American audio products manufacturer Shure is best known for its professional and audiophile-grade headphones, earphones, and microphones, used in recording studios the world over. Although regular consumers can buy and use Shure products quite easily, only purists and audiophiles are likely to enjoy the kind of sound that Shure usually has to offer with its headphones and earphones.
The company is now looking to change that approach a little bit with its wireless Aonic lineup, which was launched earlier this year at CES. The Shure Aonic 50 is the more expensive of the two products launched in the Aonic range, and is priced at Rs. 33,999 in India. With wireless connectivity, active noise cancellation, and wide Bluetooth codec support, the Shure Aonic 50 goes up against the new Sony WH-1000XM4, as well as the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 and Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless.
Is the Shure Aonic 50 the best pair of wireless headphones you can buy right now? Can this purist brand match up to the very different needs of regular consumers, just as Sony and Bose have? Find out in our review.
The Shure Aonic 50 does cost well over Rs. 30,000, but it looks and feels completely worth the price. It's beautiful and well-built, and is arguably the most sophisticated-looking premium wireless headset I've used in recent times. It's a big, heavy pair of headphones at 334g, but it's also very comfortable over long listening sessions and offers proper passive isolation that ensures the effectiveness of the active noise cancellation.
Although the ear casings are made of simple plastic — matte black or brown — the headset feels solid. The Shure logo glistens attractively. The brushed aluminium arms, soft padding on the ears and underside of the headband, and textured finish on the top of the headband add to the elegance of the Shure Aonic 50.
The hinges and folding mechanism are a bit firm, and the headset only folds flat, but there's enough flexibility and room for movement to ensure a secure fit. Also included in the sales package are a very large hard carry case, a stereo cable, and a USB Type-C cable for charging. Interestingly, you can also use the USB Type-C port to connect the Shure Aonic 50 directly to a USB source device for digital output. This worked both with the included Type-C to Type-A cable connected to a laptop, as well as with a Type-C to Type-C cable connected to an Android smartphone.
While some brands are adopting swipe and gesture-based controls, Shure has stuck to classic buttons for a tactile feel and ease of use. There are buttons for power, playback, and volume control, and a slider that lets you choose between hear-through, active noise cancellation, and standard listening modes. Also on the right is the USB Type-C port for charging, while the left has a 2.5mm stereo jack to connect the included 2.5mm-to-3.5mm stereo cable for wired listening.
I'm used to seeing some noteworthy features on premium headphones such as wear detection and gesture controls, so it's a bit surprising that the Shure Aonic 50 is pretty straightforward in its approach. There's nothing fancy here, and everything is controlled manually, but it all works as it's supposed to. Although they might seem old-fashioned, the headphones more than make up for this in the core specifications.
The Shure Aonic 50 is uses 50mm dynamic drivers and has a frequency response range of 20-22,000Hz. For connectivity, the headphones have Bluetooth 5, and you can also plug them in to a headphone jack on a source device using the included cable. Shure supports all major Bluetooth codecs, including SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, and LDAC, ensuring the best possible transmission of data regardless of what you use as a wireless source device.
Shure has a companion app for the Aonic 50 headphones called ShurePlus Play, which is available on iOS and Android. The app covers the basics by letting you control the levels of active noise cancellation (Normal or Max mode) and the hear-through mode (10 adjustment points). You can also update the firmware, adjust the equaliser, and make other small tweaks to the headphones. Interestingly, the app also works as a music player, categorising and listing the details of audio tracks on your device. While I didn't often use the music player in the app, it did come in handy for quick reference while adjusting the equaliser and noise cancellation settings.
Battery life on the Shure Aonic 50 is claimed to be around 20 hours of listening, and I was able to match this claim quite easily with active noise cancellation enabled, and largely using the LDAC Bluetooth codec. Although not quite as impressive as the battery life offered by many Sony headphones, this is a decent enough figure given the form factor and features on offer.
There's very little tolerance for variation in sonic signature in the studio; sound professionals need the equipment to be as neutral and balanced as possible to ensure they're listening to it as intended. Shure headphones and earphones usually have a flat, neutral, and detailed sonic signature, and the Shure Aonic 50 sticks to this approach despite being marketed as an everyday pair of headphones.
