The Cleer Alpha are an easy recommendation, and one of the finest pairs of Bluetooth headphones we’ve tested
- Manufacturer: Cleer Audio
- Model: Alpha
- Type: Bluetooth ANC Headphones
- Price: £249.99 MSRP
- Supported Connections: Bluetooth 5.1, 3.5mm analogue
- Reviewed on: Windows PC, Samsung Mobile/Tablet
- Supplied by: Cleer Audio
Cleer Alpha Review
Cleer Audio is a premium audio brand from the good old US of A, and they are rapidly becoming recognised for producing high-quality audio products. Their Alpha headphones are one of their latest products on the market, and they come packed with advanced features including active noise cancellation (ANC), Dirac Virtuo surround sound processing, ambient sound passthrough, touch controls and impressive audio quality.
The Alpha feature 40mm Ironless Drivers, designed to deliver a natural and detailed sound with refined bass, natural mids and crisp treble. The Alpha headphones also boast a stylish design, a comfortable and durable build, and a long-lasting battery.
Design and Build
The design and build quality of the Cleer Alpha are top-notch. These are well-made headphones and the soft-touch coating makes them look and feel like a premium product.
What’s in the Box
- Cleer Alpha headphones
- Fabric-covered hard case
- USB-A to USB-C charging cable
- 3.5mm audio cable
- In-flight (airplane) adapter
- User manual/Quick-start guide/Warranty card
The Cleer Alpha have a sleek and modern design that is both stylish and functional. I particularly like the soft touch coating of the chassis and earcups, which is neatly complemented by a glossy inlay that houses the touch controls. Some soft touch coatings have a tendency to degrade and become tacky to the touch after a few years – obviously, that’s impossible to test over a short time span, but it’s something I will be keeping an eye on and will update the review accordingly. For now, I’ve been using these headphones over the past month for at least 3 or 4 hours a day and there’s no sign of wear, so I’m optimistic Cleer has done its due diligence.
The headphones are available in midnight blue (which as near as makes no difference is matte black) or stone (a beautiful grey/off-white), with a premium metal-reinforced frame. Luxuriously soft leatherette earpads provide a comfortable fit with a good amount of cushioning that helps prevent any discomfort during long listening sessions.
The headband of the Cleer Alpha headphones is adjustable and padded, providing a comfortable fit for most head sizes. It has a good amount of tension without causing undue pressure across the temple, which helps to keep the headphones securely in place on your head, and in turn, helps create a tight acoustic seal thanks to the generous swivel and rotation of the forks.
As is typical of Cleer, the build quality is solid and should provide good durability, and the headphones feel like they can withstand a good amount of wear and tear, though if you use the beautiful fabric-covered hard case, they’re going to be well protected.
Like the Cleer Enduro ANC headphones, the earcups of the Cleer Alpha headphones are hinged above the cups. You can fold them up for a smaller footprint, making them easy to slip into a bag or even a large pocket, though I’d recommend making the most of the hard case if possible. The headphones also come with a high-quality 3.5mm audio cable, which allows for wired connectivity if Bluetooth is not available or when you need reduced latency.
The Cleer Alpha headphones can be connected via both Bluetooth 5.1 and 3.5mm analogue. When using Bluetooth, the connection is very reliable, with an excellent range that is above average for most Bluetooth headphones and copes well with obstructions. The Alpha also supports Bluetooth multipoint and can be connected to two sources simultaneously, though it can only play back audio from one device at a time.
Pairing the Alpha is a straightforward process. The initial power-on will place the Alpha into pairing mode, and you can select Cleer ALPHA from your device’s Bluetooth menu. To pair to another device after this, you simply hold the power button for a few seconds, and the indicator light will flash blue to let you know it’s searching for a connection.
Bluetooth multipoint pairing comes into its own here; I use the Alpha with my phone and PC, and it’s such a useful convenience having it auto-connect to either device without having to disconnect and pair the headphones each time. This is a handy feature for users who need to switch between devices frequently.
You can also connect via the included 3.5mm audio jack, which not only opens up connectivity to many more devices but also expands the frequency response from 20-20,000 Hz up to 20-40,000 Hz and enables higher resolution audio playback. There is a slight difference when using the wired connection, as long as your source audio is of a high enough quality, but the biggest takeaway here is how good the Bluetooth connection sounds – blindfolded, I’d struggle to identify which was the higher resolution audio.
Features and Controls
The Cleer Alpha come with a variety of features and controls, making them a highly versatile and very user-friendly pair of headphones. A standout feature of the Cleer Alpha is the intuitive touch controls, which are located on the right earcup. Swiping rearwards or forwards skips to the next or previous track, swiping upwards or downwards controls the volume, and a double-tap will play or pause the audio, as well as answer or hang up calls.
The touch controls are responsive and easy to use, though I did have an issue getting them to respond at first. However, this was because I was inadvertently swiping diagonally. Once I’d become accustomed to swiping accurately, it was a much better experience. As much as I like the touch controls for their convenient play/pause and track skipping features, I found repeatedly swiping to change volume a bit ungainly, and I felt a bit silly pawing at my headphones when I was out and about with the Alpha.
A large dedicated ANC button is located on the left earcup, which will cycle between ANC, ambient mode and ANC off. The ANC and ambient come as default with a usable setting, but if you download the Cleer+ app (Android and iOS, but sadly not PC), you have even more control. The ambient mode, in particular, benefits greatly when you increase the sensitivity, allowing you to hear outside sounds exceptionally well.
