Most people scoff at the thought of spending $300 on headphones. But Shure ups the ante with its $399 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.
Editor’s note: this Shure AONIC 50 review was updated on April 12, 2021, to clarify information about wired listening.
Who should get the Shure AONIC 50?
- Remote workers should get a pair of noise cancelling 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. Additionally, the charging port is also a data input, so you can listen to your music over a USB-C cable (instantly making them the best USB-C headphones on the market).
Using the Shure AONIC 50
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.
Start here: What makes a good set of wireless headphones?
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.
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.
Learn more: What is an EQ, and how do I use it?
You can also EQ the sound if you’re not a fan of Shure’s default sound signature but functionality is limited. According to a Shure representative, it is not a hardware EQ and its usage is relegated to the ShurePlus Play app only. This makes it very limited as it only applies to music streamed directly from the Shure app’s music player.
On July 14, 2020, the company released firmware version 0.4.9 to improve ambient noise mode, thereby minimizing feedback. It also improved call quality, and vocal accuracy. The headset is now enabled to relay a “connected” message when successfully connecting to specific soundbars, TV sets, and Bluetooth adapters.
How good is the noise cancellation?
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. 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
The headphones connect via Bluetooth or by wire as Shure includes a 2.5mm headphone input on its AONIC noise cancelling headphones and an included 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable. 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 have a Tidal HiFi subscription, you’ll get plenty of use out of the included 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 yielded 19 hours, 46 minutes of playtime on a single charge. To recharge the headset to full capacity, connect it to the provided USB-C cable for a few hours. The LED indicator slowly blinks red when battery life is low and remains a solid red when charging.
What do the Shure AONIC 50 sound like?
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 2-4kHz, that’s something we often see from well-informed audio companies—this kind of de-emphasis prevents unwanted 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.
Editor’s note: the firmware version 0.4.9 resolved an issue that whereby high-frequency sound artifacts were problematic when using LDAC at 88.2 or 96kHz. We also measured a more neutral sub-bass response with firmware 0.4.9, compared to 0.4.1.
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.
The Shure AONIC 50 have excellent sound quality.
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?
Microphone quality is very good if you’re operating on firmware version 0.4.9, rather than 0.4.1. The original microphone quality was good enough to get you through any sort of professional conference call or video chat, but Shure further improved accurate vocal reproduction with its first firmware update.
Now, the high-pass filter is less intense, so fundamental vocal frequencies are relayed accurately; in other words, you won’t sound quite so “hollow.” The de-emphasis from 50-300Hz is less dramatic than during our initial review. As you can hear from the voice demo below, speech intelligibility is a non-issue, despite my voice being low: the fundamental frequency range of my voice ranges from 160-240Hz. In total, the AONIC 50 houses six microphones, two of which are beamforming (right cup only), one per cup for Environment Mode and feed-forward ANC, and two per headphone for feedback ANC.
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 (firmware 0.4.1):
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo (firmware 0.4.9):
Background noise attenuation has also been improved with firmware version 0.4.9. I’m now able to speak freely with some background noise like a loud fan, or friend doing dishes without it being amplified to the person on the other end of the call.
As of March 24, 2021, 1,100 readers rated the above mic sample as somewhere between “okay” and “good.” This is a pretty typical result for an embedded microphone system, and at the upper end of what you should expect to get out of any products of this type.
Should you buy the Shure AONIC 50?
Yes, the Shure AONIC 50 are worth getting and stand as my favorite noise cancelling headphones yet. The headset merits its $350 price, which is about $50 from its previous 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.
Listeners who want to save quite a bit of money for similarly effective noise cancelling should consider the Sennheiser PXC 550-II. These originally retailed for $349, and can now be had for the reasonable price of $199. The PXC 550-II don’t have the same premium build quality as the Shure AONIC 50, but they do have a lightweight, travel-friendly design. Yes, the microUSB input is an inconvenience but a small one considering the extremely high-value of this Sennheiser headset.
Shure AONIC 50 vs. Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony’s latest flagship headphones have made the top of our best lists, because the Sony WH-1000XM4 checks all the right boxes: it’s (relatively) affordable, sounds great, has top-notch noise cancelling, and lasts for 20 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 more expensive than Sony’s headset.
Noise cancelling performance is very close; Shure’s headset more reliably cancels out low-frequency sounds from 60-200Hz. Anyone who encounters plenty of air conditioners and outside traffic will benefit from the AONIC 50. On the other hand, the WH-1000XM4 is no slouch: it attenuates 20Hz sounds, sub-bass rumbles from engines, even more than Shure’s headset and excels when it comes to midrange frequency cancellation. No matter which headset you pick, remember that unpredictable sounds (e.g. speech) won’t be cancelled as effectively as predictable sounds like humming machines.
