It’s been a minute since I had the chance to review a Bluetooth headphone, but today I’m taking a shot at the new Cleer Flow. Retailing for $249, this hybrid noise-cancelling model sports LDAC, aptX support, and touch controls. But how does it measure up to other wireless noise-cancelling headphones?
Cleer Flow Review
The Flow comes in a fairly large box with a carrying case, a user guide, an airline adapter, a micro USB cable, an aux cable for wired listening, and two sets of deco rings (for changing the appearance of the headphone).
Build-wise, this headphone feels fairly solid, impressing me with the leatherette padding on the headband and earcups and the aluminum extenders. Yet, the Flow feels lightweight and comfortable too, with my giant Quark ears fitting snugly inside the small-looking earcups.
Bluetooth pairing seems deceptively easy, and the noise cancellation works like a charm – sounding just as good as anything from Sony, Audio Technica, or Sennheiser. The Flow supports the AAC and aptX codecs, but also offers LDAC support for compatible devices.
The Flow also sports two ambient audio modes – Normal and Voice – for attenuating surrounding sounds. These modes offer situational awareness or (in my case) the ability to talk smack to coworkers while bumping some sick jams.
Touch controls allow for easily changing playback or volume. Smooth and fluid, these controls feature some of the best sensitivity I have yet found on a wireless headphone. This results in a very natural user experience, and one that doesn’t hamper music enjoyment.
Battery life stands at 20 hours of continuous use (with Bluetooth and ANC on), and while that seems a little weak, it’s still competitive when considering the sound quality.
Inside the headphone, the proprietary Ironless Driver uses stacked rare earth magnets to avoid the distortion typically found in more conventional designs. This results in a cleaner, more balanced and detailed sound.
Frequency Range: NA
Nominal Impedance: NA
Sound Pressure Level (SPL): NA
Cleer doesn’t divulge any details regarding the Flow’s specs, but that shouldn’t put you off; for a Bluetooth ANC headphone, the proof always shows itself in the sound quality. That being said, the specs for this headphone are probably close to run-of-the-mill. There’s no missing or lacking areas within the standard 20-20,000 Hz frequency range, and the impedance must sit close to (if not right at) 32 ohms. Furthermore, SPL seems decent, as I’ve experienced no real volume constraints when running them wirelessly from my phone or wired to a FiiO amp/DAC.
The lows on the Cleer Flow feel full and articulate without seeming overblown or sloppy. The bass response while present, never waxes so strong as to overpower notes in the low end. As such, the low end retains a good deal of depth and resolution while still sounding fun and engaging.
In the mids, the Flow feels just a little bit recessed, without the typical forwardness I prefer in a set of cans. That being said, the midrange remains very clean and very clear, without any distortion, and with barely any compression. Vocals sound particularly impressive here, standing out and contrasting well against a backdrop of instrumentation.
Crisp, clear, and detailed, the highs don’t skimp on the Flow. Sure, on the very highest of high notes, you might get the impression of a lurking brightness. But the sound still remains fairly smooth and sparkling, without ever sounding too harsh or uncomfortable. This intense, well-engineered high end works wonders alongside the clean lows and solid mids, too, imparting a sense of richness to everything played through this headphone.
Decent but not overwhelming, there’s some depth and a little space to the soundstage on the Flow. While not as airy as a pair of open-back headphones, it’s still better than some other closed-back ‘phones. As mentioned earlier, vocals still seem slightly distanced from instrumentation, but instruments can seem crowded on more intricate tracks. While not a total deal breaker, it may prevent me from recommending the Flow for classical fans (but the sound still works well with rock, hip-hop, electronica, and pop).
The longer I listen to the Cleer Flow, the more I appreciate just how good it sounds. Balanced but detailed, fun but clean, it’s odd to find a headphone with this kind of sound that still supports wireless operation.
While the 20 hour battery life still kind of grinds my gears, the overall sound quality definitely allows me to take it in stride. And, I have to re-iterate here that the touch controls are some of the best. Whether adjusting volume, pausing playback, or skipping tracks, I never have to try to execute the same command twice. The Flow also automatically pauses playback when removed from your ears.
Fans of a bassier sound would do well to consider the Focal Listen Wireless (at $299). While not as balanced or as rich in terms of detail, the Listen Wireless does offer a bit more chutzpah in the lows.
For folks who need the balance and detail, the Audio Technica ATH-M50XBT (at $199) also comes to mind. Being cheaper than the Cleer Flow, it lacks the inclusion of noise-cancellation, but does offer twice the battery life at 40 hours.
Where ANC is a must though (on a daily commute, or perhaps for frequent flyers), the Cleer Flow offers impressive value – especially when considering the unique level of sound quality. Despite the inclusion of user-friendly controls and wireless connectivity, the Flow sounds like an audiophile headphone.
For $249, you could do a lot worse the Cleer Flow. While the comfort and user features may be a simple matter of taste, the sheer level of audio quality hiding inside this budget-friendly headphone can’t be discounted. While Cleer may lack the advertising budget or brand-recognition of its competitors, the Flow proves that truly great sound can come from anywhere.
Get the Cleer Flow for the best price here:
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