As a result, the Shure Aonic 50 is perhaps the most detailed, analytical, and to-the-point pair of wireless headphones you can buy right now, thanks to focused tuning and wide Bluetooth codec support. This approach is wonderful if you're looking for detail and accuracy above all else, but might come across as a bit too controlled if you're used to your headphones having a bit of ‘flavour', so to speak.
Starting with high-resolution audio, Golden Brown by The Stranglers streamed using Tidal Masters immediately demonstrated the abilities of the Shure Aonic 50. This is an incredibly detailed pair of headphones, able to keep pace with this busy and beautifully haunting track with ease, capturing every hint of nuance in the recording and making it sound distinct. The luxuriously spacious soundstage gave each element a distinct sense of direction and positioning, adding a strong perception of depth to this stereo recording.
Moving on to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On encoded with Dolby Atmos Music, the spacious soundstage of the Shure Aonic 50 was truly in its element. The headphones offer a near-realistic soundstage that simulates a sound far better than basic stereo separation, and the faintest details in the track could be heard distinctly and almost precisely positioned within the virtual stage.
The Shure Aonic 50 sounds good even if you're listening to regular high-resolution tracks or compressed streaming audio, but using higher-quality source material had a definite and audible impact on performance. The precise nature of the sound means that the Aonic 50 will also be quick to expose flaws or weaknesses in the recordings, and that's something that should be kept in mind if you're considering picking up these headphones.
Also worth noting is that the balanced, natural sonic signature of the Shure Aonic 50 may not be for everyone. When combined with the LDAC Bluetooth codec or when used as a wired headset with a USB cable for transmission, the headphones came across as too sharp, focusing more on the details than anything else. This often meant that tracks didn't quite sound as entertaining or fun as on other headphones such as the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 or premium Sony wireless headsets.
The bass often felt a bit too laidback, the highs were a bit sharp and piercing, and the mid-range was often a bit too loud and intense. While audiophiles and purists will definitely appreciate this attention to detail and neutrality with specific kinds of music, everyday listeners might find the headphones a bit dull and lacking in drive.
The usually lively Light It Up by Major Lazer didn't quite invoke as much emotion in me with the Shure Aonic 50 as on the Sennheiser Momentum 3 Wireless. The thump and drive in the bass of this electronic track were too muted, and this took away much of this dance track's fun. Interestingly, listening to the same track using a different source device with the Qualcomm aptX codec in use did give the sound a bit more character, suggesting that the codec can play a large part in telling the headphones how to sound.
Active noise cancellation on the Shure Aonic 50 is impressive, but is perhaps a bit too intense at the maximum level. While there was a definite reduction in ambient sound, it also made for a very deep ‘silence' effect that was a bit unnerving even for me. You can reduce the level of noise cancellation through the app, but there are only two levels to choose from - Normal and Max. Normal mode didn't do enough, and I'd have liked to have had more granular control, as is possible on Bose and Sony headphones. Call quality was also decent on the Shure Aonic 50, and I had no trouble at all with voice calls during my time with the headphones.
Shure's first-ever wireless headset is exactly what you'd expect from the company — detailed, analytical, and just about the most insightful pair of wireless headphones you can find. The Shure Aonic 50 looks good, feels great, and is focused on what matters the most — getting as much out of an audio track as possible. This is a technically adept pair of wireless headphones that is among the best you can buy today.
All of that said, many might find the sound too neutral — the sonic signature definitely isn't for everyone. You'll need access to high-resolution and binaural audio tracks to really get the best out of these headphones as well, while options from Bose and Sony are a lot more forgiving of regular audio quality. The lack of flexibility in the active noise cancellation also might be a problem — it's either a bit much or not enough, with no levels in between.
The Shure Aonic 50 is among my favourite premium wireless headsets for a number of reasons, but if you're spending this much money, you need to be sure of what you want. If this level of insightfulness isn't for you, it might make sense to look at options from Bose and Sony; the recently launched Sony WH-1000XM4 in particular might be worth considering as well.
Price: Rs. 33,999
Ratings (out of 5)
How to find the best deals during online sales? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.