC technology can quiet a cacophonous household, thereby increasing productivity.
- Audiophiles need to get these wireless headphones, because they support nearly every Bluetooth codec you could want for optimal wireless streaming. Shure included a headphone jack too, for high-resolution audio playback.
- Jetsetters need these noise-cancelling headphones, because they easily reduce the loud hums of engines and provide nearly 20 hours of playtime on a single charge.
Using the AONIC 50
Shure is a legacy audio company and didn’t rest on its laurels when creating the AONIC 50; everything from the accessories to the headband stitching reflects high-quality craftsmanship. Removable leather-wrapped earpads are easy to clean and replace when needed. The plastic exterior may seem to contradict the exorbitant price, but it’s well finished and keeps things lightweight — something that can’t be overstated when wearing headphones with glasses.
You may toggle listening modes (ANC on/off and ambient listening), adjust volume, control playback, access Google Assistant or Siri, and power the headset on or off all from the right ear cup. Controls are buttons only, no touch-capacitive panels here. It may not feel as cutting-edge, yet I quite enjoyed this layout: it was easy for me to operate blindly while walking around, even with thin gloves on.
These headphones aren’t quite as portable as direct competitors such as the Sony WH-1000XM3, but you can rotate Shure’s ear cups to lie flat. Although I prefer a more versatile build with plenty of ways to contort a headset for storage, Shure’s design reduces the number of potential breakage points.
How good is battery life?
SoundGuys recorded 19 hours, 46 minutes of playtime during their Shure AONIC 50 review. This was recorded from a single charge with noise-cancelling set to high. Although ~20 hours of listening is more than enough for most instances, it falls short compared to the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose Headphones 700: the former lasted 24 hours and the latter 21 hours before depleting. To recharge the headset, connect it to the included USB-C cable, a full charge takes about three hours depending on your power source.
Get the ShurePlus Play app
I can’t fault you for thinking headphone apps are typically useless, but the ShurePlus Play app is worth downloading. It allows you to adjust noise-canceling and passthrough intensities, check the battery level, receive firmware updates, and more. Shure even integrated a granular EQ system. You can either create your own sound signature or choose from a handful of presets depending on your musical preferences.
Noise cancellation is superb
Shure’s ANC technology beats out any of most all of its competitors by a country mile. Low-frequency sounds are quieted to sound half as loud as they would otherwise, while midrange sounds (e.g., talking roommates) are rendered two-to-four times quieter. Exceptionally loud A/C units are no match for the Shure AONIC 50 noise-canceling capabilities. Sure, the Sony WH-1000XM3 does a slightly better job of reducing midrange sounds (200Hz-3kHz), but the AONIC 50 is the better pick for frequent flyers.
Connection strength and Bluetooth codec support
This is another category where the Shure AONIC 50 shines because aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low latency, AAC, and LDAC are all supported by these headphones. No matter what source device you stream from, you’ll enjoy high-quality audio and virtually no audio-visual lag or latency between commands.
Class 1 Bluetooth 5.0 firmware is at the operational heart of this headset, which contributes to the long battery life and stellar connection strength within the 10-meter range. Bluetooth multipoint is also supported here, meaning you may connect two devices at a time to the Shure AONIC 50. I used this every day while testing these headphones to keep one ear on incoming phone calls and the other on desktop notifications.
Sound quality is excellent
Shure’s been in the audio game for decades and understands how to create a pleasing, versatile sound. The audio engineers slightly elevated upper-bass frequencies, which makes vocals stand out from accompanying instruments. I really enjoyed this gentle bump when listening to soulful singers like Brittany Howard and the late Bill Withers. No matter what your music library is filled with, your favorite tunes will sound clear and accurate through these 50mm dynamic drivers.
The sub-bass response was slightly improved with the update to firmware version 0.4.9, making “oomph” and “bump” easier to register. SoundGuys‘ measurements recording a change to the treble respsonse, too, making high notes louder. This can make it seem like you’re perceiving more detail and clarity from your music, because tonal resonances fall in this upper frequency range.
To get a more technical description and inspection of the Shure AONIC 50 frequency response, read the full review.
Microphone quality is great
Nothing compares to the sound of a dedicated external microphone; however, the Shure microphone system is great and will get you through any professional call. Background noise was poorly filtered with the original firmware (0.4.1), but has since improved with the advent of firmware version 0.4.9.
Shure makes some of the best microphones in the world, and the AONIC 50 mic system is no exception.
The company de-emphasizes low vocal frequencies to combat the “proximity effect.” Simply put, this is when bass notes are amplified and distorted as the speaker gets too close to the mic. Since the headphones rest on your head, you’re always a little too close. Reducing low-frequency sensitivity improves speech intelligibility. If there’s any microphone company you should bet on its Shure, the maker of the most iconic vocal mics in the world.
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo (firmware 0.4.9):
What did prove problematic, even after the update, was how the microphone relayed high-pitched background noise. I was on the phone with my mom while my roommate was cleaning dishes five meters away, and my mom couldn’t believe it wasn’t I who was doing the dish washing. Be sure you take your calls in a relatively quiet environment.
Should you buy the Shure AONIC 50?
Absolutely, the Shure AONIC 50 are my favorite noise-cancelling headphones to date. They’re uniquely comfortable, and check all the right boxes regarding comfort, sound quality, and ANC performance. These are sure to serve you well for years and years, thanks to the stellar construction and replaceable parts. The price made my eyes bug out, but quality headphones are worth it if you view them as an investment.
Save money and get the Sony WH-1000XM3
A lot of people will compare the Shure AONIC 50 to the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose Headphones 700. Regarding the latter, I’ll save your time and spoil it: get the Shure AONIC 50; they’re the same price and outperform the Bose ANC headphones in nearly every way.
Deciding between Shure and Sony is a bit harder, because Sony’s headset affords 90% of the performance for $100 less. To make it even more appealing: it often goes on promotion for an even heavier discount. The WH-1000XM3 will likely become even more affordable once the Sony WH-1000XM4 is officially released.
If you don’t take a lot of flights and tend not to spend too much time on subway platforms, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is a better value. In fact, Sony’s flagship noise-cancelling headphones are a better value for a vast majority of listeners. It’s those who want the absolute best ANC who should get the Shure AONIC 50.