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Shure AONIC 50 Wireless Noise-Cancelling Headphone Review

The Audiophile's ANC Headphone

Christopher Coke Updated: Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

Shure is a storied brand in the world of high-end audio and is used by pros around the world. The AONIC 50 is its flagship wireless active noise canceling headphone. Unlike most wireless headphones that emphasize booming bass or doing one thing particularly well, the AONIC 50s are a well-rounded headphone that puts sound quality first. Whether you’re looking for a headphone for your commute, working from home, or even gaming and movies, these headphones may have something for you. At $299, they don’t come cheap, however, so let’s take a closer look and see if earn their high asking price.

Specifications

  • Current Price: $299 (Amazon
  • Key Features: 
    • Premium, wireless studio-quality sound engineered from decades of professional experience. No cords. No wires. Just pure listening anywhere you go.
    • Adjustable noise cancellation to eliminate distractions for a truly immersive listening experience.
    • Environment mode allows you to hear the outside world with the flip of a switch.
    • Up to 20 hours battery life provides uninterrupted audio wherever you go – on the train, on an airplane, at work or at home.
    • Long-wearing comfort and durability built to withstand the rigors of the road. Folds flat for portability with protective carrying case.
    • Fingertip controls for quick access to answer calls, adjust volume, or pause your music with the push of a button.
    • Bluetooth® 5 wireless technology for enhanced stability and a range of up to 30 feet (10 meters). Pairs with phones, tablets and laptops.
    • Premium headphone amplifier and support for multiple codecs including Qualcomm® aptX™, aptX™ HD, aptX™ Low Latency audio, Sony LDAC, AAC, and SBC.
    • Connect to wired sources with 3.5mm analog audio input to stay connected to any device, including airplane entertainment systems, or USB-C digital input for charging and High-Resolution audio up to 32-bit/384 kHz.
    • ShurePlus™ PLAY app allows you to customise your noise cancellation and Environment Mode levels. Free to download for iOS and Android.
    • Includes a two-year warranty, AONIC 50 Wireless Headphones, protective carrying case, 3.5mm audio cable and a USB-C charging cable.
    • Available in three color options *(black, brown, white/tan)
  • Driver (mm): 50
  • Impedance (Ω): 39
  • Sensitivity (1 kHz) (db/mW): 97
  • Max. Input Power (mW): 100
  • 90° Swivel Earcups: yes
  • Weight: 334 grams

The Shure AONIC 50 aren’t a new headphone anymore but they remain a popular choice for travelers looking for a set of premium wireless cans. I had maintained a curiosity about these headphones since picking up my Sony WH-1000XM4s. While I make no secret about how much I like those headphones for their active noise cancelation, I was curious what a company steeped in pro-audio might be able to deliver. Sony’s wheelhouse is ANC with the XM4s but its sound quality leaves something to be desired. If the AONIC 50s could come close to Sony’s active noise canceling but deliver high-end sound without the same level of tweaking… well then, that would be something special. 

To Shure’s credit, the AONIC 50s have a laser focus on that target. The headphones sport a pair of big 50mm dynamic drivers that are capable of delivering a full, powerful sound. The focus isn’t on pounding bass, however. Instead, they offer a more balanced sound that embraces the detail across the frequency range. To that end, Shure has also equipped them with high-res codecs including AptX, AptX HD, AptX Low Latency (high-res audio for movies and gaming), and LDAC in addition to standard AAC and SBC playback. This array of options helps to ensure that no matter what device you’re listening to wirelessly, you’ll be able to experience the highest quality currently possible over Bluetooth.

