In review: Shure Aonic Free

In review: Shure Aonic Free

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Epblogs verdict

The Shure Aonic Free offer pretty good value for money in an opulent design. Their sound is pleasantly balanced and does not deviate particularly clearly in any frequency range, although the lows could have sounded more natural and multi-faceted. The software functions, if available, work perfectly. You could only miss a play-pause sensor and touch surfaces. On the other hand, the two buttons can be almost completely freely assigned and the equalizer is unparalleled in the field of consumer headphones.

price and availability

  • €179 RRP (as of May 2022)
  • Available since December 2021

The Shure Aonic Free went on sale in December 2021 for €199 and six months later are already €20 off at Shure itself and are available in stores from around €171.

In terms of price, they are in the lower upper class – well above the LG Tone Free DFP8 from our last test, but just as well below the frontrunners from our top list of the best TWS headphones, such as the Sony WF-1000XM4, but also the Apple AirPods Per.

design

  • Opulent and eye-catching
  • Key instead of touch control
  • Available in matte black and gloss red
  • Shure Aonic Free at Amazon for $179

The design of the Shure Aonic Free is refreshingly different, although its basic features are somewhat reminiscent of the Bose QC Earbuds. With no other in-ear headphones that I’ve been able to test in recent years, I thought: “Crap, wrong outfit.” That was exactly the case with the Aonic Free, because we got the shiny red version as the test device and I had settled on a rich green shirt that day.

If you are looking for discreet true wireless headphones, this model is really not the place for you, because the Aonic Free can easily be seen as a fashion accessory or even as a statement piece .

Basically, the headphones consist of two parts: On the one hand, the black, but rather small and auricular-shaped inner part, which sits comfortably and securely in the ear and at the end of which are Comply’s foam tips in one of three sizes. On the other hand, there is the shiny red outer part, about the size of a thumb (!), but flat, on which the Shure logo is emblazoned – clearly legible, but subtle enough that it doesn’t aggressively catch the eye.

This two-part design is a pretty clever solution to the fact that such lavish headphones, despite weighing around 7.5 grams, fit comfortably in smaller ears, but thanks to the flat outer part they don’t protrude too far out of the ear. The design, together with the foam adapters from Comply, also ensures that the headphones shield external noise well even without ANC.

There are three small holes on the outside that house a status LED and two microphones. To give the LED a little more utility, Shure has given the Aonic Free a feature where the LEDs glow red during a call, signaling outsiders that you don’t want to be disturbed. I think the idea itself is good and makes sense, but I doubt whether it helps in practice to avoid being chatted up.

The next peculiarity probably comes from the slight similarity to the Bose QC Earbuds mentioned at the beginning . In contrast to these, the Shure Aonic Free are not controlled by touch, despite the inviting, large surface, but by a button on the top edge.

Precisely because the headphones are so large and inviting to the touch, it’s all the less intuitive that they don’t respond to touch. After all, the placement and the pressure point are less annoying than with other in-ear headphones. When using them, you don’t push the plugs into your ears, but grab them with your index finger and thumb and press down. The mechanical click of the key is still clearly audible.

Large headphones result in a large case, because this is anything but discreet with the Shure Aonic Free. At 8.9 × 5.3 × 3.2mm, it’s about twice the size of the Sennheiser CX True Wireless and about the same size as the Bose QC Earbuds. The main difference to the latter is that the Shure case opens on the narrow side. Since all sides are rounded except for the front and back, the case can only be laid down – similar to that of the AirPods Pro.

You will look in vain for special functions in the case: it cannot be charged wirelessly using the Qi standard, nor can it be used as a Bluetooth adapter for end devices without Bluetooth.

Sound

  • Very balanced sound
  • Bass could be warmer
  • No support for Hi-Res formats

The sound of the Aonic Free makes it clear that Shure as a brand is primarily in the professional and recording area. Like few other models in the TWS headphone range, they sound incredibly balanced and clear at almost any volume. With most other devices, the sound profile changes depending on the volume, and especially at low and medium volume levels, details in the highs and upper mids are often lost.

Instruments are clearly separated from each other, which is particularly useful for more complex classical pieces and even noise rock and metal, and can be arranged well in space. Vocals are always clear and easy to hear and usually stand out well from the rest of the instruments.

