Few things are more rewarding than a high-value buy, and few things are offer more value than yesteryear’s flagship. This applies to all corners of technology, and today we’re looking specifically at noise cancelling headphones. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II may appear outdated next to the Shure AONIC 50, but this old dog knows some modern tricks. Time to do some digging and see which headset offers the better value.
Editor’s note: this Shure AONIC 50 vs. Bose QuietComfort 35 II article was updated on May 14, 2020, to address a Shure firmware update that improves microphone quality.
Bose and Shure take practical approaches to their designs
Both the Bose QuietComfort 35 II and Shure AONIC 50 rely heavily on plastic for their construction. Shure’s is sturdier as it uses metal for its headband and hinge-reinforcements, while Bose’s ear cups use plastic pivot points. However, the QC 35 II is nearly 100 grams lighter than the AONIC 50, which is important when every gram counts for your carry-on bag. Bose’s headphones are more versatile, too, because they fold flat and collapse into themselves, while the AONIC 50 can only lie flat.
Shure’s plastic resin ear cup housings look and feel much nicer than Bose’s, but both seem durable. The AONIC 50 uses a circular ear cup design and very thick earpads; this contrasts with the Bose QC 35 II’s oval-shaped ear cups and thinner, softer earpads. Both headsets are comfortable with glasses, but you’ll be able to wear the QuietComfort 35 II for longer. Neither set of earpads are breathable, per say, but the QC 35 II allow for more airflow than the AONIC 50. This optimizes comfort, but also reduces isolation performance.
Thankfully, both Bose and Shure’s teams decided to retain the headphone jack, so high-resolution audio will be at your disposal either way. The Bose QuietComfort 35 II have received big software updates to keep pace with modern headphones, but the micro USB charging input reveals its age. The Shure AONIC 50, on the other hand, uses the standard USB-C input for charging.
Bose and Shure both make their respective noise cancelling headphones easy to operate and stick to tactile controls only. Listeners who want to remain on the bleeding edge of tech and use touch controls will have to look at either the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 or Sony WH-1000XM3.
Bose took a stepped approach to its controls: the multifunction button is set beneath the flanking volume buttons. This makes it easy to differentiate between controls even with gloves on, something I loved about the Bose SoundLink On-Ear headphones. Bose is also great about updating its firmware—the 2017 QuietComfort 35 II support modern features like hands-free access to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, along with Bose AR compatibility. While you can still use your virtual assistant of choice with the AONIC 50, direct voice access isn’t yet available.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II are more comfortable than the Shure AONIC 50 due to their lighter weight and earpads.
Shure’s headset has a toggle that allows users to cycle through listening modes: noise cancelling, ambient listening, and off. It’s easy to find and use compared to the Bose QC 35 II, which requires listeners to download the Bose app and remap the Action Button for onboard active noise cancelling control.
Winner: Shure AONIC 50
How good are the microphones?
Both microphone arrays combat the proximity effect, when low-pitched sounds are grossly exaggerated as a speaker gets too close to the microphone, which explains the sloping de-emphasis on both charts from 20-200Hz. Although this is a smart design, some systems take it to far and can make low voices, males in particular, sound “distant” or “unnatural.”
Bose QuietComfort 35 II microphone demo:
Shure AONIC 50 microphone demo:
Bose’s microphone array does a better job of reducing background noise, which is a must-have when it comes to regular hands-free calls. Even if you aren’t walking about on a windy day, mundane noises like a roommate doing the dishes can hamper call quality. Since the Shure system is unable to quiet environmental noise during calls, we’re giving this one to Bose.
Editor’s note: Shure’s firmware update 4.3 improves low-frequency reproduction, making listeners sound less “hollow” than the microphone demo indicates.
Winner: Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Which headphones have the best codec support?
