The Shure Aonic 40. Can it compete with the likes of Sony, Bose and Apple? Full Review and comparison coming right up. Spoiler alert: It Shure Can.
Let’s kick this off with the basics of sound. These come with Aptx HD and APTX Adaptive, but NOT LDAC. We did notice that these sound best with ANC or environment mode on. They weren’t the loudest headphones we’ve tested though.
These headphones come with capable EQ controls in the box, but let’s talk about how they sound without any EQ.
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Overall we thought they were very balanced while listening to FLACs using APTX. Sometimes it misses a little bit of presence in the mids and highs – a little bit like turning down the presence knob on a guitar amp if you know what we mean.
The bass is controlled. Jacob Collier’s ‘Hideaway’ – he’s a Shure artist BTW – starts with a bass note that resonates and rings out perfectly on these headphones. The sub-bass isn’t very forward and thus depending on the type of music, you will not get an overdone, uber-bassy sound out of these.
On the mids – we’re a bit confused. We think these are tuned for vocals. So voices sound great, but…. we’re going to get a bit metalnerdy for a second, so bear with us. We really miss the bite of distorted guitars on certain metal tracks, especially for djent. Meshuggah’s ‘The Abysmal Eye’ is very muddy and instrument separation is ordinary. The same with Haken. The soundstage is small and while the vocals stand out, this is not djentworthy if you’re listening to the guitars only. However, something more classic like Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name and Slipknot’s Nero Forte sound great. So maybe it has to do with recording quality? And that’s Shure’s thing right – transparent and honest representation of the recording?
But that was wireless – these headphones really come to life when listening wired, especially over USB – because you can do that! The lack of resolution that’s apparent on Bluetooth is clearly no longer limiting these very capable drivers.
On wireless, you can try to compensate a little for this by tweaking the EQ to cut the bass a little and adjusting the mids and treble to taste. Post EQ the treble can get bright, but can still feel thin on Bluetooth, especially compared to what these drivers can do wired!
Now – against the Sony XM4.
We think we like the Shure Aonic 40’s house tuning. It sounds a bit better than the WH-1000XM4’s tuning. However, we think – and this will matter to many people – the XM4 can get much bassier for those of you looking for VERY big bass. LDAC also definitely adds that little bit more of finesse to the sound.
The XM4s also do respond a little better with EQ – maybe it’s the LDAC advantage or the drivers. But where we thought the Aonic 40 did better was having a more even sound. With the XM4, we kept having to tweak the sound for different genres, whereas the Aonic 40 was set it and forget it.
Versus the Bose 700, we thought these were way louder! Against the Bose it’s a bit more interesting, since Bose also goes for that neutral-ish sound, but here as well the Shure Aonic 40 takes the cake. The Bose sound a bit ‘smoother’ maybe, but the Aonic 40 is fuller and is able to go toe-to-toe and win against the Bose 700 for most genres and songs we tested. We did think that the Bose’s sub-bass sounds a bit ‘rounder’. Is that even a word? Our audio vocabulary is running out!
And then the AirPods Max.
The AirPods Max are the best sounding ANC headphones we’ve tested and the Shure doesn’t take the crown from them in our view. The Max just sound more spacious and resolve better with a Mac, but they do have the more consumer friendly sound signature with slightly recessed mids, making the Bose or the Aonic 40 the more revealing headphones. Also the Max are very Apple. SO NO EQ FOR YOU!
Moving from listening to speaking. Let’s test, test, test these headphones for their microphone quality. We’ve made some microphone samples for you. If you want to listen to those then watch the video linked above. If you just want our conclusion then keep reading.
In quiet conditions, they’re all perfectly fine. But if we go a level deeper we see that the AirPods Max has the cleanest microphone, meaning that there is very little distortion to the speaker’s voice. Second place goes to both the Aonic 40 and Bose 700, and they sound very good. You can hear a bit of processing to the voice but not as much as on the Sony WH-1000XM4. On the Sony you heard the most distortion. But again, this is us nitpicking, but you’re fine with any in quiet conditions.
The script kind of flips when we move to noisy conditions though. Here the Bose 700 takes the cake. It’s able to suppress the background noise the best while maintaining voice clarity. A close second goes to the Aonic 40, which does a very respectable job. Background noise is reduced and voice is clear although it is a bit less clean compared to the Bose. The bottom of the barrel here are the AirPods Max and the Sony WH-1000XM4. They just do a terrible job at eliminating the background noise and thereby making the speaker’s voice hard to hear, especially when speaking softly.
And since this is a Shure Aonic 40 review – you’ll sure be glad to hear that they are the champ in windy conditions. Almost felt like there was no wind and the voice was clearly audible when speaking loudly and softly. The next best option? The AirPods Max. You hear a bit more of the wind but the voice was clear and maybe even slightly cleaner than the Aonic 40. Last place is shared by the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 since you can clearly hear the wind, albeit not at all angles. And the clarity is also unreliable – being distorted at times.
So the Aonic 40 takes the win for windy and second place in quiet and noisy conditions. Now that’s a solid pick for a vakman. Oh damn.. Did we just say vakman? We guess it’s time then.
Let’s talk ‘vakman’ controls. You get ‘em all here guys. Answering or ending a call with the center button, a dedicated volume rocker and the ANC button doubles up as a mute button. So if you’re a vakman – these make total sense! Good job Shure!
