Hello here is my review:
In this review of the Cleer Flow II I will focus on six aspects. Build quality, comfort, noise cancelling, Bluetooth performance and range, sound quality, and features.
I was impressed when I first set eyes on these headphones. They look premium, despite their mostly plastic build. They are solidly built, without a feeling uncomfortable or rigid. I’m not a big fan of the style rings, however I do find them much less garish than I thought I initially would. I also quite like the silver colour, despite again not thinking I would. The colours are more muted, which I prefer.
Positives: One of my main concerns about folding headphones, are that the hinges on them will break and ultimately make the headphones unwearable. This is a non-issue with the Flows. The hinges feel strong, they don’t move without a decent amount of pressure applied, meaning that when the headphones are folded up, they will stay folded.
Negatives: Although the stiffness is a positive when keeping the earcups in place, they do require a good amount of force to move them. Personally I’d prefer a slightly easier to move hinge. The hinge does also not snap into place, it just stops at a certain point, which gives the earcups less of a secure feeling. I understand the reasoning for this, as the current method reduces the chance of the hinge breaking due to there being no metal hinge (from what I can tell), but it does feel cheaper. The hinge also folds outwards for storage, I would prefer it to fold the other way, so I can rest the memory foam on my chest when I am not wearing the headphones, rather than the metal side of the earcups.
Positives: The plastic used around the headphones feels strong and well machined. The fit and finish of the headphones is of a good standard. The headband extender feels good, with a satisfying click at each increase of size (this is more of what I was hoping the hinge would feel like).
Negatives: When taking the headphones on and off I noticed a creaking and cracking sound from the headband. This is also present when twisting the headband slightly and adjusting the headband length. Despite the headphone’s good build quality this does concern me, however this could just be teething issues and might sort itself out in the next few days, I will update my review if that is the case.
Positives: It is well integrated into the headphones, good positioning.
Negatives: I would like a locking mechanism, or a slightly tighter port, to ensure that if tension is placed on the cable, it won’t come out of the port. I was using a 45-degree angled cable and had issues with this on a few occasions.
Positives: The earcups feel plush, and provided a decent amount of padding, I didn’t feel my ears hitting the drivers and they fit fine inside the earcups. The tilt and swivel of the earcups was plenty for my head and 3 other people with various head sizes. I will elaborate more on this during the “comfort” section of my review.
Negatives: They could do with a little more padding; however I will go more into this during the “comfort” part of my review.
Positives: The buttons are easy to locate and have satisfying “clicks” when pressed. The fit and finish of the power and noise cancelling buttons are good. The ability to differentiate between each button was very useful (I.e. having the bumps and the “assistant” button raised up).
Negatives: I often found myself pressing the buttons accidently when adjusting the headphones, especially the “Google Assistant” button. The Google Assistant button was wobbly compared to the other two, I imagine because it is more raised up than the other two.
Overall I find these headphones to be quite comfortable, though nothing compared to my Sennheiser HD598s. The longest period I wore these headphones for was 2 and a half hours straight. I did find that after a few hours they became more comfortable pressure wise, I think this was down to me getting used to them.
Positives: I found the shape of the band to be suited to my head (57cm). The padding was of a high quality and there was enough to provide a good level of comfort. There were no pressure points or painful moments when wearing them for the 2.5 hours.
Negative: If I’m being picky, it could have a little more padding, there is around half an inch at each end of the headband which isn’t padded.
Positives: The material used is comfortable, there is enough space inside of them to fit my ears (6.8cm). My ears didn’t touch the drivers inside.
Negatives: My ears get warm, quite quickly. I don’t know if this is just because I’m used to open backed headphones, but it’s an issue for me. This occurs regardless of how much pressure is applied to my head (through adjusting the headband). I think it’s down to the material and the tight seal that the headphones create. I live in Scotland and it’s winter so this isn’t down to the ambient temperature of the room I’m in. It became quite uncomfortable to wear the headphones for the 2.5 hours due to the warmth and sweat of my ears. However removing the headphones for 20 seconds or so allowed my ears to cool off, and I was able to resume comfortably listening. Slightly more padding could also be beneficial for comfort levels.
