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Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50

The top two noise cancelling headphones, head to head.
By
December 12, 2021
A blended image of the Shure AONIC 50 vs Sony WH-1000XM4 with the respective text overlaid atop it.

Anyone searching for active noise cancelling (ANC) headphones has probably heard of both Sony and Shure’s flagships. Both headsets are at the top of their game when it comes to noise cancelling performance, but many consumers want their headphones to do more than just play music. We’re pitting the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50 to determine which of these two powerhouse ANC headphones is the best.

Editor’s note: this versus article was updated on December 13, 2021, to include a standardized microphone demo for the Sony WH-1000XM4.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50: Hardware and design

A close-up photo of the proximity sensor on the inside of the left earcup of the Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones to demonstrate the differences of the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50.
Sony WH-1000XM4 has a sensor in the left ear cup auto-pauses your music when the headset is removed.

The build of the Shure AONIC 50 is beautiful, and it better be, considering these headphones cost $400. The stitched synthetic leather headband and ear pads are strong and elegant, and the ear pads can be removed for easy cleaning. The rest of the build is plastic, which lightens the headset a bit—something that’s required given its 334-gram weight. This headset isn’t the most portable because the ear cups cannot be folded for compact storage. It does, however, fold flat so you may slide it into a backpack or the provided case.

See more: Best noise cancelling headphones

The Sony WH-1000XM4 also looks sharp, and its ear pads are made of thick, foamed urethane rather than leather. It is still quite comfortable, but the headband doesn’t have as much padding which could create pressure points on your head. Unlike the Shure AONIC 50, the WH-1000XM4 can be compacted with folding hinges, and is 83 grams lighter.

Both pairs of headphones are comfortable for individuals with glasses and earrings, but the Sony WH-1000XM4 are just easier to take on the road.

Each headset takes a different approach to onboard touch controls

A picture of the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones' onboard controls used by a woman wearing the headset to demonstrate the differences of the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50.
The Shure AONIC 50 relies exclusively on button controls.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 only features two buttons—power and custom. The custom button can be programmed to access a voice assistant or to toggle ANC. All other controls, including volume control and pausing are done through a series of taps and swipes. However, the XM4 only registers taps roughly 25% of the time, so it’s easier to just use the auto-pause and auto-resume functionality. This is a feature that detects when you remove the headphones and put it back on and pauses or plays your media accordingly.

When you cup your hand over the Sony WH-1000XM4’s left headphone, your media volume is dramatically reduced while outside noise is amplified through the headset. This can come in useful if you need to hear something your airplane pilot or subway conductor is saying while commuting.

Sony packed plenty of sensors and software features into the WH-1000XM4.

All controls on the Shure AONIC 50 are done through tactile buttons. While this may not be as futuristic as the touch-sensitive ear pads of the XM4, the buttons work every time. The headset has a noise cancelling and ambient sound switch, a power button, and volume controls. It also has a multifunction button that can be used to pause/play media as well as to access a smart assistant.

While the build of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is more portable and lightweight and features the ambient sound passthrough feature, the controls of the Shure AONIC 50 are more responsive and the AONIC 50 allows you to both toggle your noise cancelling and access your smart assistant.

The Shure AONIC 50 supports more codecs

An picture of the Shure Aonic 50 noise cancelling headphones in brown leaning against a coffee carafe, used to demonstrate the differences of the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50.
The Shure AONIC 50 is available in black and brown.

Both the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Shure AONIC 50 use Bluetooth 5.0 firmware and support Bluetooth multipoint, so you can seamlessly switch between listening on your laptop and your smartphone. Both headphones support SBC, AAC, and LDAC, but the AONIC 50 also support aptX, aptX HD, and aptX Low Latency. This may make the Shure headphones more appealing to Android users. In addition, to utilize Bluetooth multipoint with the Sony WH-1000XM4, you’re forced to stream over AAC, whereas the Shure AONIC 50 allows multipoint with any of its available codecs.

Dive in: Understanding Bluetooth codecs

Both headsets have a headphone jack, though the AONIC 50 uses a 2.5mm input, while Sony uses the standard 3.5mm input. Regardless, you can listen to your high-fidelity FLAC files at maximum quality no matter the headset. This can also be used if your headphones run out of battery. Shure also supports USB-C passthrough audio, making the AONIC 50 the best USB-C headphones on the market.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 is chock-full of cool software features

A photo of 3.5mm input on Sony WH-1000XM4 headphones to demonstrate the differences of the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50.
The WH-1000XM4 has a ton of Bluetooth codec options but thankfully still has a place for a standard 3.5mm audio cable as well.

