To be honest, when realizing that I was one of the people whose reviews did get voted as favourite by the community I was thinking: “Oh fuck, I didn’t expect this. I really have to put in my everything when reviewing the Flow II.”. So about those Cleer Flow II… I think they deserve the title of my ‘most mediocre headphone I’d never have bought’.
Ok, just take a few steps back - when receiving the Flow II I had already looked at online reviews and was cautiously pessimistic when receiving them - I mean everything about them had already been said, right? They’re decent but nothing to write home about. But hey, I got the chance to have a look at them so I felt obliged to give my first impressions on them. Ok, stop again - first impressions? Yes, you read correctly - those are only my first impressions since I feel it’s very important to spend proper time with a pair of cans before writing a full review. So please read this as what it is: My first impressions & observations after the first 10 days.
Build & Comfort
Unpacking the Flow II came as a pleasant surprise - they have a pretty nice build quality. Even when trying to creak something they are not really creaky at all - only when you put proper force into it they start creaking a bit, but honestly that’s to be expected from any plastic at all. Because the outer shell of the Flow II is made out of a sturdy plastic with a kinda matte-ish finish that does not hold any fingerprints at all. I won’t go into further detail on the design since I’m sure pictures can say much more than words and while my photography skills are not too totally bad the ones from other reviewers are far better. Only mention I want to give is the small jagged ‘circle’ around the earcups - I really like that design choice as it gives the Flow II a personality compared to your average headphones. But not having it replaceable (and open-sourcing the design for those) so you can have your own color or pattern in there feels a bit like a slightly missed opportunity.
A thing I just noticed while writing down my thoughts is that the Flow II do have some light ‘stretching’ marks on the inner side of the plastic headband. I’d honestly not expect this type of wear after just a few days of usage and am a tad worried about the longevity of the headband.
In terms of comfort I did not have to extend the headband of the Flow too much - and was very surprised to see an aluminium headband hiding beneath the plastic cover! I hope that this bodes well for future build quality and want the Muse to take note of that! My main usage was mutliple hours on my head during working hours and when traveling home. While the earcups are pretty soft (but non-replaceable!) the top headband felt a bit too shallow. While sufficient in not having permanent pain having the cushioning a bit thicker would help alleviate the slight pain I feel on my head where the Flow rest. This might also be caused due to the comparatively high weight of Bluetooth cans however.
The build quality is rock solid with a point deducted for some pain after carrying nearly daily for these 10 days. The stretch-marks and non-replaceable earpads are a downer however. 4/5
Portability & Bluetooth Quality
Being big comparatively bulky over-ear headphones the Flow II is definitely a downgrade to my previous setup - the MH755 together with a µBTR Bluetooth receiver. However, once I got used to the comparatively high bulk of over-ear cans the Flow II were more portable than I expected. When worn around the neck (with the headband expanded a tad & the cups flipped upwards) even with a scarf the Flow were relatively nice to carry around. Other than that with the Flow on my head I they were mostly fine - check out my comments about comfort for more information.
Now to the bluetooth quality - we’re not talking about sound quality but only the connection quality with the bluetooth connection. And honestly - I was pretty surprised. When wearing them around my old office I did only have some connection drops with at least a wall and close to a WiFi router. 2 Walls and 10 meters were too much for the Flow II with my P20 not being connected anymore. But overall the connection quality is fine.
So overall, there’s literally nothing negative to say against the Flow II - the bluetooth range is really impressive because most devices are rated at 10 meters (30 feet) so that’s honestly 5/5 here.