I did notice that the headphones were quite a bit heavier than I’m used to. I don’t get the “Am I actually wearing headphones?” feel that I get with my HD598s which are 100 grams lighter. Although this wasn’t a major issue, I would happily swap some of the bling of the headphones in order to shed some weight. Especially since these are designed to be used during commuting, having a heavy pair of headphones on your head isn’t ideal. This is definitely an area where IEMs have these headphones beat (although this was always going to be the case, I just wasn’t expecting these headphones to be quite as heavy as they are).
I did notice after prolonged wearing, that I was developing a slight headache. I think this is due to the headphones clamping more than I am used to. This was without the noise cancelling enabled, I didn’t notice an increase in headaches with ANC enabled. It could be that I got unlucky and happened to develop unrelated headaches when testing these headphones, I will update this review if this ends up being the case.
Use When Exercising
When testing I went on a run and a walk. In both scenarios the headphones stayed on my head absolutely fine. They did slip around a little, but not to the degree that I was worried about them falling off my head. The clamp of the headphones is strong enough that I am confident these can be used by gym-goers (provided you don’t mind sweating profusely from your ears).
Four other people also tried these headphones and they found them comfortable over a half an hour period. Each of them had quite differently sized heads and ears and they all felt that the headphones fit them well after some headband adjustments. Two of them agreed with me that the earcup material made their ears uncomfortably warm after a while.
I should preface this part of the review by saying that I have never tried noise cancelling headphones, this is my first time trying this technology.
Active Noise Cancelling- Tests.
I am very impressed with the ability of the headphones to reduce rumble and consistent background noise. I conducted some tests in my home, with a washing machine, the ticking of a clock, and the noise of a water boiler. In all of these scenarios the headphones completely eliminated the noise, and the only thing I could hear was the low hiss of the headphone’s electrics.
I then used my studio speakers and YouTube videos to replicate typical scenarios in which I might use the ANC. I played each of the audios at around 10db louder than they would typically be in the real world. The first of which was car noise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTWfGST8rW4. The headphones completely removed this noise, leaving the electronic hiss in its place.
I then tried an audio of a crowd of people: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHBJNN-M_Mo. The headphones removed the low tone rumble, and parts of the vocals leaving most female voices due to their higher frequencies. However it did let a fair amount of the sound in, which I was expecting. Overall it was a decent result, especially due to the varied frequencies found in the audio.
Finally I tried an audio of a baby crying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oL2B-AAnsHo. Again I found the same results, the low frequencies and some of the mid frequencies were removed, leaving the higher pitched aspects of the crying.
Active Noise Cancelling- Audio Quality.
For this test, I am using my HTC 10 through a wired connection, so as not to add more variables to the results.
There is a substantial difference in audio when ANC is enabled, particularly in the low end. Bass is reduced by quite a large amount, and the mids are also more recessed, leaving the higher end to come through more. This makes sense as the ANC removes mostly low end, leaving the higher frequencies, but it is still noticeable.
In Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” the bass and mids are quietened, leaving space for more detail in the highs to shine. Similarly, in Queen’s “Somebody To Love” the highs and mids are more pronounced with ANC, with the bass being slightly reduced.
Personally I prefer the sound signature of the headphones when ANC is enabled, as I enjoy clarity over power in my headphones, something I will go into more detail about in the “audio quality” section of the review.
Passive Noise Cancelling- Tests
Although the ANC is very impressive, if your headphones run out of charge you are only left with the passive cancelling created through the seal of the earcups.
I repeated the same tests as I used with the ANC and here are the results:
The Car Test- Much more low end is let in, however it sounds muted, less clarity overall than when listening without the headphones on. There is a substantial increase in volume compared to ANC.
The Crowd Test- I found the same results. The low end that was not present when ANC was enabled had returned. Mids and lows were a lot more prominent. Louder compared to ANC, but more muted than listening without the headphones on.
The Baby Test- The sound was more muted and slightly quieter, however most of it was let in. Less clarity overall, but still very noticeable.
Overall I am very impressed with the noise cancelling, I was expecting the ANC not to remove quite as much as it did. Although it didn’t remove higher frequencies, it still made for a much more enjoyable listening experience in noisier environments. The passive cancellation was better than I expected, muting more egregious frequencies, however it is definitely no match for the ANC.
