Ambient sounds without plugging your ears
Enjoy enhanced ambient sounds from the lightweight On-Ear earphones from Cleer. The device promises 7-hour playback, 10-minute quickcharge= 1-hour playback, attached USB-A cable, ear hooks, Bluetooth 5.0, 16.2mm drivers, a pocket-friendly charging case (no extra charges/battery), and quality codecs.
- Ease of Use
- Battery Life
- Sound Output
Earbuds enhance ambient sounds without plugging your ears
I regularly search for the perfect pair of earphones and love to try/test new devices. Despite the testing process, I often return to a pair of Soundcore (ANKER) over-ear style headphones for home use and Apple AirPods Pro Gen 2 for on-the-go Ambient/Noise Cancelling needs. Even though I enjoy both devices and their features, I wanted a device that would allow for safer use while walking/jogging/hiking. Additionally, I wanted a device that could allow for music/sound enjoyment without eliminating ambient noise. Thus, I wanted to try an open-style pair of earphones.
The Cleer Arc Ear Free True Wireless Headphones arrived in a 5 3/8 inches long by 3 5/8 inches tall by 1 7/16 inches thick hanging style retail package. The Cleer company name was displayed along the top left of the cover panel, upon a clean white backdrop. The main focal point of the cover was the large photo-quality image of a young male wearing headphones. You will find a 5/8 inches-thick grey wrap-around accent along the bottom of the cover that contained a United Soccer League logo and the golden-metallic ARC name.
Lastly, the cover listed the red dot winner 2021 logo near the lower left corner. When I rotated the packaging and placed it face down, the right side panel listed the company name and a fun “own the moment” slogan. The left panel provided three labeled product features/icons: Open ear headphone design for situational awareness, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX high-quality music streaming, 16.2mm drivers, and custom DSP for immersive listening. The top white panel provided a white product hanging tab, while the bottom panel provided UPC barcodes, Bluetooth information, California Pro 65 risks, and product manufacturing labels.
The rear panel provided the company name along the top of the panel and then five product features: customize EQ levels with the Cleer+ app, Clear calls with beamforming technology and 2-microphone design, Open ear headphone design for situational awareness during music playback, Up to 7 hours playback from a single charge, 10 minutes quick charge for 1-hour playback, and 16.2mm drivers with customized DSP for an immersive listening experience on bass enhance mode.
I liked the attractive image of the open case at the top right of the panel. Combined with the image on the cover panel, the two images clearly represented the product and charging case. The remaining segment of the panel displayed the Qualcomm aptX logo, App Store and Google Play Store logos, and a list of the packaging contents.
I removed the outer plastic, slid the inner box toward the side, and was impressed to find a metallic gold leaf slogan at the top left of the matte black inner box. The inner box contained a 5 inches long by 3 1/4 inches tall by 1 1/8 inches tall, 3.7-ounce carry case, plus a ziplock style bag with the instruction manual and quick start fitting/charging guide. The tweed style, heather-grey carry case had an attractive silver “cleer” logo along the middle segment of the cover and an 11 1/2 inches long water-resistant zipper along the periphery.
When I gripped the metallic-black zipper pull and unzipped the case, I was disappointed with the rigidity/tightness of the mechanism. However, the zipper loosened up a little after a few open/close cycles. The inner surface of the pocket-friendly case was lined with a black nylon material and had a rigid/strong core to the clamshell design. The lower segment housed the built-in charging cradle for each of the 0.4-ounce earbuds and a wraparound 11 3/8 inches long USB-A cable.
I lifted each earbud out of the case, removed the plastic liner, reinstalled the earbuds, and then plugged the USB-A cable into a standard USB output port (5.06V/0.13A display on Drok USB-A multimeter).
While the earbuds charged, I perused the instruction manual and quick start fitting/charging guides. The fitting card demonstrated the over-ear ARC device installation and the ability to rotate the main body of the headphone at the ear hook hinge before sliding the ear hook behind the ear. The reverse panel showed the built-in pouch and details regarding the lack of an internal case battery or wall adapter.
I found the lack of an internal battery to be a large setback/disappointment when other similarly priced devices allowed for multiple charges or wireless charging. I liked the flat easily pocketable case design and the lightweight nature. However, the case was too large not to have an internal case battery. Even with the quick charge feature of 10 minutes of power=1 hour playback, it will take several hours to charge the device completely.
Additionally, you must find a power source between charges instead of relying on an internal battery. The limitation precludes using the device for camping weekends (without USB batteries) or many outdoor activities where people are away from a dedicated USB power source. The included power cable/cable management was a big plus but did not outweigh the glaring omission of an internal battery.
