Cleer Audio NEXT Headphone Review Page 2

Enough gushing over aesthetics though, what about the important part – sound? I’m happy to report that the Cleer NEXT doesn’t sound much like an HD800 to me at all. What it does sound like, is one of clearest and most refined dynamic headphones of 2019. The headphone’s tuning is somewhat midrange centric, with a crystal clear and perhaps ever so slightly forward midrange, just relaxed of neutral treble and a linear, slightly light bass.

This headphone has a slight tilt towards the treble and midrange frequencies, but it does so without being bright or fatiguing at all. It’s one of the few headphones I can play uncompressed piano music and frequency sweeps through and get pretty much no annoying treble spikes. Far from being dull or unresolving though, the NEXT is easily a among the best headphones in the $2,000-USD-and-under category that I’ve heard in terms of spatial presentation and micro detail.

The level of transient clarity and cleanness is superb, yet never harsh. The NEXT seems to give every transient its own individual sense of space, perhaps due to the Magnesium Chassis and ironless driver technology, as a number of other headphones using magnesium chassis that I’ve heard have displayed a similarly excellent transient response. Accurate transient response doesn’t always correlate to a spacious listening experience though, and the NEXT surprised me with just how much sense of the recorded venue it gave me. I would say the imaging was decent on this headphone, but the projected width and resolving power of the treble was where it shone, giving me tons of spatial and reverberation cues in all the recordings I listened to. The level of treble refinement and midrange clarity is among the best I've heard at any price point, period.

Not all music lives in the mid and high ranges though. I was surprised the Cleer NEXT does not have a strong perceptual low-mid and midbass-hump, like most dynamics do. Actually, the bass sounds fairly extended, and I do get a sense of even very low tones extending into the 30-40Hz range. However the level of these bass notes is between 4-6dB too low in level for my tastes. What is there is eminently clean, textured and smooth, in a way that reminds me of the ‘liquid’ bass presentation of many of the best planar magnetics, its just not enough. Curiously I never felt the NEXT sounded thin, though I could see some listeners preferring slightly more body on recordings that were mixed loud or bright. Following on this, I found that when using the Manley Absolute headamp, other outboard EQ’s or even a very clean digital EQ to bump the bass up, the NEXT handled up to 8-12dB of bass boost very gracefully. This is in Contrast to the HD800 which past a certain point isn’t really helped by EQ in the bass. The sensation of dynamics and punch remains even when doing fairly aggressive EQ-ing, so if this is something you’re open to, I’d highly recommend it.

As a complete package without equalization, I find the NEXT a fairly compelling headphone. It works phenomenally well with most kinds of acoustic music; bluegrass and folk, Classical, jazz. It even manages fairly well with modern pop recordings, but does fall just a little short with electronic dance genres. Again, for a headphone that takes EQ so gracefully, I think the Cleer NEXT benefits from a bass shelf if you’re open to doing such a thing. Another option I found some success with was amp matching. The NEXT is pretty sensitive and at about 16ohms, doesn’t require a lot of drive. I was able to get fairly loud levels off my phone. And while the NEXT doesn’t seem to dislike solid-state amplifiers, I had much better success using smooth solid-state gear like the SPL Phonitor amp I’m currently reviewing, or even a rather fancy Aurist amp that a local friend of mine owns.

I noticed especially on tube amps that the NEXT seemed to play very well with the distinctive coloration of tubes. The slight relaxation of the treble region and midbass-bump of many tube amps was a perfect combination with the Cleer NEXT. I think the treble softening, more than the bass bump, ended up aiding in the sensation of a little extra bass weight, and though I preferred some EQ, I could easily see purists who want a very balanced sound having success with this method. I didn’t find any particularly bad combinations, whether solid state or tube, but overall I did find greater success with tube amps in general.

Cleer Audio’s NEXT headphone most of all is a very interesting product to me for the simple fact that it offers a high degree of value for its asking price. Yes, the midrange and tilted tuning is perhaps a few steps behind the current flavor of popular headphone, but it’s $600 USD price point is also far south of many of those headphones as well. The Ether 2, ZMF Verite, Meze Empyrean and Focal Stellia all cost thousands of dollars. These were also the headphones I found myself comparing the NEXT to when listening. The other comparably priced headphones I had at the time of this review, while strong in their own ways, didn’t feel like they offered the same value in sound or build quality as the NEXT. That alone makes these a rather unusual headphone. Ultimately, I think if you’re OK with doing a little matching or tinkering, or are looking for a crystal clear sound and don’t mind a little less bass than is currently popular, I would definitely recommend checking out the Cleer NEXT. Personal taste aside, this is one of the most polished products I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.

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COMMENTS
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
Thanks
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