Again, when you cup your hand over the left ear cup of the Sony WH-1000XM4, ambient sound mode is activated so you can listen to surrounding noise. The Shure AONIC 50 also has an ambient aware mode activated through the switch on the right ear cup. The Sony WH-1000XM4 also features auto-pause and auto-resume functionality, which is a feature the Shure AONIC 50 is missing.

Headphone apps provide additional software

A picture of a woman using the Shure PlayPlus headphone app centered in the frame with the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones on the display, used to demonstrate the differences of the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50 applications.
Shure has updated its app over the years, making it more competitive with the likes of Sony.

The ShurePlus PLAY app is the easiest way to update your headphones’ firmware, and the firmware version can make a huge difference. We found marked improvements in frequency response and microphone quality when we tested the newest firmware version 0.4.9 compared to the previous one. The app also lets you toggle the noise cancelling and ambient noise passthrough intensities. You can even create a custom EQ or choose from presets. No matter what you decide, it saves directly to the headset and works with any source.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 also has an app, called Sony Headphones Connect, and it affords some of the XM4’s best features like ANC optimization. This detects the air pressure of your surroundings and adjusts the ANC accordingly. You can also adjust the mix of ambient noise you want to allow through. The app also lets you customize the Custom button to control noise cancelling, or access to your smart assistant.

The Sony Headphones Connect headphone app on a smartphone with a hand reaching out to the terms of use warning.
The Sony app forces you to accept the end user license agreement to access the Headphones Connect app. This isn’t unique to Sony.

Another feature: Sony 360 Reality Audio, which is Sony’s version of Dolby Atmos whereby each sound can move freely in three-dimensional space as its own object, rather than as a static left or right channel. This feature is compatible with certain streaming services such as Tidal. The app also provides access to the speak-to-chat feature that detects when you’re speaking and pauses your media accordingly. However, due to this feature’s high sensitivity, it may be more of a gimmick than a useful tool. With the Sony WH-1000XM4, you can equalize the sound signature in the app, and your settings will apply to all your media playback.

If you don’t want to download an app because you think headphone apps collect too much personal data, you still have access to the most important features of either pair of headphones—listening to music, cancelling noise, and answering calls.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50: Battery life and charging capabilities

A picture of a woman wearing the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones and using the Shure PlayPlus headphone app, used to demonstrate the differences of the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50.
In order to adjust noise cancelling and ambient mode intensity, a user must download the Shure PlayPlus app.

Both the Sony WH-1000XM4 and the Shure AONIC 50 charge via USB-C. The AONIC 50 battery life is barely shorter than the Sony WH-1000XM4—clocking in at 19 hours, 46 minutes, and 19 hours, 59 minutes respectively. Not only is the Sony WH-1000XM4 battery life slightly longer, but it also affords fast charging. Just 10 minutes of connecting the headset to a USB-C cable supplies you with five hours of playback. The Shure AONIC 50 does not support fast charging.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 and Shure AONIC 50 are both best in noise cancelling performance

This is the Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50 test we’ve all been waiting for, and it’s not so clear cut. Both have thick ear cups that allow for great passive isolation, and both have superb ANC that can be toggled for varying intensities. The Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling is objectively better, but it differed from the Sony WH-1000XM4 by only 0.2 per our objective testing, where the AONIC 5o scored 7.5 and the XM4 scored 7.3.

A chart depicting the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling performance (firmware 0.4.9), and low frequencies are heavily attenuated making them four times quieter with ANC enabled than when it's disabled.
The Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling performance is stellar, particularly when it comes to combating low-frequency sounds between 60 and 200Hz. This was measured with firmware 0.4.9.

The Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling is excellent, particularly when it comes to combating low frequencies between 60-200Hz. This makes these headphones great for reducing the sounds of air conditioners and traffic. It also trumps the WH-1000XM4 in attenuating the upper-midrange frequencies, which is where a lot of human voice frequencies that allow for speech intelligibility lie.

A chart showing that the active noise canceling performance of the Sony WH-1000XM4 is very good
Among the best in its class, the Sony WH-1000XM4 offers very good noise cancelation and isolation.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 also has top-of-the-line noise cancelling, particularly with low-midrange frequencies, which is where you’ll find the fundamental frequencies of the human voice. This makes the XM4 an excellent headset for blocking out people’s conversations. Keep in mind, though, that no matter how great your ANC is, the technology just isn’t developed to the point where unpredictable noises (e.g. speech) can be attenuated as effectively as predictable ones (e.g. humming machinery). The Sony WH-1000XM4 also combats low frequency sounds below 60Hz more effectively, which is great for getting rid of sounds from large engines when you’re in a plane or train car.

