In the increasingly wireless and rapidly connected world, it ought to take a conference room full of very brave men to approve the Shure Aonic 5 IEM, even at concept stage. Not your typical everyday in-ear this, the Aonic 5 distils the decades of experience Shure has in making professional microphones and headsets for musicians and artists. As such, it promises some never-before-seen features for the consumers to tinker with and feel a bit “pro” themselves!
Packaged in a round hard case that we first saw with the Aonic 50, it doesn’t apologise for not being easy to pack. But, you also get a lot of kit inside the box to unravel the real character of these IEMs. There’s a hint right there that these are not your every day, plug-in-plug-out in-ears that comes with wireless charging cases. In-ear monitors tend to be usually custom made for professionals but since these are consumer-oriented, Shure has bundled an awful lot of customisation options with the Aonic 5 that make it easier for an audiophile to “tune” these monitors to a certain degree. Built around triple balanced armature drivers, it houses two LF and one HF driver in order to start with a solid foundation. This sort of size and multi-way driver design is only possible with armature drivers and Shure has had some experience using these so the three drivers packed into its tiny housing are proudly shown off in a clear case that looks decidedly serious. No one is going to mistake these for something that came with a cereal box for sure!
Don’t go looking for an app either. The Aonic 5 is old school in a way you may have never seen before. To kick things off, it comes with a wired cable that has a toggle to work with either iOS or Android devices on the in-line remote. Good luck with finding a 3.5mm jack on your modern smartphone but if you aren’t even inclined towards using an adaptor, Shure has a Bluetooth adapter that goes by the name Secure Fit and can transform not just the Aonic 5, but numerous other Shure models from wired to wireless. Of course, it’s sold separately and will add to the already high asking price but if you want the best of all worlds, it’s a small price to pay. Then comes the wide range of tip options, that include Comply, foam, soft flex, triple-flange and yellow foam. Unless you’re Yoda, one of these is sure to fit your ears like a glove. Shure has also thoughtfully bundled in an ear wax cleaning brush, something that can’t be ignored in a design like the Aonic 5 where a large part of its performance and frequency response will be dictated by a clear conduit between the tiny balanced armature driver ports and the tips.
Then there’s the Aonic 5’s piece-de-resistance, an ingenious assembly wherein the very nozzle that carries sound from the armature driver to the tip can be replaced with three options - balanced, warm or bright. In appearance, they are tiny plastic tubes, each of a different shade. What they do is offer a 2.5dB drop in the region between 1-8kHz if you use the warm filter and a boost of 2.5dB in the same zone if you use the bright filter. Balanced just lets the sound from the drivers through as it is and aims to provide a more neutral character. The supplied tool to remove the nozzle is a nifty case that also holds the spare nozzles securely and the whole jing bang can fit into a round hard case along with a quarter-inch adaptor.
Providing up to 37dB of attenuation, the Aonic 5 are sound-isolating IEMs and their acoustic design works better than active noise cancellation in most cases, provided you wear them correctly and having chosen the right fit of ear tips. Since they have an impedance of 36ohms, they’re easily driven by your everyday device, such as a smartphone or a laptop. Headphone amp and DAC are purely optional and certainly not required. The malleable cable helps the Aonic 5 to fit snugly behind the ear and the monitors themselves carve themselves into your ears pretty well too. Starting with some blues rock from The Blue Stones, the Aonic 5 showcased its strengths at accuracy, timbre and detail. The kick drum had lightness instead of heft but the grinding guitar and vocals had clarity that wasn’t overshadowed by the heavy-handed bass. While the balanced nozzle was a bit too clinical for my tastes, the warm nozzle worked better at keeping the highs in check but it didn’t really make for a warm-sounding sonic signature. Moving on to classic rock, Animals by Nazareth had a big soundstage and sharp imaging, enough to analyse the track with a new pair of ears but even then, they can’t really conceal their thin-ish character. The various ear tips mostly alter comfort and level of isolation but none of them could really add a wallop to the sound that we are all so used to now.
Sticking to acoustic music and even classical, the Shure IEMs do a fine job of being critical of the recording quality, emphasizing the finer nuances of the sonic tapestry, allowing you to rediscover your collection. It’s ability to completely disappear from the proceedings is what makes it worthy of a reference stature and its long term comfort will be determined by how much you experiment with the provided tools and (ear) tips. Once you find the perfect fit, it suddenly becomes a tool for nitpicking even the minutest flaw in a recording so low-quality MP3s or in fact anything below 320kbps should be avoided. Higher the resolution of the audio file, the wider the Shure spreads its wings and pool of talents. Feed it trash and it will spit it right back out into your ears.
While its frequency response stats suggest an impressive 18Hz bottom end, it’s hard to feel it for two reasons - driver design and speed. Balanced armature drivers are smaller and quicker in response times to dynamic drivers, hence they don’t sound like they’re moving a lot of air and this translates to the thin-sounding character. But it’s also because the speed of these drivers don’t let any low-frequency energy to build up after the initial bass note, thereby eliminating any overhang. One has to get used to this kind of bass, both in its speed and character and hence, these may not be for everyone even though they’re more accurate than most other headphones out there.
Comparing it to professional, custom-made IEMs, the Aonic 5 could be considered a steal. Yet, in the real world and for ordinary people who don’t usually have 20,000 fans singing along with them in a stadium, Shure might have bitten off more than it can chew. They are good, just not ₹41,000 good and even worse, most of the portable music consuming population has been treated to V-shaped EQs with jacked up bass, making the Aonic 5 sound considerably thin in comparison.
Their wired nature might alienate the non-serious demographic and their high price of admission could keep the budding audiophiles at bay too. So, if you want the ultimate tool to critically analyse your music and get off on being able to tune your tunes, then consider the Aonic 5. If you don’t fit any of the categories above and enjoy musicality over-analytical ability, you’re better off with a pair of high-end TWS that provide most of the thrills without all the work.