Review: Cleer Flow
American Airlines used to offer Bose Quiet Comfort 2 (QC2s) noise-canceling headsets to First Class on loan during flights. So like many American Airlines flyers, as I accumulated toward what is now my Million Miles (lifetime Gold status) I spent some of those miles at the American Airlines store to acquire QC2s back in 2006. The emergency exits and first class on American Flights used to look like a Bose commercial.
Over the many years of use, technology changed and QC2s didn’t wear well. My ear cups started peeling, my input cable snapped after an awkward seating situation and now the headband is peeling. I have replaced the ear pads and the cable with third-party replacements. I don’t think anyone offers a headband solution. Although worn technology is the hallmark of iconic science fiction films like Star Wars and Aliens, in the real-world-worn technology just feels sad.
And the world of technology has changed significantly since 2005. There are many examples of noise-canceling headsets, many less expensive than the Bose models, and many just as good, and many better looking.
I know this is a long way to get to the review of a new headset, but I think my experience with the Cleer Flow required some context. And yet here is some additional context. On a recent flight from New York, booked at the last minute, I found myself relegated to row 30, non-reclining by the toilet on an Alaska Airlines 737. My new Cleer Flows, the content downloaded to my iPad, and a very nice flight attendant were the saving graces on that flight. My iPad and my Cleer Flows kept me distracted from the fact I was sitting in the worst seat on the plane, and my flight attendant comped my food (and those of the passenger next to me) because, well, I was sitting in the worst seats on the plane.
The Cleer Flows and the nice flight attendant made the trip as pleasurable as possible given the over six hours in a non-reclining seat. I noise canceling feature of the Cleer Flows masked the sound of the line that regularly formed along my periphery. In this situation, however, I wish I also had some olfactory canceling tech to complement the noise cancelation.
What I like
The Cleer Flows have many good things going for them. They are beautifully designed, offer hybrid connectivity, deliver strong battery performance, pump our great sound and bring it all together in a nice package of accessories and extras.
Design. The Cleer Flows are beautiful, with nice lines, a well-thought-out way to collapse them into their case easily after mastering the right twists and turns. A fabric flap inside the case illustrates the proper way to store the headphones. Clear, multi-colored labels on the headphones also make the right and left ear cups easy to discern.
For those who like a little personalization, the rings around the outside of the headphones can be swapped out to match personal preference or paired devices.
While a bit on the heavy side at 11.9 ounces, the weight never becomes an issue when wearing the Cleer Flows. They feel balanced, fit securely and don’t introduce any discomfort over time.
Connectivity. Cleer brings hybrid connectivity to the Flow, with Bluetooth 4.2 and a cable. And that is the best of both worlds. And for those who want to leverage tapping for connectivity, the Flows include NFC so proximity is enough to pair.
While the Flow does offer a hybrid solution, unlike some headphones with less processing power, the Cleer Flow keeps up with audio on video with no noticeable delays.
While the Flow does offer a hybrid connection solution (via wire), unlike some headphones with less processing power, the Cleer Flow keeps up with audio on video with no noticeable delays even when using Bluetooth.
The Cleer Flows also include a microphone for taking calls.
Sound. The Cleer Flow 40mm ironless drivers deliver great sound. Their hybrid noise canceling tech suppress a wide range of ambient noise. I feel as though I’m living in the sound.
The Cleer hybrid noise canceling tech suppress a wide range of ambient noise. I feel as though I’m living in the sound.
And this is even more apparent when experiencing the various levels of ambient noise that the headphones let in when invoking one of the three modes of ambient sound management. The Flows allow for ambient amplification, voice mode for talking and conversation mode. Amplification flips the microphones outward to capture and amplify voices in the immediate vicinity. Using the ambient sound modes makes it easy to talk to a flight attendant, listen for announcements and talk to people when ordering or checking out. Flip noise canceling back on and the headsets quickly remind you just how good they are at filtering out noise. Cleer delivers outstanding noise cancelation.
Music playback is outstanding. I can feel the lows, and the highs are clear enough to make me want to reach for them. These are the best sounding wireless headphones I own. I think only my Blue Mix-Fis exceed them in sound quality.
Controls. There are no overt sound controls on the headset. Swiping up or sideways controls volume and movement between tracks, or pauses and plays.
The headphones do include a couple of buttons that you need to get used to, including power, ambient noise and noise canceling. The very few options make it easy to memorize features and button positions. Voice prompts confirm the last action taken.
Battery. 20 hours. That is a good number. Enough said. And if the battery dies, the Flows still work without noise cancelation via the cable.
Package and extras. Some sub-three hundred dollar headphones don’t come with a nice case, sometimes they just come with a bag. The Cleer Flows arrive fully ready for travel: a case, a charging cable, the audio cable, even an adapter for older aircraft that still require alternative connectors.
Price: At $279, not inexpensive, but much less expensive than other brands offering similar features.
There isn’t much that Cleer can make better in the Flow that it hasn’t already addressed in the Flow II. There are of course, the standard wish list: make them lighter, keep improving the sound and get the battery to last longer…but for where the technology is today, the Clear Flows hit all the right notes in their price range.
The Cleer Flows will be likely replaced in 2019 by a new cousin, the Flow II, that includes built-in Google Assistant for controlling headphone features and sound. I’m guessing replacement given the price is the same. The Flows might drop in price to clear inventory once the Flow IIs hit the market. Stay tuned.
I use the term hybrid in relationship to the Cleer Flows in two ways. First, they are hybrid in that they support Bluetooth and wired connection. They are also considered hybrid in that they are noise canceling and voice amplifying depending on the mode.
The Cleer Flow headphones deliver outstanding performance elegantly packaged for a well-designed headset experience.
The Cleer Flow headphones deliver outstanding performance elegantly packaged for a well-designed headset experience. My favorite over-the-ear Bluetooth headphones so far.
Available in silver or black.
Note: Cleer provided the product for the purposes of evaluation and review.