Amidst the flurry of wireless audio devices being released recently, the Shure AONIC 5 is a wired pair of in-ear headphones, part of Shure’s AONIC series of IEMs (in-ear monitors), boasting audiophile-grade accuracy. These are one of the few wired audio devices we’ve tested in 2020, and they were certainly a breath of fresh air. They come with 3.5mm wired connectivity though, and not a lot of smartphones house the now archaic 3.5mm jack. The earphones employ three high-definition balanced armature drivers. There are two dedicated woofers (producing the lows and mids) and a separate tweeter (producing the enhanced highs). The earphones even come with detachable cables as well as swappable nozzle filters which are capable of altering the sound signature! The earphones can also be turned into true wireless earphones with the Shure True Wireless Secure Fit Adapter which costs a whopping Rs 19,999 by themselves. Priced at Rs 42,999, these earphones do cost a pretty penny and if you opt for the Secure Fit Adaptor to turn them into wireless IEMs, these earphones set you back nearly 63K! Let’s see if they manage to deliver the performance that one expects at this relatively exorbitant price point.
What’s in the box
The Shure AONIC 5’s box is brimming with accessories and equipment such as a quarter-inch adapter for stereo and pro gear, a circular protective hard case for the earphones, and a nifty ear-wax cleaning tool for the earphones. You also get an assortment of ear tips including three pairs of Comply foam tips, four pairs of foam tips, three pairs of silicone eartips, one pair of yellow foam tips and finally, a pair of triple flange ear tips, all in different sizes. So, it’s pretty safe to say that most users will definitely find a pair of well-fitted ear tips as long as they experiment with the variety of tips enough.
We used the Medium-sized Comply foam eartips which gave the reviewer an extremely snug and comfortable fit, while also enhancing passive isolation extensively. For reference, the passive isolation we achieved from these ear tips was comparable to the degree of noise suppression from the Active Noise Cancellation on the budget Realme Buds Air Pro earphones, which is seriously impressive. Lastly, you also get three sets of swappable nozzles (two in the box and one attached to the earphones), each capable of slightly tweaking the sound profile of these earphones to Balanced, Warm or Bright sound signatures, and a tool that loosens and tightens the nozzles. The Balanced nozzles are attached to the earphones by default.
Build, design and features
The Shure AONIC 5 are available in three colour variants – Black, Red, or Clear (Transparent). We got the clear ones for review, and it’s neat to be able to view all the inner mechanisms of the relatively diminutive earpieces. Additionally, you also see a ‘5’ written inside each earbud, which looks pretty cool. The earpieces can also be detached from the cables in order to turn them into wireless with the Shure True Wireless Secure Fit Adapter. Internally, the earbuds house three balanced armature drivers with a frequency range spanning across 18Hz to 19kHz.
The cables that extend from the earbuds are semi-rigid and semi-flexible, allowing them to take the requisite shape to sit snugly around your outer ear. The rest of the cable is pretty standard and sadly, isn’t tangle-resistant, which is slightly disappointing. The cables of the AONIC 5 tend to tangle pretty easily inside the provided hard case, unless you store them impeccably neatly. The right side cable houses an inline remote control, which feels a bit plasticky. However, the buttons on the remote are well-placed and tactile. The central multifunction button can control music playback, calls, skip tracks and summon your device’s voice assistant (with a double tap). The plus and minus buttons control volume. There’s also a toggleable switch on the backside of the remote which is for iPhones and Android devices. We used an Android device for testing and sliding the switch to Android (A) ensures that all buttons can be used.
The assortment of memory foam tips and the relatively small form factor of earbuds lends to a comfortable and secure fit, even over extended periods of time. The looping-over-the-ear wearing design may be cumbersome in the beginning though, especially if you are used to ordinary in-ears that you can simply push inside your canal. However, you get used to it over time. Overall, the AONIC 5 earphones are comfortable and extremely secure in the ear, making them solid to use even during travel or light exercises. They do not come with an official IP rating though, so keep that in mind if you do sweat a lot.
Being wired audiophile-grade earphones, you don’t get much in terms of flashy features with the Shure AONIC 5 apart from the swappable nozzles that tweak the sound signature. There’s no Active Noise Cancellation, however, the selection of foam eartips and Shure’s sound-isolating design blocks up to 37dB of ambient noise, as per the company. As we mentioned above, the passive isolation, by itself, is excellent with these earphones, and we didn’t really miss ANC at all when using the AONIC 5. These earphones, however, do not come with Ambient or Environmental Sound modes.
The unique trait of the Shure AONIC 5 earphones is the ability to change the sound signature by swapping between the three filter nozzles the company has provided, using the handy tool that they’ve packed in the box. The three nozzles come in different colours for easy identification – Translucent Gray for a Balanced sonic signature (installed by default), Translucent Black for a Warm sonic signature, and Translucent Clear for a Bright sonic signature. The nozzles are surprisingly easy to install and offer a subtle adjustment in the sonic signature of the earphones. The Warm filter simply offers a 2.5dB decrease in the 1kHz to 8kHz frequency range while the Bright filter offers a 2.5dB increase in the same frequency range. The lows and mids are untouched across all the filters, so don’t expect thumpy bass response with the Warm filter, the Shure AONIC 5 just doesn’t do thumpy bass.
Instead what you get are well-defined, controlled and articulate lows, and clear mids across all nozzles. In our opinion, the highs with the Bright filter are a bit too exaggerated, and a little more than an hour of listening with this filter can cause listening fatigue. On the other hand, the Warm filter, while pleasant to listen to, provides less prominent highs which takes away from the accuracy of the sound slightly. The Balanced filter was just right for us and we tested the device primarily with this filter, since we felt that it was the most accurate, clean and natural-sounding.
One of the most striking things of the AONIC 5 is the great soundstage and the left/right stereo accuracy. The spatial imaging is top-notch with tracks such as Shine On by Pink Floyd having great accuracy when it comes to positioning instruments and vocals in the relatively wide stage. This translates well across all the swappable nozzles, which is pretty commendable.
Bass response and lows are close to neutral and are full-bodied and controlled. There’s no signs of distortion even at high volumes and no auditory masking in the mids. The timbre of the bass doesn’t change with the Warm filter, however, since the 1kHz to 8kHz range is recessed, it does seem more upfront. This sort of response is geared towards audiophiles who prefer the neutral timbre, so those who enjoy subwoofer-like bass presence may be underwhelmed.
Regardless of the nozzle you use, the mids remain clean, balanced and insightful. Vocal clarity is excellent and vocal-centric tracks such as Love on the Brain by Rihanna soar delightfully in all the right places. Lead instruments in tracks are also reproduced impeccably well with decent drive and oodles of detail. The highs, on the other hand, change a fair bit with different nozzles. We prefer the clarity of the highs on the Balanced nozzle the most since the Bright nozzle emphasises them a bit too much which can cause listening fatigue and also put some people off. With the Bright nozzle, the synth beats that recur in the right ear in Hunter by Bjork sound somewhat harsh.
Overall, these earphones will thrill audiophiles with their accurate, clinical sound signature. The transparency and clarity makes these earphones ideal for checking sound mixes and for critical listening.
It’s refreshing to see launches in the cabled earphones market amidst the rapid influx of wireless options flooding the market. The Shure AONIC 5 earphones is a great option for those who still prefer wired connectivity with lossless signal. Priced at Rs 42,999, these earphones offer a balanced and accurate sound signature suited for audiophiles and sound engineers. Equipped with swappable filter nozzles for different sound signatures and an array of ear tips, the Shure AONIC 5 provides quite a lot of personalisation and shows versatility. If you’re looking for a pair of IEMs with a neutral response, these earphones are a great choice. However, for a more textured and dynamic sonic signature, you may have to look elsewhere since the nozzles don’t alter the sonic signature by a lot.