Updated: Feb 3
If you’re on the lookout for earbuds that can beat out ANC earbuds without even having ANC, has impeccable sound quality and has pretty good battery life, the Shure Aonic Free are a major contender.
So let’s talk design. These don’t look the best, I’ll be honest. The case is huge, and the earbuds don’t look as sleek and modern as most of the newer offerings out there, and it even reminds me of those headsets that businesspeople would wear for calls and stuff. So I’ll say, these don’t make the cut for me in terms of design, but honestly, because of how excellent it is in almost every other aspect, I’m giving these a lot of slack.
They come in two colours, Crimson Chrome and Graphite, and I have the red one with me today. It’s pretty striking, but I’m really not fond of the mirror finish on the faceplates because… well, fingerprint magnet. I did have the chance to take a look at the Graphite and it’s actually pretty nice, more subtle, which is more up my alley.
That being said, these use physical control buttons, so there’s no real reason for you to touch the faceplate. As long as you’re careful with the earbuds, you can pretty much avoid getting fingerprints on them. That being said, although the earbuds are huge, they sit really securely in the ear, thanks in part to the Comply foam tips that are included. Here’s a quick tip, if you’re using Comply foam tips, roll them between your fingers before twisting the earbuds into your ears. Hold them there for a second or two until the foam expands to fill your ear canal and you get a proper seal/fit. It works a lot better than just stuffing the earbuds in directly. That being said, foam tips do get dirty with earwax and the likes quite quickly, so these are something you tend to have to change every three to six months.
As for comfort, even though the earbuds are heavier on paper, like 13 grams or so, it doesn’t actually affect me that much. I can wear them for hours on end, so yeah.
The case is pretty simplistic, you get a single charging LED on the front that lights up red while charging and turns green when full. Unfortunately, there’s no wireless charging here, so you’ll have to plug in a USB-C cable every time. There aren’t any buttons on the case either, so yeah.
There’s a companion app called the ShurePlus PLAY app, which you should definitely download. Even though these earbuds don’t come with ANC, there’s an Environment Mode feature here which you will definitely want because, well, these isolate and block out so much noise. Shure claims it can block out around 37 decibels of noise, and honestly, I found that these block out noise better than most ANC earbuds. And the best part is because there’s no ANC and it’s all passive noise isolation, there’s no impact on the sound and no impact on battery life.
That being said, because it blocks out noise so well, you’ll definitely want the Environment Mode. You can toggle it on or off, adjust the level and even select if you want Environment Mode to automatically turn on or off when you play or pause your music.
There’s also control customisation here, and it’s honestly quite comprehensive. You’re not limited to a select few options for each press, and you can even adjust the volume with the buttons, long press on the right for volume up and long press on the left for volume down. As for the controls, I left it as per normal, so once on either side for play/pause, twice on either side for environment mode and triple presses skip tracks forward or back.
You can also select how long you want your earbuds to stay awake for when disconnected, and if you want them to power on automatically when removing from the case or not. There’s also a busy light feature that turns on a red LED if you’re on a call, although I never really used this. All in all, quite good.
There’s also an equaliser feature with a bunch of presets for bass, treble and vocal. Of course, there’s a manual equalizer that can be quite a challenge to adjust if you’re using a phone with a smaller screen etc. I did most of my testing without the EQ, but I did enjoy using treble boost quite a bit.
These only run on Bluetooth 5.0, which isn’t fantastic, and I’d like to see Shure go to Bluetooth 5.2 for their next iteration for sure. That being said, these support SBC, AAC and aptX Adaptive, so that’s a plus.
Shure claims seven hours in the earbuds and two extra charges in the case, for a total of 21 hours. It’s honestly right around there, I got around six hours and 40 minutes on the earbuds, and that’s great. That being said, there’s no ANC here, so no battery drain issues, but the noise isolation is so good that you won’t even miss ANC.
There’s an IPX4 rating on these, so sweat, a light drizzle and the likes should be perfectly fine.
As for the microphone quality, well, you can hear it for yourself. My voice was relatively clear during calls, although there was one occasion when I got told that my voice sounded a bit sharp, so that’s something to keep in mind.
But we now come to sound quality, and these sound pretty dang good. I mean, it’s kind of expected, for something out of Shure, but yeah. They sound accurate, they sound detailed and crisp and while they might be a bit more on the analytical side, you do still get a very slight bump in the lows and mids that make it an enjoyable listening experience. I did notice that some higher-pitched vocals tended to feel a little softer, but all in all, I’d say these do a good job at getting a clean, detailed sound across.
The soundstage is spacious and you get an excellently layered presentation of instruments that still sound very cohesive and well-put-together.
For US$199 or S$329, it’s honestly hard for me to NOT recommend this. Aside from how chunky it looks, this is a great pair of earbuds. Noise isolation is superb, battery life is very decent and that sound quality will definitely be good enough for most of us.