Muse: Flow II review contest - our starting point

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Design and Comfort

 

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First of all, I’ll start with the design. The headphones are made of plastic with a metallic color and they have a light gray color on the inside and the padding.

The Flow II is pretty comfortable but after around 3 hours of use, I started feeling some pain on the top of my head where the headband rests. I think that can be fixed by adding more padding on the headband and reducing the weight as much as possible.

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They have a silver ring on the outside of each earcup, I think it should be removed for Muse since it is “representative” of Flow.

 

 

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The earcups have pretty good movement, they can be rotated 90 degrees towards one side and can be slightly rotated towards the other. I’d like if Muse added 90-degree rotation towards both sides.

 

 

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The earcups can be folded inwards to make them more compact for storage.

 

 

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The headband can be stretched to make the headphone larger and is resistant to mild bending and twisting

 

 

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The earcups are made of memory foam and are very comfortable, they create a good seal that helps block out some noise. They are apparently not removable, but I didn’t try too hard since I didn’t want to damage them. In my opinion, it is very important to make them replaceable on Muse since that helps greatly expand the lifetime.

 

 

I tested them with several clothing items, I tried them with several caps and it fit comfortably as long as they didn’t have the hard button where the headband rests. I also tried them with some hoodies and it usually didn’t fit under the hood, on the ones that it did it looked pretty weird since the headphones are a bit big.

The headphones never fell off or moved much when moving my head softly, they did move a bit when shaking my head back and forth and moved a lot when shaking my head to the sides, but they still didn’t fall.

 

 

 

ANC and Ambient

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The ANC works pretty well but I didn’t have any other headphones with ANC to compare it to.

I could slightly hear a high pitched sound when ANC was turned on, but it wasn’t noticeable when playing music

The ANC worked very well blocking constant noises, some I noticed it blocked was the fans on my PC, the hum of a refrigerator and an air conditioner, and most of the noise on a highway.

I tested the headphone several times in a car and it blocked the constant noises but some sounds like those of a motorcycle were only slightly reduced but still noticeable.

These headphones also have an ambient “passthrough” mode, where it uses the microphones so you can hear the ambient around you or for talking to someone without removing your headphones. It worked well but it made quiet noises like the humming of fans or wind too loud. I tried talking with it several times and it mostly worked well but sometimes I couldn’t understand the other person clearly.

It would be nice if Muse had an option to just disable ANC since when you turn it off on these headphones it just turns on ambient passthrough.

 

 

 

Sound Quality

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The Flow II has a pretty neutral, flat sound but it’s a bit low on the low frequencies.

I used the ATH-M50 for comparison which has a flat sound which is great for mixing and professional audio work.

I tested the bass several times with different tests and they were a bit low, I did notice that they depend a lot on power. When I had the headphones under half volume the bass was barely noticeable, but when I started increasing the volume the bass increased a lot. I also tested them wired using a 3.5mm cable and that helped the bass a lot.

I compared them to the ATH-M50 and I had to add around 6dB to the Flow II using an EQ to get them level in the low frequencies with the ATH-M50, although that amount decreased as I increased the volume and used them wired.

I was able to run some quick frequency response tests to get an idea of how the headphones work. Please note that although I tried to get the best results these aren’t completely accurate since I don’t have a professional setup for testing.

For some reason, the website is inverting the colors of the graphs so I included a short description at the bottom of each picture. You can also click the picture to see the original.

Cleer Flow II 1
Here is the first test, I ran the headphones wired at 20% Volume which is equal to around half volume when wireless.

 

 

Cleer Flow II 2
Here I used the same test but at 50% volume, using both the left and right sides.

 

 

Cleer Flow II 3
Now at 100% volume.

 

 

Cleer Flow II 4
Here I tested them wired but with the headphones on.

 

 

Cleer Flow II 5
All of the other graphs used 1/1 octave smoothing but I also included this one without smoothing using the headphones wireless at 100% volume.

 

 

Cleer Flow II 6
Here it’s Bluetooth at 100% volume ®
 

 

Cleer Flow II 7
Here it’s Bluetooth at 100% volume (L)
 

 

Cleer Flow II 8
Here it’s Bluetooth at 100% volume (L+R)

 

 

The volume was fine for the headphones but it could use a bit more, in most songs I was able to use them at max volume, but some were too loud. I tested them wired and they could reach much higher volumes but that absolutely depends on your device,

They did sound quite better when wired with more volume so I think that means they need a better amp for wireless.

The microphones could use some improvement, I tried recording my voice with them and when I listened to it, it sounded a bit muddy and was hard to understand.

 

 

 

Features

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The headphones have three physical buttons and also feature touch controls.

It has a power button that is also used for linking to devices, a button to toggle ANC mode to either ANC on, or Ambient Passthrough. It also has a button for Google Assistant but that requires the Google Assistant app on your device.

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The touch controls need much improvement. The control gestures are: double-tap to Play/Pause, Swipe Up/Down to adjust volume, and swipe left/right to switch the song. The only one that worked most of the time was the Play/Pause, the others rarely worked, and after some tries, I ended up just changing that on my device. This is very important to fix since it hurts the experience.

The Flow also has a nice auto Pause/Play feature, it pauses the music when you remove the headphones and it resumes it when you place them back on. It sometimes resumed the music when I left them laying down on a position similar to when I am wearing them.

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It has a USB C port for charging and a 3.5mm jack to connect to a device.

 

 

 

Bluetooth

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The Bluetooth connection worked pretty well, it was very easy to connect the headphones to any device. I tested them in some games and the delay was barely noticeable in some competitive FPS games.

The range was a bit low with a 10-meter range in an open space and just a 5-meter range with a single wall in between.

I had a problem with the headphones when I connected them to my PC, sometimes they would stop playing sound and I had to disconnect them and then connect them again through Bluetooth to get them to work again.

If I remember correctly Muse will use Bluetooth 5 which will improve all of these features.

 

 

 

Battery

Cleer claims that the battery on the Flow II will last 20 hours, so I ran some tests to see if it was true and I was definitely surprised by the results.

First, I ran the headphones at full volume, with ANC on, and using Bluetooth. I was surprised when I checked them at around 20 hours and they were still running, they ran for 25 hours and 30 minutes, more than 5 hours over what Cleer claims. I am sure the time will decrease with use since these have been used for a very short time but it still is very good.

Another thing Cleer claims is that the battery will last 2 hours with a 10-minute charge, so I went ahead and tested that too.

Cleer doesn’t mention what charger they used to get that time so I tested it with both a 5W and a 12W charger to see how the results varied. I used the same test as before, running them through Bluetooth, max volume, and ANC on. The results were pretty good with the battery lasting 3 hours and 15 minutes using the 5W charger, and apparently the fast charge feature is locked to 5W max so the 12W charger lasted the same time.

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TL:DR Summary - 5/10

:grinning: Nice audio
:grinning: Very good ANC and ambient noise mode
:slightly_smiling_face: Decent comfort
:slightly_smiling_face: Touch controls mostly good and gives a premium feel

:unamused: Mic performance not great
:pensive: Doesn’t look nor feel premium
:frowning: Intermittent phantom pausing on YouTube
:face_with_head_bandage: A touch too big and clunky

Looks & Design - 3/10

Initial impressions on receipt, sadly, was that it looked kinda cheap. Too shiny and glitzy for my taste. The ear cups are smaller than expected and are smaller than the plastic unit around it which feels odd. I’m also not sure about this rounded off square look and not a fan of the colour which looks brown rather than gunmetal.

The L and R markers could be bigger. I would love to have them printed nice and big inside the ear cups, which to me would scream “semi-pro DJ”!

Catching myself in the mirror, my god they look massive! But actually physically they’re not that dissimilar to my wife’s Taotronics. It’s because they’re a lighter colour that makes them seem bigger. Taotronics are solid black.

Looking at the design, these headphones feel bigger because the headband is connected to the outer edge of the ear cups. Others make it look much more discreet, which I prefer. The other effect is that there is a lot of space between the band and my head, which doesn’t make me want to rest against my head against anything.

Small detail but on receipt, I wasn’t a fan of the yellow protection sticky tape, which accentuates the cheap look. In my opinion they’re not needed and gives a bad impression.

Not a deal breaker but the fold is stiffer than perhaps I would like. Then again I wouldn’t want it so floppy that it flaps about. After two weeks, I barely folded them at all. Luckily my work bag was big enough to hold them unfolded.

I also keep accidentally catching the google assistant button when taking the headphones on and off as that button is exactly where I hold the cups.

Controls - 6/10

The outer buttons are nice and clicky with a positive action. They have little raised bits to distinguish between the 3 of them and this works well. In addition, the general placement is good and I managed to get used to their location after a day or two.

The touch controls pretty good once I figured out that you swipe as if your head is upright not in line with the shape of the ear cup units. This definitely took a few more days to get used to. I experimented with using forefinger or thumb and in the end reaching for the top of the cup with your fingers and then using your thumb to swipe worked best.

That said, I could only really get volume and skip tracks to work consistently. Double tapping to pause was very hit or miss, with a lot more miss than I’d like. In the end I didn’t trust it at all and couldn’t use for things like calls.

Functionality - 6/10

The accent of female notification voice is clear and it was good that she talks fast with little time wasting for power on and off. But her noise cancelling notification is too slow, I would love to turn this off. Also the Google assistant could be read out a little faster. It was fun to use thought and quite useful initially, but then after a while I forgot about it and stopped using it.

