This time I’m testing a hot new product from the American company Shure – its debut AONIC Free TWS headphones. Our price is $179. Shure is an iconic manufacturer of concert audio equipment and audiophile equipment with almost a century of history, but even such conservative brands are now succumbing to the insane popularity of wireless audio devices.
Shure AONIC Free billed as studio-born, with the company’s experience in making monitor headphones, that’s a pretty intriguing promise. Moreover, Shure are strict professionals, they are not at all inclined to flirt with the audience, the excellent quality of their products often speaks for itself. But TWS… Let’s see how studio-like the sound is here. The review will be honest, the headphones managed to surprise me several times, I will tell you everything in detail.
Let’s start with unpacking. Shure AONIC Free comes in a round black and gold box with legs and a ribbon. It has an image of the model and the main characteristics. The set is standard for TWS headphones : a charging case, 3 pairs of Comply foam ear pads and a short USB Type-C cable.
Just a few words about the case. It turned out to be quite thick and very large in size, it will definitely not fit in a narrow pocket, keep this in mind. Compared to typical cases of modern wireless earbuds, this monster is twice or even three times as large. Why Shure? Well, at least the matte plastic the case is made of is light in weight. But there are other objective comments – the lack of separate indicators of the exact level of charge, the lack of wireless charging .
Let’s move on to the design of the headphones. Here, too, a surprise awaited me. The AONIC Free bowls are large, wide, and shaped like a Bluetooth headset from the past. I don’t know how appropriate it is to release TWS with a similar appearance in 2022. The cases are made of plastic, in my sample they were in the shade “Graphite”. There are indicator lights on the outer panels. The sound guides are thin, ordinary third-party nozzles will not work for them. By the way, a familiar story is repeated here – the size of the bowls is large, but they themselves are light, only 13.5 g. The assembly is normal, the guarantee for the model is 2 years.
Let me not be ironic that with Shure AONIC Free you will definitely be able to stand out among the crowd of people with the same TWS from other manufacturers, okay? In the end, you can put up with any strange design under two conditions: firstly, good ergonomics, and, secondly, a decent sound. We will discuss the musical potential of AONIC Free a little later, but I want to evaluate the wearing comfort right now. Despite the fact that the headphones look frankly intimidating, for me personally they turned out to be impeccably comfortable. This is still an individual question, but I do not think that most users will have problems. The landing is moderately deep, the cups are securely held in the ears, do not fall out and do not tire. And you definitely won’t be able to accidentally lose an earpiece of this size. No, that’s enough, I remember that I promised without sarcasm.
In general, summing up, I can state that Shure AONIC Free is, of course, mugs, but extremely comfortable mugs. Thanks for attention.
Features and functionality
The retro design of the Shure AONIC Free is complemented by pure button controls. Fans of the sensor will be dissatisfied, but I myself do not like random triggers, so I see some advantages in this. In addition, the key is not directly on the faceplate, but on the side, so when you press it, you do not press the earpiece into your ear. The model allows you to change the volume, switch tracks, receive calls and communicate with a virtual assistant. There are voice prompts, as well as slightly creepy start-up and shutdown beeps.
As for the feature set, AONIC Free is doing well, but without revelations. This is a standard fighter in its mid-budget price segment, it does not give an abundance of opportunities, but the chips that he got meet all the requirements for a TWS of this class.
We have Bluetooth version 5.0 with AAC and aptX codecs. Instead of ANC active noise cancellation, the patented Sound Isolating design is used, which naturally blocks out ambient sounds. By the way, this technology really works. There is also an adjustable transparency mode Environment Mode, and it is implemented perfectly. Regular readers will remember how often in my articles about audiophile mistakes I wrote about the risk of walking on the roads with headphones, so Shure’s serious attitude to this feature makes me very happy.
They can automatically connect to a familiar AONIC Free device. This does not happen instantly, but at least without failures. If you hide the headphones in a case, they end the connection with the source immediately, I note this, because there were problems with other True Wireless. The model made friends with my capricious SP2000 , although the volume level was too low a couple of times, but this was treated by rebooting. On the other hand, the connection of AONIC Free is extremely stable, these are one of the best TWS in this indicator from all that I have tested, they can easily compete with more expensive headphones.
It is stated that the location of the microphones for calls has been optimized for greater conversation clarity. In practice, the voice is transmitted quite clearly, not deafly, but still not crystal clear. In a quiet environment, the sensitivity of the microphones is enough, but on the street it will be difficult to talk on the phone with headphones.
Now let’s discuss the branded application “ShurePlus PLAY” for iOS and Android. It’s awesome, guys, I definitely recommend downloading it, you will get access to a lot of parameters, from customizing the button controls and the degree of transparency of the corresponding mode to setting the equalizer, sound signals and light indicators. Of course, there are firmware updates and device information. There’s also a useful “PausePlus” feature that activates transparent mode every time you pause the music. And yet, you see, this is a very interesting trend – more and more often TWS with buttons have the opportunity to independently customize the controls, previously only touch models allowed this.
