We save for months at a time for luxury goods, and headphones are no exception. When it comes time to invest in the best, we want you to be well informed. We’re pitting the Shure AONIC 50 vs. the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 to see which top-tier headset is best suited for you. Rest assured, whether you run with Shure or Bose, you’ll be very, very happy.

Editor’s note: this Shure AONIC 50 vs. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 article was updated on May 10, 2020, to include information about Shure AONIC 50 firmware version 4.3, and to clarify the size of the headphone input on both devices.

Bose and Shure’s designs are very different

A picture of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 on black surface.

Bose redesigned its flagship headset from the ground up in order to make it more appealing to the modern listener.

Both the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and the Shure AONIC 50 are constructed from plastic and use metal to reinforce the headbands. Each headset features plastic ear cup housings and synthetic leather coverings for the memory foam earpads. Bose’s ear cups have an oblong shape, making them taller and narrower than Shure’s. However, the AONIC 50’s classic round ear cups are still plenty comfortable and allow for ample wiggle room.

Although the Bose Headphones 700 looks more premium than the QuietComfort 35 II, they’re less comfortable. Consequently, the Headphones 700 are also less comfortable than the AONIC 50, despite being 80 grams lighter. The culprit: stiff earpads. They improve passive isolation, which further bolsters active noise cancelling performance, but the Bose ear pads are still no match for the dense material used by Shure in tandem with its noise cancelling technology.

Nether headset can collapse into itself for transport, but both can fold flat.

Bose opted for a soft-touch rubberized material on the Headphones 700 headband’s interior, which looks great but can pull hair like the Beats Solo Pro. The Shure AONIC 50’s leatherette headband creates less friction and doesn’t pull hair.

An aerial photo of the Shure Aonic 50-noise cancelling headphones open carrying case revealing the headphones in brown.

The Shure Aonic 50 includes a protective carrying case that takes up a great deal of space.

Both headsets are equally portable as the ear cups movements are limited; they only rotate to lie flat against a surface. This is great for sliding into a backpack, but sometimes the path of least resistance means balling headphones up and tossing them atop an already stuffed bag—which can’t be done with either headset. If you want an ANC flagship that collapses into itself, look into the Sony WH-1000XM3 instead. Both carrying cases are sturdy, though Shure’s is more rigid, and thus more durable.

No matter which pair of headphones you get, you’ll benefit from USB-C charging and a headphone jack for full FLAC audio enjoyment. Both Shure and Bose committed to the less popular 2.5mm input in order to save space for other internals.

Onboard controls

A picture of the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 onboard button controls.

Bose uses both buttons and touch-capacitive panels to control the Headphones 700.

Bose supports hands-free Alexa access, but users will have to press the designated voice assistant button to talk to Google Assistant or Siri. When it comes to onboard controls, Bose went with the hybrid approach: both ear cups act as touch panels for call, playback, and volume control, and the buttons are for powering the headset on/off, virtual assistant access, and cycling through noise cancelling levels or enabling passthrough mode.

You can control playback, noise cancellation/passthrough, volume levels, and access your virtual assistant directly the Shure AONIC 50, too, but the controls are tactile only. This can be good or bad, since touch controls aren’t universally enjoyed by consumers.

Winner: Shure AONIC 50

These are similar microphone systems

Bose and Shure took similar approaches to their respective microphone systems and attenuated low-frequency sounds. Although this appears to be a dramatic slope in low-frequency response, it’s strategic: quieting low-frequencies combats the proximity effect, when bass notes are amplified as a speaker gets too close to a microphone. The downside to this is that it can also make speakers sound a little “distant” or hollow because certain parts of their vocal registers are quieter than others.

Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 microphone demo:

Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo:

Bose’s microphone array does a better job reproducing accurate vocal transmission while simultaneously reducing background noise, something the Shure AONIC 50 proved unable to do. Firmware version 4.3 should make speakers sound more natural than our sample suggests, but background noise reduction is important when taking calls outside of the house.

Winner: Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

The Shure AONIC 50 supports the most Bluetooth codecs

An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones in brown leaning against a coffee carafe.

Shure’s headphones support a slew of high-quality codecs for optimal Bluetooth audio quality.

The Bose Headphones 700 and Shure AONIC 50 are both Bluetooth 5.0 headsets at the top of their games, but the latter supports every Bluetooth codec one could want (aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, LDAC, aptX, AAC, and SBC), and can drive high-quality audio to any operating system. Bose’s headphones only support AAC and SBC, so only iPhone users will get high-quality wireless audio. Anyone whose free time consists of plenty of TV-streaming, the Shure AONIC 50 is your best bet for lag-free videos.

 Shure Aonic 50Sony WH-1000XM3Bose Headphones 700Bose QC 35 II
aptX HD
aptX LL

Both headsets support multipoint connectivity, when one headset is connected to two or more devices at a time, but the Bose outdoes the Shure AONIC 50 here. The Headphones 700 can connect to three devices simultaneously, while the Shure AONIC 50 is limited to two. The extended functionality isn’t enough to outweigh the lack of Bluetooth codec support, though, so Shure still wins this round handily.

Winner: Shure AONIC 50

Do the Shure or Bose headphones have better battery life?

A photo showing the microphone array of the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700.

Bose and Shure both use USB-C inputs for charging their respective headsets.