I was impressed with Active noise cancellation and it really blocks out a lot of background noise. There was no discernible hissing or buzzing, just a sense that I had walked into a big empty airy room. If I listen out very hard, there is a little background wooshing, very faint. No vacuum effect felt.

Ambient mode was great too as it didn’t sound robotic or tinny. Generally, a pretty natural experience compared to the ambient mode on the Samsung Galaxy Buds once I had (sadly I lost one bud which rendered them useless and onto ebay!).

The palm over ear temporary ambient mode feature was pretty good and worked consistently. I liked that music would continue playing fainting which to me is better than pausing it and no notification is brilliant since I found voice notifications for things like ANC annoyingly long.

One strange omission I thought initially was that there is no option to have no ambient mode and no ANC. Should be easy enough to build into the options I suspect.

Whilst testing the difference in audio between wired and wireless audio quality, I noted it takes about 7 secs to reconnect from wired to wireless. This felt like an eternity, but in reality how often will regular users do this? Going from wireless to wired will pause the music (the other way doesn’t) but it is near instantly ready. Apart from some early testing, I didn’t go back to wired mode at all.

Palm over the left cup will quieten your music and turn ambient mode on. But when taking it off there’s a disconcerting “left then right” muting that is disorienting. It takes a bit too long for the sound to come back.

Google assistant was a mixed experience. Initially reading notifications was cool but then got annoying. Wanted to turn it of but realised that I couldn’t completely turn off notification beeps (please provide this function for the muses). After taking headphones off, whilst music will pause, it continues to be paired with my phone so I could hear the notifications coming through.

Another annoying bug was that I keep getting some phantom “pause/ unpause” in the YouTube app. Very weird! This also happens on a third party YouTube app, but not in any other app (e.g. Spotify). It is intermittent and some days doesn’t happen at all, but when it does it can happen consistently for a few mins which is very annoying.

Testing the minimum volume on the flows, and it is great as in it can be very quiet before going totally silent. Ideal for bed time use.

Battery is pretty decent, not amazing but you won’t need to charge for a few days. Quick charge is definitely appreciated.

It’s annoying that you cannot connect both phone and pc at same time. I had to turn phone bluetooth off and only then I could connect to pc. Also cannot turn the headset on whilst it is charging.

Comfort - 6/10

Mostly ok, but you do have to get used to them. e.g. they feel a little loose if I shake my head. The angle of the ear cups feels strange, like the angle is too much. Want to rotate them but it can’t do that.

Being overears, they do feel a little warm after 10 mins but they never got uncomfortably hot or sweaty. It is the middle of winter here in the UK though, so summer might be different.

The main thing thought is their size, they feel massive! They may not actually be bigger than other over ears, but the boxy design and wide headband makes them seem even bigger. For example, wearing them and lying back on a sofa or headboard in bed, the headphones graze the back very quickly and restricts your head movement.

The cups themselves are fine for comfort being nice and squishy. The top band is ok, and perhaps it’s the extra weight or slightly less padding, but you never not feel them.

Then I tried putting them around my neck… eww I was suffocating! Way too tight. If you extend the headband it can work, but isn’t easy to do smoothly without taking them completely off. And then there is also the point that the cups don’t rotate so the pads are to your chest. They only rotate in one direction, cup pads facing up, which doesn’t look right to me.

I also noticed a pointy bit in the ear. Is this a hazard?! Luckily I didn’t feel it whilst wearing it, but perhaps someone with bigger or more pointy ears might?

Comfort generally improved over time as I got used to wearing over-ears again after a break wearing buds. Most of the time I didn’t notice them on, maybe my neck muscles were getting stronger haha

Audio Quality - 8/10

I was expecting good things as - full disclosure - I have never owned a set of “premium” audio headphones. The most expensive I had was Plantronics Voyager followed by Galaxy Buds. On the whole I was pleased.

My current fave song, Billie Eilish Bad Guy, had assertive bass but not overwhelming. It’s one of the top top 5 Spotify tracks, so I’m sure you know the song! It was like the bass drum was in the far side of room but Billie was singing into my ear. Mids seemed nice and clear and some really clear separation. With the finger clicks you can hear each finger separately. The sound stage to me seemed quite spacious. The ANC helped that feeling too, like being in a big empty room.

I tried to compare with the only other overears I had to hand, Taotronics BH-060 (much cheaper I know but well rated for its price. Here the bass was louder, but the sounds were mixed up more. Lost the highs and mids. (side note, with the BH-060s you can turn ANC off and listen to music). The sound stage much smaller and everything compressed together. At same time this wasn’t all bad and it felt more intense and a touch more exciting as a result!

Switching back to Flows and yes, much more spacious. Quieter though. Max volume felt like things were distorting a touch and there was sound leakage. Wife complained from the other sofa!

Tried out some AKG buds from my Samsung phone just for comparison and the thump from bass is lost. Max volume was uncomfortable with more distortion. Not terrible, but a galaxy away in the audio experience (bad pun fully intended!)

Then I tried a wired connection which immediately introduces a rasping to the bass in the right ear. Did I blow the right ear already from the max volume test? Going wireless and the rasping is gone. My 3.5mm to 3.5mm cable is nothing fancy, maybe a better cable would solve this?

Moving on to a classic, Alicia Keys Fallin, and with a wired connection there is a touch more oomph than wireless for sure, but the sound is very close. Wired sounds better, a bit louder and more pronounced. No rasping this time either.

Playing with my phone (everything in this review was done using my phone, S10 plus) and Dolby Atmos settings make a significant difference. My preference was the regular normal mode. Playing with custom settings can crush the separation. Other settings make the sound more hollow and distant. But this may suit other music, just not my pop faves.

My major use on my commute thought was for YouTube. Here audio doesn’t need to be fancy and it wasn’t anything of note to be honest. Audio latency was near non existent. Netflix had a tiny tiny bit but I can’t be sure, it was that slight. Over time is didn’t annoy me at all.

Other commuting/ work observations

On my regular commute, train and commuter noise fades massively, but I still get the station announcements quite clearly. With ambient mode, there is a slight amplified feeling that wasn’t there indoors, but this isn’t all the time and generally feels quite natural. ANC back on and on one occasion the right ear felt quieter than left, as if the left ear was still piping a little noise in. The imbalance was unsettling, but fortunately this didn’t happen again.

I do get a bit of “thump thump” of my footsteps. Not major, but I wish they weren’t there.

Using Ambient mode on the street, you really notice the subtle amplification because of the wind noise that gets picked up on the mics. Also it likes to pick up certain noises more than others. Eg airplanes, police motorbikes.

I struggled initially with pairing to my work laptop. It was showing as available to be connected without going into bluetooth pairing mode, but this proved to be false as it didn’t work. Shock horror I had to resort to reading the manual!

The other really useful thing would be to be able to pair to laptop and phone at same time. As it is you have to unpair one to pair the other, not seemless at all.

Mic Quality was a key thing for me to be able to use the same headphones for conference calls as for my commute. Sadly, I don’t think these quite do the job as the mic picks up too much background noise. Also I was told that my voice came across a little muffled. On the flipside, the audio in was really good, very clear.
I also found that I was probably talking a little too loud as both my ears were covered up. Certainly no fancy features such as piping my own voice into my ears (a la NC700 I believe).

Conclusion - 5/10
For my use case, I would pass on these. I’m a commuter that YouTubes and would like to drown out background noise. The ANC is great and whilst I did enjoy the music, I suspect the quality of headset that my phone and phone apps demand isn’t going to be that high. I also wanted to use these for work conference calls but here I would prefer better noise cancelling for the mics.

In the market, today, getting a headset with top performance in both these categories comes with big price tags. Case in point are the Bose NC700s, but I couldn’t bear to part with USD400. I’ve heard good things about Bowers & Wilkins and Sennheiser cans too, but they are similarly pricy. Judging by the number of overear wearing commuters I see everyday there is definitely a market out there for some solid NC700 challengers, but sadly these Flow IIs are not it.

Post script: using the flows more for Skype calls and I got a complaint that there was too much background noise. So much so I had to disconnect and switch to another “traditional” wired headset mid presentation. Amazingly embarrassing for me… not good. If Muse is to target business users, noise cancelling mics will be a massive sell.

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REVIEW: CLEER FLOW II HEADPHONES

INTRODUCTION
At the time of writing this on December 1st, 2019, I still have not found a perfect ANC headphone.

Since I mainly use ANC-headphones on my commute to work and at the office, they need to deliver in order of importance in these 5 areas:

  • Comfort
  • Portability
  • Noise-Cancelling
  • Design & Build-Quality
  • Sound Quality

The perfect ANC headphone would additionally be natural and fun sounding, be feature-rich, easy to control, while having a long enough battery-life to last you through the day.
So it should come as no surprise, that I currently own the “comfort king”, the Bose QC35ii.
Since they have been my travel companion for the past year, I will review and compare them to the CLEER FLOW II. Can they replace my current travel cans?

Lets find out!


1. DESIGN & BUILD QUALITY
At first glance, I immediately noticed how bulky and wide the CLEER FLOW appear, compared to the very sleek and elegant looking Bose QC35s. Design is very subjective, but I felt uncomfortable wearing the CLEER FLOWs out on my train commute. They look quite goofy from the front, especially if you do not have a lot of hair.

