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 review was updated on May 22, 2020, to note that the Shure AONIC 50 won our Editors Choice award.
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.
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.
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 14o 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.
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 (e.g. noise-induced 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. 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’re like me and have a Tidal HiFi subscription, you’ll get plenty of use out of the included TRRS 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 3-4.5kHz, that’s something we often see from well-informed audio companies—this kind of de-emphasis prevents some 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.
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.
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 good and certainly good enough to get you through any sort of professional conference call or video chat. The sloping de-emphasis from 50-400Hz appears more dramatic than it sounds in reality. 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. Shure’s firmware update 4.3 improves low-frequency reproduction, making listeners sound less “hollow” than our demo indicates.
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:
What did prove problematic was how the mic relayed high-pitched background sounds. My roommate was doing the dishes five meters away from me as I spoke to my mom over the phone. My mom was stunned that it wasn’t I who was cleaning the dishes due to how ineffectively the background noise was filtered out. Obviously, you shouldn’t be recording podcasts on this thing, but it will work for phone calls.
How does the Shure AONIC 50 compare to other ANC headphones?
There are two headsets that Shure has to go up against with the debut of its AONIC noise cancelling headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose Headphones 700. Let’s get a quick rundown of how the headsets shake out.
Shure AONIC 50 vs Sony WH-1000XM3
Sony’s flagship headphones have been at the top of our list for a long, long time. After all, the WH-1000XM3 checks all the right boxes: it’s (relatively) affordable, sounds great, has top-notch noise cancelling, and lasts for 24 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 $150-$200 more than Sony’s headset.
If you prioritize noise cancelling effectiveness or microphone quality, you may find it worth getting the Shure AONIC 50, as the Sony cans don’t do a great job mitigating the proximity effect in calls. That said, Sony’s headphones are pretty dang good at blocking out sounds of all frequencies. In fact, they outperform Shure’s headphones across the midrange. Frequent flyers may find it easier to justify the price compared to standard desk jockeys.
The Sony WH-1000XM3 makes more sense for most consumers compared to the Shure AONIC 50.
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.
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-1000XM3 is more than good enough.
Shure AONIC 50 vs Bose 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.
Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:
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-1000XM3 instead.
Should you buy the Shure AONIC 50?
Yes, the Shure AONIC 50 are my favorite noise cancelling headphones yet. The headset merits its ~$400 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Usually, it's worth waiting for the next-generation model once something's been out for a year, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 official release is yet to be revealed. With the current state of global affairs, it could be a long while until we see the M4 headset, or even its official specs. As it stands, the Sony WH-1000XM3 is one of the best headsets available, and the release of the fourth-generation unit won't change that. The WH-1000XM3 frequently goes on promotion, and can be found discounted as a refurbished product. If both are available as you read this, it comes down to a question regarding budget and potential ANC improvements.
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.