BLUETOOTH (PERFORMANCE AND RANGE).
I tested the Bluetooth performance of these headphones in a home with a wifi hub outputting 2.4ghz and 5ghz bands to 5 connected devices.
I used a HTC 10, outputting 320kbps mp3 files. I used the aptX HD Bluetooth codec.
The headphones are noticeably quieter when on Bluetooth compared to a cable, to the point where they just about reached a listenable volume for me in some of the quieter tracks I tested. I found this across all Bluetooth codecs. The audio quality also took a noticeable hit when on Bluetooth. The lows were less pronounced and the treble and high-end were more noticeable, to the point that they sometimes became grating.
Something else to note is all the audio tests were done with ANC on, as I don’t believe there is a way to use the headphones in Bluetooth mode without having some form of ANC enabled. Perhaps this is something that could be changed in the headphones, so that users can still use the Bluetooth and touch controls, without draining the battery so much.
I used Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” as my first testing track. When connected with a cable, the rounded warm bass shines through, as do the mids, and they prevent the highs from the cymbals from being too overpowering, it sounds great. However on Bluetooth, the bass and mids are more recessed, leaving me listening to a harsher sounding cymbal, and less detailed mids and lows. I was surprised by how much the Bluetooth connection impacted the quality of the audio. However the Amp and DAC in the HTC 10 is very good for a phone (one of the main reasons I purchased it), which is likely why the difference is so substantial.
My second track was Paolo Nutini’s “Iron Sky”. When cabled, the bass is present but not overbearing, allowing the drums and piano to find space in the mix. When on Bluetooth I found the same thing as I heard in “Last Goodbye”, with a harsh treble overpowering the mix. The hiss in the bass guitar amp at the start of the track was much more noticeable, and the general background noise of the track was amplified. When cabled, the vocals are more pronounced, and the overall presentation feels more balanced and less coloured. Again, the track can be played at a substantially louder volume through a cable compared to Bluetooth.
The final track I tested was Queen’s “Somebody To Love”. This was again a similar story. When cabled the track was full sounding and the nuances in the harmonies, drums and bass all shone through in a balanced way. On Bluetooth that the bass had been reduced alongside a bump in the highs. Although this did reveal more detail, the impact than the ANC had (reduced bass and increased mids and highs) coupled with the impact that Bluetooth had, made the song difficult to listen to due to a very prominent focus on the high end of the frequency spectrum. Bear in mind that I am an audiophile, and I really enjoy clarity and accuracy in my headphones, however this was far too much, and sounded unnatural.
I tested the headphones in a home with thick walls, and heavy wooden fire-proof doors. The doors are 1.5 inch hardwood. I was able to walk through two of those doors, across 5 meters of corridor, up 20 stairs to upstairs in my house, through another wooden door and across another 4 meters before the signal began to cut out. I was very impressed with the range of the headphones, especially given the obstacles in the way of the signal.
I conducted this test around 4 meters away from a wireless hub, which was outputting 2.4ghz and 5ghz signals to various wireless devices in the house.
I paired up my phone with the Flows and began to watch a YouTube video, checking carefully for any audio latency. I didn’t notice any audio latency when watching the video, even after 10 minutes the audio was still in sync with the visuals.
When I first listened to the Cleer Flow IIs I was disappointed, I found the clarity lacking and the bass overpowering. Having used a pair of Sennheiser HD598s for the past four years I had become accustomed to a detail-orientated headphone, without much bass and low mid response.
However after using the headphones for a day, I realised how wrong my initial impressions were. These headphones are fun to listen to, moreso than my HD598s. If I want clarity I’ll use my Sennheisers, if I want an engaging lively listening experience, I’ll use the Flows. I did find the bass to still be slightly overpowering, so after EQing 1db out of the 0-80khz range, and adding a 1db bump to the 500, 750 and 1.2K frequencies, I was ready to evaluate.
My listening setup is as follows:
Asrock Extreme4 Z77 Optical Audio Output
SMSL SD793-ii Amp/DAC.
3.5mm to 3.5mm AUX cable.
Cleer Flow IIs (wired and without ANC enabled).