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The build quality and overall materials are better than the cheaper feeling Bose, however the headband of the CLEERs seem to be harder to stretch, which leads to cracking noises when put on the head. Its why I prefer the more flexible headband of the QC35s.

positives
(+) good overall build-quality and high-quality materials
(+) silver rings give a unique look

negatives
(-) design not for everyone = very bulky/goofy looking profile
(-) rigid headband that cracks


2. COMFORT & CONTROLS
The first thing I immediately noticed when putting the FLOWs onto my head was the heavier weight.
At 331g (0.73lb) they are over 100g (0.22lb) heavier than the Bose but are comfortable enough to wear for longer sessions, due to a higher clamp force and good weight distribution.
However, the increased clamp force can push on the jaw bone and can cause discomfort for some.

The headband padding is very comfortable as well as the ear pads. They are very soft and sit comfortably on the head, but they just cannot reach the class leading comfort level of the Bose. The pads from Bose are just more plush, deeper and breathable. The breathe-ability also suffers from CLEERs pads being not as deep and openings not as wide. This leads to the ears sitting right against the driver, which often results in sweaty ears on longer sessions.

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The buttons on the CLEERs also need some work, since the swipe controls for volume do not always react immediately. Additionally the three buttons on the left ear cup (noise cancelling/on-off/assistant-button) feel too identical to tell them apart, which leads to accidentally pushing the wrong button.

Overall the comfort & control winner is the Bose QuietComfort 35ii. This is almost expected as they have “comfort” in their name for good reason. The CLEERs do a good job on the comfort level against others but making a heavier headphone comfortable is always harder due to weight distribution.

positives
(+) right amount of clamp force to distribute the heavier weight
(+) soft and comfortable pads
(+) comfortable padding on headband
(+) hand on cups reduce ANC to hear surroundings

negatives
(-) 1/3rd heavier than rivals like Bose QC35ii
(-) touch controls not as reactive
(-) physical buttons hard to distinguish


3. NOISE CANCELLING
Both the passive and active noise cancelling are impressive on the CLEER FLOW II. The passive noise-cancelling is especially strong and much better than on the Bose.
The active noise-cancelling might be just slightly weaker than the Bose, but due to the great passive isolation it seems to be on par with the Bose QC35 on overall noise cancelling.
This makes the CLEERs great for traveling and listening to music on the train/plane or office environment without being disturbed.

positives
(+) very strong passive noise isolation
(+) very solid active noise isolation

negatives
(-) nothing of note


4. SOUND QUALITY & TONALITY
I will keep the sound test very brief since sound quality and tonality is very subjective and is dependent on preference of the listener and source material.

To test the sound quality I listened back to back with the CLEER FLOW and Bose.
Test tracks were “Fear Inoculum” from TOOL and “I will Remember” from Toto.
All music was played with ANC on.

What immediately stands out upon listening with the CLEER FLOWs is the very wide and fairly spacious sound-stage for a closed back ANC headphone. The whole presentation feels less intimate than on the QC35 but has a more “concert hall feel”. The clarity and sound fidelity is also higher and clearly beats the Bose. You hear more details in the instruments, cymbals and each note hits with more precision.

This feeling is strengthened by the boomier bass of the QC35 which can swallow some of the detail.
However there is one flaw of the CLEER FLOW that the Bose performs better at - the mid and vocal reproduction. The recessed and hollowed out mids of the CLEERs, puts voices a little behind the instruments in the song and make them slightly less forward and natural sounding.

positives
(+) spacious wide sound-stage
(+) better overall sound fidelity than Bose QC35s
(+) fun bass sound without sounding boomy
(+) detailed sparkly highs

negatives
(-) too recessed in the mids, vocals can seem “behind” instruments
(-) highs can be fatiguing on some songs.


5. CONCLUSION
Overall the CLEER FLOW II are great headphones for their price. They beat the Bose QC35ii in build-quality, sound quality and passive noise cancellation, while being on par in overall noise cancellation.

They lack the sleek design and comfort levels of the Bose and will not be everybody’s cup of tea with its bulky front profile.
There are better sounding ANC headphones out in the market like the Lagoon ANC from Beyerdynamic.
There are more comfortable ones like the Bose QC35ii, but if the Muse Project could improve the CLEER FLOW mainly on:

  • more breathable pads
  • making headband less rigid and get rid of “cracking” when stretched
  • reduce the weight with lighter materials to increase comfort
  • reduce clamp-force
  • give it a sleeker design
  • keeping the sound quality and sound stage
  • adjusting the mids for better and more forward vocal reproduction
  • remain an audiophile yet fun sound
  • better controls

this could be a headphone that can rival the big names of Bose,Sony and Sennheiser.

Thank you for reading!

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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.

BUILD QUALITY

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.

Hinges
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.

General Construction
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.

3.5mm Port
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.

Earcups
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.

Buttons
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.

COMFORT

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.

Headband
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.

Earcups
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.

Weight
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).

Pressure (headaches)
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.

NOISE CANCELLING

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).

Performance

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.

Range

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.

Latency

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.

SOUND QUALITY

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.

Rap/Hip Hop

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.

Rock

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.

Pop

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.

Classical

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.

Electronic/EDM

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.

FEATURES

Touch Earcups

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Pros:

Great sounding bass and highs, good sounding mids.

Solid construction.

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.

Useful features.

No noticeable Bluetooth audio latency.

Cons:

Stiff Hinge.

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.

11 Likes

My review of the Cleer Flow II

First off, thank you for giving me the privilege to be a part of your new product. It’s been really cool.

I’ve been testing the Cleer Flow II headphones, mainly to listen to music with my phone, and work on the videos I produce for my YouTube channel. The best benchmark that I have is a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-M50x headphones.

Compared to the M50x, the Flow II is smaller and lighter, but also, in my experience, not as comfortable. However, I’m quite okay with this tradeoff, and it’s not to the point where it get unbearable. My advice is to make the earcups deeper, and add more cushion to the head support.

Usually with noise-cancelling headphones, my experience has been that they sound better when noise cancellation is off. However, there’s a weird behaviour with the Flow II. They actually sound better when noise cancellation is on. When ANC was off, there was a significant lack of low-end thump, or bass. And even though I’m not the biggest fan of ANC, I ended up leaving it on, as the low-end frequency improved quite a lot from my experience. When ANC was on, bass-heavy music like EDM (Daft Punk, deadmau5) and instruments like distorted bass sounded a lot better. The sound qualify didn’t stand out in any major way. But the relatively plain, neutral sound signature suited my taste quite well.

While I haven’t done a scientific battery life test, from a full charge, it was always lasting me an entire day with around 50% or more to go.

Creature comfort is a mixed bag. USB-C charging is definitely a plus, and the headphone jack of course comes in handy with devices without Bluetooth, like older desktops. However, multi-device usage is a weak spot. To be fair, not a ton of wireless headphones get it right. Headphones with W1 or H1 chips (AirPods and select Beats models) do it right with Apple devices, as I can connect my AirPods to my Mac with just two clicks, even when it’s paired to my iPhone. However, because with the Flow II, I have to disconnect from my phone before I connect to my laptop, it’s an extra hassle. A big improvement would be to add the ability to pair up to three devices simultaneously.

Google Assistant integration is quite handy. The Assistant app has to be running in the background on an iOS device, but that’s an iOS limitation, and not the headphones’ fault. However, for instances where the Assistant app isn’t running in the background, having an option to fall back to Siri would be nice, using the Assistant button.

The controls are quite finicky. Generally I’m not a huge fan of touch controls, and the Flow II gave me a success rate of only 60-70%, which isn’t good enough. The gestures themselves are intuitive enough (double-tap to play/pause; swipe vertically to adjust volume; swipe horizontally to change tracks), but they’re just not sensitive enough. Plus, physical buttons offer tactile feedback, and it’s easy to get it right.

Another inconsistency is the feature where the headphones automatically pause when I take it off. I noticed that the sensor for that feature only seems to be inside the left earcup. Maybe one more on the right earcup would be nice.

That’s gonna do it for my written review of the Cleer Flow II, and some of my suggestions. If you have any questions, let me know.

4 Likes

About Me

Hi, I’m Traveler. I work in IT, and one of the things I’ve learned in that job detailed and straight-forward feedback is ideal when trying to fix something or approach new ways of refining a product. This review will be longer than the one I did on the Siberia 800’s for the review contest. But too much information can also be distracting, so I’ll try to be straight to the point in this review as much as I can.

My hobbies mostly include gaming and tinkering with electronics. If watching TV shows is a hobby, then I’m also pretty big on that.

My use case with these headphones will primarily be listening to music. I’ll do a good mix of bluetooth and 3.5 mm cable testing. I prefer wired, but I know a lot of people will be using these with bluetooth. I listen to a wide variety of stuff, but what I’m into at the moment is folk/indie music, with some occasional punk rock and EDM.

Music source will be streaming Spotify at “Very High” quality, which they claim is 320 kbit/s. Device source will be my iPhone 6S Plus for bluetooth (and briefly on PC), and a PC and my iPhone 6S Plus for wired.

Along with testing music, I’ll be testing them in PC gaming (audio only, no mic). I know gaming isn’t really the intended use for these headphones but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to try the Cleer Flow II’s in a variety of uses.

