Shure Aonic 50: WOW!
Headphone Zone sent out these headphones to review for 2 weeks, free of charge (Thanks!). This review, while facilitated by them, is 100% not influenced by anyone else.
Now, I feel that for you to truly understand and relate to this review, we need to understand the place that I'm coming from. I absolutely love headphones. Maybe more than speakers. Probably more than IEM's. And I hate ANC headphones from the bottom of my heart. Look, the tech inside that makes background noise disappear is great and all, but even in a scenario as noisy as an airplane cabin, I always found myself ditching my ANC headphones in favour of IEM's.They all just sound so bad. I'd rather get used to the droning noise of an airplane engine.
I have a soft spot in my heart for Shure. My journey into audiophilia started with a pair of Shure SE215's in 2016. I have used them everywhere, in class, on public transport and even live, performing on stage. But I think their headphone division has somewhat fallen into obscurity as of late. With the advent of chi-fi, their IEM's are pretty dead; and their headphones weren't very popular to begin with. They tried to introduce Wireless MMCX neckband cables into their existing line-up a couple years, and that was a massive failure. Till now, Shure has really struggled to find its place in a market, and with the Aonic 50, this is it! This may be a turning point for Shure, and I really hope they make products like this one.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. The Aonic 50 is one of the best headphones that I’ve seen. It makes other ANC headphones look dated. I don’t think this has even a single design element that would put people off. The black version of this headphone already looks great to begin with, but IMO the brown one just looks so much more premium, I might end up actually buying them. The brown ones are easily the best-looking ANC headphones out there. It just oozes class.
The build on this headphone, just like the design is top notch. The leather is not real leather but leatherette which isn’t necessarily bad, but all artificial leather tends to disintegrate after a while. But given that this is a battery powered device, I’ll say that the battery on this will die out sooner than the pads will. The rest of the headphone is pretty heavy and sturdy enough that it’ll be able to take a pretty heavy beating before it even shows any signs of wear and tear. The build quality according to me and from what I remember of rivalling products is entirely in a league of its own.
This is one area where the competition maybe has an edge over the Aonics. These are comfortable, no doubt. But they’re also really heavy. Pair the thick leather earpads with the tight clamping force and you have headphones that will be a sweat fest in humid areas. These are massive though, so they’ll fit ears of all shapes and sizes. Compared to the rest of the competition, the Bose NC700 are the closest to the Aonic in this regard. They’re both pretty heavy and have large earcups, but the Aonic probably has bigger ones. The Sony WH-1000Xm3’s have shallower and stiffer ear cups, which may not be as snug as the Aonic, but that makes for a more breathable experience in hot/humid areas. They’re also significantly lighter. The PXC 550’s are just as light, but the ear cups are a weird shape so they won’t fit giant ears.
Overall, it’s a decent experience with the Aonics. Its weight isn’t the most ideal, and your ears will be fatigued after a while, but I’m willing to overlook that for what’s to follow.
There is nothing out of the ordinary with the connectivity on this. But I’ll still use this as an excuse to add more words to my review.
Maybe the only other let down of this headphone. The controls are pretty spartan. There’s no captive touch surface to be found like on every other headphone on the market. No auto off when folded sideways like the PXC 550. What you do have are 4 buttons and a slider switch. The play button is flanked by volume buttons that act as skip/rewind when held down, and the slider has 3 stops, ANC on, ANC off and Passthrough mode on.
It’s not the best control setup out there, but it gets the job done. I would’ve loved to see the bells and whistles that come with Sony headphones.
I feel like people often tend to overstate the importance of better ANC. I’ve used the Mi type C ANC earphones that cost some 50$ on AliExpress on flights that get pretty noisy and I’ve never once wished that the ANC was better. For the past year or so, I’ve had the Sennheiser PXC 550 which has objectively better ANC and that didn’t feel like a bigger ANC upgrade either.
Now look, the Shure obviously has better ANC than my PXC 550. I tried to do a crude comparison with my AC and then playing some sounds on a full range PA speaker. The Shure cancellation cancels more low end and goes higher in the mids. But it would be absurd to expect it to go against long time ANC giants like Sony or Bose. But does it really matter? All of them will do the job that they’re intended to do, and once you start playing music, even at a low volume, all droning sounds are going to disappear
The review of this headphone for what it costs and how it sounds wouldn’t have been this positive if it weren’t for the sound. I don’t like how most ANC headphones sound. The worst offender in this case is Sony. Their “flagship” ANC headphone is a muddy, mid bass heavy mess that gives me a headache every time I think, “oh maybe this time it’ll be better” and try it out at a Croma or Reliance Digital. Bose QC 35’s had something resembling a decent tonality, but the sound was compressed and lacked details. The NC 700 have been the best ANC headphones I’ve tried on so far, along the B&W PX, but still not a sound that I would want to listen to regularly. The PXC 550’s that I own are alright, but their bass is still too loose for my taste.
