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Shure AONIC 40
January 4, 2022
Since it came out, the Shure AONIC 50 has been a perennial mainstay on best lists and alternative options on our site. It’s a great pair of headphones, albeit a pretty expensive one. The new Shure AONIC 40 trims back a little of the design excess, in favor of something a little cheaper (and a little cheaper feeling).
This headset boasts pretty much all the same features as its older sibling did in 2020, but is that enough to stand out in 2022?
Editor’s note: This review was updated on January 31, 2022 to correct an error stating there was no quick charging feature for the Shure AONIC 40.
Who should get the Shure AONIC 40?
- Commuters who want something comfortable with noise cancelling for their bus or train rides into work.
- Everyday listeners who like an accurate, slightly bass-heavy sound.
- Audio tinkerers who want something that they can EQ.
What’s it like to use Shure AONIC 40?
While there are some obvious corners cut compared to the Shure AONIC 50, the AONIC 40 is a largely delightful pair of Bluetooth headphones to use. Where its predecessor features a mostly metal frame and leather-covered cushions, the AONIC 40 moves to an all-plastic construction with collapsible hinges. It feels cheaper—because it is cheaper—but considering the lack of a collapsible frame has been one of our main complaints with the AONIC 50, it’s hard to knock here.
Start here: Ultimate headphone buying guide
The Shure AONIC 40 is very comfortable, with a caveat. These Bluetooth headphones sport thick, soft memory foam ear pads covered in leatherette, and a plastic headband cushion that takes a little getting used to—it’s harder than you’d expect, and almost feels air-filled, but it’s not uncomfortable. However, regardless of how comfortable it is, the headband also feels pretty cheap. It’s flimsy and adjusting it is rather noisy, especially when you’re wearing it. Long-term durability is definitely a concern here, and while the Shure AONIC 40 comes with a hard carrying case, it’s got an odd design that may end up putting more strain on the headphones if you’re not paying attention—you’re supposed to let the headband rest on one side of the case’s wall, rather nestled next to it (there are a handful of notices to show you how to do it).
Actually using the Shure AONIC 40 is pretty easy. These Bluetooth headphones have a pretty standard array of on-ear controls. There’s a button on the left headphone for Bluetooth pairing, and on the right headphone there’s a button for toggling active noise cancelling (ANC), a multifunction button, and buttons for raising and lowering volume. There’s no option to customize what the buttons do in the ShurePlus PLAY app (more on that in a few), but things are pretty well laid out, and you get a decent amount of straightforward options. Here’s what controls are available:
|PRESS||LONG PRESS||DOUBLE PRESS||TRIPLE PRESS||HOLD|
|PRESSLONG PRESSDOUBLE PRESSTRIPLE PRESS|
Play / Pause
|PRESSLONG PRESSDOUBLE PRESSTRIPLE PRESS|
ANC / Passthrough toggle
Bypass ANC (off)
Bluetooth pair (from power off)
Does the Shure AONIC 40 have good noise cancelling?
The Shure AONIC 40 features pretty mediocre active noise cancelling (ANC) given its pedigree—it doesn’t even come close to the best on the market. This could help if you’re looking for something to use on commutes to quiet the chatter of other people, or tune out the office sounds at work, but you’re almost certainly going to still hear plenty. The passive attenuation granted by the headphones’ isolation performance is decent, at least.
Attenuation like this will cut down on some low-end sounds, but it probably won’t have much effect on things like engine rumble, which mostly occupies the sub-bass range. Sounds around 200Hz should come through about half as loud, though.
You definitely won’t forget where you are using the Shure AONIC 40. However, it may be just enough to keep you from cranking the volume in most environments, which is important for the health of your hearing.
See also: The best noise cancelling headphones
Should you download ShurePlus PLAY app?
The ShurePlus PLAY app is Shure’s companion app for all its audio products, and it’s definitely something to download for the Shure AONIC 40. It’s well laid out and brings a number of useful features. There’s a guide to what the headphones’ on-ear controls do, though no option to customize it past toggling the option to mute a call when you double-press the ANC button.
However, while the app doesn’t let you change much in the way of button controls, you can set whether you hear voice prompts to indicate a change in battery status, ANC, and Bluetooth connection, among other things. You can also set power-saving settings and whether the Shure AONIC 40 will charge whenever it’s plugged in, or just when it’s powered off and plugged in. The ShurePlus PLAY app brings some ANC customization, too—you can set the ANC level to Max, Normal, and Light (our measurements were conducted on the Max setting). You can also toggle between the ANC and transparency modes, just like when you use the on-ear controls.
Past those settings, the ShurePlus PLAY app also brings firmware updates and a wide range of EQ presets, as well as the ability to set your own EQ, which is great if you’re looking to pull the audio output a little closer to the SoundGuys house curve (not that you’d need to do much). There’s even a menu for managing locally saved music, though it feels a little unlikely anyone’s going to switch from Spotify or Apple Music to this.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Shure AONIC 40 support?
The Shure AONIC 40 uses Bluetooth 5.0 to connect to your device of choice and supports the SBC, AAC, aptX, and aptX HD codecs. This means you’ve got a high-quality audio streaming option, regardless of whether you’re an Apple or Android user, which is really nice to see.