 

Index

  1. Things I’ll be Testing

  2. Review

  3. Final Thoughts

Things I’ll be Testing

I went back through a few of the more recent posts on Muse (this one and this one, as well as this one) to see what features seemed popular with the community, and I reviewed the instructions that the Eve team gave me about trying the Flow II’s. Here’s some of the higher priority things I’ve noted:

  • Device’s build and durability: materials and rigidity.
  • Replaceable Earpad
  • Foldable Design
  • Comfort
  • Quality bluetooth & wired option
  • Wired listening with no battery usage
  • USB-C charging
  • Noise cancelling listening
  • Long battery life
  • AptX, LDAC Bluetooth audio codec
  • Charging + listening at the same time

There were some mic-related things as well, but from what I understand the mics are one of the big things Eve is going to change when designing the Muse so I won’t stress over those tests too much.

Review

Listening conditions: Home and work. The Cleer Flow II’s, a different mobile headset, two phones, and a portable speaker are the only active bluetooth devices in my house. Other interference includes a 2.4 GHz wifi connection.

For noise cancelling I tested at home and at work (mostly work). The only bluetooth devices in my work office were my phone and the Flow II’s. We have two wifi networks as well, but only one of them runs throughout the entire building. I’m not sure what frequency it runs at, but I expect 2.4 GHz as well. I work in a factory, so although sound is muffled by the office walls I can still hear the drumming of machines and tools. I’d say the ambient sound is right in between soft and moderate.

 

BUILD

The build quality is pretty solid. The headphones aren’t built like a tank or anything, but the plastic feels pretty tough and I would feel confident enough to haphazardly handle them. I freely toss them around on soft surfaces like my bed or passenger seat in my car. Whenever I stretch the headphones to place them on my head they make a small popping noise; I don’t know if they just need to be broken in or if this will be a constant issue. They feature a folding design that’s pretty standard.

I don’t know how I feel about that ridged ring along the outside of the earcup. It definitely gives the Flow II’s a unique look, but it’s not really my thing. And unlike the Flow I’s, it’s not removable and replaceable.

I found the padding along the earpads and headband adequate and comfy. I had listening sessions that lasted a few hours and I experienced no discomfort. But I’ve heard that some people would like more padding on the top, so if that’s something a majority of other testers report then it might be worth considering.

The leather-ish material that covers the padding doesn’t feel very tough, but it’s ridiculously soft so I don’t mind too much. Maybe that softness is just tricking me into thinking the material isn’t very thick. I’m curious of how long it will hold up.

The positioning of the headband interesting. As you can see in the image below, instead of the headband being perfectly vertical with the earcups they’re kind of arched forward. I was concerned about this at first since all other headphones I’ve used have the band perfectly vertical, but after hours of use I can confirm that this placement is still just as comfortable.

The inside material separating your ear from the driver feels reeeeeally thin. You’ll be able to see it in the photo album at the end of my post; you can see the actual driver through the material. In a way that’s good, because there’s less material separating your ears from the sound. But at the same time I fear about the durability of it. The material feels rather elastic though so maybe it will be flexible enough to suffer a lot of wear and tear. From what I can tell the earpads are not user replaceable so I certainly hope they’re more durable than they look.

 

FEATURES

According to Amazon, these headphones have Bluetooth 4.2. There was a bit of a debate on whether Bluetooth 5.0 was really necessary, so this might not be a deal breaker. I saw that Bluetooth 5.0 was one of the “locked down” specs for Muse though, so I wanted to mention it.

On the topic of bluetooth, a Tom’s Guide review stated that the Cleer Flow II’s has support for AptX and LDAC bluetooth codecs. So we can check that off of the list.

Bluetooth pairing was pretty great across all of the devices that I tried. I never had any struggles or issues with the pairing itself. Windows didn’t play very nicely with bluetooth trying to do multiple things, though.

When connected to bluetooth on PC, whenever I joined an audio channel in Discord my games and music would completely cut out. I spent several minutes trying to troubleshoot this, but was unable to and the only meaningful info that I found was this post https://superuser.com/questions/1164714/cant-hear-other-programs-sound-when-using-bluetooth-headsets-with-voice-chat-a . According to that post, getting bluetooth to do several different things is very difficult on PC. It’s probably something that can be solved with troubleshooting, and I’m pretty sure this is a Windows/general bluetooth issue and not something wrong with the headset. But just note that there’s issues to be had if you want to use the Cleer Flow II’s as a gaming headset with both chat and audio.

Charging and listening via bluetooth at the same time is not possible with these headphones. You can only listen wired while charging.

I was fairly pleased with the way noise cancellation worked in the Flow II’s. It doesn’t drown out everything, but it drowns out a majority of noises quite well. There’s a bit of white noise that accompanies the noise cancellation, but it’s very soft and basically not noticeable when listening to music.

In fact, my only complaint about the noise cancellation is the little voice assistant that tells me when I activate or deactivate it. The voice tells me when I power the headset on and off too. It’s a very stiff digital voice that gets annoying VERY quickly. I wish there was a way to adjust the volume on the notifications, and maybe even replace the voice with some kind of pleasant chimes instead.

The headset has gesture controls that are performed on the left earcup. These controls… they’re terrible. From the discussions I’ve seen and had, that is one thing that every reviewer can unanimously agree on. The “conversation mode” was pretty nice and worked the few times I used it, but play/pause was very hit-or-miss, and the volume and track skip rarely worked properly for me.

I did not get a chance to test Google Assistant. I don’t use Google Assistant and have no desire too, so I constantly forgot to try it out. Sorry! I assume it works well though, since it’s a physical button that activates it.

 

MIC QUALITY

The mic quality was ok-ish, but I wasn’t too impressed with it. It was very average. It was really quiet and had some tin-ish distortion to it. I was in a fairly empty room so maybe the lack of a good acoustic space was to blame, but I think the mic quality would be about the same in any room. As I mentioned previously, IIRC the mic quality is one of the biggest things Eve wants to improve in the transition to Muse. So I’m not too concerned.

 

SOUND

Now for the good stuff. The sound. Disclaimer: I’m not an audiophile, and I don’t have any other good headphones to compare the Cleer Flow IIs with. I’ll do my best to put my thoughts into words, but it might come out a bit unclear or factually false.

For me the sound is an equally mixed bag of good and bad. Most people ask for the good news first, so we’ll start there.

The sound in general has a lot of detail and clarity to it, or at least more than I’m used to from a set of headphones. I often hear small things in instruments or quite background vocals that never noticed before. The sound from the Cleer Flow II’s feels relatively even/flat to me as well, which is always good. The lows and lower mids are in a pretty nice place imo (under the right conditions, which I’ll get to later). They’re tight and noticeable but not overpowering. Personally I wouldn’t mind the bass being a bit more prominent, and when casually listening to the Flow II’s I would be listening to them with an equalizer when possible that makes up for the lack of bass and mids. But that is 100% personal preference and I really don’t think they need to be tweaked very much.

So about that “under the right conditions” caveat I mentioned earlier. The sound quality of the Flow II’s varies noticeably depending on how you’re listening. Wired + Powered On will give you the best sound, with Wired + Powered Off falling a bit behind. Bluetooth is pretty close to Wired + Powered Off, but it’s a bit weaker. Despite the noticeable difference between the three states, that difference isn’t too drastic really. Bluetooth and wired both sound great. Bass suffers the most as you go down this “quality ladder”.

So now for the “bad” news. The upper mids and highs are in a really weird place for me, at least for most music. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I don’t like but they seem way too prominent in comparison to the rest of the sound. Pop and electronic genres seem to be the worst offenders. In some songs I’ll have the volume up then feel the need to turn it down solely because the upper mids are so sharp and unpleasant. The best way I can demonstrate it is probably by showing you the equalizer I used in casual listening (instead of critique testing):

As you can see, I have the bass and lower mids boosted in order to equalize the the sound for my tastes. The highest frequencies being boosted isn’t entirely necessary, but I tend to enjoy them a bit more at that spot.

The issue isn’t bad enough that I can easily give examples with specific songs, and it’s not that bad when casually listening instead of critique listening. But it’s noticeable enough that I heard it most songs either way. Maybe that’s just the way truly flat audio is supposed to sound, I dunno.

When not listening to pop, electronic genres, and rock, there are times that I prefer the equalizer off or that I am indifferent to having it on. For instance, with country music I prefer it on but I’m fine with it off too. And for more acoustic stuff like The Daydream Club or (older) Of Monsters and Men I prefer it off.

Audio volume in general was a bit more quiet than I’m used to in headphones. I usually have other headphones at around 25% - 50% volume, but with the Flow II’s I had it at 50% - 75%. It didn’t bother me, but I wanted to note it. Konsta said the amp might be replaced when creating Muse, so there’s a chance that this will be changed.

With the good and the bad out of the way, let’s throw in some silly. I mentioned earlier that the Cleer Flow II’s wouldn’t be ideal for gaming, but I used them anyway while playing some Breath of the Wild. My conditions were wired + powered on. They actually did a pretty great job! All of the sounds were pleasant, and the stereo sound was good enough to know what was going on beside and behind me.

Watching YouTube was a decent experience. From my experience quality headphones like this seem to do some strange things with spoken audio, but the Flow II’s sounded pretty natural all things considered.

