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Shure may be a well-known audio brand among musicians and audiophiles, but it kind of missed the boat on consumer wireless headphones. Well, now the company finally has a set of of true wireless earbuds and they're not your typical AirPods clones, although at $279 (£259; AU$146), they do cost slightly more than Apple's AirPods Pro.
What's interesting about them is that the Bluetooth module is detachable. As its name implies, the Aonic 215 True Wireless Noise-Isolating Earphones incorporates Shure's SE215 buds, the $99 entry-level model in its line of earbuds that have detachable cables. But the modules, which can be bought separately for $230 (£209; $AU120), are designed to drive any Shure earbuds that have a detachable cable, including the $1,000 SE846.
Weirdly, they're kind of the audiophile equivalent of the Beats Powerbeats Pro. They have a hook that wraps around the top of your ear and they stayed in my ears very securely (even more securely than the Powerbeats Pro earbuds). And like that Beats model, they have a jumbo charging case. Even though it's technically bigger than the Powerbeats Pro's case, it doesn't feel bigger, perhaps because it's slightly thinner.
Read more: Best true wireless earbuds of 2020
A Shure rep told me they don't have a water-resistance rating but said they should be fine for light workouts, considering Shure buds are used by musicians, some of whom sweat quite a bit during performances. However, if you're looking for a true sports headphones, this isn't it. But, as I said, they really do stay on your ears (and in them, too).
As with other noise-isolating earbuds, it's crucial to get a tight seal to get really good sound. Of all the eartips that are included -- there are a lot -- only the largest set of foam tips got me that tight seal. But at least one of of the options worked and you should be able to find one that works for you.
The sound isn't for everybody. As I said, these are geared toward audiophiles, and they have a more neutral sound profile with well-balanced sound that's nicely detailed and has good definition in the bass. For someone who's used to headphones that are more hyped in the treble and the bass, they might seem a little flat, but if you appreciate accurate and clean sound you'll like these.
This probably isn't the headphone you'd buy if you listen to a lot of hip hop or electronic music with pounding bass lines. These are going to be better for rock, classical, jazz and more "refined" music. Well-recorded tracks and albums like Caetona Veloso and David Byrne Live at Carnegie Hall come across really nicely.
I did try the Bluetooth modules with Shure's $1,000 SE846 buds, which are heavier, have quad drivers and metal instead of plastic posts (you stick the eartips on the posts). Yeah, they're better: More open, articulate and richer sounding with deeper bass (the SE846 also has physical filters you can add to tweak the sound). The SE846s are easier to drive than the SE215s, so they play a little louder. The SE215 is actually the hardest to drive of its earbuds, according to Shure, and an update to the ShurePlus Play companion app for iOS and Android will allow you to select which earbuds you're using with the Bluetooth modules.
Frankly, it's overkill to use really expensive buds with a Bluetooth module (true, the SE846 does come with a cabled Bluetooth option, but you also get a pro-level wired cable). Yeah, these support the Apple-friendly AAC audio codec along with aptX if your device can stream aptX (Samsung Galaxy phones do). But with higher-end Shure earbuds, you're going to want to go wired for critical listening sessions. That said, the idea here is that if you want to go truly wireless, you now can.
Battery life is rated at 8 hours, which is fast becoming the standard for the latest Bluetooth 5.0 true wireless earbuds (the charging case gives you three additional charges for 32 hours total) While the buds automatically turn off when you put them in their charging case, you do have to manually turn each bud on. These do have physical buttons and the controls are initially pretty limited but will expand through software upgrades that will allow for some customization to the left and right earbud controls (currently, there's no way to advance tracks; nor are there volume controls). At launch, you can pause and play your music as well as answer and end calls with a single press. A triple press activates your device's voice assistant. And double pressing the left or right control button activates a transparency mode so you can hear what's going on around you and also hear your voice in the buds when you're making a voice call.
Actually, I should say "bud" not "buds," because these only have mono for calls -- the sound comes out of the right bud only like it does on Bose's Soundsport Free, a feature that some people complained about with that headphone. That's too bad because they are decent for making calls and have two beamforming microphones in the right Bluetooth module to pick up your voice. The next generation should add stereo voice calls but it can't be added to the current model. (You can use the right earbud on its own for calls for those who care about that feature).
The companion app lets you adjust the level of transparency. It also can play back high-fidelity lossless tracks if you have a collection of those you want to store on your phone. Alas, the app's equalizer only works in the app with the music stored on your phone, not music streaming services.
Overall, I think this a cool concept. Yeah, it feels a little first-gen. And yeah, it's a little quirky and too expensive, especially when considering its features list is limited compared to some other high-end true wireless earbuds out there. For instance, you can buy the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 2, which features active noise-canceling and a bit richer sound with more powerful bass, for about $20 more.
But I liked the Aonic 215. It has a distinct design that's certainly in keeping with Shure's in-ear monitor heritage and will make you like a musician wearing them even if you're not. I just think to find a larger audience, these will have to come down to closer to $200.