Cleer’s Arc open-back headphones are a brilliant idea…at least on paper. Imagine a pair of headphones that fit snugly in your ears but don’t block your hearing so you can still see what’s going on around you. That’s the concept of open-back headphones, an idea that several manufacturers hope will be the next big thing for athletic men and women.
I first reviewed a pair of Always’s open-back headphones back in November. The idea is so simple that you wonder why you didn’t think of it before. Then you try them and everything becomes clear. The idea is great; you can hook a pair of headphones to each ear, and hang a high-quality speaker at the entrance of your ear canal.
You can listen to your favorite tunes from your smartphone via Bluetooth while being aware of what’s going on around you, such as the sound of traffic, the presence of other people or the ringing of your doorbell. Unfortunately, this is also the downside of the idea, as the headphones can let too much extraneous sound reach the user’s ears, competing with the music.
The Cleer Arc is beautifully crafted and looks gorgeous. They have the feel of a high-quality product and come in an oval, zipped fabric case that charges when not in use. To wear the Cleer Arc, users need to put the earphones over the ears like wearing hearing aids. The idea is to place the speakers as close as possible to the opening of the ear canal.
However, the fit of the earphones depends on the size of the user’s ears. For example, I found that I couldn’t get the speakers close enough to my ear canal, which ruined the sound and lowered the volume. I also didn’t find them that comfortable to wear. Maybe there’s something wrong with my ears.
Pairing the Cleer Arc headphones to a host smartphone is simple, and there are companion smartphone apps for iOS and Android. The app can be used to adjust certain headset settings. Once the Cleer Arc is paired with a smartphone, they will automatically reconnect to the host as soon as they are removed from the storage case.
Now, assuming the user can fit the headphones well, these headphones sound really good thanks to the 16.2mm graphene neodymium drivers. Bass levels are excellent, with plenty of detail in the mids and highs. The earbuds provide up to 7 hours of playback time on a full charge, enough for three or four workouts at the gym or on the bike.
Each headset also features touchpad controls for tapping and pausing music or skipping tracks. Thanks to the built-in noise-canceling microphone, you can also take calls while you’re out for a jog. The sound quality of a phone call is good, but how well you can hear a call depends largely on the amount of external noise that also reaches the user’s ear.
The concept of a pair of headphones that can alert you to what’s going on around you is a smart one, especially for someone who likes to exercise. Sony’s LinkBuds are a good example, and perhaps a better implementation of the concept. For me, the fit and size of the Cleer Arc is not for someone with protruding ears. People with very sensitive ears may not like the Cleer Arc.
judgment: In theory, the Cleer Arc open-back headphones are a great idea. These are well-made headphones that, if they fit your ears, deliver great sound. The headset has a fixed size, and its adjustment is limited to basic hinge movements. If you have small ears, you might be lucky and get the perfect fit. However, if your ears are only the size of a small elephant, you may be in for a disappointment. A slight negative is the lack of support for the AAC codec used by Apple iOS devices. These open-back headphones might be a good idea for cyclists and joggers, but any potential buyer would do well to try on the size first to make sure they fit.
Pricing and Availability: The Cleer Arc headphones are available now for $129.99 / £129.99.
More information: cleeraudio.com or cleeraudio.co.uk
- Drivers: 16.2mm neodymium.
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz.
- Microphones: Two beamforming microphones with cVc noise reduction.
- Audio codecs: SBC, apt-X.
- Battery life: 7 hours.
- Water resistance: IPX4.
- Weight: 14.5g (each earbud), 96.5g (earbud and case).