Final Thoughts

Let’s take a look at the list of things to review that I compiled earlier. I’ve placed a checkmark (✓) by the things the Cleer Flow II’s achieve, and an ✕ beside the things these headphones lack:

✓ Device’s build and durability: materials, rigidity, comfort.
✕ Replaceable Earpad
✓ Foldable Design
✓ Comfort
✓ Quality bluetooth & wired option
✓ Wired listening with no battery usage
✓ USB-C charging
✓ Noise cancelling listening
✓ Long battery life [tested by other reviewers]
✓ AptX, LDAC Bluetooth audio codec
✕ Charging + listening at the same time

Overall the Cleer Flow II’s are pretty nice. They aren’t $250+ nice imo, but they’re better than any other headphones I’ve used. There’s definitely room for improvement that Eve can take advantage of to make Muse a great product, and the Cleer Flow II’s will likely serve as a good foundation.

Everybody likes photos, right? I’ll close out with a small album with additional pics:
https://imgur.com/a/q8Q30RZ

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Cleer Flow II

First of all i would like to thank Eve for making this possible and taking this leap of faith, not only regarding me but all of those that got a pair. That shows that are serious about their thoughts and goals of making a great pair of ANC headphones and this, involving the community…well doesn’t happen that often in the audio world.

Specifications (according to the manufacturer)

  • Driver: 40mm dynamic drivers
  • CODEC: SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC
  • FR: 20-40 KHz (wired); 20-20 KHz (wireless)
  • BT 4.2
  • Battery: 20 hours (BT+ANC)
  • Charging: 10 min gives 2 hours playback
  • Google Assistant
  • Weight: 327 gr
  • USB-C
  • 3.5mm line-in

Thoughts about specifications

As you look at the Codec list you can only be happy seeing that there are so many of them, including the much appreciated LDAC.

You can’t help but hope that the superior BT 5.0 will be a part of a new revision in the future.

More details about weight will be present in “Comfort and Fit”.

My Setup

HTC U11/Microsoft Surface Pro 3/Desktop - JRiver Flac/ Spotify - Headphones

First glance

At first glance, in the always subjective aesthetic side, i would have prefered that those rings weren’t so shiny or reflective as they are. It gives a “jewel-ish” hint to them that i would prefer to be without, so they would be more subtle, since they already are on the bulk side of things.

I automatically look at my side and with a quick look i see my Bose QC35ii, laying on the table with that cheap plastic look they have, and it’s clear that the Flow II plastic does look more robust.

These headphones present good flexibility. One can stretch and rotate the cups without any hassle and although there’s little squeaking noises with the fast rotation of the cups these are kept to a very minimum.

Comfort, Fit and Portability

As stated the Cleer’s are on the heavy side. Comparing to my Bose QC35ii they weight around 315gr (rounded on my cheap luggage scale) a little shy of the announced 327gr (which probably indicates that they included the wire when weighting) but significantly heavier than the Bose at 245gr.

Despite being on the heavier side, the weight distribution is good which helps eliminate some potential hotspots.

Unfortunately hotspots is what i get from inside the cups. Having a small head, and these being an over-ear model for me, my small ears keep rubbing against the inside mesh of the cups, which although far from perfect, don’t really make that into a bad experience per-say, as they don’t bother me that much, but better padding would probably make it a much, much, more comfortable experience. A colleague of mine, which has a larger than “normal” head makes them look like on-ear and states that his main comfort complaint is the heavy clamping of the headband, while stating that the cups should be better padded, eliminating hotpots in the superior third part of the ears.

The pads could (and should) be more comfortable and i can see them being to hot for some, although the way they are implemented actually helps with the seal (more on that later).

Talking about the pads they don’t seem to be replaceable and, as such, in a future revision this should be implemented, as adjustments in materials (too stiff) and size can make this experience a superior one in comfort, fit and getting that perfect seal.

Being on the bulky side, if you are considering them for sleeping, as most HP, they are not the most comfortable choice as you won’t be able to turn your head more than 10/15 degrees but again i don’t think many would get them with this purpose in mind.

They are foldable and that is a huge bonus when traveling as the footprint is kept to a minimum, which is something that disappointed me (among other things) regarding the new Bose 700. I can’t help but be disappointed of the fact that they fold outwards, instead of inwards, just like the QC35’s…which is mind-boggling.

All in all i these are comfortable, at least for me, for long listening sessions.

Controls and inputs

One thing that i really disliked about my Sony wh-1000xm3 (let’s call them XM3 from this point on) were the finicky touch controls but still they were more intuitive, and responded better, than the Flow’s controls. On the other hand living in cold temperatures, that can easily reach -10/-15º degrees Celcius, made the experience with the Sony’s really bad one because after -2º, or so, the touch controls would go berserk and it was next to impossible to use them.

It was much to my relief that the Flow II worked without a problem at lower temperatures but the experience, unfortunately, was less than ideal.

A swipe up or down, from the center, adjust the volume while a swipe right or left, from the center as well forwards and backs a track. Double tap will pause/play the music.

The controls are flimsy and i would’ve preferred double tap up/down/left/right/center for the different controls and a better step control increase/decrease, as it feels now, it can be hard to get the volume you want.

One of the several nice features of this model is that, while you are listening, you can move the cup out of your left ear or take off the headphones and it will pause the music and will resume it when you put it back on. Very, very nice.

The physical buttons present are “ON”, “ANC” (which alternates between “ON” and “Ambient” modes) and “Google Assistant” (which does it’s job well). This last one would be better if it could be reassigned as an “action” button and have an alternative function as it happens with the QC35ii. Speaking of action button in the aforementioned Bose you can set this key as a battery indicator, which this headphones terribly need and it’s one of my biggest problems with it. Just a light indicator is not enough for headphones of this quality and at this price point. This is a software issue and i can imagine that it may be possible to solve it. I would like to take this chance to also mention that there’s no APP at all, which is a shame as a little EQ goes a long way.

Google Assistant

This is nothing i usually use but it work as expected with it’s integration presenting itself in a quick and effortless manner.

You press once to start Google Assistant, twice to stop all announcements and a long press to speak to it.

Noise Canceling

The ANC works very well, and engine noises, incoming traffic and much of the ambient sounds that surrounds us are all kept to a minimum providing a very good, low noise, experience. Despite this
the overall experience is inferior to the QC35 II, XM3 and the Bose 700, while managing to be superior to the likes of the Sony WH-XB900 (as far as my memory of these allows me to analyze since i currently don’t have them at hand). That said they handle voices better than my (unfortunately updated) QC35.

On a train or on a bus the lower sounds are significantly reduced, giving the user a much better ride experience and i would gladly have them on my head during my daily commute.

The background noise is pretty good and i noticed no significant pressure (aka “something is bothering me”) on my ear drums cause by ANC, which myself, and others, experienced with the XM3, making them uncomfortable.
As a side note, it was nice to notice that the sound wasn’t very affected between normal ANC and Ambient modes, as it kept it’s nature without much character change.

As passive noise canceling headphones, depending on your head size, passive noise canceling is very well achieved (better than the Bose’s or the Sony’s), which is a big bonus but, as a glasses user, small movements or trepidations can make the seal lose itself sometimes and can turn into an annoying experience of “NC-ON/”NC-OFF” for brief moments. This can be, unfortunately, a deal breaker for some. Without my glasses, or with my second (much smaller pair), the passive experience is very good.

ANC ON vs ANC OFF

Conversation mode

This is one of the best features of these headphones and i would love these to be present in all touch-based, ANC, headphones. Basically you cover the left cup with your hand and it will turn on “Ambient” mode in one quick movement, lowering the volume of what you were listening to and allowing you to hear voices and, for example, incoming traffic or “that” speaker announcement.

Audio performance (wireless)

I hear different types of music, from Jazz to Hip-Hop, to Rock, to POP, focusing on the 80s/90s eras.

Music via Spotify (on the move) or JRiver (at home) gave a overall good musical experience. These are a bit on the high frequency side and some will definitely wish there was more bass and subass present. The voices, specially female, can be a bit on the forward side which can detract yourself from the beautifully sounding piano behind or around her. That said i very much liked male voices, mainly in old recordings, as Louis Armstrong’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” presents “The Master’s” voice in pretty much all his glory. The Flow’s do high frequencies well, or pretty ok, which is something that i appreciate a lot, avoiding sound fatigue over longer periods of listening (unless you are listening to electronic music or heavy female vocals) but they would benefit from kicking them down a notch. I am not as sensible to treble as some and i can imagine that, for some, this could certainly present a problem.

Although the sound is clear i couldn’t help but think that, for some, the “humfs, thumps and booms” of, per example, the XM3 are not present but fortunately i am not one to appreciate bassy gear but even so they are missing in that field. I can’t ignore as well that i also missed the more relaxed nature of the QC35 II and the details of the Bose 700.

I can imagine that Harman curve fans and most people won’t like the lack of bass and they will definitely not be satisfied with it’s wireless sound as a whole.

Regarding soundstage (or headstage for some), it is good, more than the small cups would indicate. Horizontally the margins are slightly more “extreme” than on the Bose’s, which is easily perceived in tracks like “Got You Under My Skin” from Anita O’Day, and in many of the old recordings, where some instruments are placed a little bit “too left” and/or “too right”. To be perfectly honest this is a known characteristic of some of these recordings but some headphones handle it better than others but, of course, i am nitpicking a little here since the overall experience is good for bass-shy me That said instrument pinpointing is not perfect, mainly vertically, which can seem out of place in some tracks (classical and jazz genre), but they handle depthness very, very well.