The AONIC 40 also supports Bluetooth multipoint, though it doesn’t advertise that for some reason. Multipoint works well here, reliably hopping back and forth between audio streaming from my Google Pixel 4a and my Apple MacBook Pro—simultaneous streaming isn’t an option, but it never is with multipoint.
How long does the battery last on the Shure AONIC 40?
Shure claims the AONIC 40 can last up to 25 hours on a single charge, but in our testing we found it well exceeds that. With ANC turned on, the Shure AONIC 40 lasted 36 hours, 31 minutes at a consistent 75dB(SPL) output—not the best on the market, but not far off. If you turn off ANC, performance will no doubt improve—but leaving something like multipoint active will drain things quicker.
The battery life is great, and the included quick charging feature will bring 5 hours of use after charging for only 15 minutes. There’s wireless charging to speak of, but you can always use it wired while it charges. The Shure AONIC 40 supports wired audio connections over 3.5mm and USB via the USB-C charging port.
How does the Shure AONIC 40 sound?
The Shure AONIC 40’s frequency response stays somewhat close to our house curve, though there are some deviations worth hashing out. The headphones emphasize sound from 80-300Hz more than we generally like to see, which can make things sound a little less clear. The increased output above 4kHz can help with this by bringing forward more high-frequency detail, at the expense of a higher risk of grating sounds when there’s not much else going on in the song.
Lows, mids, and highs
Music of pretty much all genres should sound pretty nice coming out of the Shure AONIC 40. The gently emphasized bass and low mids mean that instruments like drums and bass guitar should offer a satisfying oomph, without drowning out vocals. The under-emphasis in high range sounds from 1-3kHz means that the sounds of some strings and cymbals may be a little harder to hear though.
In 1am Funk Dance Party by Scary Pockets, the drums and groovy bass really take center stage, driving the momentum of the song. However, while both these elements come through really prominently, they don’t overshadow the rhythm guitar strumming or the lead guitar. However, hi-hat hits and the sounds of the shakers get a little lost in the mix as the intensity of the song builds.
Can you use the Shure AONIC 40 for phone calls?
The Shure AONIC 40 microphone is pretty standard fare for a pair of Bluetooth headphones. It’ll work in a pinch for a quick phone call, but like most embedded microphones, this one sounds pretty muffled. The volume isn’t bad, however, and it handles external noise well enough that if you’re walking on a sidewalk, traffic won’t be too much of a barrier to speech intelligibility. Listen for yourself:
Shure AONIC 40 microphone demo:
How does the microphone sound to you?
Shure AONIC 40 vs Shure AONIC 50: What’s the difference?
The Shure AONIC 40 is a solid pair of Bluetooth headphones, but at the end of the day, it’s basically just the AONIC 50, only less so. The AONIC 40 is more collapsible, cheaper, and has almost all the same features, but it also feels comparatively flimsy. The AONIC 50 also has bigger audio drivers, and support for LDAC, in addition to all the same codecs the AONIC 40 has.
Both headsets feature great sound and good enough microphones, but if there’s one truly significant audio difference, it’s ANC performance. Even at maximum, the Shure AONIC 40’s ANC is pretty average. Conversely, when the AONIC 50 came out, its ANC was either the best available or close to it, and while it can’t keep up with the likes of the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Apple AirPods Max, it’s still great.
Should you buy the Shure AONIC 40?
If you want a versatile, great-sounding pair of noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones, you should consider the Shure AONIC 40.
The Shure AONIC 40 does pretty much everything well. It sounds great. It has a lot of features. It’s comfortable. Battery life is great, and multipoint works really smoothly. Its microphone is decent enough, and its ANC, uh, exists. It’s pretty impressive you can get something this good all around, with both AAC and aptX HD support, for around $250 USD.
However, the flip side of taking a jack-of-all-trades approach at this price is that if you want something with best-in-class performance for ANC or sound quality, you don’t have to spend that much more to get it.
What should you get instead of the Shure AONIC 40?
If you’re looking for better ANC performance, there are lots of options to choose from—some cheaper, and some more expensive. The price jump to top-of-the-line options like the Sony WH-1000XM4 can be a bit steep, but the WH-1000XM3 still outperforms the Shure AONIC 40 and goes on sale for cheaper very often. If you don’t mind the less portable frame, the Shure AONIC 50 brings a nice slew of improvements for only $50 USD more, too.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II is a few years old, and its successor has already come out, but that means you can find it pretty cheap these days—cheaper than the Shure AONIC 40, in fact. This has been a serious contender since it came out, and it still sounds just as accurate as the AONIC 40, plus its ANC is considerably better. However, it lacks aptX support, which means only Apple users will have access to anything approaching a high-quality codec.
See also: The best wireless headphones
Frequently asked questions about the Shure AONIC 40
The Sennheiser MOMENTUM 3 Wireless is a few years older than the Shure AONIC 40 but it’s just as well built, if not a bit more premium. The ear cups don’t rotate to lay flat but you can compact them towards the genuine leather headband. Shure’s hard case is nicer than the cloth zippered case you get with the MOMENTUM 3 Wireless, though Sennheiser’s headset is 7g lighter than Shure’s.
If you want a better app experience with better battery life, we recommend the Shure AONIC 40 instead of the MOMENTUM 3 Wireless. You should get the MOMENTUM 3 Wireless, though, if you like how it’s built and prefer a bassier sound by default.