So I’m about two years late to the party with this one, but I’ve finally managed to get my hands on a set of Shure Aonic 50 wireless headphones! So the Aonic 50 headphones were first released to the market in April 2020, and they’re still going strong today, which is amazing to see in our throwaway society. Sure they’re not cheap, they’re still costing around £230 online from various retailers, and are even running at £309 on Shure’s website at the time of writing. So why have they lasted so long? And why haven’t Shure come out with some kind of successor to the Aonic 50s? Well, simply put they’re a fantastic set of headphones, and definitely some of the best I’ve heard in a very long time. Well, since seeing the Shure Aonic 40s a little while ago anyway. Card in the top if you want to check out that review. But for now, let’s stick to the 50s.
My first impression of the Shure Aonic 50s was that they’re a very large set of headphones. They’re not quite as refined or stealthy as say the Sony XM5s and they’re a little garish by comparison, with chunky earpads, large metal arms that can allow the 50s to lay down flat, and even the headband is thick. But saying this, there is a massive aura of quality about them. The plastic earcups look absolutely great. The double stitching on the headband is quality, and I’ve got a set of white headphones here and they’re simply stunning, in an outlandish kind of way. They do also come in black and brown too if they’re more your colour. It’s refreshing to see a more daring design too as the plain plastic look dominates this high-end headphone market.
Padding around the headband and earcups are nice and thick, and the memory foam-like faux leather pads help with clamping force, and I would have no worries wearing these for longer periods of time that’s for sure. It’s like wearing pillows over my ears. I’m completely cut off from the outside world. Being this off-white though, I can see these getting dirty from overuse. The earcup cushions can be removed for cleaning purposes and replaced if needed to keep your headphones looking fresh. There’s Shure branding in silver writing on each earcup and it’s been tailored into the headband too. Glasses wearers are completely fine too, like me. I found that these headphones did not interfere with my glasses whatsoever. Moving parts on these headphones feel very solid, and even the twist of the earpad feels nice and stiff and putting them to a shake test, the Shure Aonic 50s stayed pretty rigid.
There is a nice large carrying case that comes in the box to keep them protected when you’re out and about, but because these headphones cannot fold in on themselves, they leave quite a large surface area. I mean the carrying case is the size of most handbags you see, and if you’re someone who carries around a backpack, you’re going to have to sacrifice space to fit these headphones in. Wearing them around your neck when not in use for me anyway was pretty much a no-go. Very uncomfortable as the clamping force was a little too restrictive. But overall, a very comfortable design, and I’m someone with a large head who sometimes struggles with clamping force. But here, it’s perfect.
The user interface is placed on the right earcup, which for me makes these headphones controls feel a little crowded, but it does mean everything is within simple reach with one hand. The exception though is the 2.5mm aux input that can be found on the bottom of the left earcup. Notice I said 2.5mm and not 3.5mm, which is awkward if I say so myself. You do get a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable in the box, but it’s not too simple to replace if you wanted a longer variant. The controls are also pretty simple here. From front to back, the first is a switch so you can choose between active noise cancellation or audio passthrough. The second is your play/pause, skip track and volume controls. Two presses on the Play button will skip forward, three taps will skip back. Underneath that is your power and Bluetooth button, and holding this will activate pairing mode. And finally, a USB Type-C input for charging your device or connecting it to your desktop or laptop, and was recognised straight away on my desktop as a playback device.
The Shure PLAY App
There is a partner app that is available to download on Android and iOS app stores called Shure PLAY, which is designed to give you customisable options to suit your listening style. I ran a firmware update as soon as I connected the Shure Aonic 50s to my phone, so I am running version 0.75.0. The settings here can range from how powerful the active noise cancelling or audio passthrough is to an equaliser. However, one strange thing I found is that the Equaliser will only affect the music you listen to through the PLAY app. So this automatically makes Spotify, Tidal or Google Music or whatever music app of choice you use entirely redundant. Even if the tracks are physically downloaded from your music streaming platform of choice, like mine through Spotify, it still did not recognise that the tracks were on the phone.