As comparison i measured the QC35ii as well, which is my daily commute pair which presents a more balanced, pleasant sound across the board.

Cleer vs Bose

Audio performance (wired)

Wired the sound was much tighter and the bass was (finally) more present, providing a pleasant sound experience. Even though it was hard to show this using measurements as,because of touch controls, it was very hard to calibrate them as i wanted (and that’s why they are not better “leveled”). Definitely a better experience all across the board. The audio tuning, wired or wireless, is good on these.

Wired vs Wireless

Voice Call

They do a pretty good job and, although people asked i was using hand-free mode from my phone, everyone said that they could hear me well, although not as clear and crispy as with the Bose’s models but similar to the XM3.

Bluetooth and setup

Using a long corridor, from the hospital where i work, as a place of testing, i can see my phone away from me and the sound is perfect, without cutouts. I enter a small meeting room and, as i experienced home, there are no dropouts even with one wall in the middle, as long as i am not very far away from my phone or get a second wall in between.

As setups go it was a breeze, just turn on the Bluetooth on your phone/tablet/computer, choose “Cleer Flow II” press “pair/connect” and voilá.

Battery and charging

Unfortunately, as i stated before, one of my biggest gripes is the fact there’s no audio indication of my battery life and that is something that is a big problem for me. Using 3rd-party apps, as BatON, gives you a rough estimation but, while better than nothing at all, also comes with the fact that it’s one more installed app, one more overlay on your phone and one more icon to deal with (unless your turn these features off on your phone apps notification settings). They should really fix this pronto.
That said battery has been behaving very well, not making me recharge it more than once, during a regular week, while using them twice a day back and forward from my house to work (30 min each trip) plus a little gym time in between.

The fact that is has USB-C makes rapid charging a huge plus on a pair of BT headphones and now i which that some of my other wireless headphones had this.

Unfortunately, like other models in the market, you are unable to charge and listen at the same time, which is a shame and an engineering flaw that needs to be prevented.

Final thoughts

Looking at the measurements you can tell some of the characteristics of the sound but what you don’t see is how the Flow’s does an overall good job. Of course there are other good alternatives, soundwise, but you either have to go for something without ANC or, pay more. All-in-all i am satisfied with them and ii would have no problems using the Flow’s as my “go to work”, “travel by train”, “watch movies in the plane” pair.

At the right price (the recommend price is too high for what you get, specially with the good competition they have) these are ANC headphones that i recommend giving a try to if you can appreciate its bass-shy nature. If not then you better look elsewhere.

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Review of the Cleer Flow II headphones:

Well, this is a strange weekend in which to be writing a review. I’ve had to deal with: a train strike; a funeral; a trip to a guitar repair workshop; a run down Oxford Street holding said guitar, suitcase and an oil painting in my arms; a missed connection; a noisy hotel and overcrowded trains on the way home. So I’m well equipped to comment on how well the Cleer Flow II headphones help the stress to melt away.

About the reviewer: I should start by introducing myself. I’m Sean, I’m 50 years old (on the outside) and I’m an innovation consultant. I help companies, charities and community organisations to redesign themselves and thus become more socially or commercially impactful. I represent that subsection of potential users that spends a lot of time on trains and planes, and the rest of the time sitting at a desk trying to avoid distraction. My past includes stints as an innovation lead at the UK Design Council, interim CEO of a charity and acting CEO of an emerging/ enabling tech startup. In the context of travel, what makes me buy things (suitcases, clothes, headphones) is a desire for control in circumstances that may be subject to change. This involves the balancing of contradictions: I want a suitcase that is tough and secure yet light and portable; I want a powerful laptop that consumes very little power; and I want headphones that are noise-suppressing noise-makers.

Given a free choice, I’ll always choose a silent room and a decent hifi with matched speakers. When working in my office, I wear 80mm AKG K7xx headphones paired to the Centrance Dacport Slim (both reviewed here). They sound wonderful but are hopelessly unsuited to travelling – their open back design lets sound in, aesthetically they look too strange to be worn in public and they are fragile. Thus, when travelling, I have relied on my trusty but ancient Etymotic Research foam-tipped in-ear buds. I first discovered their benefits when I began long-haul flying and realised that you can’t sleep while wearing over-ear headphones. The foam tips work as ear plugs, physically blocking external noise, while a tiny horn runs through the middle and pipes surprisingly good sound direct into the ear canal. At less than 50g, they are small enough to be rolled up and stuffed into your front pocket. They allow me to take control of an unpredictable situation (a noisy neighbour) and I don’t have to take them off to go to sleep (in fact, they help).

My reason for reviewing the Cleer Flow IIs, then, was partly born of wonder at how well a product could straddle these two extremes – on the one hand, excellent audio, no noise suppression and no travel potential; on the other, reasonable audio, excellent travel potential and good noise suppression.

In addition, I know that Eve are keen to have them compared with competitor products such as the Bose Quiet Comfort 35s and the Sony WH1000MXs. Luckily, I was able to access both (the latter very briefly) so I’ve reviewed them too, both from an audio and a physical design perspective.

I’m going to review the headphones by working my way down from the top of them to the bottom, comparing them where necessary with competitors and making suggestions about how they could be improved. Here goes…

Size and weight : as the photo below shows, choosing over-ears in preference to in-ears requires a big investment in terms of space. On the left you can see the Bose QC35s; on the right the Cleer Flow IIs; and below them are my Etymotic Research in-ears. The latter are remarkably good given their size.
Three%20headphones

If you’re travelling business class, space is not an issue. But a few rows back in cattle class it can be a very different experience. On a recent flight from Manchester to Newquay the airline policy meant that I had to cram two days worth of clothes and a computer into a single 8kg bag. I then found myself sitting in an ancient turbo-prop that filled the airplane with drone. My in-ear headphones helped block some of the noise but I was hesitant to turn the music up as I knew I’d be doing my ears no favours. Still, they fitted easily into a trouser pocket whereas carrying the Cleer Flows would have cost vital space within my bag. This photo shows a headphone case (not the official one as it wasn’t supplied) relative to the pouch for my in-ears and a cup of tea.
Size%20comparison

I would also have been adding half a kilogram (cans plus case) to a bag that weighs 2.5kgs when empty and already contained a laptop and power supply weighing another 2kg.

Having lived with the Cleer Flow IIs for a few days, I have discovered that I can just about fit them into a coat pocket, which would have allowed me to cheat the system, but questions of weight and size are important. The Cleer Flow IIs are substantially heavier and bulkier than the Bose QC35s (327g vs 240g) and are not at all comfortable when worn round the neck. As noted below, it is not entirely clear why the Cleer Flow IIs need to be this heavy when lighter materials are available.

Build quality: Despite their relatively bulky aesthetic, the headphones are surprisingly flexible and didn’t seem inclined to break when I deliberately twisted them.
Twisting

However (don’t tell my friend), the Bose QC35s were equally happy to be twisted and their lighter weight did not seem like a cause for concern over durability. The target of trying to knock 80-100g off the weight seems sensible and achievable, if the Bose QC35s are taken as the starting point.

Aesthetically, the Cleer Flow IIs come across as military grade versions of the Sony WH1000XM3 headphones, with the headband expansion sliders bearing a particularly close relationship.
Sony
CF%20II

However, it takes much more effort to open up the headband on the Cleer Flow IIs compared to the Sony. The tensioning may be a function of weight: at 225g, the Sony headphones are supporting 50g less per ear than the Cleer Flow IIs. For this reason, they can also afford a more relaxed clamp. I found the Cleer Flow II clamp to be quite firm and had to adjust my minimalist glasses as the left leg was being squashed against my head. I felt that anyone wearing more substantial glasses would not be able to wear the Cleer Flow IIs for extended periods.

Furthermore, I found that the effort involved in adjusting the headband (something which most travellers will have to do every time they put on the headphones or put them away) meant that my thumbs ended up pressing against the headband padding. With the Bose and Sony headphones, it is easy to open both sides at the same time. However, if you adopt the same hand position with the Cleer Flow IIs, you inevitably end up putting quite a lot of pressure on the (lovely) squishy head padding before they start to move. Effort needs to be put into smoothing the adjustment.

While I found the headband comfortable for extended use (two hours at a time and maybe twelve hours in total over three days), the clamp took some getting used to. Of course, it has the effect of relieving headband pressure by increasing side grip, but if the weight is reduced then that will also allow the clamp to be loosened off slightly. In turn, that will make them more appealing to middle aged, glasses wearing men like me who form part of the target market.

The material used inside the earcup resembles a pair of tights and seems very capable of snagging on anything with a sharp edge. By contrast, the Bose fabric has some light branding and seems just tough enough to do its job without getting caught on anything.

I’m not clear whether the rugged design is a consequence of the decision to use ironless drivers. One assumes not given that there is a commitment to reducing the weight by a third. To me, there is scope to save weight by removing materials. For instance, both space and weight could be saved inside the headband by reducing the length of the sliders. When fully extended and held open so that both earpads are vertical the gap between the pads is about 25cm (guestimate) – making them suitable for people with 77.5cm heads! Mine is 59cm and I’m a six foot adult male.

