I review headphones often enough for B&H and know what paces to put them through; I have my daily commute on the subway, my office environment, the gym, the interference-heavy labor-hood of midtown New York. An almost ideal labyrinth to put headphones through!
I was excited to get a chance to run that labyrinth with Shure's Aonic 50 Wireless Noise Canceling Headphones, their first foray into a noise-canceling model. The current reality in New York City (like so many other cities across the globe), has seen what was normal for us disappear, and the scope of this review has changed almost completely.
Rather than any of that, the Aonic 50s have quickly become the audio centerpiece to my work-from-home reality. So, let's start to unpack, because these headphones back a lot more versatility than other high-end headphones.
Shure has a proven track record for making studio-quality over-ear headphones, but noise cancelling is a new adventure for this company, and the feature list on the Aonic 50s show that Shure is taking this new ground seriously. See our announcement of these new headphones here.
The design on the Aonic 50s is classy all the way, with precision attention to detail. The cans are lightweight (coming in at less than a pound), but thanks to their balanced design, feel lighter. The ear pad cushions are genuinely comfortable, and I'd rank the Aonics among the most comfortable headphones I've tried in the last few years—they were a delight to wear during my new normal of hour-long conference calls as I work from home.
Being accustomed to an office environment and relatively quick daily commute, I don't particularly leave any headphones on for long stretches; however, the necessity changed, thanks to a new work-from-home reality. I've kept the Aonic 50s on for more than two hours at a clip, the fit remained overall comfortable, and I didn't find the earpads getting overly warm, either.
The sound quality is top notch, both for Bluetooth audio playback and taking calls. Overall, I found the Aonic 50s to be sonically balanced while still maintaining a warm and present bass response; a pleasant surprise since many headphones tuned for a natural and balanced frequency response can be a bit lacking in the low-end reproduction.
Overall, audio playback has a sense of vibrancy and spatial placement. Panned elements in a mix have a sense of depth and space. Shure is clearly playing to their strengths with the quality of the drivers, and anyone seeking a balanced "next level" headphone is likely to be pleased.
They run Bluetooth 5 along with a long list of higher-resolution codecs like Qualcomm aptX, aptX HD, Sony LDAC, and more, assuring the highest quality wireless audio specs currently available.
There are three ways you can get audio playback from the Aonic 50s: Bluetooth, a standard 3.5mm analog cable, or using the included USB C charging cable, which, when connected to a computer, activates the integrated digital-to-analog converter in the headphones, allowing them to serve as a high-quality DAC for playing back from your computer.
The difference between the Bluetooth connection and playback from its built-in DAC isn't exactly night and day, but its more pronounced than subtle. As of the review time, I was provided with an accompanying iOS app that gave me additional control over the headphones in the form of an adjustable EQ (along with some presets).
I tested the EQ just to put it through its paces and found it to be useful when wanting to tweak performance to different styles of music, but left if off most of the time to get a feel for the Aonic 50s' natural performance. It should be noted the EQ only works if you're connected to your phone, and there was no way to apply EQ when using the integrated DAC while connected to my MacBook.
So, this is Shure's first go at noise cancellation, and based on the sonic performance and price point of the Aonic 50s, these cans are being positioned as the flagship for this category. So how do they stack up to some of the big names in noise canceling?
The headphones offer two levels of noise canceling, (both of which can be turned off if you want to lengthen battery life). The levels can be controlled via a physical switch on the right headphone; the Environmental setting allows some of the outside ambience in, and the level of this ambience can be fine-tuned via the companion app. While handy when you want awareness of your surroundings, I didn't find much need for it around my apartment.
The other setting is simply referred to as "Max," giving you the noise cancellation on full tilt. Overall, it's effective, but does not provide quite the same level of noise reduction as some competitors. When just using the noise cancellation with no audio playback, I found the Aonic 50s to let in a little more ambience than I would have expected, but they still provided a solid noise-canceling experience.
The Cheat Sheet
- Balanced, high-quality sound reproduction
- Versatile connection options, including Bluetooth, analog wired, and USB C DAC
- Lightweight and very comfortable
- Call quality is high, perfect for current Work-from-Home atmosphere
- Long battery life
- Noise Canceling isn't as aggressive as some competitors
- No auto turn-off function at time of review
If you're looking for a noise-canceling, over-ear headphone that sounds great and feels comfortable for hours at a time, these cans are a great option. I found them a pleasure to listen to, both for music and for the long conference calls of my present-day reality. Have you tried these headphones out yet? If so, please let us know what you think in the Comments section, and browse more of our headphones here.