But wait, there’s more! The Aonic 40 comes with a USB Type C to USB A cable. Doesn’t sound revolutionary, we know. But it can be used for what Shure calls USB Audio Mode. In the app you can make a choice – either use it to listen to high quality audio or you can select the ‘Conferencing’ mode and the audio quality gets reduced, but you can use the onboard microphone. We’ve used this on Microsoft Teams and FaceTime calls, and it works like a charm – way better than our Macbook Pro microphone!
The Shure are designed with a few nifty features.
They have multi-point meaning they can stay connected to two devices at a time. It works great, only a few times it would have some weird pauses when playing on another device. But we’re talking like 5% of the time. The Sony offers multi-point too but at the cost of LDAC. And Bose is also a great option since in the app you can toggle connections between previously paired devices. This is extremely helpful if you tend to have more than two devices that you cycle through and it’s hard to keep track which devices the headphones connect to when they start up.
Another feature which you can turn on in the app is called ‘Busy Light’ which will turn on a red light on your headphones letting people know you’re on a phone call. Might be useful in a work office setting or at home to indicate to others that you’re on a call.
According to the app there should be voice prompts and you can even select a language for them. But in our experience the voice prompts have been pretty much non-existent. The only voice prompt we’ve heard so far is ‘Connected’ when they.. Yeh.. connect. The startup and shutdown tune is hilarious. We have mixed opinions on what it sounds like. Rohan think it sounds like a tyre stuck in a window that’s closing. And Kevin thinks it sounds like a samurai slicing a watermelon with a katana. So yeh, fruit ninja basically. What do you think? Click HERE to listen to it and let us know what you think!
Build and Comfort
So the Shure Aonic is very plastic. And the headband ratchets – super fantastic. As in clicky – think 1990s Logitech-mouse-with-balls clicky. The downside is the noise, but the upside is that they kinda stay in place so you don’t have to adjust them everytime. These also fold up into a compact-ish solid case, but how the headband rests on the side of the case is a bit confusing. Do you know how to put the Aonic 40 back in the case? Leave a comment down below!
If you’re one to use headphones for long periods of time between charges, then battery life is going to be important. Here Sony is the champ. Up to 30 hours of battery life. That’s almost a full work week. Well maybe if you work in Europe. Anyway, next we have Shure at 25 hours and lastly Bose and Apple with a mere 20 hours. All four headphones come with fast charging. The Sony, Shure and Apple can give you around 5 hours of use with around 15 mins of charging. The Bose is weak in this department too; 15 mins of charging gives you only 3.5 hours of use.
All that talk of using headphones for so long probably makes your head hurt. So let’s talk comfort. The Shure are comfortable but do press down on the crown. We think the Sony and Bose do better. The Bose overall even seems lighter and weighs down less on your ears.
The earpads are fairly plush and comfortable, but they felt a bit warm after hours of use. The clamp is tight – but here’s the thing – we’ve had the Sony and Bose for many months now and we use them fairly often, so the clamping force might have eased up over time. And talking about materials – only the AirPods Max with its condensation friendly aluminium earcups bucks the trend of plastic builds. All the others are straight up plastic, with the exception of Bose’s headband, which is metal – but man it hasn’t aged well at all!
Now the way you interact with the headphones differ too. We’ve got two variants here. The Shure and Apple are all about tactile feeling buttons whereas Bose and Sony have gone the hybrid route. A few buttons and the rest is all about the touch and feel. Buttons on the Shure work as advertised. They’re easy to find, the play-pause button has a dimple on it with volume on either side of it. The ANC – Environment mode toggle is separate from the volume buttons. And the Power is a separate button on the left earcup. It’s a matter of preference but if you’re a touchy feely kind of person the Sony and Bose work. But if you want to be sure of what you’re pressing and the ability to use them with gloves on, then the Shure sure is a good choice. But nothing beats the Airpods Max volume dial. Soo smooooooth.
Active Noise Cancelling
We believe in noise cancel culture strongly on this channel. So listen to the noise cancelling tests on your own. If you want to know our opinion then continue reading.
Let’s kick things off with the opposite of noise cancelling: transparency mode! Or ambient mode.. Or hear-through mode.. Or environment mode.. Or..
This mode is all about how much and how naturally your surroundings can be heard through the headphones. This is very helpful if you need to be aware of your surroundings or just want to talk to other people but you’re too lazy to remove your headphones.
There’s no competition here. The AirPods Max wins hands down. You just see how all the frequencies are piped in and it gives you the closest feeling to not wearing anything at all.
Uh.. we mean headphones of course. We’re a family friendly channel. For the most part. Subscribe for more friendly content.
If you don’t want to take it to the Max then we’ve got the Bose 700 and the Aonic 40 for you. Both do great at transparency as well and let in a lot of ambient sounds but do miss out on certain frequencies. Solid options though. And finally we’ve got the Sony WH-1000XM4 which lets in ambient sounds but misses out on most of the frequencies. It is also the poorest in terms of how much sound it lets in.
What about active noise cancelling? Again the AirPods Max. There’s no way around it – they just manage to eliminate almost all of that noise across all frequencies. But rest assured that the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4 are not far behind. Extremely close actually. A quick reminder on the price difference between the AirPods compared to the Bose and Sony guys. The difference isn’t worth it for the noise cancelling, that’s for sure. Ok, but what about the Shure. Yeh, don’t write home about them for noise cancelling. They’re able to suppress the higher frequencies but still let in the lower ones. Strange, because we usually see the opposite with most noise cancelling headphones. In the app you can also change the level of ANC from Max to Normal or Light. Yeh.. that’s something we’re not going to change.
So all in all, the Shure missed the boat for noise cancelling but do respectably in terms of transparency. Or as they call it – environment mode, the level of which you can adjust in the app.