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(Pocket-lint) - Navigating the world of headphones is a busy place. It really boils down to the amount you're willing to pay for which features and what kind of fit you most want to suit your needs.

The Shure Aonic 40 have some attractive prospects, offering a mid-priced pair of comfortable active noice-cancelling (ANC) over-ear wireless cans with a decent carry case included.

But is their design a little too big for some and, at this price point, is the ANC up to top-tier levels?

Our quick take

In many respects the Shure Aonic 40 are really respectable over-ear headphones. They offer super battery life. The app is dazzling in its customisation to EQ, creating a listen to suit your preferences. There's a sturdy carry case included. The cost is fair too, undercutting the larger Aonic 50.

So what's not to like? These are large over-ears, which we think those with smaller heads will find a tad too big. The active-noise cancelling (ANC), while capable at the 'Max' setting, isn't as adept at the best on the market (Bose 700 NC and Sony WH-1000XM4 fight that out, but each costs more).

All in all, if you're after comfortable, customisable and capable over-ear headphones for both using at home and while on the go, these bigger-scale cans tick plenty of boxes. We've been happily living in them for many hours and will continue to do so for many more yet.

Shure Aonic 40 review: Customisable cans deliver on quality

Shure Aonic 40

4.0 stars
For
  • Great app with adjustable EQ and presets
  • Big earcups are comfortable
  • Decent battery life
  • Lots of connectivity codec support for high quality
Against
  • Large fit can slide forwards - changing the sound profile
  • Active noise-cancelling less impactful than some competitors

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Design

  • Weight: 313g
  • Finishes: Black / White & Tan
  • Included: Carry case and 3.5mm cable
  • Android & iOS app (Shure Play) with adjustable EQs
  • 3x levels of active noise-cancelling (ANC) & Environment Mode

When we reviewed the earlier Aonic 50 over-ears we thought those were big. The Aonic 40, as their smaller number may suggest, aren't quite as gigantic - as they're built around 40mm rather than 50mm drivers - but these are still pretty large over-ear cans.

Pocket-lintShure Aonic 40 review photo 5

As such, and with their slightly heavier-than-norm build - circa 315g, which doesn't read as massively more than, say, the 250g of Bose's 700 NCs, but can really be felt - we've found the Aonic 40 to slip forward a little from time to time, adjusting the overall sound profile by a modest amount. 

Still, with this kind of mass there's an assurance about the build quality: it's all hardy plastics, finished in a soft matte coating, paired with plush earcups that are nice and deep so that protruding ears are ensconced rather than crushed into your own skull.

There's an adjustable headband, too, but the default smallest size is big for our (admittedly massive) head, so if you have a small noggin then we'd assume you'll find these over-ears excessive in size. Conversely, compared to some other overly tight headphones, it's good to have a 'gentle' fit that's not too pressing.

Pocket-lintShure Aonic 40 review photo 11

Comfort is high, too, whether wearing while at home or on the go. We've carted the Aonic 40 about in their carry case to work events, using them on London's streets and surrounding train networks, where they've proven their worth.

Sound

  • Driver diameter: 40mm
  • Frequency response: 20 to 20,000 Hz
  • Codec support: aptX, aptX HD, SBC, AAC
  • Dynamic Neodymium magnet transducers

By default the sound is as big and high-quality as the overall design. There's ample bass without it being overwrought, building a good structure for a solid mid-level core and high-end that separates itself nicely without being too splashy.

Pocket-lintShure Aonic 40 review photo 1

Download the free app, however, and you get a mass of additional control. Shure's Play app, for Apple or Android systems, is the centre by which to control graphic equalisation (EQ) - whether picking one of the seven pre-sets, customising existing ones, or making your own by drawing your own envelopes.

Sound is output from 20 to 20,000Hz, with the ability to minutely adjust an envelope throughout this range as you see fit. Of course you could go mad and overwork the sound to the detriment of the listening experience, but this degree of customisation is very rare. Be gentle with it, however, and you'll be able to elevate the soundstage to your preference - maybe adding more top end for crispness or a bit more driving bass to back everything up.

The app is also where you can select the level of active noise-cancelling (ANC), selecting from Max, Normal or Light. There's also an Environment Mode (used to pass speech-level sound through so you can hear surroundings for safety). Or you can turn it off entirely.

Pocket-lintShure Aonic 40 review photo 6

We'd certainly recommend keeping the ANC activated as it makes the overall listen that much more engaging. It is not, however, the most adept system available - but that's probably befitting of this position and price point. At the 'Max' setting it certainly cuts out irksome background noise, but to a lesser degree than some - nothing much can beat the Sony WH-1000XM4, as one example - and the microphones can sometimes enhance extraneous sounds a little.

That said, however, even when wandering windy streets we found the ANC was pretty good at negating excessive 'wind tear' for a generally clean listen. Crank up the volume in the app, pick that EQ preference and these headphones will make your favourite tunes not only sing, but slam pretty hard too.

There's also support for a whole host of codecs, including aptX HD and AAC, meaning high-resolution sources can be replicated over the air. That'll help squeeze every last drop of quality out of your source material, which is never a bad thing - and something cheaper headphones often lack.

Pocket-lintShure Aonic 40 review photo 14

Despite all of this goodness, Shure promises 25 hours of battery life per charge. We've been crunching through all manner of music at high volumes and find that figure to be fairly conservative if anything, so you can call that a minimum number. Good job.

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To recap

At this mid-level price point, these over-ear cans deliver a lot of features: there's active noise-cancelling (ANC), stacks of equalisation (EQ) presets, a decent level of comfort, and great battery life. All that delivers strong when it comes to audio clout. However, they're big in scale, so won't suit all, and the ANC here isn't as adept as the very best (and admittedly pricier) headphones on the market.

Writing by Mike Lowe.