The Shure Aonic 50 headphones are compatible with a ton of codecs which is great to hear and great for audio quality. Codecs include Qualcomm® aptX™, aptX™ HD, aptX™ Low Latency audio, Sony LDAC, AAC, and SBC as well so there’s a nice range there to suit a lot of uses. You’ve also got Bluetooth 5 for a range of up to 10 meters, though I rarely found myself away from my phone while listening to these. There is the option to use a wired 2.5mm aux cable too if your laptop or desktop or other devices doesn’t support wireless connectivity. Using these wirelessly though, you’re granted maybe 20 hours of listening time? Not bad, but certainly not the best I’ve seen. But it’ll get you through a week’s worth of commuting time no problem. A few hours plugged into a laptop or desktop will give you a full charge though so it’s not all bad.
But How Do They Sound?
When it comes to audio quality, the Shure Aonic 50s are literally top-tier. I mean for someone who likes their tech, but may not shuffle into the audiophile realm, these headphones are absolutely stunning. Before talking about music though, I want to mention both the audio passthrough and noise cancellation technology. The passthrough I will say works great. It’s almost like the microphone amplifies sound coming from your surroundings, making it super clear to hear. Though this mode does sacrifice some volume though audio quality does remain. Of course in the app you can change the sensitivity of audio passthrough, and I kept mine at around three-quarters, which offered a nice balance of music and audio from my surroundings. Perfect for an office environment. The noise cancellation works extremely well though, and I was surprised at how close to the Bose Quiet Comfort headphones the Aonic 50s were in this regard, because of course we all know Bose are the market leaders here. This is also the mode I would recommend listening to your music in, as the punchiness of the music really shines through. There are two levels here, Normal and Max, with the Max setting giving you that vacuum effect, which is best if you’re on a plane or train, but also introduces a very faint hiss, as well as a hindrance to your actual audio quality, as if all of a sudden your music has to sound more compressed because of the noise cancelling effect. The Normal setting though fared so much better, and for everyday use, walking through town or in an office environment is fine.
The music is produced by two large 50mm drivers, and is capable of a 70-300Hz frequency response rate, where the upper frequencies are perfect for vocal-driven tracks. Some Eminem, Dre or Kendrick sounded absolutely fantastic, with every lyric bursting through with insane amounts of clarity compared to the backing track. There’s a really decent separation here from music and vocals thanks to that bump in frequency response, and I must say with things like snare and high-hat hits too, these are also pretty shiny. Kendrick’s HUMBLE for example gave incredible clarity to each instrument. The bass drum here produced a real thud and the rumbling bass in the background was present without really muddying any of the higher frequencies. That single-note piano accompaniment also shone through in the mids with a slight reverb detected from the recording, something that cheaper headphones or even speakers would have no chance in picking up.
I did most of my testing with a flat EQ, to really show what these headphones could do from the box, and for most genres of music, I was extremely surprised at how good it sounded. However, moving on to a bit of rock, I noticed that bass was slightly lacking, especially in those breakdown-type moments. Arcitect’s heavy intro to Animals for example felt very slightly empty, and I needed to activate the bass boost EQ to give me that punchy feeling you get from a palm-muted guitar combined wth bass drum hits. But moving onto the lighter side of the rock spectrum, with some State Champs or Unwritten Law, then it goes back into that ‘sounding incredibly awesome’ territory.
The microphone that’s built into the headphone sounds absolutely great for making calls. Your voice can sound nice and crisp and clear to the people on the other end of the phone, which is the feedback I received when taking calls. Though I will say that background is a bit of an issue here if used when out and about to take calls. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of processing going on here like we’ve seen with other headphones, and for this reason, call voice could sound muffled when you’re in the middle of town and on the phone.
So bearing in mind again that these headphones are really just about three years old, how do they perform in today’s high-end headphone landscape? Yes absolutely! The Shure Aonic 50 headphones are absolutely stunning and give such a decent audio quality to your music, it’s very hard not to be able to recommend them to someone. Avoid buying on Shure’s website though as they’re literally £100 more expensive than some third-party outlets at this point. Give them a quick Google and you’ll see prices from around £230. The build quality here is also insanely good, and these headphones feel very premium indeed and should last you a decent amount of time. I for one would absolutely daily drive these, and for a first attempt at the consumer audio headphone market, Shure has done a fantastic job. For more information, head over to the Shure website.