The AONIC 50s also support wired connections for when you’re able to plug in. At the PC, you can connect via USB and still make use of the headphone’s excellent DAC while also re-charging. Listening in this way can deliver full 32-bit audio at 384kHz, ensuring those lossless audio files will be delivered in full fidelity. And if you’re not in the minority who acquire and listen to FLAC audio, you’ll be pleased to know that many games also deliver their audio in an uncompressed format, so game audio and soundtracks will come through in excellent clarity. Finally, the right earcup also features a standard analog connection for 3.5mm devices, so if you’d rather run your own audio signal into the headphones and bypass the built-in DAC entirely you can do that. It’s common for pricey wireless headphones to offer some high-res codec but it’s extremely uncommon for one headset to offer them all in addition to an excellent wired DAC.

What’s more, the headset supports multiple connections simultaneously. Like competing headphones at this price point, it features Bluetooth Multipoint. This allows you to connect to two Bluetooth devices simultaneously and it works quite well with minimal lag when swapping incoming audio signals. More importantly for gamers and PC users, you can use Bluetooth in conjunction with the USB connection, so you can still take an incoming call in the middle of a game and have your audio pick right back up again after. Plugging in the 3.5mm cable disables all other connections, however, so the same can’t be said for plugging into a controller which is disappointing.

Shure took a similarly refined approach to the physical design of the headphone. The design is a middle ground between the basic black shells of the Sony XM4 and the more futuristic designs of the Bose 700 and Bowers and Wilkins PX7s. The AONIC 50s feature a swooped yoke like the former headphones but opt for classiness versus the futuristic. The headphone is available in black, brown, or white colors, each with a silver headband and articulating yokes. The white and brown versions look especially good with mixed shades of each that break up the design in a very appealing way. The headband also has nice accent stitching across its face and Shure branding on the inside of the band. All in all, it’s a great-looking headphone.

Despite looking good, they’re not the easiest to store or transport. The headphones pivot to lay flat on your chest but don’t feature any kind of hinge to fit in a smaller case. As a result, the travel case is quite large. I personally don’t mind but if you’re keen to throw these in a backpack, it could easily become quite cumbersome if you’re tight on space.

Shure opted to keep it simple when it comes to controls. There is no touch functionality, just physical buttons along the edge of the right earcup. That does mean you can’t simply hold your fingers on the outside to enter environmental mode, but it does eliminate the issue of unintentional presses or the headphone not responding the way you want it to. Pairing the AONIC 50s is as simple as holding the power button when turning it on and finding it on your smart device. Volume is controlled with buttons on either side of that. This trio of buttons also function as media controls for playing, pausing, or skipping tracks, and answering and ending calls. ANC, on the other hand, is controlled with a switch on the upper rim of the headphone. The lack of touch controls is good for reliability of control but does feel a bit last-gen compared to the XM4s, so I would love to see Shure advance in this area.

When it comes to a wireless headphone, battery life is one of the most important factors to consider. Shure rates the headphone at up to 20 hours. In my listening tests, I found they lasted just over 19 hours at 70% volume. Your mileage will vary depending on the volume you listen at and the codec you use. This puts it on even footing with the Bose ANC 700s but comes up short against the Sony XM4 and Bowers and Wilkins PX7’s 30 hours of battery life. 

Active Noise Cancelling and Environmental Mode

The AONIC 50s support active noise cancellation, making them a good fit for frequent travelers and commuters. The intensity of the active noise canceling can be adjusted within the ShurePLAY app; however, you may not want to. Unlike the industry-leading Sony XM4s, the AONIC 50s focus their noise-canceling efforts on the low-end of the frequency spectrum. This is excellent for cutting out droning sounds like bus or jet engines or even vents but isn’t very effective against the sound of voices or keyboards typing in the background. 

Compared side-by-side with the XM4s, I actually found the AONIC 50s to do a better job with these lower frequencies, which was a surprise. Unfortunately, I tend to use noise-canceling headphones when working in the office and they just aren’t as effective in that kind of environment. As a result, I would consider this one of the best options for traveling but less effective for home or office settings.

The AONIC 50s are also the first ANC headphone I’ve used that produce the “cabin pressure” effect when applied. This wasn’t a big deal but I did find myself turning on the environmental mode for some quick relief over longer ANC sessions. 