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II uses outdated Bluetooth 4.1 firmware, while the Shure AONIC 50 uses Bluetooth 5.0. Don’t let that fool you, both headsets boast reliable connection quality regardless. However, the Shure headphones support every major Bluetooth codec (aptX Low Latency, aptX HD, LDAC, aptX, AAC, and SBC), while Bose’s headphones are limited to AAC and SBC. iPhone users will benefit the most from Bose’s wireless streaming because AAC is stable on iOS, but it struggles to remain consistent on Android. Anyone who streams a lot of video to their Android device should get the Shure AONIC 50 for lag-free videos.
|Shure Aonic 50||Sony WH-1000XM3||Bose Headphones 700||Bose QC 35 II|
Both headsets support multipoint connectivity, which is when one headset is connected to two or more devices at a time. This functionality is considered a premium feature, and lets listeners engage in desktop video chats while simultaneously keeping an ear on incoming mobile notifications.
Winner: Shure AONIC 50
Which headphones have better battery life?
We subject every audio product to a constant 75dB(SPL) output until the batteries were drained. Anytime we test ANC headphones, we make sure to max out noise cancelling during testing. The Shure AONIC 50 affords 19 hours, 46 minutes of constant playback, while the Bose QuietComfort 35 II are rated for 20 hours of playtime on a single charge—identical to Shure’s specifications. Neither headset is quick charge-compatible, and both require about 2.5 hours to complete a full charge cycle.
The Shure AONIC 50 noise cancellation is better than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II
If you’re in search of the absolute best noise cancelling headphones, go for the Shure AONIC 50. Low-frequency sounds like train rumbles and airplane engines are more effectively filtered out than with the Bose QC 35 II. Upper-bass frequencies are rendered quieter with Shure’s technology than Bose’s. Midrange and treble frequencies, which cover the sound of human voices and ambient noises, are also more effectively filtered out by the AONIC 50 than the Bose QuietComfort 35 II, and it’s done so with greater consistency.
Although noise cancelling performance varies greatly between the two headsets, you’re investing in your auditory health regardless. When our environment is loud enough to make hearing music harder—a phenomenon called auditory masking—many decide to increase the volume to drown out the noise. Over time, repeating this behavior can cause noise-induced hearing loss. Active noise cancelling technology reduces that risk by reducing outside noise.
Winner: Shure AONIC 50
Which headphones sound better?
Both companies offer stellar budget and premium audio products, but sound quality preferences are subjective. Just as with the Sony WH-1000XM3 and Bose QC 35 II comparison, this comes down to a matter of personal preference.
Right from the jump, the Bose QuietComfort 35 II sound wonderful because of how well they accurately reproduce notes across the entire audible spectrum. The sub-bass emphasis adds a bit of oomph to your music, which most consumers enjoy, without making it hard to hear vocals and accompanying instruments. Despite the stellar response, the headset only supports SBC and AAC. This means high-bitrate playback isn’t possible, and you may notice signs of compression during loud music.
Bose only supports one high-quality codec, so Android listeners are likely to notice compression artifacts at high volumes.
The Shure AONIC 50 quiets the same sub-bass notes the QC 35 II amplifies while emphasizing higher-pitched bass notes. Shure does this to add presence to more important musical tones such as vocals and fundamental notes of popular instruments (like guitars and drums). The mids retain a great deal of accuracy, but this bass bump makes the AONIC 50 more consumer-friendly without going overboard. What’s more, the wide Bluetooth codec support means listeners can enjoy higher-quality audio across platforms—a huge advantage over the QC 35 II.
Again, what an individual enjoys is highly subjective. Some listeners look for extreme accuracy, while others deem that “boring”—all that matters is that the headset sounds good to you. This section is difficult to call, but we’re giving it to Shure. The strategic amplification of bass and midrange frequencies is immediately pleasing while the high-frequency dip reduces harmonic distortions within the ear canal.
Winner: Shure AONIC 50
Bose has done a commendable job keeping its former flagship updated. Plus, there’s value to consider: the Bose QuietComfort 35 II cost $300 now, a whole $100 less than the Shure AONIC 50. While Shure’s noise cancelling makes a huge difference compared to the QC 35 II, both are great headphones. Listeners who don’t care for extreme ANC performance should get the QuietComfort 35 II and enjoy the $100 saved on something else. Alternatively, if you want a nice middleground pair of ANC headphones, the Sony WH-1000XM3 are fantastic.