All of the music I listened to was in FLAC (16 or 24bit).
I’ll separate the evaluation of sound quality into genres.
Eminem- “Kill You”.
Lows- Good bass response that isn’t overpowering but has enough prominence so it isn’t lost in the mix. The bass is tightly reproduced, accurately representing this part of the mix.
Mids- Drum hits and vocals sound great through the Flows, there is plenty of detail in Eminem’s lyrics, and the drums punch through the mix without being overbearing. The drums are in your face, but that’s a product of the production, and the headphones do it justice.
Highs- The higher frequency drum hits sound mildly harsh, however I think that was intentional in the production of the song, and is not the fault of the headphones. The piano melody comes through clearly, finding space in the mix despite the impactful drums and prominent bass.
NF- “Oh Lord”
Lows- The driving bass drum through the track hits hard in my chest. When the drum becomes more rhythmic it is tightly reproduced and does not intrude on any of the other instrumentation.
Mids- NFs singing and rapping are front and centre in this track, and the headphones handle his frustration and passion, I can almost hear him spitting into the mic in anger. Occasionally this becomes slightly harsh, but not painful to listen to. The rest of the mid range is occupied by instrumentation, which is presented with clarity. The guitar at the start is particularly detailed, where I can hear the player move his fingers around the fretboard.
Highs- The track is quite dark sounding, however the occasional hi hats and higher pitched vocals cut through the song with enough clarity to notice them.
Fleetwood Mac- “The Chain”.
I could hear the expletive at the start of the track, if that’s any indication of clarity.
Lows- The bass in this track is phenomenal, when it kicks in at 0:52 I really felt it in my chest. Despite not being a basshead I absolutely loved listening to the bass on the Flows (that final riff is gold). The bass drum hits are lively and engaging to listen to, without bleeding into the rest of the instrumentation.
Mids- The harmonies in “The Chain” are some of the best I’ve heard and the Flows don’t disappoint in their reproduction of them. I can hear each individual voice as they harmonise together, very impressive to listen to. The acoustic guitar is clear and the separation between the instruments is something I wasn’t expecting to be as good as it is. I thought the headphones would struggle with instrument separation due to their closed-back design, listening to “The Chain” proved me wrong.
Highs- The high end of the acoustic guitar is presented with air and the female voices cut through the high end. The screaming electric guitar at the end of the track sounds great, with plenty of detail and separation from the drums, vocals and bass.
Led Zeppelin -“Moby Dick”
I tested this track to hear how good the imaging and soundstage was on the Flows. I was pleasantly surprised by the wide soundstage and sense of space that the headphones provided. The drums hit hard, with good sonic separation between the Bonham hitting his hands on the drums, the use of a bass drum, and him using drumsticks. Really powerful to listen to, this track in particular made me realise what I’d been missing on my Sennheisers due to their lacking low end. Even when Bonham goes absolutely nuts, I can still make out each individual drum hit. I’ve listened to “Moby Dick” on lots of different headphones and speakers, and the Flows rival my JBL LSR305 speakers for bass response and that feeling you get in your chest when you’re thumped by a drumkit.
Radiohead- “Paranoid Android”
I tested this track to again see how good the soundstage was, and also how good the instrument separation is when dealing with a busy musical mix.
The Flows handled the track well, but I wasn’t blown away by the soundstage. On my Sennheisers I got a far greater sense of space, the Flows offered some separation but compared to the Sennheisers the mix sounded muddier and less refined. That’s not to say the headphones didn’t provide a good listening experience though. The song was balanced and accurately represented, with the bass guitar punching in at the right moments and the electric guitar kicking in at 2:57. Thom York’s vocals are clear and the drums (including the high end aspects of them) were easy to make out and appreciate.
For this particular track, I would rather listen on my Sennheisers though, so I could fully appreciate the intricate production that “OK Computer” has to offer. This isn’t a loss for the Flows, but if you are looking for a super wide soundstage these headphones can’t provide that.
Adele- “Someone Like You”.
Lows- The low piano notes sit well within the mix, a fair bit lower than the vocals, however this is characteristic of Adele’s music. Adele’s lower notes are well presented and aren’t overblown.