This metric was the easiest to measure, because we subject every audio product to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until the batteries are drained. Anytime we test ANC headphones, we make sure to max out noise cancelling during testing. We measured 21 hours, 25 minutes of playback with the Bose Headphones 700 and 19 hours, 46 minutes from the Shure AONIC 50. Both battery capacities are impressive and supply more than enough juice for daily use, but Bose is the clear winner when it comes to battery life.

Winner: Bose Noise Cancelling headphones 700

Shure has better noise cancelling than Bose

If you’re in search of the absolute best raw noise cancellation, the Shure AONIC 50 are your best bet. They actively filter out sounds across the frequency spectrum more effectively than the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, save for a small range from 2-4kHz. Bose’s noise cancelling technology is still good, great even, but it’s no match for Shure’s headphones.

In the charts above, Bose’s headphones can’t touch sounds below 100Hz, but the Shure AONIC 50 combat 20Hz and higher-pitched sounds. At 100Hz, the AONIC 50 renders noises two times quieter than Bose’s headset. This means listeners trying to rack up their skymiles, and even those who are just daily commuters, are better off investing in Shure. Heck, even midrange frequencies like standard office chit-chat are quieted more effectively with the AONIC 50 than the Bose Headphones 700, and it’s done so with greater consistency.

Frequent travelers and daily commuters will benefit much more from the AONIC 50 than Bose's headphones.

Whether you go with Shure, Bose, or some other noise cancelling headset, you’re investing in your auditory health: ANC technology can help reduce your risk of noise-induced hearing loss, just one of many kinds of hearing loss people can suffer from. Since noise cancelling headphones actively reduce external noise, it lessens the chance you’ll increase the volume to dangerous levels thereby reducing the risk of auditory damage.

Winner: Shure AONIC 50

Do the Shure or Bose headphones have better sound quality?

Bose and Shure fully loaded their respective headsets with plenty of advanced microphone and noise cancelling technology, but this Shure AONIC 50 vs. Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 piece would be remiss if we failed to address sound quality.

The frequency response graph of the Bose 700 headphones show a slight emphasis in the lows, but it isn't overdone.

The Bose 700 still has a slight emphasis on the low end, but combined with the isolating earcups it’s more than sufficient for all but the most hardcore bassheads.

Shure and Bose both received sound quality scores of 9.6 from our testing methods, but there are nuanced differences between the two sound signatures. Let’s first look at Bose: its frequency response tightly hugs the line of platonic ideal (dotted red line) from 20-900Hz. The gentle 30-300Hz bump makes it easier to discern bass lines and vocals from accompanying instrumental din. It does so without subjecting music to auditory masking—when a loud sound makes it difficult to perceive a relatively quiet one. The 900Hz-2kHz dip isn’t arbitrary; it’s meant to reduce distorting harmonic resonances that naturally occur within the human ear canal. Without this de-emphasis, these frequencies could resonate unpleasantly and make your music sound “off.” The subsequent emphasis from 2-6kHz makes it easier to register treble frequency detail and clarity.

A chart depicting the Shure Aonic 50 frequency response, which shows slightly emphasized upper-bass and low-midrange frequencies.

The Shure Aonic 50 dynamic drivers reproduce an accurate sound which works well for all music.

Shure’s headset takes a similar approach with some notable changeups. For one, the company attenuates extremely low frequencies from 20-40Hz, making them sound two- to three-times quieter than upper bass and low-midrange notes. This, too, is strategic as it preempts auditory masking from sub-bass frequencies. Sure, you may not feel the same oomph that Beats listeners are accustomed to, but it has its benefits: namely vocal and instrumental clarity. We see a de-emphasis pattern similar to the Bose Headphones 700 in the treble range, but Shure moves this to a higher range which aligns with what we’ve seen from Audio-Technica and Sennheiser.

What an individual deems “good” or “bad” is subjective—some listeners prefer bass-heavy sounds, while others look for an analytical reproduction of their favorite tunes. You may prefer something with a relatively low sound score because our methods follow what’s referred to as platonically ideal sound, colloquially referred to as “neutral” or “flat.” This is because neutral-leaning frequency responses produce accurate audio, meaning listeners enjoy music as audio engineers and artists intended. It also makes equalizing music easier if you do want to emphasize bass notes or mids.

Shure and Bose both reproduce accurate audio quality, getting listeners very close to how artists intended for their music to sound.

This sound quality section is extremely close, and to determine a winner we averaged the individual bass and midrange scores for each headset: those are the most influential frequencies in your music. Upon doing so, the Shure received a combined bass/midrange score of 9.65, and Bose received a score of 9.55. Both headsets sound excellent, but we needed some way to break the tie and give this one to the Shure AONIC 50.

Winner: Shure AONIC 50

An aerial picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones with the ear pads removed and to the side.

The Shure AONIC 50  and Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 both have removable earpads, which elongates the lifespan of each pair of wireless ANC headphones.

The Shure AONIC 50 wins this versus over the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, but these are two of the best noise cancelling headsets on the market; no matter which brand you roll with, you’re going to have a fabulous time. As of April 30, 2020, the Bose Headphones 700 are $50 cheaper than the Shure AONIC 50. iPhone users may want to save some money by going with Bose; it’s not like iOS can take advantage of Shure’s wide array of supported Bluetooth codecs anyway, and the more modern design may appeal to a wider audience. That said, if your top priority is noise cancellation, the Shure AOINIC 50 will wipe the floor with Bose’s flagship headphones.

Next: Bose QuietComfort 35 II vs. Sony WH-1000XM3

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