You may not have heard of Cleer Audio, but the San Diego-based audio company made a big impression at the CES 2020 in Las Vegas with its latest range of speakers and headphones, including the Cleer Next. The company bills these high-specification cans as audiophile headphones. They feature Cleer’s patented engine design, which uses “20 strategically layered rare earth magnets” instead of the usual iron magnets. And today, we are here with our Cleer Next Review.
According to Cleer, this leads to “improved efficiency and lower distortion,” which should make your music sound great. But is the Cleer Next worth the high price tag? We put the wired over-ear headphone to the test to find out the answer.
Cleer Next Review: Design
It doesn’t often happen that we pay a lot of attention to the packaging, but everything about the design of the Cleer Next feels very luxurious. In essence, it seems that a lot of care has been taken, from the presentation-like box to the imitation leather case that comes with these open-back headphones. The headphones themselves indeed look striking, with a metallic purple and black color scheme, and an architectural design that accentuates hardware like hinges and screws – the overall effect is somewhat industrial, in stark contrast to the sleek lines of the Sony WH-1000XM3.
It’s not the design that will appeal to everyone, but it’s not unusual for audiophile headphones to be slightly bulkier than less high-spec models. The ear cups and headband are lined with thick leather, which means they are not suitable for people who avoid the use of animal products. The generous padding and feel of the ear cups make them feel quite comfortable during long listening sessions – although the weight of the headphones takes some getting used to and after a while, you might find the top of your head a little sore.
At the bottom of each ear cup, you’ll find an audio plug so you can connect your cable to both the left and right sides of these balanced headphones. This should reduce any electromagnetic interference by producing unwanted noise that can be a problem for unbalanced headphones, making your audio sound better at the source. This audio cable ends in a 3.5mm stereo jack, but you also get a 6.5mm adapter, which is useful if you want to use the Cleer Next with other audio components such as AV receivers or music streamers.
The Cleer Next comes with a leathe rette carrying pouch, with a pocket for the headphones themselves and a zippered pocket for your cables. The inside of the bag is lined with a soft, furry material, which should keep your cans safe from abrasions.
If you’re looking for mod-cons such as wireless connectivity, noise reduction, or built-in support for your voice wizard, you won’t find them in the Cleer Next headphones. They’re made purely to sit back and enjoy your music, and as such, Cleer has mainly focused on the audio technology in the cans rather than additional features. As we mentioned earlier, the Cleer Next headphones feature 40mm Ironless drivers with magnesium membranes, designed to reduce distortion while delivering vibrant sound.
Cleer Next Review: Performance
When listening with our Denon PMA-60 amplifier, we noticed how much detail these headphones offer, with a clear, extensive sound and a good separation between the left and right channels. We put them to the test with the chaotic sound of Death Grips’ Giving Bad People Good Ideas, and even when the track descended into riotous distorted guitars, stomping drums and digital interference, we could pick out any element with ease. Vocals were prominent without sounding loud, while the bass is tightly controlled and lively.
That theme continued as we listened to Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, with limiting synths and bouncing bass lines treated with skill and musicality. The people around us noticed that they could easily hear what we were listening to; this is normal for open-back headphones, which let air in and out of the ears. Although this creates a more ‘open’ sound, it does mean that these cans are not suitable for listening to in public (unless you want everyone to hear your cheesy musical taste).
On the clear, bright tones of Hoppípolla by Sigur Rós, there is still a right level of detail, with dreamlike tanned vocals and large orchestral motifs that add a sense of space to the mix. Are these the most dynamic headphones we’ve ever heard? No, and sometimes we long for a little more vibration, and maybe a bit more warmth from the soundstage. Everything sounds very accurate, and while that’s not a bad thing about audiophile headphones, the Cleer Next doesn’t have the unusually wide soundstage that makes the Focal Stellias as compelling as they are detailed.
On the next song by Sigur Rós, they do better, though; in Gobbledigook banging drums, clapping and shifting guitar chords provide the perfect backdrop for angelic falsetto voices in tongue-twisting harmony.
Price and Availability
The Cleer Next headphones are now available for $699/£699; that’s about AU$1040, but we have yet to receive official Australian prices. That’s quite expensive if you compare them to our top-of-the-range 2020 Sony WH-1000XM3 Wireless, which costs about half the amount of $349/£300/AU$499. It’s not uncommon for audiophile headphones to cost over $500; the Focal Stellias are among our favorite headphones, and to buy them, you’ll need to part with a dazzling $3000/£2,799 (about AU$4,200).
Cleer Next Review: Conclusion
It’s impossible not to be impressed by the fantastic sound quality offered by the Cleer Next headphones; they sound exceptionally detailed, with all the clarity (and then some) you’d expect from headphones with such a high price tag. The design is a distinct taste, and they sometimes feel a little heavy – the Cleer Next feels well built, with great attention to detail in their construction and presentation. Feature-wise, the Cleer Next cannot compete with Sony WH-1000XM3 – but that is not the intention either. These are headphones to plug into your amplifier, sit back, and enjoy your music in precise high fidelity – and for that purpose, they are perfect. Check our list of Best Audiophile Headphones for more options.
The Cleer Next over-ear headphones are aimed at audiophiles, and they don't disappoint. With innovative drivers and first-class design, they see and sound the part, even though they're not the most dynamic headphones we've ever heard - or the cheapest, by the way.
- Fantastic clarity
- Wide soundstage
- Sturdy build
- Very expensive
- A little heavy