I opened the 16-panel instruction manual and reviewed the contents. Each of the 0.4-ounce earbuds had a rounded Cleer touchpad/earphone segment, a hinged segment, and the earhook segment with LED indicator and power button. The manual did a good job of representing the features, even though the flow was not provided in a typical left-to-right pattern. To flow through the manual, start at the top left and move down one panel. Then move to the next column and move down again, repeating this process.
The manual demonstrated the title/box contents in column 1, the overview/fitting in column 2, correct wearing position and quick start guide in column 3, and information about the cleer+ app and Bluetooth paring in column 4. The reverse panels demonstrated the Earbuds control Playback/call/volume plus LED breakdowns and charging in the first column.
The second column reviewed the mechanism to factory reset the earphones, the product specification table (16.2mm neodymium driver, SBC/aptX CODEC support, 20-20,000 Hz frequency, USB-A 5V/500mA input, 10min charge-1hour playtime, 7-hour max playback, BT 5.0, A2DP v1.3, AVRCP v1.6, HFP v1.7 support, and 14.5G weight per earbud/96.5grams case+earbuds), and listed information about the Warranty. The third and fourth columns provided additional warranty information and finished with Notices.
I removed each earbud from its carry base, bent them at the hinge segment, and draped them over my ears. The open-ear earbuds immediately entered a powered-on state, while a female announcer provided a vocal “power on” alert. After about five seconds, the female announcer vocalized “Looking for device.”
I navigated to Settings, Bluetooth, and then selected Clear ARC from the list. Once selected, the device beeped twice and connected without any fanfare. I was pleased that I did not have to follow any additional steps or button sequences; the instruction manual provided details about powering on/off the device outside of the case and to long press the power button to enter into pairing mode.
After pairing, I returned the devices to the case and they powered off appropriately. When I removed them from the case again, the female announcer vocalized “power on” and the earbuds again paired with my iPhone 14 Pro Max. To turn off the devices, you can place them back into the case. If left alone for approximately fifteen minutes, the devices will auto-power down.
Once connected, I tested the sound output of the Cleer Arc earbuds with the audiocheck.net website. During the Low-Frequency Response and Subwoofer Audio Test (10-200 Hz), the announcer voiced frequency changes at 10Hz levels. The test showed that the earbuds could output sound starting at 40-5Hz, which suggested limited deep bass sounds between the 20Hz-40Hz frequencies. Unfortunately, the bass was a bit weaker than expected.
I attempted the test at 25%, 50%, and then 75% volume and followed the instruction manual technique to turn up the volume (double tapping the right earbud x 2 and then holding). The sound felt weak/limited beneath ~75% volume and had an average to slightly above average sound at 75%+ volume. I rarely listen to music at nearly full volume and was concerned with the need for prolonged listening.
Alas, I appreciated the quality/improvement once the volume was increased. Despite the finicky (sometimes too sensitive, and sometimes not sensitive enough) touch controls, the limited bass was weaker than expected. Without the lower pitches/tones, the sound output appeared brighter and less complete. Luckily, the sound never felt tinny or too bright to enjoy audiobooks, music, and movies. It just felt undersupported. If you are looking for authentic audiophile sound for music/movies/audiobooks, an in-ear system will likely provide a more extensive, fuller sound.
When I used the High-Frequency Response and Hearing Audio Test (22-8 kHz), I could hear sound starting at 15 kHz. I was pleased with the output, with the color/character, and with the blend. For the test, the announcer vocalized each descending frequency starting at 22 kHz. As we age or suffer trauma from pressure/loud noises, we tend to lose our upper range of hearing. Thus, the high-frequency response test is more of an individualized limit than one for the earbuds. For example, my 11-year-old son could hear sounds at 17kHz, while my 14-year-old could hear sounds at 16kHz.
I used Amazon Prime Music, Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube to test a variety of songs. I listened to the Bohemian Rhapsody Soundtrack, Rocketman Soundtrack, several selections from Jackson 5, Alabama, Home Free, Beatles, Eagles, Journey, Charlie Puth, and Meghan Trainor. I liked the poppy feel and felt the bass provided some depth but insufficient support. I liked the blend with instrumental tracks from Enya and the Far and Away Soundtrack but missed the depth present with many in-ear systems.
Like the bass tests above, I had to turn the volume higher than average to appreciate the effects. For the third test, I utilized the Left/Right/Center test to evaluate the internal programming and was pleased to find appropriately programmed channels. I used the Stereo Perception and Sound Localization Test for the final test and listened to the binaural knocking sounds. Like the tests above, I was met with average surround perception and staging results.