Mids- The piano melody and higher pitched chords are well separated, and the dynamics of the notes shine through. The vocals are detailed but not fatiguing, I can hear plenty of texture in Adele’s voice, making for an intimate and involving listen.
Highs- Adele’s high notes are well reproduced, not harsh sounding but with plenty of power behind them.
This track impressed me, as it really challenged the midrange of the headphones, an area I had read was a problem area for the Flows. The mids were presented with power, and although I would have preferred slightly more, they definitely weren’t as recessed as I’d imagine they’d be.
2 Cellos- “Time”
This is one of my favourite classical pieces, and the Flows handle the track well. The cellos sound powerful, especially in the lower mids and bass frequencies. Little nuances in the performance are noticeable and really add to the listening experience. The building melodies and intricate string work mostly stay separated, however there is some muddiness in the presentation that I didn’t hear when listening with my Sennheisers. The track is suitably grand and emotional, and the bassier presentation of the Flows definitely helps with this.
Daft Punk- “Instant Crush”
Lows- The bass on this track is thick and punchy but controlled. This is also the case for the drum hits, creating a well separated low end with plenty of clarity.
Mids- The production on Random Access Memories is absolutely top notch, and the Flows do a great job of doing it justice. The vocals are detailed and I can pick out individual voices during harmonies. The electric guitar plucking is punchy and clean sounding.
Highs- The shakers that run throughout the track are given some space, I find that closing my eyes helped me notice lots of instrumentation I hadn’t noticed before.
Overall this track is handled well, there’s slightly less instrument separation than I would like, however I understand it’s unreasonable to expect the same separation as you would find in open-backed headphones such as my Sennheisers.
Although this is a cool idea, I found these incredibly hit or miss. 1/3 or so of the time they worked great, the rest of the time I was left frustrated by their unreliability. I can’t help but feel that the quicker solution would be to just pull out my phone and change track/volume through that instead. In some instances I paused the music with the double tap function, I then applied the exact same pressure to the same point on the earcup and the music didn’t start again.
Overall, good in theory, more of a frustration than a convenience in practice, I’d prefer physical buttons, and an inline remote for wired listening.
Pause On Remove
Unlike the touch controls this feature works great, pausing music and even YouTube videos when I remove the headphones. However I can’t for the life of me work out why Cleer disabled the feature when the headphones are connected via a cable. I was really looking forward to using this feature on car journeys where I’ll want to use a cable to improve audio quality, but alas, Cleer disabled it. Please consider enabling this feature for wired connections if you choose to put this feature into Muse.
Let Noise In
Despite the touchpad being super finnicky, one thing that did work consistently well for me, was the covering of the left earcup to let outside noise in through the microphones. This worked great, and I could see it being legitimately useful. This function does work when the headphones are wired, increasingly my exasperation at the lack of pause on remove for wired connections.
Thanks for slogging through my review, I realise it’s decently long, but I genuinely believe in crowd-developed products and I wanted to do my part to ensure the success of Muse.
Overall I was very impressed with the Flow, however there are some tweaks that could be made to ensure that Muse is a better headphone than the Flows are.
Great sounding bass and highs, good sounding mids.
Excellent noise cancelling without much of a sound quality hit.
Comfortable over long periods if removed every so often to allow for ears to breathe.
No noticeable Bluetooth audio latency.
Substantially worse audio over Bluetooth.
Ears can get quite warm due to earcup material.
Lack of support for “Pause On Remove” for wired connections.
Not the loudest when connected via Bluetooth.
They are fairly heavy, however I did get used to this over time.
Quite bad hiss when connected via aux cable.
Ideas for Muse:
Physical buttons instead of touch controls.
A locking mechanism for 3.5mm cables.
Breathable earcup material, and slightly larger earcups to allow ears to breathe.
Enable “pause on removal” for wired connections.
A better indication of charging levels (between 0-50% and between 50-100% isn’t specific enough in my opinion).
Removal of style rings in order to shed weight and make the headphones more comfortable.
Make the earcups swivel the opposite way to the Flows, so you can rest the memory foam side on your chest when having them around your neck.
Reduction in the hissing from wired mode, as it was quite distracting and damaged the audio experience on the Flows.