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Shure AONIC 40 review: Great sound but lacking comfort

Andy White
28 Mar 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
215
inc VAT

The Shure AONIC 40 offer impressive audio and great customisation options but are held back but comfort issues and disappointing mic quality

Pros 
Impressive sound quality
Stylish aesthetic
Loads of customisation options
Cons 
Could be more comfortable
Disappointing mic quality
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American manufacturer Shure has been producing audio electronics in one form or another for close to a century and the Shure AONIC 40 are its latest pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones.

They’re the successor to the AONIC 50, which were launched back in April 2020 with the help of Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and have a similar design and specifications, but by reducing the driver size from 50mm to 40mm and making some other tweaks to the formula, Shure has managed to hit a more appealing price point.

The AONIC 40 offer a very solid range of features for the money and their sound quality only strengthens Shure’s reputation as an audiophile brand. However, noise-cancelling performance falls short of the high standards set by the likes of Bose and Sony and, crucially, they’re not particularly comfortable to wear.

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Shure AONIC 40 review: What do you get for the money?

Available in either black or white, the Shure AONIC 40 will set you back £215, which is a fair bit cheaper than popular alternatives like the Bose QuietComfort 45, Sony WH-1000XM4 and Bowers & Wilkins PX7 and a fraction of the price of Apple’s AirPods Max.

The package is an attractive one, with the AONIC 40 offering active noise cancellation, an “Environment” mode that pipes in external sound and support for the aptX, aptX HD, AAC and SBC codecs over Bluetooth 5.

Battery life clocks in at up to 25 hours per change and there’s a USB-A to USB-C charging cable included in the box along with a 3.5mm audio cable for wired listening. You also get a hard-shell carrying case that ensures the AONIC 40 are well-protected in transit.

Powering on the headphones is achieved by pressing a button on the left earcup, while playback controls adorn the outside of the right earcup, along with a button that toggles between ANC and Environment mode. There’s no way to customise these controls but there are plenty of ways to personalise your AONIC 40 experience via the ShurePlus Play app, which is available on both Android and iOS.

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Shure AONIC 40 review: What do we like about them?

The in-app options at your fingertips are one of the AONIC 40’s biggest strengths. You can select between three noise-cancelling options – Light, Normal and Max – and Environment mode benefits from even more granular adjustment, with a sliding scale that features ten different levels.

The noise cancellation on offer may not be class-leading but having options to cater for different situations is welcome and not something that should be taken for granted. The Bose QC 45, for instance, deliver the most effective ANC of any headphones I’ve listened to but are limited to just Quiet (noise cancelling) and Aware (transparency) modes.

Another handy feature that’s not always supported by over-ear noise cancelling headphones is the ability to use them while they’re charging. By default, the microphone will be disabled when doing so, but you can choose to enable it at the cost of lower-quality audio. Having access to the headphones’ full suite of features when topping them up is a big plus and most people will be able to live with the drop off in sound quality for the 15 minutes it takes to generate enough juice for a further five or hours of audio playback.

You can also tweak the volume of voice prompts, turn off event-triggered tones and opt to have the headphones power down after being disconnected from a Bluetooth source for a certain period of time. It’s even possible to have a red light on the side of the headphones automatically illuminate while you’re on a call. This is only really useful if you work in a busy office where your colleagues need to know when you’re on the phone but it's a thoughtful inclusion nonetheless.

More impactful are the ways in which you can tweak the AONIC 40’s audio. There are seven EQ presets on offer, five of which are self-explanatory – Bass Boost, Bass Cut, Treble Boost, Treble Cut and Vocal Boost – while the other two are aimed at improving audio quality for low quality sources. De-ess decreases sibilance and Loudness increases clarity at low volumes.

There’s also the option to create your own presets using a graphic equaliser that lets you make very specific adjustments to the frequency curve. The format may prove daunting for those unfamiliar with the science of sound but audio enthusiasts will have a field day and even the uninitiated should get the hang of the system pretty quickly.

With such comprehensive customisation available, it’s a little ironic theAONIC 40 don’t really require all that much tweaking, as they sound pretty darned good out of the box. It’s easy to see why Shure is a popular choice among audiophiles; there’s a natural, balanced quality to the sound that makes the AONIC 40 very easy on the ear.

No one aspect of the default sound signature feels overemphasised – accuracy and clarity are the order of the day and this remains the case from deep down at 20Hz all the way up to the AONIC 40’s frequency cap at 20kHz. And I experienced no distortion when pushing them to their limits; the AONIC 40 remained composed and sounded as good at full whack as they did at lower volumes, which is always a good sign.

Some may find this analytical approach a little too on the nose and crave a boosted low-end with greater oomph or more sparkling vocal presence but that’s where the EQ options come in. Engage Bass Boost and you’ll find the 40mm drivers more than capable of delivering a weighty yet still controlled thump. Switch to Vocal Boost and lyrics are elevated expertly.

The final aspect of the Shure AONIC 40 I really like is their design. The twisted silver plastic section connecting the headband to the earcups looks sharp and differentes the AONIC from their countless competitors.

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Shure AONIC 40 review: What could be improved?

Unfortunately, the AONIC 40’s attractive design doesn’t translate to an especially comfortable wearing experience. The memory foam lining of their earcups is thick and soft enough but I found the cups tight around my ears. This was something I could live with when using the AONIC 40 in relatively short bursts but detracted from the audio experience during longer listening sessions.

I’ve praised the AONIC’s inclusion of three distinct levels of active noise cancellation and having different options for different environments is great. The ANC is reasonably effective too, with egregious rumbles on train and tube journeys attenuated to an impressive degree. However, the Max setting is no match for the best noise-cancelling headphones around.

It’s perhaps a little unfair to compare the AONIC 40 with the Bose QuietComfort 45 given the latter cost around £100 more but those headphones set the standard for effective noise cancellation and the AONIC fall short of it. I also found that moving my head while ANC was engaged would impact noise attenuation. Presumably this was because my head movements altered the direction the noise-cancelling mics were pointing in and, consequently, the ambient noise they were trying to cancel out. This proved a minor annoyance more than anything but it’s definitely something that I could have done without.

Finally, given that Shure produces microphones for professional recording and streaming, I was disappointed by the quality of the AONIC 40’s microphone. Colleagues were quite critical of how I sounded while wearing them during our morning Zoom meeting and I found myself having to repeat myself a couple of times during phone calls conducted outdoors. The Shure AONIC 40 aren’t alone in this respect – very few over-ear headphones excel in this area – but I expected more given the company’s pedigree.

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Shure AONIC 40 review: Should you buy them?

The Shure AONIC 40 are a bit of a mixed bag, then. In some areas, namely sound quality, design and customisation options, they make a convincing case for you to save yourself a bit of cash and choose them over similarly specced alternatives from Sony and Bose.

But a couple of niggling issues and a fit that I didn’t find very comfortable (your mileage may of course vary) prevent them earning a Recommended award. They’re a decent pair of over-ear noise-cancelling headphones offering highly impressive sound for the money but I suggest saving up an extra £40 and picking up the Sony WH-1000XM4 instead.

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