That space could, potentially, then be used to house some of the electronics and thereby enable a slight reduction in the bulk (depth) of the earcups. At present, they are substantially deeper than both the Bose and Sony ones. I assume that the drivers take up a lot of space, plus the electronics, and maybe there is some space for passive noise isolation. However, and my view is that business travellers will always prefer thinner.

An additional concern is that the headphones will have to appear contemporary when launched in 2021. The design pattern of ANC headphones is now at least ten years old, and the Cleer Flow design will be at least three years old when the Muse edition launches. I am sceptical that you will be able to shave 100g off the weight while reusing the hinge tools and other components and somehow delivering a fresh and contemporary look. It’s going to be hard to deliver “ultra-light, ultra-quiet audiophile” if your starting point is “bomb-proof audiophile”. You will also need to think hard about the styling as these are not immediately compatible with the Eve brand identity.

Other build issues : While we’re on the subject of hardware and electronics I should note that, in conducting this review, I deliberately tested the sound over cable as well as Bluetooth. I found that the jack input on the headphones did not appear to grip all cables equally well. In particular, some cables were able to go past the optimum connection point, meaning that the bass notes disappeared until the cable was pulled back out by 1-2mm. Other cables fared better. The implies that, inside the headphone, the two points that the jack connects to were not sufficiently tight. It is very important to ensure that the jack input tightly grips any cable that the user chooses to use.

Imagine, for instance, the in-flight experience. If a Bluetooth connection is not available, users will want to plug their headphones into the armrest in order to enjoy the in-flight movie. The cable connection has to be rock solid or users will quite rightly blame the manufacturer.

It is at least a mercy that the input is a standard 3.5mm and not the stupid one used by Bose (3.5mm to 2.5mm mixed).

Mad thought: Cleer boasts that users wanting to enjoy the highest frequency response or make use of a better DAC can do so via a cable connection. Both of these functions could in theory be served simultaneously via the USB C connector, in which case the headphones would also be able to keep themselves fully charged. Why would anyone want to run two cables to the headphones to use them, or feel obliged to charge them when not using them, if all the tasks could be achieved simultaneously via one cable? I’m not sure of the electrical/ engineering requirements but this may be worth considering as USB C outputs become more common.

Battery: I really liked that the Bose QC35s report their remaining battery life at intervals to help users plan for recharging. Something like this, so long as it is only reported at important intervals, eg 50%, 10% and 5%, adds a sense of the headphones being your friend.

The environment: I also have a particular bugbear about non-replaceable batteries in laptops, which also applies to some extent to headphones. 20 hour battery life is just a day-one boast. After a year or two, the battery won’t get close to this and that means that the headphones can’t come on a four day trip without being recharged. I accept that it is no big deal to plug them in when at home, but it becomes a hassle for travellers with one international plug and a single USB C cable as they then have to charge the phone and headphones consecutively. Some people, notably Editors Keys, have developed headphones with a removable and rechargeable battery. Being able to swap the battery if I get a 10% warning is certainly appealing. At very least, I like the idea of being able to buy a replacement battery after two years rather than having to throw away an entire set of headphones. So here’s a picture just to pose the question of whether the battery could be made accessible for swapping or replacement.
Battery

The speakers vs the DAC: In putting together this review, I was able to test both the DAC and the speakers on the Bose QC35s and the Cleer Flow IIs by playing a wide range of different music types direct from my phone over cable and then playing the same music over Bluetooth. Using a cable connection means that the sound processing is completed before the signal reaches the headphones, whereas using Bluetooth requires use of the built in DAC. Android phones happen to have quite good audio circuitry, but the DAC is still primarily intended to drive cheap portable headphones. With that in mind, I also tested using a direct cable connection to the fantastic Asus Essence STXii PC soundcard – one of the best available. To be absolutely sure, I also ran them via my Centrance Dacport Slim.

These are the songs chosen for the test:

  • “Wow” by Kate Bush (2018 remaster) – featuring a very complex orchestral swell and Kate’s unusually high voice
  • “You’re My Thrill” by Joni Mitchell – featuring another orchestra and late-stage Joni’s much lower voice
  • “The Blower’s Daughter” by Damien Rice – male voice and guitar plus female vocal solo
  • “Notget” by Bjork – contains one of the deepest bass notes of any song ever released. Sounds great through a subwoofer
  • “Crystalline”, also by Bjork – for some really fast drum and bass
  • “Paradise City” by Gunz n Roses – a rock classic
  • “Bad Guy” and “Xanny” by Billie Eilish – new music deliberately produced for headphone wearers.

The test established that the Cleer Flow II’s drivers are being held back by the in-built DAC and therefore moving to a better one is probably a good idea. Almost regardless of the choice of music, there was much more life in the sound when an external DAC was being used. This was true at all frequencies and on all three external DACs – drums had more punch, strings had more swell and everything had more presence. Without going into too much detail, I’ll just say that the drivers used in the Cleer Flow IIs have definitely got something going for them. While 40mm drivers physically can’t replicate sound in the same way as the 80mm ones found on reference headphones, they weren’t far off. The thumping bass of “Bad Guy” sounded very slightly muddy compared to my AKG K7xx headphones – the latter also able to reproduce some of the reverb around the drum beat – but it is clear that they offer a really impressive and lively response in the vocal range. There is an attractive snappiness to the sound, leading one to think that they should definitely form part of the Muse offer so long as they don’t cause the headphones to become too heavy. Bulk is a significant issue when buying travel headphones, although desk jockeys may not mind so much.

Obviously, the Android offered less than the dedicated DACs but it was still better than the on-board solution. Connecting by cable theoretically allows a 40khz signal to be processed, which is great for dogs, whereas Bluetooth is restricted to 20khz. However, I was able to eliminate this as a factor as all of the songs chosen were FLAC rips of CDs and therefore didn’t use any frequencies above 20khz. My only comments in relation to replacing the internal DAC are to be clear that the replacement one is noticeably better and also to be aware of the software and engineering implications. My understanding is that you propose to use half of an integrated Bluetooth/ DAC circuit while bolting on improved audio?

Incidentally, I found that the noise cancelling could be combined with the cable but that it made the sound worse if the room was already silent. It did help in more noisy environments.

Comparing the Bose QC35 and Cleer Flow II drivers: Having borrowed some Bose QC35s for the afternoon, I was able to conduct a side by side test of the Bose and Cleer Flow II headphones, in a quiet environment, using a cable connection to my phone. To me, the Cleer Flow IIs sounded substantially better for music. However, the Bose headphones seem to have been tuned for watching movies on planes. They create and support that moody bass sound that makes movies so engrossing. Serious thought should be given to whether the Cleer Flow IIs are primarily aimed at music listeners or in flight movie watchers. It would be absolutely fantastic, and perhaps a game-changer, if a button could be incorporated to switch audio profiles between music and movie.

In my hotel room, I didn’t notice any lag when watching Netflix on my phone, whether connected by cable or Bluetooth. However, there were numerous dropouts when listening to music by Bluetooth on one particularly crowded train, which may be linked to the number of phones and laptops in the carriage.

Comparing Cleer Flow II and the Sony WH1000MX headphones: The next morning, I went to John Lewis, a large department store, where I was able to spend about 15 minutes comparing the Cleer Flow IIs with the Sony headphones using Bluetooth to my phone. It was a very noisy environment but I found that the Sony headphones had the edge on noise cancellation and sounded pretty similar musically. Unfortunately, I was unable to use a cable to eliminate the DAC and isolate the speakers. I noted that the Sony headphones were substantially lighter and put less pressure on my glasses. However, they also felt more flimsy than even the Bose QC35s. I would want to keep them in a case at all times, whereas the Cleer Flow IIs could be put in a cloth bag. To an extent, that cancels out part of the weight issue.

Adjusting volume, changing tracks etc. It took me two full days to get used to the volume and track adjustment system, during which time I must have looked like a complete idiot as I stroked my left earcup harder and harder and cursed my luck for being sent a dodgy set of cans. Eventually, I learned that it responds very effectively to ultralight touches and I’m pretty much converted. However, I would say two things:

  • The getting started manual needs to emphasise that the user should just lightly brush the earcup and not assume there is a pressure pad below.
  • The durability of this system needs to be thought through. I had no problems using the Bose buttons from the start and I imagine that they are much less likely to fail than the pressure sensor on the Cleer Flow IIs.

This point is important because people buy headphones at airports and want to use them straight away. If they are sitting on the airplane getting frustrated because they can’t turn the volume up or down, it spoils an entire flight that they had imagined would be one of splendid sonic isolation. You will get many pairs sent back because the new owners think they don’t work. Those owners will also badmouth the product for years.

By contrast, if the system is properly explained and is durable then it becomes the kind of show-off point that allows rich people to get one over on their Bose wearing neighbours. The rest of us will just enjoy using something that is really intuitive and requires no searching around for the right button. As I say, I admit to being a convert – but then I didn’t get to try them anywhere while wearing gloves…

In use: ANC headphones are associated with long haul flights and businessmen – for whom the priority is to drown out the hum of the engines while allowing the sound of their favourite singer or the dialogue of a movie to move unimpeded into their ear. They generally report that ANC headphones do a great job with engine whoosh and rumble but are hopeless at cutting out the screaming baby in the row behind. They don’t necessarily realise that ANC headphones don’t block sound – they produce an inverse sound wave that is mixed in with the music. So cancelling out the sound of the baby might also mean cancelling out the sound of your favourite singer.

