The noise-cancelling over-ear headphone category is an increasingly competitive one, and consumers have never been more spoiled for choice. Shure entered the market this year with the Aonic 50, a premium-priced headset ($399) that offers active noise cancelling, Bluetooth connectivity and USB-C charging. Shure's reputation for delivering top-quality sound is definitely part of the package, and there's a lot more to recommend the Aonic 50, as well.
Shure offers the Aonic 50 in either black or brown finishes, and they have physical controls on the right ear cup for volume, turning noise cancellation on and off, power, activating voice assistances and skipping tracks. There's a USB-C port for charging, and a 2.5mm stereo connector on the left ear cup for using the included cable to connect via wire, which allows you to use them even while the internal battery is depleted or the headset is powered down (albeit without active noise cancelling, obviously).
The Aonic 50 also comes with a round, flat carrying case -- the ear cups swivel to fit in the zippered storage compartment. This takes up more of a footprint than the typical folding design of these kind of ANC headphones, but it's less bulky, too, so it depends on how you're packing them whether this is good or bad.
Shure offers a mobile app for iOS and Android called ShurePlus Play that can provide EQ controls, as well as more specific tuning of both the active noise cancelling, and the environmental mode that pipes in outside sound. This allows for a lot of customization, but with one major caveat -- EQ settings only apply when playing music via the app itself, which is an unusual and disappointing choice.
Design and performance
Shure's Aonic 50 excel in a couple of areas where the company has a proven track record: sound quality and comfort/wearability. The ample faux leather-wrapped padding on both the headband and the ear cups make them very comfortable to wear, even for longer sessions, which is great for work from home practicality. I often forgot I had them on while moving around the house, which gives you an idea of how well they fit.
As for sound, Shure has aimed for a relatively neutral, flat tone that provides an accurate recreation of what the original producer intended for any track, and the results are great. Music detail is clear, and they're neither too heavy on bass or overemphatic on treble. This is a sound profile that audiophiles will appreciate, though it might not be the best for anyone who's looking for a bass-heavy soundstage. That said, bass-favoring headphones are easy to find in this category, so Shure's offering, with its clear highs, stands apart from the field in the ANC arena. To be clear, the bass is excellent, but overall the market has moved toward muddy, artificially enhanced bass versus true rendering, which the Aonic 50 delivers.
The button controls on the Aonic 50 are well-placed and cover the spectrum in terms of what you'd want to be able to control right from the headset. USB-C charging is much-appreciated in an era where that's far and away the standard for most of the mobile devices in your life, as well as many computers. The included stereo cable is a great addition for when the battery runs out -- but Shure's advertised 20-hour or so battery life estimate is accurate, so it'll be quite a while before you have to resort to that, as long as you remember to charge once in a while.
If there's one place where Shure's performance falls a bit short, it's in noise cancellation. The ANC does a decent job of blocking out unwanted environmental sound, but it's not quite up to the standard of the like of Bose or Sony's top-end ANC headphones. It still gets the job done most of the time, and the trade-off is better sound.
As I said above, people looking for active noise-cancelling headphones are spoiled for choice these days. But the Shure Aonic 50 offers something that discerning audio pros won't be able to find from alternatives, including those from Bose or Sony, and that's an excellent soundstage and sound quality that just can't be beat. Wearability is also tops, which makes these a great option for audiophiles who want a wire-free, sound-blocking solution for a home office.