Colors: Crimson chrome; graphite
Battery life (rated): 7 hours; 21 hours (charging case)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Processor: Qualcomm QCC3020
Size: 0.5 x 0.4 x 0.39 inches (per bud); 3.5 x 2 x 1 inches (charging case)
Weight: 0.5 ounces (charging case)
The Shure Aonic Free earbuds don't offer active noise cancelling but aim to passively block out ambient sounds while majoring on music sound quality.
Noise-cancelling earbuds are all the rage right now, but the true wireless space is opening up to sub-categories like sound-isolating earbuds. Shure is one of the makers leading the passive noise neutralization charge, and its Aonic Free earbud is built for immersive listening without the need for active noise cancellation tech.
- The best wireless earbuds, per category and style
- Find a bargain with the best Apple AirPods alternatives
- AirPods 3 vs. AirPods Pro: Which wireless earbuds win?
Can they stand out among the market’s top performers like the AirPods Pro and Sony WF-1000XM4? Yes, at least from a sound quality standpoint. Read our full Shure Aonic Free review to see how legit these sound-isolating IEMs (In-Ear Monitors) really are.
Shure Aonic Free review: Price and availability
The Shure Aonic Free originally launched at $249, but the earbuds can be found reduced to $199 and can be purchased through major online retailers, including Amazon (opens in new tab) and Streetwater (opens in new tab), or directly from Shure. Color options are graphite and crimson chrome. Inside the box comes a charging case, USB-C charging cable, three sets of different sized Comply Foam tips, quick start guide, and two-year warranty.
For all of the latest wireless earbud sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.
Shure Aonic Free review: Design and comfort
- Sleek design with good build quality
- Charging case is larger than most
- Great in-ear fit and high comfort levels
The Aonic Free’s elongated design is likely to appeal to anyone looking to break away from the AirPods’ long stem silhouette, although its styling stands out for different reasons and may also divide opinion. If you like the look, then great, as the buds’ distinctive aesthetic comes with great build quality and the sturdy plastic outer case is built to withstand daily abuse. Not to mention the shiny metallic finish gives off luxe vibes; you’ll want to treat these buds with care since as the finish easily shows up scratches.
This leads us to the well-protected and very wide charging case. It isn’t exactly light (listed at 0.5 ounces). Nor is it particularly pocket friendly — just look at it lined up next to the AirPods 3 and AirPods Pro charging cases (pictured below) — it’s nearly as wide as the two combined. On the plus side, it's strong and ensures the buds remain safe when docked in their charging slots.
The inclusion of Comply Foam tips makes all the difference in comfort and fit. Viscoelastic memory foam feels pleasant around the ear canal, while the bean-shaped sound port slides seamlessly into the ears.
Grip control is tighter than the basic silicone ear tip and creates a good seal, but there is one thing that Shure didn’t account for when designing the Aonic Free, which I outline in the next section.
Shure Aonic Free review: Controls and digital assistant
- Responsive and customizable control scheme
- Button design can affect fit
Considering the buds’ substantial real estate on display, touch controls may have made more sense. I’m not mad at Shure’s decision to go with physical buttons on the Aonic Free, but it does require the earbuds to be held steady when activating the buttons, as the slightest pressure can make them fall from your ear. Despite what feels like a design misstep, the buttons are usefully tactile and respond accurately to my single or multi-press commands. Users can also assign commands via the Button Controls setting in the companion app.
Bixby, Siri, and Google Assistant all work well and Shure’s mics demonstrate solid recognition and intelligibility, as the AI assistants interpret every syllable of my voice and carry out instructions accurately.
Shure Aonic Free review: Sound quality
- Well-balanced frequency range
- Versatile EQ
- aptX, AAC, and SBC codec support
Shure has a strong audio history and reputation for making great-sounding headphones, so my expectations regarding the Aonic's sound delivery are high from the outset. I wasn't disappointed, and the earbuds sound accurate and detailed, letting me hear subtle nuances, along with a fine mix of lows, mids, and highs.
The basic snare beat on The Fugees’ “Ready or Not” thumps with ferocity, while Lauryn Hill’s singing on the bridge is well defined over the somber and ghostly melody sampled from Enya's "Boadicea.” Speaking of the New Age songstress, her ethereal masterpiece “Only Time” is a serene listen with the Aonic Free’s full-range dynamic driver reproducing the deeply textured synths and multi-layered vocals superbly.
Transitioning to funk music, the infectious bass riff on Rick James’ “Give it To Me Baby” instantly stimulated head nods, and the lively horns sent a surge of energy through my ears. Even small characteristics like the steady cymbal on the hook and synchronized background claps sound prominent.
The seven Equalizer presets include Bass Boost, Bass Cut, Treble Boost, Treble Cut, Vocal Boost, De-ess, and Loudness. Each is well-engineered and dependable when paired with the right music genres. I recommend selecting Bass Boost for Hip-Hop and EDM (Electronic Dance Music), while De-ess is perfect for low-fi recordings that could benefit from a decrease in hard and often uncomfortable sibilant 'ess' sounds, for example.
