CES 2022 | Shure AONIC 40 headphones review: studio quality for the road ↺
Working For Notebookcheck
Are you a techie who knows how to write? Then join our Team! English native speakers welcome!
News Writer (AUS/NZL based) - Details here
With almost 100 years of experience, Shure is one of the leading manufacturers of audio equipment. The company manufactures hardware for all types of audio, ranging from stage equipment and studio microphones, to conference systems and headphones / earphones. Shure's goal is to deliver superior sound quality with each and every product.
The new AONIC 40 are the successor to the AONIC 50 and debuted at CES 2022. The more dynamic design complements Shure's existing range of products. The over-the-ear headphones not only offer pleasing visual aesthetics, but deliver superb sound quality as well. The ShurePlus play app for Android and iOS allows for a very precise adjustment of the equalizer according to user preferences. There are also options for noise cancellation and ambient mode and even a player for lossless FLAC audio files is included.
|Shure AONIC 40|
|Driver|| 40 mm, dynamic neodymium magnet, 20 Hz to 20,000Hz
31 Ω impedance (1 kHz)
|Playback and transmission via||Bluetooth, USB-C cable, 3.5 mm analog audio cable|
|Audio codecs||SBC, AAC, aptX|
|Weight|| headphones: 319 g
headphones with carrying case: 556 g
|Included in the box||headphones, hard shell carrying case, 3.5 mm audio cable, USB-C cable|
Build quality and ergonomics
The AONIC 40 are available in black or in a white and tan combo and are mostly made out of plastic. The underside of the headband and the large ear pads are cushioned. The openings in the ear pads measure 5.5 x 4 cm (~2.2 x 1.6 in) and the headphones fit comfortably over the ears without exerting a significant amount of pressure. Even during extended listening sessions we never experienced any discomfort. Extending the headband reveals bars made from black-colored spring steel, which ensures proper rigidity.
Once we put them on, we didn't hear any wind noises nor creaking or rattling sounds. To prevent the latter, Shure thoughtfully placed rubber dampeners between moving components.
Features & operation
The AONIC 40 ships with a large hardshell case to avoid bumps and bruises during transport. Given the rather large size of 21 × 18 × 7 cm (8.3 x 7.1 x 2.75 in), we wouldn't say that the case is particularly suited for traveling or commuting though. Shure also supplies a USB-C to USB-A cable and a 3.5 mm audio cable. In Germany, the headphones carry a 2-year warranty.
Most of the functionality is controlled via five buttons. The power and Bluetooth connection button sits on the left ear cup, while the volume, playback, voice assistant, and call management are controlled via the three upper buttons on the right side. The single lower button allows to switch between noise cancelling and transparency modes.
The ShurePlus Play app (available free of charge for Android and iOS) lets you customize several other settings, like the active noise cancellation or the transparency mode levels. Aside from personalizing these settings, you can disable many of the quite annoying warnings or switch their language as well as select the connectivity mode for USB. Shure states that the sound quality drops when using the microphone. The sub menu for the battery and charging mode allows the user to disable charging to avoid draining their mobile device when connected via USB. A LED can indicate to others that a voice call is in progress.
Overall, we're pretty pleased with the app and customizing the headphones according to personal preferences is a breeze. Not all the capabilities of the AONIC 40 are accessible without a smartphone, however, which might be a detriment to some.
During regular phone or video conferencing calls, neither ambient noise nor the Bluetooth connection itself negatively impact the communication qualities. Overall performance during daily use is very acceptable. Street or kitchen noises are kept at bay and voices are transmitted perfectly clear in both directions.
The Shure AONIC 40 makes use of 40mm drivers. We noticed small differences in the sound quality depending on which method we used for the connection and the respective settings. The headphones support aptX HD and SBC, which are some of the best codecs for Bluetooth transmission. The Bluetooth connection remains stable as well while watching movies, with sound and picture remaining synchronized on our Android tablet. We should mention here though that Android automatically adjusts the sound depending on the latency.
You can use the included USB-C cable for connecting to an audio source, at which point a toggle setting in the ShurePlus Play App lets you decide if you want to charge the headphone's battery and if the integrated microphones should be available for video conferencing. Shure admits that the sound quality is diminished somewhat when the mics are active, although we didn't really notice any detrimental effects.
Overall sound quality is pretty satisfying, no matter what connection type (Bluetooth, USB-C or 3.5 mm audio cable) is used. Bass and especially sub-bass (~20 to 60 Hz) aren't quite as punchy as we would like, but all other frequency ranges are pleasing and mostly linear. We noticed a small dip in the mid range, however, and there's some decrease in volume level in the very high treble range for both Bluetooth and USB cable connections. The equalizer in the ShurePlus Play app lets you tweak the settings and improves the response significantly. When it comes to sub-bass at high volume levels, the headphones simply aren't powerful enough to keep up. The loudness setting in the app appears to improve playback and the sound appears to be more linear. Shure's sound engineers are obviously aware of the shortcomings and supplied a corresponding EQ preset. This preset doesn't really work at high volume levels, however.
Noice cancelling and transparency mode
The Active Noise Cancelling makes use of both internal and external microphones. Fan noise, keyboard clatter and other office noises are effectively eliminated. Even revving engines and other noise sources don't pose much of a problem. Even though ANC can't guarantee complete silence, ambient noises are reduced significantly. The microphones pointing inwards (towards the ear) sit almost in the middle of the speakers, so we never experienced over-compensation, which can occur when wind blows over the external microphones.
In the base setting, transparency mode is somewhat quiet, but the ShurePlus Play app lets you adjust the setting to something more appropriate for listening to music. At higher settings, we could hear a faint humming sound, but the distortion was never an issue. By the nature of its design, transparency mode pipes in exterior sounds so the listener won't get caught off guard.
According to Shure, the AONIC 40 is supposed to last 25 hours on a charge. During our playback tests using audio books with active noise cancellation disabled, the headphones lasted 25 hours and 30 minutes. We could have pushed the envelope a little, but at 2 % charge remaining, the frequency of the "low battery" warnings increases. Of course we could have deactivated the warnings in the app. The batteries showed about a 25 % charge after 20 minutes, which should be good enough for another 5 to 6 hours of audio playback.
As far as audio performance, ergonomics, and battery life go, the Shure AONIC 40 are a pretty great pair of headphones and the active noise cancellation does what it's supposed to. We like Shure's more organic design philosophy compared to previous offerings, but as far as the functionality is concerned, the company delivers nothing truly new. All available features are implemented solidly, though. Users who have no intentions to crank up the volume should be quite happy with the AONIC 40. Country, jazz, blues and vocal performances sound awesome, but the sub-bass can't quite deliver when it comes to techno and house music.
The MSRP in Germany is 249 Euro and $249 in the US. Given that there are less expensive premium ANC headphones on the market like Sennheiser's PXC 550-II, we are not entirely convinced that the Shure's AONIC 40 can compete all that well.
Update 01.06.2022: The first version of this article incorrectly stated that aptX HD is the best currently available audio codec. Fact is that other standards - like Sony's LDAC, SBC, the LC3 codec from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group as well as LHDC from Savitech - offer similar or even higher bit rates.