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When it comes to wireless earphones, I’m pretty basic. Most days I’ll put in my Apple AirPods Pro and head out the door—they’re easy to pair with my iPhone and the case is compact enough to keep in my pocket. But there are dozens upon dozens of Bluetooth earbuds to choose from that can offer bigger sound and equally if not more effective noise-reduction abilities. Enter Shure’s second-generation Aonic 215 True Wireless Sound-Isolating Earphones: a hardy pair of earphones that block out the rest of the world so you can focus on your favorite tunes (and the first earphones that had me putting my AirPods on the backburner).
What are the 2nd-gen. Shure Aonic 215 True Wireless Sound-Isolating Earphones?
Shure has been making audio equipment since 1925, when the company sold kits and components for AM radio. Since then, Shure has built a reputation for making studio-quality microphones, headphones, and speakers. The company also has a history in personal monitoring systems for live performance and that professional in-ear monitoring background informs the Shure Aonic 215 (Gen. 2) earphones, which bring a secure fit, sound isolation, and a single dynamic driver with a precision-tuned but not fatiguing sound to everyday use. These Shure earphones are IPX4 rated, meaning they are sweat- and splash-resistant, but not fully waterproof. They also include integrated microphones for easy calling. The bundle comes with everything you need to use for a long time to come: earphones; charging case; charging wire; small, medium, and large silicone “sleeves” (aka ear tips); plus small, medium, and large foam options.
Getting started with the Shure Aonic 215 (Gen. 2)
The Aonic 215 (Gen. 2) earphones, available in opaque black or transparent blue, are accompanied by sturdy black plastic over-ear hooks that help keep the earphone anchored and place the control buttons just behind your earlobe for easy access. The hook is detachable, so you can use them with wired systems (cable sold separately)—like an airplane entertainment system, or even a belt pack if you’re a singer looking for audio gear that does double duty.
Finding the right fit
As with all earphones, getting the right fit is paramount. The Aonic 215 (Gen. 2) earphones come with the aforementioned six pairs of “soft flex” and foam ear tips. I started off with the medium foams, then switched to the large silicone, and I found those tips to be slightly more comfortable. Ultimately, however, I switched back to the foam tips because I found that they blocked out background noise better. I’d recommend trying out the different materials and sizes while listening to the same song to see which has the most comfortable fit and provides the best sound for you, as a proper seal is imperative for bass response.
The Aonic 215s (Gen. 2) offer Bluetooth 5.0 (AAC, aptX, and SBC codecs), which is twice as fast and more stable over a longer range than the still not uncommon Bluetooth 4.2. It took me a couple of tries to figure out how to pair the earphones but, once I did, it was a piece of cake. Once you take them out of the case, make sure they’re turned off. Then, just press down on each ear hook’s button at the same time until the indicator light on the side alternates between flashing blue and red. Then, head to your device’s Bluetooth settings and select “Shure Aonic TW2.”
Pairing them with my iPhone 12 was easy enough, but it took me a bit longer to figure out how to get them to work with my 2017 MacBook Pro. I wasn’t able to pair them with my laptop for the first time while they were connected to my phone—I disconnected them from my phone, turned them fully off, and then held the buttons to get to pairing mode again. From there, they immediately showed up on my MacBook’s Bluetooth settings and I was able to easily switch between my phone and laptop.
Charging is easy enough—the control buttons snap right into a circular groove at the bottom of the Shure Aonic 215 case, with the “right” and “left” indicators facing upwards. The indicator lights right above the grooves shine red when charging the hooks, which hold eight hours of power at a time, and turn off when they’re fully charged. The case, which holds 32 hours of power (three additional charges), comes with a USB-C charging wire, with the remaining juice indicated on the back. Simply press the battery button and the three lights indicate the remaining charges.
Features of the Shure Aonic 215 (Gen. 2)
The Aonic 215 (Gen. 2) earphones use passive noise-cancelling—aka, blocking out external noise by completely filling your ear canal—as opposed to active noise-cancelling, which uses a microphone to identify external tones and an algorithm to generate inverse sound waves to cancel them out. This physical approach to isolation means the earphones can block up to 37 decibels of sound (depending on ear tip material and proper fit), but it also means they insert deeper than many casual earbuds in order to fully seal. It took a little adjusting, but they fit with the hooks neatly over my mask and still blocked out external noise, letting me have my main-character moment on a crowded three-and-a-half-hour Amtrak ride from New York City to Washington, D.C.