The operating time of Shure AONIC Free is not a record – up to 7 hours on a single charge, up to 21 hours with a case. These are reasonable numbers, but given the large size of the case, I was hoping for a more impressive resource.
The main testing was carried out on Astell&Kern A&Ultima SP2000, iBasso DX160 and iPhone 12 Pro.
At this point, the degree of my skepticism slightly decreased. Shure AONIC Free play is really pleasant, calm and seductive, the presence of the company’s signature style is guessed here. Of course, if you’re looking for the exemplary accuracy, extreme detail, and dry analytics of real studio monitors, this isn’t for you. But the nature of the headphones is moderately neutral, restrained and balanced, it is still far from mass TWS with their pumped up humming basses and muddy mess instead of the rest of the spectrum.
I will immediately note a rather holographic scene that the model builds. The panorama is better than average both in width and depth, and a good dynamic range ensures the separation of shots and the contrasting expressiveness of the leading parts. The images are three-dimensional, they can be freely visualized in three-dimensional representation. All this, of course, adjusted for the limitations that accompany signal transmission via Bluetooth.
Also among the features should be mentioned the obvious delicacy, softness and melodiousness of AONIC Free. They know how to work with overtones, engage in listening with a variety of warm shades, fill the space with tints of smooth chords. There are no sharp accents here, because of this, the picture is perceived as more comfortable, smooth and cohesive. Again, lovers of purely linearity may face a lack of clarity and micro-details, and fans of heavy drive, on the contrary, will want more emotionality, but, in my opinion, the lack of extremes made the model quite universal. For TWS, this is perhaps a good solution. If you get bored, turn on the equalizer.
The bass is punchy, lightweight, fast and punchy. They have a decent depth, the correct outline of the relief and a neat elastic return, but do not differ in massiveness or textural density. The blow is clear and articulate, the range is worked out confidently and technically. A little more physicality and natural velvety to the midbass would not hurt, but I like it for the control on low frequencies.
The middle is melodic, airy, timbre natural. From its advantages I will name unobtrusiveness, coherence and mobility, from shortcomings – smoothing out small nuances. The focus is shifted to the macro component of the composition, although the overall detail is at an acceptable level, especially next to competitors among TWS headphones. I can say the same about resolution. The vocals are quite expressive and lively, the contours of the instruments are not emphasized, but are clearly distinguishable.
High frequencies are transparent, warm, high-speed. They are characterized by a slight sonority, which, however, does not hurt the ear, but only adds clarity to the picture. The length of the upper HF layers is expectedly the most basic, given the real capabilities of the aptX codec, but the part of the spectrum that AONIC Free is able to play back is served flexibly, beautifully and even gently. And due to the fact that the top was not drowned out or cut off completely, the headphones adequately cope with acoustic genres. I won’t be particularly picky here.
Since I don’t like to arrange deliberately unfair battles of models from different price segments, my favorites Noble Fokus Pro and Devialet Gemini do not fall into this section. Let’s talk about direct competitors for Shure AONIC Free. Perhaps the question of the difference in the size of the cases is obvious, so let’s focus on the nature of the presentation.
Let’s start with the popular Sennheiser CX 400BT True Wireless headphones. They have a more massive sound signature with a V-shaped arrangement of accents, the picture here is rich, emotional, comfortable and cheerful. The timbre range of the model is warmer, the basses are more accentuated, they are distinguished by rounded velvety and massiveness. If Shure TWS are boring for you, this option is better to look at. But the sound of the CX 400BT True Wireless is precisely musical, solid and seamless, it often lacks technicality and control.
If, on the contrary, you want the most transparent and accurate feed possible, it makes sense to take a closer look at Grado’s first TWS headphones – GT220 True Wireless. The corporate handwriting with highlighted treble is only partially implemented here, the model is not radically audiophile, it is also suitable for ordinary users, but still it has enough clarity. The sound of the Grado GT220 True Wireless is refined, graceful, open and airy, quite detailed, albeit bright. The basses are slightly brightened, but accentuated and percussive, with a weighty subwoofer, the middle is clear, dryish, legible and honest, the upper frequencies are expressive and defined. Although I note that the overall picture here is flatter than Shure AONIC Free with their pleasant volume.
Despite the fact that Shure’s debut TWS turned out to be quite controversial in some aspects, I want to pay tribute to their charming sound. The musical potential of AONIC Free has been well done, so I am surtain these headphones will get their audience. If you are looking for a wireless model among audiophile options, I recommend a new product for review. As usual, try, if possible, to arrange a pre-purchase fitting and a live audition on your own.