Gesture Controls & ‘Take off to Pause’
Oof, now we’re talking. Now, first up are the gesture controls, since I’m sure those will be noticed by more people. Adjusting the volume is done by sliding up or down fast to increase or decrease the volume. And if I say fast I mean fast. Like, I wasn’t sure if this worked at all in the beginning fast. Now this would only be much worse if Cleer decided to have a fine-grained control from 0 to 100 on that slide - instead one slide just adjusts it in ~6% steps (at least according to Windows). This makes that part acceptable, but if you want to increase the volume by a bunch you’ll stand around and swipe like an idiot. Track skipping does use the same speed / technique but is done by swiping forward / backwards with the swipe forwards going to the next track and back swipes going back a track. Now, this has sometimes misregistered as volume for me, but it’s mostly fine. What annoys me here is the fact that for both swiping actions (volume / tracks) you’ll be swiping close to the edge of the Flow. But I honestly think this can be fine.
What can never be fine is the Play / Pause functionality. To get the track to pause/stop you have to tap the side in a exact ‘thup thup’ rhythm. Not a ‘thwop thwop’ which is a tad slower or a ‘dup dup’ which is a tad faster - it has to be an exact ‘thup thup’. And I even using the Flow II for 10 days I can’t get them to play/pause reliably with this. It usually takes me 2 attempts to play/pause them.
All of this would be fine if the ‘take off to pause’ that the Flow II have would work in more than 20% of cases. Honestly, at first I thought it worked decently fine but now after spending a bunch of time with it I’ve rarely seen it work. Which is honestly very annoying to me.
The gesture controls need improvements if put into the Muse. While 2 parts work very well for me now, the play/pause is just far too inconsistent. - 2/5.
First up I should mention that the Flow II are my first pair of ANC headphones. I had the Bose QC35 (not the II, the first generation) on for half an hour and after that my ears started to hurt. With the Flow II that’s not the case - which is a big plus in my book. However, there is a big drawback on the other side - the ANC is not blocking out things as well as I’d want to. When commuting in the train (or traveling because some idiot forgot his car keys at the office and has to travel 30 minutes back…) the ANC manages to block out the noise of the train nearly completely. However just the light chatter around me that one’d expect at a 9PM train? Not a chance. Now, once firing up Spotify on low volume? Nothing can be heard anymore, except the annoying girl 2 rows behind me that is talking loudly about her life story.
There is also the other side to ANC - which is ‘Ambient Mode’. Ambient Mode does deactivate the ANC and (at least it seems to me) that it uses the microphones to slightly forward the surrounding sounds. This is mostly noticed when walking on a windy day in Ambient Mode - you can hear the clear ‘hissing’ that wind causes with ANC. Even the regular ANC mode is not free of this, but when playing music or listening to a podcast unless it’s a direct gust of wind this is mostly fine in my book.
And now to ANC off mode. To turn the ANC off just power off the Flow II and… wait, what? ANC off means powering off the Flow ? Yes, you read right dear reader - the Flow II don’t feature a proper ANC off mode. Honestly once I figured this out I was a tad bummed - because while you’d think that Ambient Mode is a decent replacement for ANC off, it’s not anymore once it get a bit windy. Not cool, and something I’d like to see in the Muse.
Finally there is ‘Listen’ Mode. This is an interesting mode that interacts with a gesture - yay? To turn it on you just place your palm/ fingers on the left earcup and it deactivates whatever ANC-mode is currently available and tries to forward conversations to your ears. This works mostly fine - if it was not for a few things that made me use this mode less than I wanted. First up it takes a good second (literal second) for the Flow II to switch from whatever mode to the ‘Listen’-mode. This in itself is slightly annoying but fine. What really kills it for me is the fact that whatever you’re listening to is muted during the time spent switching & then it continues running in the background at a not very loud pace. While it’s maybe ok for music, when listening to podcasts this is completely unacceptable.
So while I don’t think the ANC overall is pretty decent, the missing ANC-off mode & slight issue with the ‘Listen’ ANC mode is putting this down further than I’d want them to. 2.5/5
For this I’m focusing on two parts - what other people gave me as feedback when using the Flow II on my work notebook with Windows 10 & people I’ve called on my P20. As for both my conversation-partners were happy with the microphone quality. However, the people who knew the microphone quality of my V were not too impressed with the quality of the Flow. Thus I can give the microphone quality of the Flow a ‘decent enough’.
