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Shure AONIC 50
April 2, 2020
Original: $399 USD
June 2022: $249 USD
Most people scoff at the thought of spending $200 USD on headphones. But Shure ups the ante with its premium active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones, the Shure AONIC 50, which costs $299 USD. But don’t let the price talk you out of considering this headset, because it is worth the money. After weeks with the AONIC 50, we can confidently say that this is one of the most comfortable headsets around, making it a commuter’s best friend.
Editor’s note: this Shure AONIC 50 review was updated on June 17, 2022, to update the formatting, include in-line FAQs, and add to the Alternatives section. We also added a disclosure box regarding non-standardized testing and mic data.
- Remote workers should get these noise cancelling headphones. Shure’s ANC, while not the best, is objective and keeps me focused throughout the workday.
- Frequent travelers will appreciate the comfortable fit and the 20-hour battery life.
- 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 this the best USB-C headset on the market).
What is the Shure AONIC 50 like?
Everything from the packaging, carrying case, and headset just screams quality with the Shure AONIC 50. 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 AONIC 50 isn’t very portable compared to its main competitor, the Sony WH-1000XM4 and now the Sony WH-1000XM5. Unlike headphones from Sony, Bose, and Audio-Technica, Shure doesn’t include 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.
While this is a large headset, it manages to remain comfortable with glasses. Headphones usually give me pause as a bespectacled listener, but these work incredibly well with my frames. The clamping force is reasonable, and the headband evenly distributes weight, so hot spots shouldn’t present themselves on top of your head.
We reached out to Shure about the AONIC 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.”
How do you control playback on the AONIC 50?
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 is easy to find the raised multifunction button for accessing Google Assistant, which is supremely useful for setting timers while baking.
How do you use 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. According to a Shure representative, it is now a hardware EQ that applies to music played beyond the PLAY app. This means any EQ you create will be applied in apps like Spotify or Apple Music. Of course, you can upload your music to the PLAY app’s library if you’d like, which is great for those with lossless libraries.
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.
What Bluetooth codecs does the Shure AONIC 50 support?
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. The Bluetooth 5.0 firmware grants a 10-meter wireless range and contributes to the headset’s 20-hour official battery life.
With the provided 2.5-to-3.5mm cable, it’s easy to hardwire the headset from the 2.5mm input on the left headphone. When you listen by wire, you can still use the noise cancelling and passthrough audio functions of the headset. Doing so will drain the headset’s battery though.
You can use Bluetooth multipoint to connect the Shure AONIC 50 to two devices at once. 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.
How good is the battery life on the AONIC 50?
Shure claims a 20-hour battery life with noise cancelling turned on. Our battery tests yielded 19 hours, 46 minutes of playtime which is pretty good but certainly not the best. 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. Just 15 minutes of charge provides four hours of playback, which is great if you’re in a bind.
Is the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling any good?
The noise cancelling is quite good, especially when it comes to blocking out low-frequency sounds like A/C units, washing machines, and outside traffic. The Bose QuietComfort 45 and NCH 700 more effectively cancel out midrange sounds, but this is still impressive.
Passive isolation is also great thanks to the high-density memory foam earpads. This kind of material really lets the noise cancelling technology shine and effectively targets sounds higher than 1kHz, with some attenuation of sounds below 1kHz too.
Not only is a good pair of ANC headphones a great productivity tool, but it can also protect you from certain types of hearing loss. Since the well-padded headphones are so good at combating external sounds, you’re less likely to increase the volume to dangerous levels. If you spend a lot of time flying or commuting via subway, the Shure AONIC 50 could help preserve your hearing.
Hold up! Something’s different:
This article’s frequency response and isolation charts were measured with our old testing system. We have since purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to update our backlog of old test results, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements, isolation performance plots, and standardized microphone demos. These will be made obvious with our new chart aesthetic (black background instead of white). Each new mic sample begins with the phrase, “This is a SoundGuys standardized microphone demonstration …”
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
What does 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 hear vocals, which is great for 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 under-emphasis minimizes the loudness of naturally occurring resonances within the ear canal.
Editor’s note: the firmware version 0.4.9 resolved an issue 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 wonderful through the AONIC 50. The song 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 may struggle to clearly reproduce this coalescing instrumentation, but not the AONIC 50.
ANC headphones are an excellent tool for anyone who works from home.
Henshaw’s vocals are easy to hear throughout the song, even during the choruses which introduce bassy brass horns that might otherwise make it hard to hear his voice through the wrong headset. I love 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 on the AONIC 50?
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 under-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 2020 scoring audit, most people 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):
How does the microphone sound to you?
Should you buy the Shure AONIC 50?