My 14-year-old son and I have used the Cleer Arc earbuds over the past month during our Sunday BSA practice treks (3-4 mile practice hikes for our upcoming 61-mile Philmont Boy Scout trip). We charged them overnight (~3-4 hours to charge) and then utilized the on-ear systems to listen to audiobooks (He Who Fights With Monsters (Book 8) by Shirtaloon).
We loved the ability to pick up ambient sounds, road noises, background sounds, and the ability to communicate without shouting. The sound quality was sufficient to provide clear audio at ~80% volume, despite background noises. Unfortunately, we both noted irritation to the antihelix segments of our ears after a few hours of use.
As we walked, the hinge segment rubbed against the outer ear, leading to some listening fatigue. To counteract this feature, we initially traded back and forth at hour intervals and then charged the device with a portable battery every few hours. To the merit of the manual, we did appreciate nearly an additional hour of listening after only 10-15 minutes of charging.
After the first week, we amended our activity/plan. We discovered that my son could walk to my left with the right earbud in place, while I utilized the left earbud. We were able to listen to the same song/book and could rotate/exchange ears as needed. Through this process, we uncovered a potential workaround to the limited 6-7 hour battery life.
By using a single earbud at a time, users could essentially double the length of use. Unfortunately, if you use a single earbud, it limited the paired touch control functions. The Bluetooth strength was sufficient to allow us to walk at ~10-15 feet apart (front-back, or side-side) with minimal interruptions in sound. I was pleased with the connectivity, the codecs, the programming, and with the lack of glitching sound.
The added convenience of an internal charging cable did not go unappreciated. The feature eliminated the need to hunt for a cable or the need to bring along an extra cable that could get lost in the bottom of a bag, pocket, or backpack. Unfortunately, damage to the short USB-A cable could spell doom for the entire system.
The lack of an internal battery and lack of water resistance (IPX3-4) was a near deal breaker for travel/outdoor needs; it would be unreasonable to use the devices for outdoor hiking without access to power, without any element protection, and without an internal battery to recharge the earbuds. I could not find an actual waterproof rating in the instruction manual or quickly on the website.
An answer from a seller in the Amazon question/answer segment stated “Thanks for your question. At this point in time, we have not received an IPX4 rating so I cannot recommend running in rainy weather. ” Subsequent searches on the Cleer website provided additional information about possible IPX4 ratings. Unfortunately, the information was not forthcoming and lacked definitive evidence.
I liked the concept of the open-ear design and felt that the device could be a fantastic asset to the outdoor enthusiast. We found that the over-ear hooks helped to maintain placement and did provide a better-staying power than some of the in-ear systems including Apple AirPods Pro Gen 1/2. However, the over-ear hook added a downward drag on the ear and felt odd with glasses or ball caps. I did not find the weight uncomfortable but disliked the rubbing on the outer aspect of my ear while moving/hiking.
I believe that the Cleer Arc open-style earbuds have a lot to offer. Furthermore, I expect a generation 2 device could fix many of the abovementioned limitations. For sound output, I would give the earbuds a 3.5/5, for comfort a 3/5, for battery life and portability 2/5, and overall features 3/5. To turn the earbuds from a 3/5 to a 4+/5, they would need to provide improved bass within the 20-40Hz range, allow the case to provide at least one additional charge, improve touch sensitivity, and provide at least an IPX4-5 rating.
Do not misinterpret my tough rating on sound to suggest it is bad. I believe that the sound output was rather good but the lack of in-ear pressure/location meant that I had to increase the volume to higher levels than expected. I missed out on the bass support that I have grown to expect with many of the tests. Lastly, phone call conversations were good but airy with background noises.
I was surprised by the >$100 cost with such a short playtime and the lack of similar product features. For a similar price, the Tranya Open Ear Bluetooth Earphones provide 32 hours of playtime (8-hour earbuds + 24 hours from the case), 16-mm drivers, 4-microphones, IPX5 waterproofing, but lost the attached cable. With a smaller case, more power, more noise cancellation, and a similar shape, there may be better options for the cost.
- Built-in USB-A cable
- 10-minute charge=1 hour of playtime.
- Case design/shape (no internal case battery)
- Transparency/Ambience is better than in-ear programming (no hissing/rushing/pressure)
- Good sound quality (loses some compared to in-ear type).
- No pressure within the ear canal
- No charging Case/battery
- Included/attached charging cable is short.
- Included Charging cable is a weak link: If the cable breaks you must buy a whole new system.
- Phone calls pick up ambient noise a bit.
- Finicky touch controls (Sometimes over-sensitive)
- Questionable IPX water resistance means concern for outdoor use/rainy weather
- The hinge segment presses against the antihelix. May be uncomfortable
- Limited Bass starting at 40-50Hz.
- Price >$100