Cleer Audio Flow Review Page 2

Of the controls, Ambient is the most interesting, and it has three modes. Off, Normal and Voice. While off, the headphone functions in its passive or noise-cancelling capacity. In Normal mode a small amount of room noise is fed into the headphones and gently ‘ducks’ or lowers volume of the sound to make environmental noise audible. In Voice mode, the ambient noise is focused especially on the midrange and even more sound is filtered through in this range to make voices audible. In practice the Flow has much better than average passive noise isolation, and so inevitably you get the odd experience of hearing everyone as if they’re being recorded through a tiny microphone in a giant space, which of course they are. I suspect there’s some algorithm going on here to try and pick out voices, because the ambient noise seemed to adjust based on whether the active noise-cancelling was on and the amount and type of environmental noise. It was pretty good actually, filtering general low-frequency rumble and high-treble gunk pretty well in all modes. Whilst most folks sounded a bit like Alvin and the Chipmunks, they were eminently understandable and most importantly the Flow did not accomplish this by throwing painful amounts of 1.5khz or 3khz energy in my face, something I’ve experienced with a number of other Bluetooth headsets.

Better than average passive noise isolation.

The inbuilt microphone was of decent quality, not quite as clear or noise-rejecting as detachable options such as on the Mobius or some gaming headsets, but was a step above the MOZero I reviewed recently in both clarity and external noise rejection.

Regarding the noise-cancelling and ambient modes, I noticed that the frequency response didn’t seem to change much. Often noise-cancelling will completely destroy the sound of a headphone, but here the changes seem to be a slight reduction in treble and loss of some texture in the low mids and bass, but these were minor and didn’t bother me much. The sense of pressure on my ears was pretty light as well, though I did detect a little bit of that weird ANC ‘buzz’ sound in the high range that I’m fairly sensitive to, but this is fairly common to many ANC implementations, so if you’re used to that, this shouldn’t present any problems. Likewise the Ambient control seemed to do an excellent job of not totally destroying the frequency response, though the voice setting pretty heavily interfered with the midrange, which is of course expected and intended. Great for talking when you need to speak to a flight attendant on a plane.

My initial listening impressions are not far off my first AXPONA listening notes. The soundstage on these things is huge for a Bluetooth headphone. No, they aren’t HE-1000s or HD800s, but compared to the slew of Bluetooth headphones I’ve been reviewing recently, they do a much better job of getting the sound out of your head. Whether this is due to Cleer’s ‘Ironless Driver’ technology or simply a good Bluetooth implementation and good ear cup design, I couldn’t say, but I really dig it. There’s even some sense of depth and width with spacious recordings, which is immensely impressive for a Bluetooth headphone, at least in my opinion.

The frequency response is really balanced for a Bluetooth headphone, and all the work that went into the NEXT is obvious here. If I had to choose, I would say this headphone is a little tilted towards the higher frequencies, though I wouldn’t call it bright or peaky, and even on piano music that moves across the highest ranges of the keyboard none of the typical 3khz, 6khz or 10khz ranges stick out as ear-drillingly painful.

Excellent styling cues and attention to detail.

Likewise, while the headphones have an exceptionally clear treble, its actually slightly dynamically relaxed which is perfect for a wireless headphone that will often be used on the go, where nasty peaks go from nagging to painful very quickly. The midrange remains in balance and is maybe just a touch forward but complements the treble quite nicely, and the sound the midrange and treble is super coherent, not ‘for a Bluetooth’ headphone but just for a headphone period. I could see some people asking for a little more presence region energy, but I liked the slightly relaxed balance, and I suspect this slight relaxation helps give things the sense of width and depth that struck me on my first listen.

Bass is good too, and the Flow had no problem with Prince’s ‘FUNKNROLL’ track from his Art Official Age album. The 46hz tone in this tune is great for both testing and also getting a reference point for just how low 50hz is. Most people mistake it for 30hz or 25. In any case, the note was there very clearly and even with a bit of texture. The level of bass on the headphone is perhaps 1-2dB below what I suspect most people will enjoy, not enough to bother me but enough to notice. It’s very clean with good texture and decent though not excellent punch, and I find it satisfying for most listening, but can see some folks wanting just a little extra oomph.

One of the saving graces here is that the scale of the bass, much like the aforementioned treble and midrange is huge for a Bluetooth headphone. With rumbling movie soundtracks and big drums, the bass really does have a sense of scale you would not expect. One of the downsides of all this is a slight emphasis in the lower midrange, which is a feature of many dynamic drivers. In this case, I didn’t detect anything like the tubbiness that characterized early Beats headphones, but there is a slight forwardness to upper bass and lower midrange that causes things to get a bit fuzzy sounding with very busy music, and can occasionally make dynamic music sound mildly v-shaped. It’s not a severe problem and can actually be pleasant at lower volumes, but the tuning is definitely a tad rich for my tastes when listening to soundtrack or classical music. On the other hand, the lower midrange, at least in my experience, has an interesting part to play when it comes to perceptions of imaging and soundstage, and on more compressed or brighter recordings of pop and rock music, the Flow’s tuning works beautifully.

At $279 USD, well worth a look.

Tonal purity often has to give up a little in favor of flexibility and use-case specialization. That said, these headphones still image better than many wired audiophile cans. I think the Flow has a nice balance between playing more laid back, spacious recordings and playing the sort of aggressive, forward sounding tracks that it will likely be used for while on the go. There are always tradeoffs.

The Cleer Flow has impressed me. It has a very tasteful tuning, good usability, features and a good value proposition. Clearly, pun intended, these are a well thought-out pair of headphones, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to both mainstream headphone buyers as well as audiophiles looking for a fuss-free travel headphone. Cleer also have plans later this year to release an update to the Flow named the Flow II, which will have Google assistant built in, and will cost the same $279 USD. Definitely check these out if you have the chance.

Cleer Audio
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Three Toes of Fury's picture

I like your style and approach to reviewing.
I also very much appreciate seeing reviews of not super-high end stuff.

Keep up the great work and content!

Peace .n. Living in Stereo

3 Toes of Fury

PDC3's picture

No fluff, good stuff. Thanks.

hpscout's picture

What's the Bluetooth protocol version implemented in the cans - 4.x/5.0? Even the manufacturer's website doesn't specify!