If the size of the box is any indication to its performance, Shure’s first ANC on-ear have already won the battle
We don’t know why a brand like Shure took so long to combine ANC with wireless to bring us this, their first such on-ear headphone. But one look at it and you know that they have used their time to craft a high-quality pair of cans that though doesn’t fold in half and takes twice as much as bag space, are still pretty alluring. With such a large design, anything less than 50mm drivers would only be a disservice and the Aonic 50 delivers on that front. Along with generous use of exposed aluminium hinges, quality plastic on the earcups and the stitched leather on the headband give it a no-nonsense look. Perfectly damped headband size adjustment along with indentations make for a precise fit on both the ears and is a gentle reminder of Shure’s professional heritage. It’s not the cheapest in its segment and it certainly feels premium.
Not big on features despite being big on size, it’s evident that sound-quality was given utmost importance here. Non-touch earcups and limited support for voice assistants (Siri works well, but silently), but the Aonic 50 make their presence felt on your head with a well-judged grip.
ShurePLUS Play is the app that acts as a gateway for firmware updates, comprehensive EQ settings and even a music player that supports Hi-Res and MQA. The EQ strangely only works if you use the built-in music player and while it integrates well with Apple Music, using a lot of other services isn’t possible. The EQ does make a remarkable improvement to the sound, depending on your preference. For me, the out-of-the-box sound was a bit too bright but a bit of tweaking around specific frequencies yielded just the right amount of sparkle without ripping my head off.
Bluetooth 5.0 and AptX HD mean that the Shure is capable of 32bit/48kHz Hi-Res transmission wirelessly too. Support for LDAC, AAC, AptX Low Latency and SBC means it has you covered no matter what floats your boat. Where they absolutely shine is in their sonic presentation. A wide and spacious sound makes you forget that you’re wearing bulky headphones. Bass is just right without being overbearing and the highs are clean with massive amounts of micro-detail without resorting to shrillness. Using a 3.5mm cable, sound quality is further enhanced by adding more depth to voices and you can even plug them into your laptops USB port to use their built-in DAC if you want to stay indoors. Either way, it doesn’t disappoint. Plugging them into MacBook Pro with an AudioQuest Dragonfly Red in the mix makes the sound more robust with better channel separation and a more defined bass, putting them firmly in a contest with some of the best-wired headphones at this price point.
There is an Environment mode that amplifies ambient sounds and can be controlled in 10 steps via the app. Sound quality is best though with ANC in neutral mode where it doesn’t sound aggressively compressed. If you do have to take to the skies or the metro, the ANC’s performance is solid and on par with Bose and Sony, if not better. It blocks off low and mid-range frequencies effectively with DSP while a lot of the HF noise is blocked by its passive seal as well. The tension of the headband on your ears is well judged and is neither too tight nor too soft, so as to leave gaps between the ear pads and your ears.
Shure flexes its muscle on the call-quality with its built-in mics that exemplify the brands decades of experience in making professional mics. Phone calls are exceptionally clear with superb clarity on voice both for the listener and the caller.
It’s not all easy going for the Shure Aonic 50, considering how strong the Sony, Bose and Sennheiser competition is. While their sonic degradation in the Max ANC mode is significantly more than the others, in the neutral setting, it trumps all of them for outright clarity, detail and resolution. If it’s a balanced sound you like more than fancy features, the Aonic 50 should be on your shortlist. Not if you travel a lot. They don’t fold as easily as the Sony and they aren’t as light as the Bose and they’re certainly more expensive than either, which makes them a bit hard to recommend for someone who’s always on the move. And if you want something for the indoors or wired, there’s a whole different range of options available for audiophiles. That puts the Shure Aonic 50 somewhat in no man's land, unfortunately.