If you’re looking to cancel noise, you cannot go wrong with either the Shure AONIC 50 or the Sony WH-1000XM4, as they truly are two of the top active noise cancelling headphones.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50: Sound quality

A chart depicting the Shure AONIC 50 frequency response (firmware 0.4.9); sub-bass and treble notes have been amplified with the first firmware update.
The Shure AONIC 50 amplifies upper-bass notes which helps fundamental vocal frequencies stand out. This was measured with firmware 0.4.9.

The Shure AONIC 50 has a neutral-leaning frequency response, and the slight boost between 70-300Hz helps vocals stand out. The small dip between 2-4kHz is intentional, and it helps reduce unwanted resonances within your ears. The 0.4.9 firmware version made the Shure AONIC 50’s frequency response more neutral in the sub-bass region, allowing for a more accurate sound.

A chart showing the frequency response of the Sony WH-1000XM4 compared to the SoundGuys' house curve.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 default frequency response amplifies bass and treble notes a bit.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 frequency response closely follows our consumer curve, allowing for accurate sound reproduction and generally clear, detailed audio. Both the AONIC 50 and the XM4 have a sound signature that can be customized in their respective apps’ EQ settings, but as I mentioned before, you cannot carry over your EQ settings for the Shure AONIC 50 to playback outside of the app. For this reason and our objective scoring, the Sony WH-1000XM4 wins this round, but not by a significant margin.

Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Shure AONIC 50: Microphone quality

The Shure AONIC 50 microphone system features a less dramatic high-pass filter than the Sony WH-1000XM4. While this makes the AONIC 50 less likely to quiet individuals with very deep voices than the XM4, it does run the risk of introducing the proximity effect. This phenomenon is observed when a speaker gets too close to the microphone and the bass notes of his already low voice become distorted. Reducing the proximity effect facilitates improved speech intelligibility, because it makes it easier to hear high-frequency sounds.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 microphone array does a better job of blocking out background noise and focusing on the speaker’s voice. The newer technology gives the edge to Sony for anyone who takes calls outdoors.

Sony WH-1000XM4 mic demo (ideal):

Shure AONIC 50 mic demo (firmware 0.4.9):

Which microphone do you think sounds better?

2149 votes

Which should you buy, the Sony WH-1000XM4 or the Shure AONIC 50?

The Sony WH-1000XM4 and Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones sit on a canvas bag next to eachother.
The Sony WH-1000XM4 (left) and WH-1000XM3 are both technically advanced headsets with plenty of software tricks.

Both of these headsets have superb active noise cancelling, excellent sound quality, and a luxurious build. However, the new Sony WH-1000XM4 has a few more software features than the older Shure AONIC 50. What’s more, even though the Sony WH-1000XM4 is a much newer pair of headphones, it is still much cheaper than the Shure AONIC 50.

The Sony WH-1000XM4 noise cancelling headphones in black against a white background.
Sony WH-1000XM4
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.
A product render of the Shure AONIC 50 noise cancelling headphones in brown against a white background.
Shure AONIC 50
All prices listed in USD unless otherwise specified. Prices may change over time, and vary by region. Unfortunately, we cannot list Amazon prices on the site, as they vary greatly by currency.

Should you get the Sony WH-1000XM4 or Sony WH-1000XM3?

Now that the new model is out, you’ll probably save some cash by waiting for the older Sony WH-1000XM3 to go on sale. It has very similar performance to the WH-1000XM4, minus the speak-to-chat functionality, Bluetooth multipoint, and improved ANC. However, the WH-1000xM3 noise cancelling is still phenomenal, and it has better battery life than the XM4. It also supports aptX, and so may appeal more to Android users. Read our article pitting Sony WH-1000XM4 vs Sony WH-1000XM3 for a full run-down.

Read next: Bose QuietComfort 45 vs Sony WH-1000XM4

If you have an iPhone, should you get the Apple AirPods Max instead?

The Apple AirPods Max in white on a coffee table next to a newspaper.
The headphones are built well and connect nicely to any iOS device.

The Apple AirPods Max would certainly be the default noise cancelling headphones for iPhone owners if it weren’t for its hefty price tag of $549. However, if you don’t want to fuss with any Bluetooth settings, and just want a pair of ANC headphones that works seamlessly across your iOS devices, the price of ultimate convenience may be worth it. Also, the headphones are truly high quality, sporting the best active noise cancelling performance we’ve ever tested in a pair of headphones.

Each ear cup houses Apple’s H1 chip, and affords a ridiculous amount of processing power for things like ANC, Adaptive EQ, Transparency mode, Spatial Audio, hands-free Siri access, and more. The AirPods Max has an official battery life of 20 hours, and charges via Lightning cable. You can fast charge the headset: five minutes of charging yields 90 minutes of playtime. You can also buy a Lightning to 3.5mm cable for wired listening, which is great for fans of lossless audio.

Next: Bose QuietComfort 45 review