Cleer Audio NEXT Headphone Review

I’ve seen Cleer Audio products at audiophile convention booths for about two or three years now, and remember the very first year I saw them at RMAF, when they were getting feedback on a new headphone, which at that time was untitled.

It looked rather different than the Cleer NEXT which I received for review, and the sound was, to be honest, a little underwhelming. At that time, Claude, the marketing manager told me they were going for something resembling an HD800 tuning, with smoother treble, targeted at the $600~$700 USD price point. Since that time, every show I’ve seen them at, the product has come progressively further and made huge improvements, and at this year’s AXPONA I was very impressed with some of their Bluetooth headphone offerings. I felt the Cleer Flow I reviewed earlier this year, now on it’s second version, was a very nice portable option for the money.

So, having been in touch with them, I saw that the NEXT was finally available on their website and inquired about a review pair. Once a pair was in stock, they shipped it over quickly. Where the packaging for the Cleer Flow was exceptionally nice for the price, the NEXT takes this up several levels. Again, while the box materials were mostly cardboard and paper, the seamless fit and finish of everything was simply stunning, unlike anything I’ve seen at any price. Nothing was too tight or too loose, sleeves slid off with just the right amount of pull, and opening the box was literally a pleasant tactile experience. The box was assembled like a fine architectural puzzle, with cables, travel bag and other accessories cleverly nested within large, complex folds, which once unraveled revealed a very economic use of materials. Whoever the production and packaging engineers were for this product, they’re clearly talented folks.

The contents of the box are simple, the headphones, a travel bag, a cable with 6.5mm adpater and some literature. I found the inclusion of a travel bag and not a hard case a little unusual, but I suspect these are really not headphones you’ll want to take on the go that much anyways, so it didn’t bother me. The bag provided with the NEXT is quite strange as well. It’s a very nice leather satchel that simply folds over after the headphone is placed into it. There is a small zipper pouch for the cable. It doesn’t seem particularly protective or space efficient, so I’m not sure how much use most folks will get out of it. It is, however, lined on the inside with one of the plushest, softest microfibre-type materials I have ever felt. Despite its lack of intended functionality, the carrying bag functions as a terrifically soothing stress-relief device. Ok, I’m kidding, but it really is quite a pleasing material.

The cable has an unusual termination, a sort of textured plug at the end of a rather thick, but flexible smooth rubber-sleeved cable. A bit of Internet research revealed this to be a Cardas termination plug, and a rather nice quality one. Cabling should not be a weak point with this headphone. At the headphone end, they use the same tight snap-locking connectors as the HD800, which you’ll inevitably love or hate, depending on your relationship with that headphone. Overall though, the cable is really quite flexible despite its length and thickness, and I had no problems with cable noise, or getting it to behave in any shape I wanted it to sit in. I wish more companies would design cables with this attention to flexibility, as it really did make the seated listening experience much more pleasant.

The Cleer NEXT headphones themselves are, of course, the most meticulously assembled piece of gear in the entire package. The level of industrial fit and finish rivals the Focal Stellia’s I reviewed earlier this year, and the comfort is superior. Many complex parts of the yolk and earcup assembly appear to be single pieces of metal cleverly interlocked and held together with seriously hefty screw pieces. The headband adjustment itself is smooth but glides with just the right degree of friction and is at least the equal of any good detented system I’ve used. I had no trouble adjusting the headband and found the entire mechanism very usable. This is really a gorgeous headphone, but it’s also understated. Whereas the Focal headphones like the Utopia and Stellia are flashy and chic, the Cleer NEXT is industrial and subtle. The entire thing is almost totally metal, yet it remains fairly light weight for it’s size, and the reflective bronze accents add a lot of class without being overly blingy. The entire kit, much like the rest of Cleer’s presentation and packaging, is a Goldilocks experience. Not too heavy, not too light, but just right.

Cleer Audio
1 (888) 672-5337

ssorg's picture

The plug appears to be a Canare F-12, well-known to the DIY community.

JML's picture

Thanks for the review - I've been surprised that these have received so little attention. You like the NEXT and the ERA-1, so how about giving some suggestions on their relative strengths/weaknesses, given the close price and performance of the two?

Rafe Arnott's picture
Hard to compare when both were done separately by different people.
JML's picture

Oh... I am still used to Tyll's reviews. Sorry.

Rafe Arnott's picture
zedmartinez's picture

I picked up a pair of these after Cleer was out my way demoing them and I was impressed with how clear and articulate they were, but since then I've seen reviews of them elsewhere that make me wonder if we had the same headphones. Nice to see one that agrees pretty much entirely with my impressions of them. I run mine through just a small Schiit stack with the Modi 2 Uber and Vali 2 with a Philips PCC88 and agree the tube amp really helps warm the sound up without hurting the wonderful clarity. For people who like more towards the true Harman EQ, I've found that it adjusts very well with the EQ adjustments oratory1990 on Reddit measured. It gets warmer and a few peaks in the highs get shaved down, but it takes the adjustments well and still sounds great just... different. It's a nice EQ to kick on and off depending on what I'm listening to.

Martin.'s picture

Hey Grover, is there a reason you don't do comparisons and/or some sort of rating system?

JML's picture

I tried the Next, and was disappointed. The midrange and highs demonstrated incredible clarity and wonderful separation of the voices and instruments, as well as a good sense of the recording space. But the bass response was deficient, even running from my desktop Oppo HA-1. Fast bass, but no depth to the frequency response compared to my Focal Clear and Oppo PM-3. If Cleer can improve the performance of the bass this would be a great mid-priced headphone.

And the photos do not do justice to the size of the earpieces. These are huge. Comfortable, yes, but very, very big.