So, it was only natural that I got excited when Shure, the brand that came up with the legendary SRH 1840, decided to make ANC headphones. And let me tell you, I have never heard better sounding ANC headphones. They still come with a couple of drawbacks that may or may not be deal breakers for you, but for me, this is the ANC headphone to get.
It starts with the bass. I’m peculiar with how my bass should sound. I’m a fan of deep, full bodied bass, but never when it comes at the expense of the speed at which the bass decays. To me, all ANC headphones with ANC at full swing have too much bass that sustains for too long. The Shure subverted my expectations and delivered a punchy, full bodied sound that decays just right and feels like a good dynamic driver headphone.
Oh also the tonality of the headphone is a very balanced or a mild V shaped signature, whichever you prefer to call it. The midrange sound rich and organic, albeit a bit more distant than what I’m used to, having exclusively used only BA earphones for the past 6 months or so. The vocals have great texture considering that it’s a wireless Bluetooth headphone, probably the best I’ve heard so far.
The highs might be a little controversial. These can get sibilant for some people. I have taken a liking to bright sounding gear ever since I started down the rabbit hole, and I love these. The region from 6khz and above seem to receive a boost which might make some tracks a bit unbearable. Personally, I found myself not able to enjoy a very specific guitar tone that I’m used to. If you listen to a lot of math rock with the signature Fender clean tone then you’ll have to tone it down a little from the app. Unfortunately, the EQ from the accompanying app doesn’t work with any external apps, and only applies EQ to its own player. With other tracks it works like a dream. Even whatever limited amount of heavy metal I listen to, it never got too bright.
The soundstage and imaging feel unreal, with pinpoint accuracy and a really good soundstage for the form factor. The enhanced highs help bring forward how good the imaging is, and at times the imaging felt like it was outperforming my kilobuck IEM’s. I think a testament to how good the drivers inside the headphones are is that I’m actually able to notice a difference when LDAC is turned off, something that’s never happened in all the testing I’ve done on other headphones.
Bottom line, the sound from this headphone is among the best I’ve ever heard in closed back headphones, wireless or not. This is my new go-to recommendation for anyone who’s looking to buy ANC headphones, and my most anticipated model refresh has shifted from Noble Katana’s successor to the Shure Aonic 50’s successor.
Just a Couple more things:
The mics on this are decent. I can’t say how well they perform in a noisy environment because, well, social distancing. The voice coming out on the other end is good though. No complaints about that.
The battery life is good as well. While I don’t measure the exact number of hours it lasted with a stopwatch, all I can say is that it’s good. I remember only having to charge it once every I think 4 sessions, which tend to last from 90mins to a couple hours of on and odd music and YouTube and the occasional video call. Having USB Type-C is a given, but given how my PXC 550 and portable DAC still use Micro USB, I can’t help but appreciate it more.
In case you didn’t notice, I really hate the Sony WH-1000XM3. But if your use case doesn’t involve listening to music, but audiobooks and podcasts, and only in airplane cabins, by all means; the Sony WH-1000XM3 is the best ANC headphone out there. It’s light and comfortable, and easy to store. But if you do like listening to music, do your ears a favour and strike it off your list. The sound doesn’t even begin to compare with the Aonic.
As soon as I picked up the Aonic, I knew that the headphone that it is directly competing with and is the most similar to is the Bose NC700. Despite what the Bose hating circle-jerk on the internet may tell you, they make some of the most well-built, long lasting headphones, and the NC700 is no different. It also has the bonus of actually sounding good. It is a little more bass heavy and treble light, and the soundstage isn’t as good, but I don’t think you’d be able to find out simply comparing them side by side. It also has touch controls that I so desperately long for. Oh and Bose has a lot better customer support than what Shure has in India.
QC 35, believe it or not is still a thing, and a much cheaper alternative. It doesn’t sound as good, but it sure does live up to its Quiet Comfort brand.
I don’t think of the PXC 550 or any Sennheiser ANC headphone as a viable alternative, simply because they’re so dated. They still use micro USB, and still have this terrible quality leather that starts cracking after a year and flaking after 2. They’re just not that good.
I like these headphones a lot, and it’s impressive that Shure was able to put out such a solid piece of hardware just at their first dig in the Wireless ANC headphone market. It does make me miss touch controls and NFC pairing, but those are minor drawbacks and I would rather choose a good sounding ANC headphone with no bell and whistles compared to the Sony 1000X.