Yes, the Shure AONIC 50 is worth getting and stands as my favorite pair of noise cancelling headphones. The headset merits its price: sound quality is stellar right out of the gate, while comfort and build quality are great too. 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. This originally retailed for $349, and can now be had for a reasonable price of $199. The PXC 550-II doesn’t have the same premium build quality as the Shure AONIC 50, but it does 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.
The Shure AONIC 40 is a more affordable, cheaper built version of the AONIC 50. Both Shure headsets support ANC, USB-C audio, Bluetooth multipoint, and use Bluetooth 5.0. Why buck up for the AONIC 50, then? While the AONIC 40 has some high-quality Bluetooth codecs (SBC, AAC, and aptX), the AONIC 50 has LDAC too. As one might hope from a pricier headset, the AONIC 50 also has better active noise cancelling that more dramatically affects low-frequency sounds.
We still like the Shure AONIC 40 though, mainly for those who want something a bit more compact for travel and daily use. Oh, and it’s $50 USD cheaper, which is a big plus.
Shure AONIC 50 vs Sony WH-1000XM5: Which ANC headphones are best?
When measuring for just active noise cancelling performance, the Sony WH-1000XM5 comes out on top compared to the AONIC 50. In fact, the WH-1000XM5 has the best noise cancelling around second only to the Apple AirPods Max. ANC effectiveness doesn’t tell the whole story, however, as the Shure AONIC 50 has a more consistent output across the frequency spectrum. Shure’s headset also has USB-C audio passthrough, which the WH-1000XM5 lacks. While some people may prefer touch controls, we like the buttons on the Shure AONIC 50 as it’s easier to operate in cold climates.
Both headsets charge via USB-C and support fast charging but the XM5 is more efficient. Microphone quality is much better on the Sony WH-1000XM5—particularly in sub-optimal conditions like windy or office settings. With Sony’s headset, you get access to the Headphones Connect app where you can take advantage of 360 Reality Audio optimization, prioritize connection stability or sound quality, and customize the sound. Shure’s headphones lack any kind of surround sound built-in, but some streaming services allow you to use any headset with 360 audio features.
With Shure’s headset frequently going on sale for close to $200 USD and Sony’s XM5 headphones costing $399 USD, the AONIC 50 is a better deal but you don’t get nearly as many cool software-powered features. Heck, you don’t even get automatic play/pause with the AONIC 50, but you do get a premium build and great sound to boot.
Prior to the Sony WH-1000XM5, the WH-1000XM4 sat at the top of our best lists, because it 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.
Sony’s headset is 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 has 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. Bose’s headset costs nearly the same as Shure’s headset. You’re paying for the company’s respected reputation—update shenanigans aside.
The Bose Headphones 700 lacks high-quality codec support and includes only SBC and AAC. 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 expensive 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.
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.
Listeners who want the comfort of the AONIC 50 with the sleek design of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 should check out the Bose QuietComfort 45.
What should you get instead of the Shure AONIC 50?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II and QuietComfort 45 are great alternatives to Shure’s ANC headset. Bose’s active noise cancelling is some of the best in the business, and really only competes with Sony and Apple. The QC 35 II shows its age with the microUSB port, but otherwise keeps up with modern alternatives. You get direct access to your preferred virtual assistant and a consumer-friendly sound that closely follows our consumer curve. The QuietComfort 45 has even better noise cancelling than the QC 35 II, but it costs a bit more and you can’t disable ANC without automatically enabling transparency mode.
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 it’s 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 worth it 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.
The Shure AONIC Free is a set of true wireless earphones that retails for $199 USD. You don’t get ANC with this headset, but you don’t need it. The passive isolation is just that good. Listeners who want the great sound quality of the larger AONIC 50 compacted into a pocketable package should feast their eyes upon the IPX4-rated AONIC Free. Listeners who want a more secure fit can instead look into the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2.
Frequently asked questions about the Shure AONIC 50
If I understand this question correctly, you want to know if you can listen to music over a 3.5mm connection, while having a phone call over Bluetooth. No, you’ll have to pick one input (3.5mm or Bluetooth). Depending on your device and apps, you can listen to music and be on a phone call at the same time, but it’ll have to be using the same connection.
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 headset is 80g heavier than Bose’s. This could create discomfort for some listeners, even though it doesn’t for Lily.
Yes! Lily here, and I find the AONIC 50 extremely comfortable during long listening sessions whether I wear 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.
The Shure AONIC 50 has better noise cancelling and sound quality compared to the Sennheiser MOMENTUM Wireless 3, 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 uses genuine leather for its memory foam ear pads while the Shure Aonic 50 uses synthetic material. Plus, Sennheiser’s headset doesn’t fold flat but does collapse towards the headband. The MOMENTUM Wireless 3 is a bit older than Shure’s headphones and costs less.
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.