Thankfully, the environmental mode is excellent. Flipping the ANC switch into the UP position reverse the microphones and allows you to hear what’s happening around you. Unlike some ANC headphones, the audio that came through sounded very true to life. It wasn’t overly loud or tinny sounding, which made it easy to leave turned when I needed to stay aware of my surroundings but still wanted to listen to music or my game.

Fit and Comfort

The AONIC 50s are a comfortable headphone, even over long listening sessions. They come in at 334 grams and the weight is well distributed, so I didn’t experience any hotspots on the top of my head. The clamp force is rather high but this is a common trait among ANC headphones and helps to guarantee a proper seal around your ear. Still, the pads are a soft memory foam so it didn’t result in any jaw pain or headaches over time. 

One thing that I really liked is that Shure used hybrid cushions on the ear cups. The face and outer ring of each pad is trimmed in leatherette to isolate noise but the inner ring is a breathable fabric. It’s a small touch but did result in less heat build-up, even as I wore them while mowing the lawn. The AONIC 50s caused me to sweat less doing yard work and not at all while worn indoors. 

Listening Impressions

Where the AONIC 50s really impress is sound quality. These are not bass-head headphones and coming from my XM4s, I was struck by the step-down in the lower frequencies. They’re not bass anemic by any means but the word of the day is BALANCE and even a bit of brightness.

Compared to most consumer ANC headphones, the AONIC 50 has a much more audio-enthusiast tuning. The mids and highs have been raised, drawing out more detail in what you’re listening to. I’ve really enjoyed listening to electronica with these as the atmospherics and synths really come through clear and have a sense of shimmer that draws them out. Vocals and acoustic guitars also sound beautiful on this headphone. This tuning did sometimes make me feel a bit fatigued, but a slight drop in the EQ definitely helped extend those listening sessions.

For bass-heavy tracks, movies, and games the bass comes forward to lend body and energy to what you’re listening to. The drivers are fast, so bass can sound punchy even as the actual amount is less than something like the XM4s. The AONIC 50s may be ostensibly less “fun” in that thumpy, bass-slam kind of way but their improved balance let me hear more detail in the mids. The texture of guitars and strings was clear and enjoyable, and I could discern a better sense of separation between instruments. 

For gaming, this tuning is a welcome change from the bass-heavy gaming headsets you might be used to. The tuning draws out important details like footsteps and teammate call-outs but isn’t limited to just competitive games. I enjoyed the added sense of space brought on by the detail in the atmospherics. That’s important because the soundstage isn’t especially large thanks to the well-isolated closed-back design. I wouldn’t be the AONIC 50s just for gaming based on this alone but with a spatial audio solution like Dolby Atmos or Windows Sonic, they can perform quite well for gaming.

One important thing to note is that enabling ANC further reduces the bass. Thankfully, there's enough in the first place where it doesn't make music sound bad but it's definitely a noticeable dip.

Final Thoughts

The challenge for the AONIC 50s is their $299 price point. This puts them right in the middle of the high-end wireless headphone competition: $20 more than the Sony WH1000-XM4s, $80 less than the Bose ANC 700s, and the same as the Bose QuietComfort 35 IIs. If you want the best all-around ANC, the XM4s are hard to beat but the Aonic 50s are no slouch and offer the most impressive sound and build quality of the bunch. If you’re shopping for a wireless headphone and want a headphone that can compete with high-end wired headphones, these are an excellent bet.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.
 
8.0Great
Pros
  • Excellent sound quality with lots of detail
  • Plentiful support for high-res Bluetooth codecs
  • Bluetooth Multipoint and simultaneous USB/Bluetooth connectivity
  • Robust build quality
  • Classy appearance
Cons
  • Large carry case
  • Mid-frequency ANC isn’t great
  • Cabin pressure with ANC enabled
  • Enabling ANC reduces bass


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight