Some designs and tastes you either love or loathe. The Chrysler PT Cruiser or Marmite come to mind as examples, and one might add the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 to the list. Audio industry giant Shure returns with incremental improvements on the polarizing AONIC 215. The actual drivers remain unchanged, while the TW2 Bluetooth pack and mobile app see the most improvements. Going against the grain, the cabled hook design might not suit everyone’s style, but it’s secure. Do the great sound and modular design work?

Editor’s note: this Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 review was updated on November 30, 2021, to address the hookless Shure AONIC Free.

Who should get the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2?

  • People who prize wireless sound quality above other considerations will appreciate the Bluetooth adapter’s aptX support and the earbuds’ frequency response.
  • Tinkerers will enjoy the flexibility of a modular design. It’s easy to swap out different MMCX earpieces and adjust the in-app EQ.

What’s it like to use Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2?

Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 in a hand with a phone and the battery case in the background on a wood bench.

While you can insert the earphones with one hand, most people need a second hand to do it easily.

It’s important to understand that the AONIC 215 Gen 2 is a modular product—it resembles a cross between a medical device and something out of the late ’90s. You can connect the buds to either the TW2 Bluetooth pack or to an MMCX cable. Conversely, you can also replace the included Shure AONIC 215 buds with another compatible Shure monitor.

The AONIC 215 buds feel comfortable in my ears, secure but not too tight, with the included medium-sized foam ear tips. Hurray for all listeners: Shure includes small, medium, and large sizes for both foam and silicone ear tips. Ear tip choice aside, much of the comfort is attributed to how each ear hook distributes the adapter’s weight behind the ear. However, folks with glasses will likely experience discomfort around the one-hour mark.

Five sets of ear tips and one cleaner included with the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 spread on a bench.

The silicone size small is about 10mm in diameter, medium is 12mm, and large is approximately 14mm. Due to foam ear tips molding around your ear, they are sized larger.

Among the new improvements, the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 ships with an IPX4 rating. Combined with the secure fit, you can exercise with this headset. If you download the app, you also get access to the adjustable, Environment Mode, keeping you aware of your surroundings. Those looking for in-ear monitors with true wireless (TWS) compatibility may also appreciate the sweatproofing for stage use.

How do you control the AONIC 215 Gen 2?

My favorite button feature on the AONIC 215 Gen 2 is rather simple: volume adjustment is a single tap-and-hold gesture—the right ear is volume up and the left, volume down. In use, the volume control feels more intuitive than it sounds. It’s similar to holding the volume button on your phone for as long as you need to turn it up or down.

The profile of a man facing right wearing the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 with trees and bushes in the background.

Rather than reach to tap the bud and control playback, a button resides behind the ear instead.

You can’t reassign the volume controls, which means it’s not as accessible if you’re only want to use one earbud at a time. Perhaps making this feature remappable would serve everyone better, but this is still an improvement over the previous generation AONIC 215, which does not have volume controls.

A remarkably large case

Polarizing is the word that comes to mind with the AONIC 215 Gen 2 case. Popping the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 out of the rather large, round case immediately makes me wonder if this was the best storage solution.

A hand holds the closed case of the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 with grass in the background and the battery light illuminated.

Press the button to see how many charges the case has left in the battery. One light equals one charge. Additionally, it charges via USB-C and a button lets you know the battery life of the case.

You can’t fit the case into most pockets, unless you wear cargo pants. However, the plastic has some give, and a zipper secures it shut. I’m confident it’ll survive drops, which can’t be said about the vast majority of true wireless charging cases.

Because the AONIC 215 Gen 2 buds swing around a bit, it’s difficult to perfectly lay each one into the case. High-density foam guides keep everything secure and help the hooks snap into place, but long-term durability is a concern since the ear hook cables are vulnerable failure points. Every time you put the buds away or remove one, you push or pull at the cables. Over time this may lead to breakage. Our review unit’s left earbud suffers and now audio occasionally cuts out. It’s clearly the result of internal wiring stress, likely by the case.

Should you download ShurePlus PLAY app?

Three screenshots of the ShurePlus Play app that accompanies the AONIC 215 Gen 2 showing button assignment and EQ functions.

You can assign any of these button arrangements to suit your needs. In addition to useful presets, you can make your own EQ.

To access goodies like control customization, EQ, and, Environment Mode (audio passthrough) you’ll want the app. Personalization runs quite deep in the ShurePlus PLAY app, down to choosing which, if any, tones and language you prefer for alerts.

If you like to fuss around with equalizers, Shure has you in mind. The equalizer shows you exactly how it affects your audio, and Shure isn’t trying to trick users with gimmicky language. Those who feel intimidated by the equalizer’s granularity can choose a preset, and then open the manual option to see what each preset does. The setting is saved directly to the headset and still applies when audio is played through third-party apps like Spotify or Apple Music. Friends who also have Shure headsets can pair your headset to their phone, open the PLAY app on their phone, and save your preset for later. Finally, if you don’t want to toy with EQ, you can just turn it off

Hooked over the size of a Flip smartphone is a set of Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 showing the app home page.

The ShurePlus Play app has good a UI and comes rich with features.

Objectively speaking, Environment Mode brings in a very clear reproduction of an environment. Subjectively, it is the best implementation of any transparency mode I’ve tried. You’ll hear very little in the way of gain-related noise or undue wind noise, both of which commonly plague transparency modes. Adjusting the intensity of the Environment Mode with the app’s slider helps, especially when you want to take your AONIC 215 Gen 2 for a stroll on a busy street.

In addition to the usual firmware updates expected in an app, Shure wants to ensure the app is a one-stop-shop by including your music library. This means if you have a lot of lossless files (and presumably the space on your device) or standard compressed files, you can throw them on the app. If you’re an iPhone user, you can add music from iTunes, iCloud, or via AirDrop. Android users can add from their internal storage automatically or through the app with a USB connection to a PC.

What Bluetooth codecs does Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 support?

Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 in a hand showing the SE 215 buds detached from TW2 Bluetooth module.

Both components that make up the AONIC 215 Gen 2 can work with other MMCX compatible products.

You get the aptX, AAC, and SBC codec support with the AONIC 215 Gen 2. Android users will get the most out of the reliable aptX option, with higher resolution and lower latency capabilities. While in Android, you can change codecs in Developer Settings for Bluetooth headphones, Shure helpfully includes it in the app too. Meanwhile, Apple users ought to stick to AAC. Bluetooth 5.0 keeps the AONIC 215 Gen 2 connected without hiccups for more than 10 meters with walls.

How long does the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 battery last?

According to our testing, you can get about 5 hours and 9 minutes of playtime from a single charge of the AONIC 215 Gen 2. This falls quite short of the official 8-hour playtime, but you should be able to get more battery life from the headset if you listen at lower volumes. The case provides three extra charge cycles. There is no wireless charging here, USB-C charging only, so you can keep that Qi charging mat in your desk drawer.

Does the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 have good isolation?

Chart of Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 isolation performance.

While you’ll still hear some low-pitched noise, the buds very effectively isolate above 1kHz.

For some of the best isolation, stop looking and try the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2, with the right ear tip and a good seal, you won’t hear most incidental noises. Isolation works best on high-pitched sounds, so you’ll notice that the buds don’t affect lower pitched sounds to the same degree. Meanwhile, 3-10kHz noises receive over 45dB of reduction (according to our testing), which renders them one-sixteenth as loud as they’d sound without the earbuds. This surpasses the 37dB attenuation figure Shure provides, once again demonstrating the importance of fit.

How does the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 sound?

The main reason anyone should purchase the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 is for the sound quality. Like the previous generation AONIC 215, these buds are based on the iconic Shure SE 215.

The Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 frequency response as measured against the house curve.

The default frequency response of the buds (in cyan) follows our house curve (in pink) extremely well.

Treble notes above 10kHz receive less emphasis than our house curve suggests, so your music may sound less clear than you’re accustomed to. The AONIC 215 Gen 2 also has about a 5dB boost in the 5kHz range, which might sound a bit too loud, or “harsh,” to the trained ear when the volume is cranked up. Then again, you should keep the volume down to protect your hearing.

Through the mids and bass, the AONIC 215 Gen 2 deviates less than 5dB at any point from our house curve. There’s some sub-bass under-emphasis but generally, this is a consumer-friendly response that leans more neutral than most true wireless earbuds. If you’re really looking for a bassier frequency response, try one of the EQ presets such as Bass Boost.

Lows, mids, and highs

Listening to Without You Around by Bookclub on the default frequency response, the lead falsetto vocals sound quite clear and loud, as do the cymbals and snare. Bass guitar is completely audible but does not quite have the expected level of oomph, neither does the kick drum. The midrange and treble keys sound pleasant, and the quietly mixed rhythm guitar is easy to hear (something cheap headphones ordinarily mask).

Related: Shure AONIC 50 review

Panning on the AONIC 215 Gen 2 sounds pretty accurate. At about 1:53, a descending synth line pans from right to left, and shifts to sounding closer. With the AONIC 215, you can hear this perfectly well.

Can you use the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 for phone calls?

Yes, you can use the AONIC 215 Gen 2 for phone calls, though I advise anyone to use a little bit of Environment Mode with it. Otherwise, it can feel disorienting to hear your own muffled voice in your head with the caller in your ears.

The microphone captures and reproduces spoken voices very well for an embedded system. This hardly surprises anyone, given Shure’s reputation as a microphone manufacturer. It rejects off-axis noise and keeps your voice audible, but it does not totally eliminate noise.

Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 microphone demo:

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Should you buy Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2?

A hand holds the open battery case with the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2 earphones inside.

Those prepared to very carefully use the AONIC 215 Gen 2 with its unfortunate case will enjoy the sound quality.

If you can be extremely careful with the delicate connection of the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2, it’s a good pair of earbuds that sound great. The secure and lightweight fit will agree with most people. While the behind-the-ear look is a bit love it or leave it, it keeps the weight out of your ears. Shure’s frequency response will please basically everyone, and only enthusiasts will need to make adjustments.

It feels like Shure put a lot of effort into covering most wish lists with this headset. The AONIC 215 Gen 2 is as easy or as involved as the user wants, and includes safety features like Environment Mode. With the IPX4 rating, you could even take it to work out.

Shure might want to consider reworking the case—not only is it quite big, but it’s also fiddly to put the buds away. All of this, not to mention the case seems to shorten the lifespan of the AONIC 215 Gen 2 because users end up pulling at each bud when taking them out.

What should you get instead of the Shure AONIC 215 Gen 2?

A man wears the Shure AONIC Free earbuds looking left with ivy in the background.

With a solid fit from the Shuree AONIC Free, you can be sure that what you hear is unencumbered by external sound.

Those who want to stick to Shure but don’t like ear hooks should consider the Shure AONIC Free for its best-in-class passive isolation and varied Bluetooth codec support. You get a great experience through the ShurePlus PLAY app and the environmental mode works well when you want to pipe in external noise. Sure, it’s not the most stylish but it’s very comfortable.

If you like the ear hook design of the AONIC 215 Gen 2 but have other qualms, you could try something like the FiiO UTWS3 Bluetooth V5.0 paired with FiiO FH5. The real upside of these modular designs is that you get most of the convenience of wireless audio without compromising as much on your personal taste for earbuds. With the UTWS3, you get a better (in some ways) case: it’s not going to stress any wiring and it’s smaller, however, it only fits the Bluetooth pack, not the earbuds too.

The Fiio FH5 in-ears housing design against a black bag.

Remove the wires of the Fiio FH5 and attach the FiiO UTWS3 to transform it into true wireless earbuds.

The UTWS3 is also IPX4 rated, but the FH5 is not. Sound quality on the buds is great, and it’s comfortable with aluminum housings. You won’t get the seamless app support onboard the Shure earbuds. In other words, this is a bit of a brave new world in the area of true wireless earphones. From a sustainability perspective, it’s nice to see interchangeable parts making appearances. With that said, the market hasn’t reached maturity yet.

See: Shure AONIC 50 vs Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700

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