While some people find deeper-insertion earphones disorienting, others find that the counter-waves created by active noise cancellation come across as a low-level, slightly uncomfortable sense of pressure. The Aonic 215s’ lack of ANC means you won’t experience that (less digital signal processing means a more uncompromised musical reproduction, as well), and if you feel too isolated you can press the button on the ear hook twice or toggle a switch in the ShurePlus PLAY app to activate an “Environment Mode” that lets in ambient noise. This is handy if you need to speak with someone but don’t want to take your earphones out. The app, available on iOS and Android, also lets you play high-resolution format music files and adjust/save EQ profiles, among other functions.
Ease of use
Operating the Shure Aonic 215 earphones themselves is a breeze. The buttons by your earlobe can turn power on and off, increase or decrease volume, pause and play, answer, end, or decline calls, and switch to Environment Mode. While these are fairly easy to pair and use, my biggest gripe with the Aonic 215 earbuds is that the case—which is a little over 4 inches in diameter—is much bulkier than that of my AirPods Pro. Think bigger than a Bagel Bite, but smaller than a bagel. The case definitely doesn’t fit in my pocket and it’s a bit of a hassle to take the earphones in and out on the go. Once they’re in my ears, however, I become a little more forgiving because the sound is worth it.
My roommate had to make multiple valiant attempts to get my attention while I wore these earphones to listen to music and podcasts and to watch TV on my laptop (specifically Sabrina: The Teenage Witch, in case you were wondering). The experience was truly enveloping, blocking out even my window air conditioning unit.
I listened to one of my favorite albums—Maggie Rogers’ Heard It In A Past Life—all the way through several times. The Aonic 215 (Gen. 2) earphones, with a frequency response of 21 Hz to 17.5 kHz, really deliver a depth and clarity of sound, especially on the punchy, kick-driven “The Knife.” But the robust bass groove doesn’t feel boosted or intruding on the vocal’s ability to soar. The midrange, where the song breathes, was forward but never strident and the earphones presented the more delicate guitar plucks and crisp piano melodies better than my AirPods Pro.
Putting on Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version)” from the new re-record of Red, I could follow the gentle, melancholy waver of the opening guitar riff and the defiant swell of harmonies in the bridge—feeling every sigh, shiver, and struggle across the autumnal scene painted for 10 minutes and 13 seconds. Everything sounded accurate but felt alive, and the app means you can give it more rumble, more richness, if you want.
Earphones aren’t just a way for me to get in touch with my favorite artists, however. I also use them to get in touch with family and friends. I send a lot of voice memos and my biggest frustration with my usual AirPods Pro is that they tend to pick up background noise and muffle my voice when I send voice memos. With the Aonic 215s, my voice came through clearly with little interference.
So, who should buy the Shure Aonic 215 (Gen. 2) earphones?
I’m usually not too fancy with my equipment, but these earphones are the first to make me truly understand the value of quality isolation and what it can bring to audio. While the clamshell hockey puck of a case and the more involved act of inserting/removing the earphones mean I won’t reach for the 2nd-gen. Shure Aonic 215 earphones when I want to listen to music on a short errand or subway ride, these are definitely my favorites for watching TV in my room, listening to music on long train rides, or tuning out the world when I need to focus on work. When you wear them, you’re really committing to an immersive experience.
I never found the hooks heavy or awkward, but Shure also offers the Aonic Free for anyone that wants the 215’s isolation and sound signature but in a more traditional (read: no ear hooks or cable options) True Wireless Earbuds form. And there are other (admittedly more expensive) choices PopSci recommends, such as the Sony WF-1000XM4, that are better suited for heavy office/conferencing use. However, the 2nd-gen. Aonic 215s are some of the best earphones for a budding audiophile or aspiring musician who might want to get lost in a new song or rediscover an old favorite while ignoring noisy passengers on a journey to audio bliss.