AAC, aptX, and SBC covers both Android and iOS devices for wireless audio streaming, but aptX HD and Sony's LDAC for making the most of hi-res audio over Bluetooth is absent from the spec sheet.
Shure Aonic Free review: Noise isolation
I know what you’re thinking: why is there no active noise cancelling (ANC) mode? Take that question to Shure. All I know is that during my testes, the Aonic Free was fantastic at passively blocking out ambient noises from my surroundings.
Again, the Comply Foam tips seal the ear canal to minimize incidental sounds from entering the audio soundscape produced by the Shures. No, the result isn't as effective as noise cancelling technology, and high-frequency noises can still be heard (my toddler’s cries were unavoidable). But the level at which these buds passively isolate the listener from external noise is very impressive .
Shure Aonic Free review: App and special features
- Shure Play has plenty of useful features
- App is buggy
Extended functionality runs via the ShurePlus Play app. Here is where you’ll access aforementioned setting options like assigning Button Controls and Equalizer modes. The app’s signature feature is Environment Mode, which has 10 different awareness levels that can be adjusted using the on-screen slider to suit your surroundings. The Shure’s mics could have picked up voices better with the modes enabled, and I found it difficult to communicate with family members and Starbucks baristas.
A power on/off setting, battery level indicators, and toggle controls for different functions round out the app.
The ShurePlus Play app provides useful EQ customization, button controls, and Environment Mode. However, it's extremely buggy and would frequently crash when I cycled through the different settings or tried to re-pair the earbuds to my mobile device, despite a connection being previously established.
Shure Aonic Free review: Battery life and charging case
- Better playtime than AirPods
- No wireless charging
A full charge gets you 7 hours of playtime. Not the best or the worst, but it is more than the industry-average time established by the AirPods: 5 hours. A good 3 to 4 days of moderate use should be expected.
If you’re looking for other audiophile-grade buds with longer battery life, check out the Sony WF-1000XM4 (8 to 12 hours) or Master & Dynamic MW08 (10 to 12 hours).
As for the charging case, the top-up charge capacity is underwhelming at just 21 hours. That translates to 3 extra charges. For comparison, this is lower than the AirPods 2/AirPods Pro charging case (24 hours) and much lower than the WF-1000XM4 case (35 hours). Furthermore, quick charging is mediocre with a 15-minute charge netting you 1 hour of playtime. The AirPods can get you the same playtime with just 5 minutes of charge.
The Shure Aonic Free isn't compatible with wireless charging.
Shure Aonic Free review: Call quality and connectivity
- Not the best calling headset for outdoor use
- Bluetooth 5.0 has ridiculously powerful range, but also poor pairing
Call quality is 50/50. The buds worked well for indoor calls and Zoom chats at my desk, but the mics picked up lots of ambient noise and wind, which hindered use outside. My wife said I sounded garbled when walking in gusty conditions, and she noticed muffling whenever I was near talkative pedestrians or landscaping work.
I did experience some pairing issues with these buds. While I achieved instant connections to my Google Pixel 6 Pro and MacBook Pro, it took several tries for the buds to pair with my Samsung Galaxy Note S20 Ultra. On top of that, auto-connect performed poorly, and previously paired devices struggled to recognize or see the buds’ pairing signal and reconnect when they were removed them from the charging case.
Once connected, the Aonic Free’s extended Bluetooth range almost makes up for any finicky pairing issues. Most wireless earbuds range between 30 to 45 feet from the payback device, but these went to about 75 feet before the connection stuttered. I felt confident leaving my phone to charge in the back of the house and stepping out to the front yard for a breather without fear of any dropout.
One-touch Google Fast Pair and multipoint technology (to pair the Aonic Free with two devices simultaneously) didn’t make the cut.
Shure Aonic Free review: Verdict
Shure’s Aonic Free wireless earbuds sound fantastic and deliver on their promise to decrease ambient noise to a satisfying level without the need for ANC. The custom EQ sound profile is a treat, plus the intuitive controls and considerable Bluetooth range help make usability a breeze.
Taking these positive elements and offsetting them with the main omissions and minor annoyances, it feels unacceptable that Aonic Free's large charging case offers less capacity than the far smaller charging case supplied with the AirPods.
Along with needing to update its ShurePlus Play app to clear out the bugs, Shure also needs to address the lack of features like multipoint technology, Google Fast Pair and Qi-enabled charging to prevent it from losing ground to rivals.
Nevertheless, if sound quality is your main concern and you have no need for ANC, Shure's Aonic Free earbuds are a gloriously capable pair of earbuds.
Anyone in the market for an alternative pair of sonically gifted earbuds, but perhaps are a little more functionally refined and feature-heavy, should consider one of the tried and tested options on our best wireless earbuds list.
- More: The best headphones of 2022