Shure's Aonic 50 wireless noise-cancelling headphones offer best-in-class audio quality
The over-ear noise-canceling headphone category is becoming increasingly competitive and consumers have never been spoiled for choice. Shure launched this year with the Aonic 50, an affordable headset ($ 399) that offers active noise cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity, and USB-C charging. Shure's reputation for delivering top-notch sound is definitely part of the package, and there is a lot more to recommend for the Aonic 50.
Shure offers the Aonic 50 in either a black or brown finish and has physical controls on the right ear cup for volume, turning noise cancellation on and off, power supply, activating voice assistants and skipping tracks. There is a USB-C port for charging and a 2.5mm stereo port on the left earcup that allows you to connect the included cable via wires so you can use it even when the internal battery is dead or the headset is switched off (but without active noise cancellation, obviously).
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The Aonic 50 also comes with a round, flat carrying case - the ear cups can be rotated and fit into the zippered storage compartment. This takes up more space than the typical folding design of this type of ANC headphones, but is also less bulky. So it depends on how you package them, whether that's good or bad.
Shure offers a mobile app for iOS and Android called ShurePlus Play that offers EQ controls as well as more specific tuning of both active noise cancellation and ambient mode for outside noise. This allows for a lot of customization, but with one major limitation: the EQ settings only apply when music is played through the app itself. This is an unusual and disappointing choice.
Design and performance
Shures Aonic 50 excels in a few areas where the company has a proven record of success: sound quality and comfort / portability. The ample, synthetic leather-wrapped padding on both the headband and the ear cups makes them very comfortable to wear even for longer sessions, which is great for working from home. I have often forgotten that I wore them on when moving around the house, which gives you an idea of how well they fit.
In terms of sound, Shure went for a relatively neutral, flat tone that would provide an exact replica of what the original producer intended for each track, and the results are great. Music details are clear and they are neither too heavy for bass nor too strong for treble. This is a sound profile that audiophiles will appreciate, although it may not be the best for anyone looking for a bass-heavy soundstage. Bass-favored headphones are easy to find in this category, however, so that Shure's range with its clear highs stands out from the field in the ANC arena. To be clear, the bass is excellent, but overall the market has moved towards muddy, artificially enhanced bass versus real rendering that the Aonic 50 delivers.
The button controls on the Aonic 50 are well placed and cover the spectrum in terms of what you want to control directly from the headset. USB-C charging is hugely appreciated at a time when it is by far the standard for most mobile devices in your life, as well as many computers. The included stereo cable is a great addition when the battery runs out. However, the estimated battery life of around 20 hours announced by Shure is correct. So it will be a while before you have to resort to it as long as you do remember to recharge every now and then.
If there's one place that Shure's performance falls short, it's noise cancellation. The ANC does a decent job of blocking out unwanted ambient noise, but it's not quite up to the standard on Bose or Sony's top-notch ANC headphones. Most of the time the job is still getting done and the compromise is better.
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As I said earlier, people looking for active noise canceling headphones are spoiled for choice these days. But the Shure Aonic 50 offers something that discerning audio professionals cannot find from alternatives including those from Bose or Sony, and that is superb soundstage and sound quality that simply cannot be beat. Portability is also of paramount importance, making this option a great option for audiophiles who want a wireless, sound-blocking solution for a home office.
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