Now, let’s just compare the sound quality directly of the Flow II against my wired Antlion Modmic 4 and the integrated microphone of my Lenovo P50 (since the microphone of my V seems to be broken). The Antlion 4 will be connected to the P50 with a Sabrent USB Audiocard from Amazon.
Also a big grain of salt: We’re talking about the Bluetooth performance of the Flow II here - this will be inherently worse than any wired performance just due to the highly limited bandwidth of Bluetooth Microphones.
Now, comparing those 3 will show that the Flow II is the worst of the bunch - but this is due to the fact that it’s only using Bluetooth. However, taking that out of consideration, we still have to talk about the fact that the Flow II are the most silent of the 3 tested microphones. I’m unsure if improved microphones would drastically improve the recording quality of the Flow but having the microphones maybe a tad louder (without introducing either hissing or white noise) would be appreciated.
So, the microphone quality is nothing to write home about but hey, I don’t think anyone expected that. It’s more than enough for the use-case 4/5
The Flow II provide a nice & clear sound.
What, you want a deeper analysis? Sure! Let’s go all in this time around! For this test I’ll be using the Flow II with my Huawei P20 as source. One time connected via Bluetooth using the LDAC codec. The second time it will be via wired & connected the Apple USB-C adapter to the P20. These 2 different testing methods were chosen after someone of the other testers pointed out to me that the sound signature seemed different between wireless and wired. And who’d I be to not check that out?
For testing I’ll be using my usual 3 suspects, all streamed via Apple Music:
- I’ll keep coming from Low Roar to get the ‘resolution’ and hear some of the space
- Planetes from Egoist to test high vocals and fine details.
- Rip & Tear from the Doom (2016) soundtrack to cover the bass(e) and how well the Flow can keep up when having deep bass hit with Guitar Riffs tearing through them.
First up is Bluetooth.
And before I go into the songs here I want to note that this is with ANC on - I’m unsure how this will affect sonal performance, but honestly it’s the only thing that’s there and so I’ll be testing that.
I’ll keep coming does show great separation between the channels and gives actually a greater ‘space’ than I’d expect to hear with ANC turned on. But honestly, compared to other Over-Ear headphones (Denon AH-MM400) they don’t feel as spacious as one might expect. Also what I noticed as soon as comparing with the Denon is that the bass seems to be turned back a good bump - especially starting at 1:40 when the heartbeat and bass kicks in the Flow II start struggling.
With Planetes following the Flow show incredible performance when it comes to the vocals and minor details - the beginning of the song features some very faint footsteps that the Flow II did picture amazingly. But again, comparing with the AH-MM400 it’s insane that the Flow II seem to ‘eat’ up the bass-portion of the ‘foot landing on the ground’. It’s as if the Flow II are eating up every single bit of bass they can get at - and honestly, the more I compare it with the MM400 the more frustrated I get in that regard. Again starting at ~2:10 there is a point where there’s a small ‘reverb’ which comes out beautifully on the MM400 but looses the richness and reverb on the Flow II. I’ll chuck this one up to Bluetooth however, since I can imagine that compressing it down to send over does loose a bunch of detail especially with the voice layered over each other.
And finally, Rip & Tear. The Flow does an amazing job on emphasizing the guitar riffs, but it again does not have any present. What makes this song my choice is to hear how well headphones can picture the guitar riffs ‘tearing’ through the bass. With the Flow II, this is missing sorely and while it sounds like a sick guitar solo it’s just missing any of the weight the bass has.
Overall? The bluetooth mode with ANC-on seems to be a very lightweight affair, tuned mostly for pop-songs where they even eat up the bass in there. To be honest, after comparing with the MM400 I want to just chuck the Flow II in a corner and go back to the MM400.
And to be fair to the Flow - the MM400 were connected to my phone via the Apple USB-C adapter, but even when re-listening with the MM400 connected to my 30€ FiiO µBTR, the MM400 makes minced meat outta the Flow II with Bluetooth. I’m unsure if I should chuck this up to the ANC because the Bluetooth should not be at fault if a 30€ dongle can outperform 300€ headphones.