Don’t miss: Shure AONIC 50 vs Sony WH-1000XM4
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. Another difference: Bluetooth codec support. The Sony WH-1000XM4 supports SBC, AAC, and LDAC, while the Shure AONIC 50 supports all of those codecs and aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency.
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-1000XM4 is more than good enough. For a better deal with nearly the same design, get the Sony WH-1000XM3 instead.
Shure AONIC 50 vs. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700
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 priced nearly the same as Shure’s headset. You’re paying for the company’s respected reputation—update shenanigans aside.
Bose’s headphones also 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.
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.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:
If you’re torn between the Bose Headphones 700 and Shure AONIC 50, get Shure’s headset. Or, settle for slightly worse microphones and build quality and grab the WH-1000XM4 instead.
What about the Apple AirPods Max?
The AirPods Max is a completely different beast than the Shure AONIC 50: it relies heavily on advanced software, so much so that each headphone houses Apple’s H1 chip. This processing power is required to perform certain tasks like optimal active noise cancelling, Transparency mode, Spatial Audio, and more. Like the Shure AONIC 50, the AirPods Max features tactile button controls only. It has its quirks; for one, you can’t power the AirPods Max off unless its sheathed in its smart case. Apple’s headphones are astronomically priced at $549 USD, so you could practically buy two Shure headsets for the price of one AirPods Max.
If you have an iPhone, the AirPods Max might be justifiable because they work seamlessly within the Apple ecosystem. Automatic device switching with the AirPods Max is a breeze, and hands-free Siri access makes it that much easier to execute basic commands. Even still, most of us will be perfectly happy with any alternative headset from Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, or Shure.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you want the best active noise cancelling headphones available, you can't beat the Shure AONIC 50. That being said, the Sony WH-1000XM4 is actually more effective at cancelling low and low-mid frequency noises than the AONIC 50. The AONIC 50 support more Bluetooth codecs than the Sony headphones do, but both support Bluetooth multipoint. The AONIC 50 are quite a bit more expensive than the WH-1000XM4, and if you want to save even more money, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are still a great pair of headphones.
The headphones slide forward a bit when looking down, but the effect is minimal. The headband material creates enough friction that it's unlikely to slide completely forward and down toward the forehead.
Since the Shure Aonic 50 ear cups are more spaced apart than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 ear cups, the clamping force should be lessened. What's comfortable for one listener may not be comfortable for another, though, as you could run into other issues with the Shure headset; for instance, Shure's headphones are 80g heavier than Bose's. This could create discomfort for some listeners, even though it didn't for Lily.
Yes! Lily here, and I found the Shure Aonic 50 extremely comfortable during long listening sessions whether I was wearing glasses or contacts. The headband does a great job of evenly distributing weight across the top of the head while the sliding adjustment mechanism is suitable for small and large heads. The memory foam ear cups also do a great job of mitigating any potential pain points.
We reached out to Shure about the Aoinc 50 and the representative shared the following. "The yokes (the parts that attach the earcups to the headband) are aluminum. The earcups are resin (plastic). The earpad cushions are synthetic leather, sometimes called 'protein leather.' It is not an animal product."
The Shure Aonic 50 has significantly better noise cancelling and sound quality compared to the Sennheiser Momentum 3.0, the latter of which boosts bass frequencies to sound twice as loud as mids. This may be preferred if you listen to EDM or hip-hop but won't be pleasant for listeners in search of a platonic sound signature. Battery life is also much better with Shure's headset as it grants approximately seven more hours of playtime on a single charge. There are differences in build quality, though, as the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless 3.0 uses genuine leather for its memory foam earpads while the Shure Aonic 50 uses synthetic material. Plus, Sennheiser's headphones don't fold flat but do collapse towards the headband. The Momentum Wireless 3 is a bit older than Shure's headphones and costs $50 less.
The Shure Aonic 50 is a much better pair of noise cancelling headphones than the Master & Dynamic MW65. Low and midrange frequencies are rendered null with the Aonic 50 compared to the MW65. Battery life is about the same with both headsets, but sound quality is more accurate and imaging more engaging with Shure's headphones. Microphone quality is also better with the Shure Aonic 50, but one reason to get the Master & Dynamic MW65 instead: build quality. Shure's headphones use a synthetic leather material, making them vegan, but Master & Dynamic sources premium materials like lambskin leather. That said, the Shure Aonic 50 headphones are more comfortable despite being ~100g heavier.
Extremely low sub-bass frequencies (20Hz) are quieter with the Shure Aonic 50 compared to the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700. That said, it's unlikely you can perceive a 20Hz frequency among instrumental din as hearing degrades over time. If you want, feel free to test your hearing here: we include a 20Hz audio sample.
That's a pretty hefty weight, but we didn't really run into issues. Those pads are pretty thick, and the headset distributes weight well.