The Shure Aonic 50 are the best-sounding wireless headphones of 2020. Made for the audiophile listener, they can be uncompromising, especially with low-resolution files. Comfort levels are good and ANC proves to be very effective. However, they’re not particularly portable and, at £379, they’re more expensive than their closest rivals.
- Sensational sound
- Good comfort
- Effective ANC
- Looks great
- Custom EQ settings
- Not particularly portable
- Review Price: £379
- 20-hour battery
- Weight: 334g
- Adjustable ANC
- 50mm drivers
- ShurePlus PLAY app (iOS, Android)
- Bluetooth 5.0
- SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, LDAC
If the Aonic 215 wireless earbuds were any indication, Shure isn’t interested in making ordinary headphones. While the company has been around for several decades, the Aonic 50 are its first venture into the wireless headphone market.
To make it more of a challenge, the Shure Aonic 50 are bringing noise cancellation to the fight. It might be a bit of an ask, but of all the audio brands in the ring, there are few that have the musical heritage of Shure to pull off a pair of wireless headphones on their first attempt.
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Shure Aonic 50 design – Not exactly portable
Shure’s design approach stands out, summed up by the gigantic circular case in which the Aonic 50 come. While the design of the headphones is more ‘traditional’, they too are distinctly uncompromising.
The ear cups can be swivelled to face flat, but that’s the only concession to portability, since there’s no folding mechanism. If you want to keep the headphones safe from scratches, you’ll need to find a place for that giant case – at least it has a strap for easier carrying.
Available in a black or tanned brown finish, the Shure Aonic 50 have a distinctive look. Whether it’s the curved lines that define their shape, the silver hinges that connect the ear cup to the headband, or their sheer size, they have a premium feel and a robust build quality.
The headband is adjustable, and the width should allow them to fit a range of head shapes and sizes. The ear pads are both thick and pliable in their softness, and while some fatigue may set in following a couple of hours of wear, re-adjusting the fit can solve any issues. At 335g, they’re heavier than most, but it speaks to their comfort levels that they’re not distracting to wear.
In terms of controls and physical connections, the Aonic 50 are fairly rote: a 3.5mm jack on the left ear cup, while the right is home to buttons for playback/volume, power, a slider for adjusting noise cancellation and USB-C connection. A double-tap on the ‘Play’ button skips forward, while a triple-tap goes back. To check the status of battery life, double-tap the power button. A press and hold of the ‘Play’ button activates your voice assistant of choice.
Features – Effective noise cancellation and useful EQ settings
The Aonic 50 pack 50mm drivers with a dynamic neodymium magnet in each ear cup. That’s bigger than the 40mm that often drives headphones at this price, and another indication that the Aonic 50’s remit is audio-focused.
Bluetooth 5.0 is supported for stronger wireless stability, and wireless codec support includes bog-standard SBC and AAC, along with the much better aptX, aptX-HD, aptX-LL and Sony’s LDAC for high-resolution audio. If you’re after a physical connection, the headphones come with 3.5mm and USB-C cables.
You can’t have wireless headphones at this price without noise cancellation, and the Shure Aonic 50 do indeed boast adjustable ANC. The slider on the right ear cup allows for swapping between On, Off and Environmental modes.
The slider doesn’t feel like the best method – at times you can accidentally slide past ‘Off’ mode. With ANC activated, there’s a noticeable volume boost and more energy delivered; with it off the sound is slightly less vigorous. Environment mode is effective, ‘leaking’ sounds through in a clear manner, but with audio taking a backseat.
Active noise cancellation proves effective, too, the volume bump helping to suppress everyday sounds and voices; the hum of traffic was reduced to a less distracting volume. You’ll still hear cars “whoosh” past and the low-end throttle of motorbikes will still pierce through the bubble, but sounds are appreciably diminished.
The ShurePlus PLAY app (Android, iOS) is a simple, intuitive affair that offers adjustments to the EQ (Flat, Loudness, Low Boost, and so on) with symbols to indicate the effects they have. You can also add your own custom presets, if you’re au fait with adjusting settings such as Frequency, Gain and Bandwidth. EQ settings only appear to have an impact on music you’ve stored on the device itself, though.
Other features include adjusting ANC levels (Max and Normal), tweaking the 10 levels Environment mode offers, as well as adding any songs on your device to the app’s own library.
Battery life is up to 20 hours – which is respectable, although not troubling to the likes of B&W or Sony’s 30 hours.
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Shure Aonic 50 sound quality – Sensational audio performance
The Shure Aonic 50 deliver a blistering sound performance that’s so good they may be the best-sounding wireless headphones currently available.
With ANC on, Tom Morello’s cover of Voodoo Child on Tidal fizzes with energy, drive and momentum. Despite the energy, the Aonic 50 remain precise, clean and analytical. They exert a great degree of control over any track you feed them, rarely if ever overplaying their hand.
However, they display a lack of warmth. They’re distinctly neutral, which can give them a lean tone at times. Their interrogating nature to detail makes them uncompromising when faced with lower-quality files. A track from Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions album on Spotify didn’t hold up to the Shure’s relentless appetite, but higher-quality streams from the likes of Tidal fare better.
And that’s not to say all Spotify streams sound poor through the lens (or ears) of the Shure. It’s that a few tracks can be revealed to be less than adequate for its intentions.
Give them a Tidal Masters track, such as Ludwig Göransson’s Rainy Night in Tallinn from the Tenet soundtrack, and you can hear all the detail in the orchestration and electronica. The track boasts plenty of power and the Shure headphones control it expertly. Motorhead’s Ace of Spades is fast, attacking and flowing, lacking warmth but cleanly delivered, showcasing a firm grip over all frequencies.
The Shures are also just as happy with slower-paced, gentle or more mournful tracks, and whatever you play through them is articulated through an expansive soundstage. Vocals such as those in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton production are given the centre stage, presented with a clarity and precision that captures the tone and timbre of the vocals.
Bass offers plenty of variety and expressiveness, from tight to more impactful descriptions. The mid-range is probably the Shure Aonic 50’s best facet: filled with detail and transparency – and there’s sparkle to treble with notes clear, precise and detailed.
Dynamically these headphones can showcase peaks and troughs well, and timing is super, with notes hitting exactly when they should. These are headphones that provide a sense of how these tracks are meant to sound. David Bowie’s Modern Love blasts off and rarely takes a breath, from Bowie’s inimitable vocals to the brass instruments and thumping drumbeat – it sounds fantastic.
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Should you buy the Shure Aonic 50?
While The Shure Aonic 50 are one of the best, if not the best-sounding wireless headphones on the market, they’re a pair for the audiophile and are priced as such. This may limit their appeal. That said, if audio quality is what you’re after then it’s hard to see past them.
If you were to look past you’d see the Sony WH-1000XM4 and B&W PX7. The Sony headphones are fantastic: comfortable to wear, with an improved sound complemented by a wealth of tech that puts them as the smartest and best noise-cancellers available. The PX7 are also excellent wireless headphones – and, like the Shure Aonic 50, are rather uncompromising but take a warmer, richer approach to sound. If you can afford any one of this trio, you’d be happy with your purchase.