When it comes to the best headphones there is no shortage whatsoever for high-end, top-quality over-ear cans – a space where Shure wants to be in contention at the top with its second-generation Aonic 50, on review here.
I've listened to many of the best noise-cancelling (ANC) headphones and, given the nature of my job, I tend to live in such headphones with ANC activated so I can concentrate on getting words down without outside world distractions gaining my attention.
I've worn the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 off and on for a week, both inside and outdoors, to gain an understanding of how these headphones cope in various conditions. Given that these new-gen over-ears are priced at a level where you could consider the Sony WH-1000XM5 or Bowers & Wilkins Px7 S2 instead, however, does Shure successfully stand apart from the most obvious choices?
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: What's new?
When Shure announced its second-generation pair of its popular studio-quality Aonic 50 headphones – which happened at a consumer show called IFA, where they made T3's Best of Tech 2023 cut – the upgrades over the first-generation were clear, but not particularly extensive.
One, these wireless cans add Shure's spatial audio support, which delivers Music, Cinema, and Podcast modes. Two they beef up the battery, which is said to deliver 50 per cent longer life per charge – up to a massive 45 hours per charge – so are much longer-lasting. Three, the design is now all-black, with no other flourishes or colourway options to purchase (yet, anyway).
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2: Price & Availability
There's no doubting Shure's confidence in the Aonic 50 Gen 2's craft, as these over-ears are priced at £349/$349 – putting them in contention with some of the other high-ranked top-tier headphones of today.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Design & Usability
The Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 come in a hardshell carry case with the Shure logo on the front. It zips up tightly, while inside you'll find a 3.5mm cable for wired listening, which lives inside a little mesh 'nest' for storage. I've often just put the headphones loose into a bag when out and about, however, as this case is fairly sizeable overall.
As mentioned, a subtle new design feature of the Gen 2 Aonic 50 is the all-black finish. Personally I'd prefer a lick of silver or metallic flourish to give an additional point of interest; the all-black approach is more subdued than the headphones they replace.
Controls are quite abundant on these over-ears: the right earcup houses the on/off/Bluetooth button; there's a play/pause and volume up/down triple button set nearby this; while a tri-position slider switch handles the active noise-cancellation (ANC) level. I would prefer touch controls for the majority of these with a single button for ANC selection, to make everything less busy looking.
The left earcup is where the 3.5mm jack is housed for wired listening; however the USB-C port on the right earcup can also be designated for hi-res listening (up to 32-bit/384kHz) which goes to show just how studio high-res capable these cans are.
In terms of comfort, I've been wearing the Aonic 50 Gen 2 on and off for a week and I've found them decent, given the soft earcups and headband, although the position of the earcups when worn has tended to push the headband further forward for me. They don't feel like they'll slip off, though.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Features & Performance
The more I've used the Aonic 50 Gen 2 the more I've felt as though these over-ears are going to be best for those typically using headphones at home. They are premium studio headphones after all, with lots of format compatibility – aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, AAC, SBC, LDAC – and to 32-bit/384kHz compatibility via USB-C, should you be listening from a laptop or similar.
With good quality source material the Aonic 50 Gen 2 delivers a confident sound that's rich and engaging, without pushing too firmly on any one element of bass, mid or treble. And if you think the sound is a little lacking in life then the ShurePlay app (for Android and iOS) comes with lots of EQ pre-sets and even a highly adjustable manual control.
That manual control allows for +/-10dB adjustments from 20Hz at the low-end, through to 20kHz at the high-end, which gives you an idea of how dramatically the already wide spectrum of sound can be manipulated to your wants. I've found in noisier outdoor conditions adding a Loudness pre-set can be helpful to gain that extra oomph in delivery.
There's no lacking of volume or clarity from the Aonic 50 Gen 2 either. The reason I don't think they're ideal for outdoors use is because, well, the active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology isn't as adept as the best-of-best on the market (Bose and Sony have that wrapped up), while ANC – which uses external microphones in order to function – suffers pretty poorly from wind tear, even in not crazily windy situations. When wearing the Aonic 50 Gen 2 on the London Underground, for example, pressure changes caused significant pops and outages.
It's when I've been sat at home, listening with more intent, that I've found the Aonic 50 Gen 2 to be at their best. They are of course wireless headphones, so do offer that versatility of outside use, I've just had products handle those conditions better in the past.
It's also whilst sat at home that I've dug a little deeper into the Spatializer feature, also present in the app, which uses an algorithm to assist with given enhanced three-dimensionality to Music, Cinema and Podcast. It works nicely, spacing sounds apart to give the impression of a wider soundstage, although it's not going to make all content necessarily sound better.
Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 review: Verdict
If you're looking for well-made headphones with top quality sound and high-res audio compatibility the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 are a confident pair of over-ears that deliver audio with gusto – and add a little extra thanks to the Spatializer and customisable EQ settings.
The active noise-cancellation (ANC), however, isn't the most powerful I've heard in a pair of headphones, and when this mode is engaged when outdoors it doesn't cope brilliantly with wind tear sounds. As a result I'd predominantly use these headphones in the studio, or at the office desk.
All in all the second-gen Aonic 50 are confident for a reason: Shure sure knows good sound and these over-ear headphones deliver that eloquently for at-home listening. They do cost a packet, though, so if you're likely to be out and about and want to spend a tad less there are other obvious go-to alternatives.
If it's the very best active noise-cancelling (ANC) that you want then look to the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Headphones. However, those are more expensive than the Shure, so if you still want superb quality and sound for a little less then the Sony WH-1000XM5 are the best ANC headphones for most people at the time of writing. And if ANC isn't your foremost concern and you want a more subtle, gentler design, then Bowers & Wilkins' PX7 S2 are also a great option to consider.