Shure has just joined the bandwagon to offer their premium wireless headphones. The AONIC 50 is the over-ear headphones model and Shure has thrown in every feature that can possibly be made available on the latest wireless headphones. I received this review unit in June but this article is only published now to time with the Singapore retail availability in end Aug, and here is my detailed impression write-up. At S$529, it is less expensive compared to Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bose HP 700 but its audio features and quality surpasses both.
As always, watch my unboxing video as I unravel the behemoth.
The packaging is unique and certainly the largest I have unboxed for consumer headphones. Audiophile-grade wired headphones are typically big, but because those are not designed to be portable. The Aonic 50 seems to be unabashed by the sheer size and took it in its stride.
The Shure Aonic 50 has everything that a latest wireless headphone could have. Here is the list of features that gets the tick:
- Active Noise Cancelling with 2 modes – normal and max
- Environment Mode, a.k.a. ambient sound, with 10 adjustment levels
- Supports LDAC, aptX HD, aptX LL, aptX, AAC, SBC
- Supports High-Resolution USB digital audio
- Supports direct analog audio cable passthrough without power
- Supports Bluetooth multi-point, connects to 2 devices at the same time
- Comes with smartphone app to adjust EQ, personalise settings, update firmware
Design and Features
You can easily tell that the Aonic 50 is a premium-built headphones, with leather and metal details all over. The outer headband is thick natural leather with sewn thread around the sides, while the inner headband is soft leather. The retractable band uses thick matt-finished aluminium, and the removable earpads feel very comfortable even for people wearing glasses.
The earpads are made of leatherette on the exterior and fabric lined within, and the circumference is large so it barely touches my ears. I believe these combination of factors contribute to the comfort I have experienced when wearing them. It achieves a good balance of isolation and comfort. I can wear them whole day at home with normal airflow without aircon.
The buttons and switches are located on the right earpad. They are flushed against the earcups but I can still manage to find them thanks to the protruding multi-function button which guides me. Tapping the power button twice will read out the battery level.
One disappointment would be that the headphones do not fold compactly. I guess Shure prefers to create a solid frame headphones like Bose did on their Headphones 700. The Aonic 50 earcups turn 90-degrees inwards and the pivot joints are uncharacteristically stiff. Other headphones like Sony WH-1000XM3 and Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC have joints that swing loosely, which is good when you want to fold and pack very quickly. The Aonic 50 requires force to twist the joins to fold flat.
Indeed, the Aonic 50 traveling case is huge compared to even the Bose 700, which despite non-foldable is at least optimised in size.
But being large as its advantages. The generous earcups offer excellent comfort and I do not feel compromised. The Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC is less comfortable as the earpads are thinner, while the Bose HP700 is just right for my ears. It’s quite clear that Aonic 50 is not designed to be travel-friendly, but if you have the luxury of space, it can be part of your entourage.
I compared the Aonic 50 with the Sony WH-1000XM4, Bose Headphones 700, the Master & Dynamic MW65 and the Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC, and the Aonic 50 is the weakest among them. The Aonic 50 does not provide the same intense noise-cancelling experience as the leaders. I tried it on the underground train and while it does remove the bulk of the low tunneling murmurs, the upper frequency retains the presence. Noise cancelling on trains is a lot more challenging than on planes because there are so much happening across the audio frequency spectrum: the scratching tracks, the PA announcement, the rumbling tunnels, and the engine. So as a whole it does not provide a satisfying noise-killing experience.
The good thing is that the “cabin” pressure is not as prominent, yet the noise cancelling feat is sufficient to be useful in less demanding situations, like urban traffic, shopping mall chatter, smartphone speakers when seating next to your spouse.
As for Environment Mode, a.k.a. ambient sound, the Aonic 50 has audible white noise. The Bose Headphones 700 is most natural sounding in the implementation. I set the Aonic 50 to around Level 5 which I feel offers the representation of the ambient sound level. Note that once audio starts playing, the ambient effect is not obvious at all unless the noise is very loud, for instance vehicle horn or loud noises. Once the ambient level is set correctly, I feel the ambient sounds blend with the audio nicely and does not over-exaggerate, so I feel comfortable wearing them even without turning on the music. But, if you feel you need to up the sensitivity for a supersonic hearing experience, you can turn up to the max, and Aonic 50 lets you customise that preference.
One thing I like with the hardware ANC switch is that the changes are immediate. On most other ANC headphones, it takes a few seconds to switch from one mode to another, some even have annoying voice prompts. The ANC/Environment mode works with voice calls, so I can switch around without disrupting the call flow.
Shure has over 90+ years of audio experience, the quality of which the Aonic 50 inherits. On the Aonic 50, Shure put emphasis on the musical details at the midrange and highs without excessive emphasis on the lows. It also sets a more “live” sound staging that is a little more space apart, not too cosy and “in-your-face”. All these factors contribute to the overall listenability of this headphones. It does not deliver the excitement that party goers need – no big bass, no pushy vocals. Yet, it offers great satisfaction in musicality and crisp.
On instrumental tracks, the bass support is adequate for warmth and fullness, while the treble is balanced and extended. The upper treble is unexaggerated yet clear. On pop tracks, the bass could not outshine the vocals and other instrumentation that occupy the upper frequency range, but the bass remains rooted to the cause to offer support. Other background instruments, while somewhat blended into the mix, are still obvious enough to be picked up for critical enjoyment, thanks to the pristine treble tuning and spatial placement.
To give you an idea of the differences with the other ANC headphones, from the most emphasis to the least:
- Bass: Sony WH-1000XM4, Master & Dynamic MW65, Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC, Bose HP 700, Aonic 50
- Treble: Aonic 50, Lagoon ANC, MW65, Bose HP 700
The above applies to ANC-off and Environment Mode. When ANC is on, the tuning changes, more kick at the bass, fuller midrange, and tighter treble, and overall volume is louder. I enjoy turning on the Aonic 50 with Environment Mode at home so that I can work peacefully with some awareness. It’s as good as wearing an open-back headphones, but better still, you can adjust the Environment level to suit your preference.
What’s even better is the ability to support high-resolution digital audio over USB-C. The sound quality is further improved with wires, as the dynamic range is more expanded, there is more headroom, less compression when listening to high-res tracks. On Windows OS, I can configure the audio setting up to 32-bit 384kHz sampling rate.
Another absolute plus point is the ability to listen to Aonic 50 without power. Passive audio can passthrough the 3.5mm cable. The sound quality remains details albeit a flatter tuning, which is a standard behaviour for most powered headphones.
The Shure Aonic 50 can pretty much do everything I expect from a pair of premium wireless headphones. It supports all audio codecs, connects both wirelessly or wired, digital or analog, powered or passive. They are probably the most comfortable ANC headphones I have reviewed, although the drawback is its size. Its audio tuning is towards treble but they sound very clear, detailed and non-sibilant.
My favourite use case for the Aonic 50 is enabling Environment Mode and playing music at soft volume, so that I remain aware of what’s going on around the house. I would quickly turn on ANC when a noisy situation occurs – like when wifey blows dry her hair or when she is having an online meeting.
If you need better ANC features when traveling and taking public transport, then you have to go for Bose HP 700 or the new Sony WH-1000XM4. The latter is undeniably the most tech-loaded headphones in the market now (go read my review to find out why), but if your focus is on audio quality and versatility, I would recommend Aonic 50.
The Shure Aonic 50 is now available in Singapore islandwide at S$529.