Cleer Audio Alpha Headphones
Cleer continues to balance between price and quality with the Cleer Alpha Active Noise Canceling (ANC) headphones which offer superior sound and outstanding ANC in a premium package that usually discounts to under $200. With this quality and the reasonable price, Cleer tossed down a gauntlet to the likes of Bose and Sony that trading on brand isn’t good enough anymore.
Cleer Audio continues to offer earbuds and headphones that punch well above their presumed class. With the Cleer Audio Alpha headphones, the company delivers a new pair of cans that surpasses its Flow IIs offering which was previously my standard travel companion. The Alpha’s long battery life and outstanding audio make them a compelling rival to competitors like Bose and Sony.
What we like
Cleer continues to step up their game. The Alphas don’t mimic the Flow IIs metallic burnishing, but they also don’t weigh as much. But the Alpha’s positives don’t stop with reduced weight, it also increases the quality of noise cancellation, offers near top-of-class battery performance, and most importantly, incredible sound.
Cleer is clearly competing best in class. While mostly plastic, the Alpha’s come across as refined and well-engineered. The faux leather cups and straps are supple and thick. Over the years Cleer has learned a few things, such as concentrating on sound. Gone are the original Flow’s replaceable metal rings. The embedded accents look just fine. In fact, Cleer simplified the design making for a headset that is as slick looking as it is efficient. Every headphone manufacturer struggles with the touch versus button issue. With the Alphas Cleer gets it as right as I think possible.
I find the Alpha’s comfortable for long days in front of Zoom, Webex or Teams, or listening to music to avoid Zoom or Teams. Some reviewers complain about tightness and weight (11.64 ounces), but I found neither of those bothersome.
Like many of the higher-end headphones, the Alphas focus on touch controls rather than buttons beyond power on and noise cancelation. I found the controls intuitive, though because I evaluate so many headphones I appreciate the simplicity of moving fingers up and down, or back and forth, to control volume or skip songs. Place your hand on the right earcup and the volume drops and ambient sound pours through. Repeat to return to the isolation of ANC.
The Alpha’s come complete with a quality case, charging cables, a 3.5mm audio cable and an airline adapter.
At 35 hours of battery life, the Alphas offer days of audio companionship, not hours. You can easily move from intense meetings to a relaxing groove and never worry about missing a beat. The Alphas also charge quickly in a pinch. A ten-minute visit to a USB-C charger yields several hours of listening time. Charge them overnight though, and you won’t need to charge them during the day, probably ever.
All those hardware and electronics, packaging and accessory perks, however, should be in service of the sound. Without good sound, over-the-ear headphones become little more than annoying, noisy ear warmers. Cleer continues its tradition of making sound an even higher bit than design.
The 40mm ironless drivers scream as much as they deliver on subtlety. The low-latency aptx Adaptive codec and customizable equalizer deliver good sound even to compressed streams arriving via Bluetooth® 5.1, while the built-in spatial audio from Dirac Virtuo™ brings a spacious soundscape to listeners. Virtuo overrides custom EQ settings when it’s on. My preference is to turn on Virtuo and not to bother with the EQ settings.
Unlike some combination wired and wireless headphones, the Cleer Alpha’s deliver sound, even with the power off. Cleer eschews some of the wireless features with a wired feed, but the high-definition (HD) audio may be well worth the sacrifice for audiophiles. I like that the audio cable is a standard 3.5mm audio cable rather than the proprietary USB-C/audio cable found on Cleer’s Enduro headphones. If I lose this cable it won’t come with any accompanying lost sleep.
I found myself happy with the solid lows, tingly highs and breakthrough mids. Freddie Mercury’s ethereal voice floats and falls into the cavernous chorus that is Bohemian Rhapsody. Lin Manuel Miranda sits above the simple piano cords on Hamilton’s It’s Quiet Uptown. The growling riffs rip through Sk8tr Boi, while The Piano Guys version of A Thousand Years smoothly soothes any frayed audio edges at the end of a long day of video conferencing. For the full force of the Cleer Alpha experience just crank Dan Guetta’s Sia masterpiece Titanium. It will be enough.
And yes, the Cleer Audio Alphas work well as either a video conferencing headset or for audio calls. Qualcomm’s cVcTM (clear voice capture) two-mic beamforming technology captures voices efficiently. Given the amount of time on calls I tend to use ears buds for both appearance and mobility, but the Alpha’s outstanding audio will do more than serve when called upon.
The Cleer Audio Alpha’s world-class active noise cancelation (ANC) creates a cocoon of isolation that transports listeners away from the mundane. Sound actually feels like it’s being distanced, sucked from the area around you like an airlock opening into space. Louder noises, important noises, will likely get through, but Cleer’s engineers had an ANC target and it certainly appears they hit it. My wife startled me while I was typing this review as she tapped vigorously on my chair to get my attention. I could not hear her telling me lunch was ready from one room over from my office (with full ANC mode in play, and The Corr’s Breathless serenading me).
But if ANC is too much, the Cleer+ apps support ten levels of adjustable ambient sound intrusion so owners can better sense children crying or cars speeding toward them.
The app also offers control over features like auto power-off, wearing detection, firmware upgrades, the default language and access to the manual.
Cleer’s mix of features and performance continues to evolve, which each flagship release becoming my go-to headset for serious music enjoyment.
What could be improved
I would like to see more clarity on what works and doesn’t when using the wired configuration. With power on and the wire in, I found touching the earcup turned off the sound even though my iPad’s Music app continued to show the song playing. I have reached out from clarity to Cleer.
I listen to much of my music on the iPad. While Cleer’s iPhone app works OK, an iPad app with a more integrated control panel feel would be appreciated over the parsed-out controls of the iPhone app.
Cleer Audio Alpha: The Bottom Line
Cleer continues to refine their headphones. They fine-tune the sound and simplify the design. The Cleer Audio Alpha’s reflect a significant improvement over the Flow series, which used to be their premium product (now very discounted on their site and elsewhere). But it isn’t just the sound. The components continue to evolve, becoming more adept and agile, delivering once highly touted, proprietary engineering-level features, with quality, to an expanding array of manufacturers.
Cleer clearly wants to become a brand. Rather than taking modern components and combining them with slipshod design, Cleer packages their components into devices with experiences that challenge household names like Bose While often discounted, the Cleer Audio Alphas are not a budget headset.
CES 2022 recognized the Cleer Audio Alpha with an innovation award.
Cleer provided the Alpha headphones for review. Images courtesy of Cleer.
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