The bass is a bit limited for my taste: It is crisp and precise, but often comes across as a bit too clean. The Aonic Free could do with a little more warmth and character in the lower area. But if you like your basses to be clean and dry, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth here. In electronic subgenres that can sound quite good.

The fact that the Aonic Free is actually a consumer product can be seen at the latest from the fact that apart from SBC, AAC and the standard aptX, it unfortunately does not support any other codecs – including Hi-Res variants such as LDAC. This is a pity, not least because the headphones still have some room for improvement in my opinion because of their good basic sound, which high-resolution codecs could exploit.

Phone calls sound decent in both directions, even if the people I’m talking to sometimes felt a little further away than usual.

software and features

  • No intelligent play/pause
  • Powerful equalizer
  • Extensive, clear app

Basically, the Shure Aonic Free can do almost everything that wireless in-ear headphones in this price segment should be able to do: active noise cancellation (ANC), a suitable transparency mode with different levels, almost completely freely configurable gestures and a very extensive equalizer. The only thing missing is a sensor that automatically pauses and plays music again when you take the headphones out of your ear or put them back in.

Since the Shure Aonic Free already offer a fairly solid design-related passive noise cancellation, the active noise cancellation does not have to work that much to deliver a satisfactory result.

Disturbing ambient noise is filtered out as well as possible, but the Aonic Free are not quite as thorough as the noise-canceling champion, the Bose QC Earbuds. Certain frequencies in the lower range of engine noise, tram noise and also individual frequency ranges of voices are still perceptible, but their volume is significantly reduced. The Aonic Free can probably be compared most closely with the Sony WF-1000XM4 – perhaps slightly worse. Overall, however, the ANC on these true wireless headphones is pretty good.

Of course, good TWS in-ears also have a transparency mode, called “ambient mode” by Shure, which does not filter ambient noise, but lets it through or even amplifies it. This makes it possible to have a conversation with headphones on or to listen to announcements at the station.

This also works perfectly with the Aonic Free. As with many other noise-cancelling headphones, ambient noise is let through to varying degrees. Aggregates from refrigerators in supermarkets, for example, which human hearing actually suppresses independently, can be heard clearly in ambient mode, which to a certain extent gives the impression of superhuman hearing. While voices and announcements can be heard clearly in Ambient mode, the excessively loud mechanical noise is often a distraction.

Another criticism of the ambient mode is that it has a very poor ability to deal with wind. Even at relatively low wind speeds, the integrated microphones react very sensitively and sound like a microphone without a windscreen – terribly overdriven.

Shure also goes its own way when it comes to the customization options of the ambient mode. While most other manufacturers generally offer the option of switching between ANC on, ANC off and ambient mode with a button press or gesture, Shure does not do the former. ANC is therefore permanently on and the ambient mode can be switched on and off at the push of a button.

Whether that makes sense or not is up to you. Personally, I’ve never really understood why there’s even a way to turn off ANC, arguably the most important feature of noise-cancelling headphones. At no point during any of my tests was I even tempted to turn ANC off completely. I am all the happier that I don’t have to click through this option with the Shure Aonic Free.

Otherwise, the intensity of the ambient mode can be adjusted as desired in the app. The further to the right the controller, the louder the ambient noise is passed through.

There is a lot of praise for the PLAY app as a whole. This is not only beautifully clear, but also has a decent range of functions. Here the button assignment of the in-ears can be set almost freely. Only the volume control and the control during calls cannot be changed and the long press of the button is also permanently assigned to functions.

Even more impressive is the equalizer, which also clearly shows that Shure is more in the recording area. In addition to presets for boosting or reducing bass and treble, there is also a preset for vocal boost and a de-esser that reduces hiss. If that’s not enough, you can experiment with the parametric four-band equalizer yourself or use one of the seven pre-installed presets as a template.

battery life

  • A good 6 hours of playback in the headphones
  • Something about two full charges in the case

Shure states seven hours of battery life in the headphones and two more full charges in the case – a total of 21 hours. While I was only able to get around 6 hours and 15 minutes of music out of the headphones per charge at my usual listening volume of approx. 80% during my test period, after two full charges there was still enough juice in the case’s battery to power the Aonic Free for another one and a half hours of playtime at the same volume.

In my tests, the Shure missed its own mark of 21 hours by just one hour. On the one hand, this is within the tolerance range, on the other hand it is also between the Bose QC Earbuds and the LG Tone FREE DFP8 – and therefore completely fine overall, if not groundbreaking.

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