But let’s just have a fair look at the wired performance.
For this the Flow II is connected to my P20 via the Apple USB-C adapter. This is done since I doubt many people will hook these headphones up to a proper big DAC/AMP and the Apple USB-C adapter is pretty much the best cheap USB-C adapter on can get. Cool feature: If the Flow II is turned on and you’re using a 4-pin cable the Flow will transmit commands like Play/Pause etc. you input via gesture control. I did not check if the microphone works like this. To eliminate the potential of ANC the Flow II were turned off so I could listen and enjoy the pure performance of the drivers. And to be honest: After the debacle I had when listening to the Bluetooth version I sincerely hope they blow me away.
So, let’s hit it off with I’ll keep coming. And what is immediately noticeable to me is how much better the Flow II sound with the wire and without ANC. The bass has much more weight and it’s much more fun to listen to. The ANC seems to not have impacted the feeling of spaciousness too much - it’s much better than with ANC but worse with the MM400 - which to be fair provide a fantastic soundstage. But simply listening to the Flow II via wire you could be convinced you’re listening to two different headphones. This does not bode too well for the Bluetooth version which is the one most people will be using.
Next up Planetes - again a much improved performance especially with Bass - this song however does not show as much improvement in the beginning, but once we hit the layered vocals again the Flow II show a much improved performance - not performing as well as the MM400 but honestly that pair is a best when it comes to audio performance (and there’s a reason the MM400 costs 400€ when they don’t come with Bluetooth).
Last but not least a good listen of Rip & Tear. And with the wire attached the Flow II provide exactly what I wanted from them. A thumpin’ bass with some great riffs that tear through the track. Yes, separation could be better, the bass is a tad sluggish in it’s delivery so the riffs have a hard time tearing through, but it’s a very solid performance.
Now, let me deviate from all of this - to break the 4th wall a bit, the sound section is and was the section I’m still most afraid off, since it’s highly personal and especially after hearing that there is a difference between Bluetooth and wired I did not want to write anything the audio section because it’s just a pretty large chunk of work to just compare those 3 songs. But know what? I’m going through it again a THIRD time - that’s right dear community, this time I’m combining wired and ANC to see what’s the real culprit here: The equalizer Cleer put on the Bluetooth mode or the ANC itself.
And since I was just on Rip & Tear, let me stay with that song since it also showed the largest improvement between Bluetooth and Wired. And honestly after listening to this I might just skip the other 2 songs since the difference between Bluetooth and Wired+ANC is like night and day. Yes, the Flow II looses a bit of punch with the bass, but it’s nothing major. Funnily enough the ANC seems to tighten up the bass response a good bunch so we can now hear the ‘ripping’ much better, but it sounds a tad muddier and duller than without ANC. But unless you listen A-B it’s not something any normal listener would notice - at least I did not until I did A-B test.
But I did not and so Planetes is up next and the major improvements from the wired section are here again, but when we talk about the layered vocals starting at 2:10 the ANC is definitely killing the amazing reverb that can be heard with the MM400.
To finish with what I started, I’ll keep coming. Honestly, it’s pretty much just as Rip & Tear and Planetes - slightly reduced reverb and space due to the ANC, but much improved punch with the bass.
So, let’s talk about this result. Honestly, the audio performance of the Bluetooth mode are abysmal. I don’t know what the duck caused the bass to just duck out of the way like a round 10-year old kid cowering in the corner while the rest of the class plays dodgeball.
I’m majorly disappointed in what happened here - either there is an equalizer on the DAC included in the Flow II or for whatever reason the speakers are not getting enough power - either way, the bass is a disgrace and while I liked listening to podcasts on the Flow II, listening to music was always missing something - the mashed potatoes to a pretty nice steak.