Dealing with this paradox amounts to creating an illusion of audio fidelity that isn’t actually there. In this section, I want to look at some of those factors as revealed when the Bose QC35s and Cleer Flow IIs were used side by side across a mix of bus, tube and street level events. As already mentioned, I was also able to conduct a test of the Sony headphones in a very noisy John Lewis retail store, where Black Friday was in full flow.

Let’s start with buses, comparing the Cleer Flow IIs to the Bose QC35s.

Buses: This was interesting. My first experience was terribly disappointing, and I noted that earplugs would work just as well. In reality, I was really just coming to terms with the real meaning of the phrase “stellar noise reduction.” The engine on this particular bus was more than a match for the Cleer Flow IIs, and it was also very easy to hear people talking (something that I had assumed would not be a factor, thus leading to my initial disappointment).

On a journey through East London, I noticed how sensitive the microphones are to direction. While sitting upstairs while the bus idled at traffic lights, I noted that the low vibrations of the engine was producing the audio equivalent of a strobe light inside my Cleer Flow IIs. This strange noise stopped as soon as I turned my head to look half right. The Bose QC35s suffered no such problem.

Travelling down Park Lane to Victoria Station on a typical London bus, I couldn’t believe how much more engrossing the Bose headphones were. They seem to have pulled a bit of a trick by tuning their drivers in favour of in-flight movies and lower frequencies, whereas both Sony and Cleer have tried to be more neutral. Moving between the Bose and the other headphones is a bit like moving from Radio Four to Radio One – deep and serious is replaced by brightness and life.

What that means, on the specific issue of blocking out low level frequencies such as engine noise, is that Bose, being tuned differently, are able to use the music itself to block out some of the sound. By contrast, the Cleer Flow IIs are relying exclusively on ANC to block outside rumbles, while allowing the music more headroom. This means that less of the rumble is hidden.

Here are my notes from the test:

“QC35 much better outdoors. No wind. Less of the foot thump. On the bus they are fantastic. There’s a loud and deep bass throb from the bus that my in-ears can’t block. Bose gets rid of 90%.

They also sound really musical outdoors. While sound may not be as good as Cleer, it is better at sounding good in noisy environments. Suppressing sirens and rumble, keeping bass and treble internally at a level that sounds great.”

In practice, I found that the Bose headphones were absolutely engrossing when used on a bus. In a quiet room, their failings were obvious – but on a bus, where absolutely silence can’t be obtained, those failings become a strength. When I switched to the Cleer Flow IIs, I found myself aware that the sound was better, but straining more to hear it through the ‘mix’ of engine noise, passenger chat and music.

If headphones such as these are meant to be heard in environments that are filled with low frequency noise, then Bose have pulled a very clever trick. It is only when the level of background noise falls below a certain threshold that their failings relative to the Sony and Cleer models becomes apparent. Given that they are also really comfortable, I would be tempted to trade some audio fidelity for increased engagement.

Railway station waiting room: Before getting on my first train, I spent a few minutes in a waiting room. Still getting used to them, I found myself surprised that I could hear every word spoken by a woman sat 15 feet away. My in-ears were definitely better at muffling the outside world in general; the Cleer Flow IIs just quietened specific bits of it. This is one of the examples of where I would prefer my in-ears.

On trains: My notes show that I enjoyed using them on the train from the start. The environment is quieter than a bus, which allows the ANC to cancel out the engine noise quite effectively. While passengers and announcements can still be heard, it is possible to disappear into some music without risking deafness. I did find that connecting via cable improved the sound and also helped with phone battery. When I switched to Bluetooth, I also noticed that the close proximity of so many other devices caused occasional dropouts. On my first train, if I turned the headphones off and on, I had to re-pair them.

This was not a problem on later trains and by the time I began writing this review I had become used to popping the headphones on and just going with Bluetooth. The quality of the overall experience in a relatively quiet environment is similar to that of the Bose QC35s – I would sum it up as slightly better audio combined with slightly less comfort. Again, if they can be made lighter then that will become an advantage.

On the street: Outside (and also on tube platforms), I found that the Cleer Flow II’s microphone was terribly prone to picking up wind sounds. This produced a really annoying rustling sound and it is notable that the Bose headphones were not affected at all in similar circumstances. Whether this is down to microphone placement or some other tuning issue, it is truly frustrating to switch on ANC and then find yourself listening to noises that aren’t actually there in reality.

Walking down the street, I became more aware of the sound of my feet hitting the ground and, at times, I was able to hear my heartbeat. This wasn’t really an issue. I was also impressed that the ANC allowed enough outside noise through to allay fears that I would walk in front of a bus by mistake.

On the underground: As noted above, as trains arrived they would push air ahead of them and this could be heard as a velcro-peel sound similar to blowing into a microphone, which is pretty much exactly what was happening. I would advise that this really needs to be addressed. Thereafter, on the tube I found them to be effective although I wish I could have measured the decibel levels inside my ears (I’m convinced that a noise level of one plus a noise cancelling signal of one still adds up to two). The journey was definitely much more pleasant despite the external decibel level veering between 68db (on platform) and 82db (train moving). Quite how that screaming, hissing racket could be described as a metropolitan street is beyond me – but they certainly took the low frequencies away.
Db

In that noisy environment, the Bose QC35s came off a very slight second best. Now their sound seemed to blend in with the background, while the Cleer Flow IIs did their best to sit above it. I learned that I didn’t have to play music very loud to be able to hear it (notwithstanding that I could hear it over 82db of external noise!).

Phone calls: I received calls on both the Bose and Cleer Flow II headphones. Without question, Bose did a better job. When using the Cleer Flows, callers said that I sounded distant but there were no such complaints while I was wearing the Bose headphones.

Overall: I can’t really place the Sony WH1000MXs as I only got a few minutes with them. However, the lighter build quality of the Bose and Sony offerings makes them much more appealing from a travel perspective and helps a lot of you are going to keep them on for a few hours. The Cleer Flow IIs offer the best drivers but are let down by the DAC and possibly by the tuning. Incorporating a switch to change between movie and music profiles (aka bus and airplane) would be a very smart move. Contrary to what was suggested, I do not think that the noise cancelling was stellar – they can’t be used on an underground platform without picking up the wind of an approaching train. I am not clear how you will manage to shave 100g off the weight while using the same basic tooling and would encourage you to think more adventurously, particularly given that the core design will already by three years old by the time you launch. However, you should keep the pressure sensor approach to volume control so long as it is explained that a very light stroke is all it takes (failing to do this will result in a lot of frustration that will translate into returns and complaints). Finally, you could consider the potential of the USB C slot to carry music while also charging the headphones.

THANK YOU @Helios and @nawthor and everyone at Eve for giving me the opportunity to comment on the headphones and I wish you great success as you move forward.

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Thanks

Thanks to all the reviewers for their time and effort. With your feedback we can make informed decisions about how to adapt the Flow II blueprint into a successful basis for Muse!

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I (still) haven’t read all the reviews but I love them!
They are very insightful and it’s very interesting to see that not everyone has the same complaints (some even say a certain feature is a big plus, while other dislike it very much). Also the difference in opinion about the comfort ability, the sound and the ANC is great to read!

I got some ideas when reading all of this, some not yet fully formed in my mind, but some very clear. I’ll keep those to myself until I read all the reviews.

Great work everyone! I would be very interested if (at least a part of) these reviewers get the first real Muse prototype so they can compare on the issues they assessed with the Cleer and see if those are resolved.

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I love the reviews, the reviewers all did a great job.

But they have left me with serious concerns. It sounds like the Flow II just isn’t comfortable to wear, especially for extended periods.

This in particular is extremely disturbing to read. It’s my understanding that the Muse will use the body of the Flow II, and then put in new electronics.

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It’s more about mechanical parts like hinges and adjustments. The body will be of our own design, like the electronics. That means a different headband, different earpads, and so on…

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Also bear in mind that the HD598s are some of the comfiest headphones on the market. Open backed headphones generally are as they don’t require much clamping pressure. For the Flows to get even close to the comfort levels of the 598s is an achievement.

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Really curious to see how that design takes shape!

I’ve never tried a pair of headphones that didn’t bother me at least once in a while. Still, given how our heads and ears and everything come in different shape and sizes, it’s great that so many headphones are available and that some can work for so many people.

Funny that headphones don’t have sizing (as far as I’m aware) like glasses or hats though.

They do, in the form of adjustable head bands and such. My VOIDs can increase the headband size in either or both directions, and each earcup can rotate and tilt individually. Those are all features intended to make it fit comfortably on heads of varying sizes and shapes…

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I think he means standardized sizing, like shoe sizes, clothing sizing etc. But even with that not every brand handles the sizing the same way.

Exactly, and that’s certainly true. Even if it exists it can’t necessarily tell you whether the fit is right or they’re true to size. Form what I’ve seen glasses seem to be about the only thing that really gets close to being consistent there.

Some of the most comfortable headphones I’ve owned just had a padded metal strip in the top band, allowing you to really bend and adjust them to fit just how you want. So many bluetooth headbands have these plastic shells that I’m afraid to bend and shape.

That’s a good point. I just fixated on your comment because my go-to headphones are 558’s. Guess I’ve forgotten what headphones with stronger clamping force can feel like.

That’s very good news! :slight_smile: