When a new set of Bluetooth headphones comes out, they are immediately compared to the heavy hitters on the market. The Sony WH-1000XM5 is one of those headphones, as it’s usually pointed to as one of the industry leaders. Recently, the Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2 came out, and with it comes questions about whether or not it’s worth getting over those industry leaders. For the XM5 and the Aonic 50 Gen 2, here’s what you can expect.
What You Get
|Shure Aonic 50 Gen 2||Sony WH-1000XM5|
|· 1 Premium zippered carrying case
· 1 Detachable USB-C charging/communication/audio cable
· 1 Analog audio cable (3.5mm)
|· Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones
· Eighth-inch cable
· USB-C charging cable
· Carrying case
Look & Feel
Taking a look at the exterior design of both headphones there is value to how both are constructed. The XM5 might be a bit more flimsy than the Gen 2, but has a lighter fit than the Gen 2, which can pinch down on your head more. With the Gen 2, the build quality looks and feels a lot more solid, with less shakey parts. They both feel comfortable and are easy to wear for a few hours.
Design & Functionality
The original Aonic 50 didn’t feel loud enough, but the Gen 2 fixes that. This brings it to be on a similar level to the XM5’s output, but the Gen 2 surpasses it a little more, offering a better chance for comfortable gain and possible headroom. Then there are the main controls of the headphones, and they both operate at the same level of responsiveness. Noise-canceling is one of the biggest selling points of these headphones, but the 1000x series has made its point by now that it will always have the best ANC technology. The Gen 2 doesn’t come close to having a strong ANC like the XM5. Both headphones have companion apps, and while Sony’s contains more features, Shure’s PlayPlus app has a much better EQ. It gives you more control, mimicking an effective parametric EQ where you can control q-size.
Both headphones run the latest version of Bluetooth, and can always be relied upon for a stable connection. They also both offer similar CODECs, including LDAC.
The clear winner here is the Aonic 50, which has a 45-hour battery life. The XM5 still has a respectable 30-hour charge, but knowing that the Gen 2 costs less than the XM5, lowers its value a bit.
Spatial audio will be the biggest test of what these headphones can accomplish in their soundstage and imaging, but not everyone will use it. If we concentrate on the default performance of the headphones without extra features, then the Aonic 50 and XM5 are actually very similar. The Aonic 50 has a bit more natural width and separation but has a closed-off headspace. You get the same closeness from the XM5 as well, but it doesn’t feel as congested.
Both of these headphones offer spatial audio features, which brings out a completely different experience. Sony has their 360 Reality Audio, and Shure now has a few spatial modes in their PlayPlus app. The issue is Sony’s 3D audio is exclusive to specific platforms, while Shure’s can be played with all audio from your phone. If you use one of the services that supports 360 Reality Audio, then there’s still only a selection of tracks you can use it with. When it comes to the performance though, both headphones make a case for themselves in spatial audio.
The Gen 2 has a few different modes, but the music mode sounds the best. The spatialization of its standard stereo image is definitely more immersive but still comes off as artificial. Sony’s 360 Reality Audio has a similar feeling but there’s less of an echo. 360 Reality Audio makes the individual elements appear more naturally within its 3D soundstage.
Without EQ, neither one of these headphones would have a great bass response. The XM5 has the greater focus here but comes off as overly resonant and boomy. The Gen 2 isn’t that much better, but it is a bit cleaner. Using EQ for both wields different results, and those results have me favoring the Gen 2. You can clean up the bass a lot more effectively, all while still getting that gripping rumble. The XM5 offers a more engrossing bass, bringing out a very ferocious tone. It still feels a bit more overblown compared to how the Gen 2 can sound.
Both headphones are defaulted at a v-shaped profile, leaving some recession in the mids that make room for more emphasized warmth and mid-treble extension. You can EQ these frequencies more effectively with Shure’s PlayPlus app, but you can get some respectable clarity from the XM5 as well. Overall, I find the individual elements to have more identity through the Gen 2, as the XM5 will always come across as a bit foggy to me.
Neither the Gen 2 nor the XM5 call much attention to their highs but still offer a decent presence. It doesn’t take much adjustment for the Gen 2 to showcase a good level of shine, but the XM5 gets to a similar spot eventually. Like the mids, the Gen 2 makes its frequency response easier to manage and make sense of. However, the XM5 is able to reproduce some height and texture as well.
Some aspects of Sony’s design are always going to be at the top of the market, but the Gen 2 brings something different to Bluetooth headphones in this price range. You feel more in control of the sound rather than the noise-canceling. Choosing one over the other will determine your decision-making on if you should go for the XM5 or the Gen 2.