And this is literally my biggest critique of the sonal performance of the Flow II and if it persists in the Muse I’ll definitely not recommend them. Personally I’m a fan of the Harman-Curve (a slightly elevated bass compared to a ‘flat’ response) which the Flow II’s bluetooth tuning seems to actively go against. If we however then go and compare the wired performance of the Flow II I’ve got to say that I like the default tuning of the speakers - there are better headphones out there (looking at you my beauty Denon AH-MM400) but they are costing more and having less features.
Either removing the equalizer that is on there (if there is any) or replacing the existing DAC with a much better one (at least an AK4376A comes to mind - it’s cheap enough to be used in 30€ bluetooth DACs but still provides a nice audio quality) is a must have when taking the design and putting it into the Muse.
With the just disappointing bass on the bluetooth (it might actually just not even exist) the bluetooth sound is a 1/2.5, the wired performance however is the saving grace for the Flow II with 1.5/2.5- it shows that the drivers in the Flow II are decent enough that with a bit of tuning the Muse can sound great. 2.5/5
Because honestly, when looking at the pure sound performance there are great headphones that are in s similar audio-class for a much lower price than the Flow II - the Beyerdynamic DT 770 instantly come to mind for some amazing audio performance. And they are available for ~120€.
So, overall what do I think of the Flow II as a baseline for the Muse? Should it just be scrapped and the Muse should be developed from scratch? Or can we utilize some great base that’s already there and tweak & tune it to receive some amazing headphones? Summing up the score comes up to a overall 20.5/35. While this may look like I think the Muse should just be designed from the ground up, it’s not the case. The Flow II provide a solid baseline in some areas for the Muse to build upon. But it’s definitely not without flaws - the ANC and Gesture control HAVE to be improved if the Muse wants to keep up with the big players like the Sony MX3.
And as mentioned - the Bluetooth audio quality. What exists right now feels like a slap to the face of anyone who just likes a hint of bass.
After wrapping everything up I wanna provide a summary of all parts I enjoy about the Flow II and what the Muse should keep from it and which parts should be reworked / done from scratch:
Build Quality itself is solid.
Bluetooth is super solid and if possible nothing should be changed about that.
The audio quality when wired is decent -
ANC is mediocre. If the ‘Listen’ mode can be improved and a proper ANC-off is enabled, then we’d have a positive point in our hands.
Comfort for the headband has to be improved even if just a bit.
Microphone quality seems ok during calls, but it seems just a tad too silent. Then again it’ll definitely not pick up that someone is eating lunch next to you.
The gesture controls for play/pause are horrendous.
The ‘take off to pause’ as well is just super bad. I could not make it work consistently
Bass? With bluetooth enabled the bass is non existent and that is just a pure disgrace for the Flow II.
Final Notes I did not manage to cram in anywhere else so they’re just here at the bottom
- Battery Life is great - 20 hours seem to be no problem, this is with or without Music playing --> think a proper ANC-off could deliver like 40 hours of battery life?
- Fuck the ‘take off to pause’ is just annoying. When using the Flow II with my Linux I noticed that it wanted to start playing when nothing was playing! UGH!
- No testing of Google Assistant.
- Latency seem to be ok - when watching a YT-video of Beatsaber gameplay on Linux the audio syncs up mostly - can’t watch too long however, Motion sickness from watching VR
- Final addition: Some way to customize some settings on the Flow II that are stores on the cans themselves would be an amazing feature to have. Examples being:
a) Equalizer Settings Stored on the Flow II
b) Automatic Turnoff-Time (since sometimes you just need ANC but no music)
c) Behaviour for the ‘Google Assistant Button’ (e.g. play/pause there?)
d) Intensity of the ANC
Thank you for reading through my first impressions of the Flow II - personally I like the choice of Eve to save a chunk of R&D by reusing existing headphones and I think with the Flow II as base the Muse has a good chance of becoming a great pair of cans, but careful tuning and polish is needed to make it that - if this is not put in the Muse will become a worthy successor to the Flows title. And honestly - I think ‘favourite bluetooth headphones’ sounds much better than ‘successor of the most mediocre headphones I own’.