(Additionally, and not mentioned in any of the documentation, double pressing the ANC button turns the Dirac Virtuo feature on and off.)
Within the Cleer+ app, you can adjust various settings such as equalizer presets and noise cancellation modes. Unusually, there weren’t any EQ presets when I first tested the Alpha, but this has recently been changed with a firmware update. As for custom tuning, the app only has a relatively limited five-band EQ, but it works extremely well, and I found it more than sufficient to tweak the sound to my preferences, especially as the quality of the factory audio tuning meant only minor tweaks were needed. The EQ setting is stored in the headphones’ onboard memory, which is useful when switching to a PC which isn’t supported via an app.
Within the app, you can also adjust the Auto Power Off duration, and enable or disable the Wearing Detection feature that pauses audio when you remove the headphones, which can help extend the already brilliant battery life.
Even at this price point, the features and controls of the Cleer Alpha headphones are impressive. The touch controls are intuitive and responsive, the ANC and ambient modes are brilliant, and the Cleer+ app adds further versatility, making this a complete package that should meet most users’ requirements.
The Cleer Alpha offers excellent sound quality that should impress even the most discerning listeners. Featuring large 40mm dynamic drivers, the sound the Alpha delivers is wonderfully clear. The tuning is focused on clarity above sheer bass presence, but it still has a pleasing amount of power across the full spectrum of audio with no unwanted reverb.
The Cleer Alpha provide a well-balanced sound signature with a good amount of bass, clear midrange, and detailed treble. The bass is full-bodied without overpowering the mids and highs, which elevates them above other bass-focused headphones. This makes the Cleer Alpha suitable for anything you can throw at them, be that gaming, movies, or your favourite tunes.
Much like many of Cleer’s products, if you’re all about that bass, the native tuning might sound a bit lacking in the low-end, but in reality, it’s far closer to how the original mix would have been created. Once you get attuned to it, the bass from the Cleer Alpha in wonderfully precise and allows you to decipher intricate detail in your music that other headphones often smother in the quest for low-end volume.
Complementing the bass, the midrange is well-defined and clear, allowing you to pick up on a lot of detail and subtle nuances within the sound. Vocals and instruments are clearly distinguishable within the mix, and for gaming, if you tweak the EQ to bring focus to the higher frequencies, you can easily pick up vital audio cues.
Treble is also well-detailed and not overly bright, which makes the Alpha a pleasure to listen to for long periods. The treble is balanced well with the other frequencies, adding a nice sparkle to the overall sound signature, but for my preferences and for comfort during prolonged listening, I did knock the higher frequencies down just a notch with the EQ.
Overall, Cleer has done a fantastic job of tuning the bass, midrange, and treble to provide a high level of clarity and detail. Bass freaks might find that the overall punch at the low end could be greater, but that isn’t the goal here. If you prefer to hear detailed separation and texture in your audio, the Alpha could be just the headphones you were looking for.
In addition to their excellent audio quality, the Cleer Alpha headphones also offer very good passive sound isolation thanks to their over-ear design and leatherette earpads. If you’re in a particularly windy environment, the ANC can pick up a bit of wind noise, so this passive isolation means you can still enjoy your music without being distracted by outside noise.
Another feature we haven’t mentioned yet is the Dirac Virtuo spatial audio, which uses binaural tones to create enhanced spatial effects much like Atmos or DTS virtual surround. There is a drawback in that it overrides your EQ settings, and the Dirac EQ is heavily bass focused. This overabundance of bass creates distortion at high volumes that you don’t get with Dirac turned off. As such, I found it negatively impacted music, but on the flip side, it’s incredible when watching movies or gaming at home, where you wouldn’t be as likely to listen at full volume.
The surround effect Dirac Virtuo creates is restrained in its application, creating subtle variations in height and spaciousness, and adding width and depth to the soundstage. As I mentioned, I didn’t enjoy the Dirac sound with music due to the EQ profiling it uses, but it also moves sound around and makes instrument placement sound artificial and unnatural. Switch to movies and games, however, and Virtuo is a whole different beast. The surround effect is much more appropriate, and although it’s not as noticeably enhanced as Dolby Atmos, I found it more enjoyable to listen to.
Whether you like the Dirac Virtuo sound signature is likely to be highly subjective, but I love the added warmth and more audible bass at lower volumes, and the increased soundstage is very welcome when you’re going for a cinematic experience. I do wish they’d allowed us to tweak the EQ when using it, though. Hopefully, this can be addressed with a firmware update down the line.
Active Noise Cancellation Quality
The Cleer Audio Alpha headphones feature impressive Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) technology, which can reduce external noise by up to 30 dB. Like most ANC implementations, it performs best at reducing lower-frequency noises, such as aircraft engines, train chatter and traffic, but I still found it effectively dampened higher pitch sounds, even if it couldn’t fully remove them.
Yet another handy feature, the ANC has Smart Noise Cancellation functionality, which adapts the level of ANC based on the volume around you. This helps keep the audio piped into your ears as pure as possible, and minimises the faint background white noise created by the ANC. In practice, I didn’t find much use for this mode, as I switch ANC off in quiet environments, but if you’re more of a “set it and forget it” kind of user, this could be handy.
One of my favourite features is Conversation Mode – by pressing your palm against the right ear cup, the volume is lowered and the Alpha enters ambient mode. It’s a swift and easy way to briefly use ambient mode without cycling through with the physical button, and it can be easily deactivated with another quick palm press.
It’s a very strong performance from the Alpha, and I have been very impressed with the implementation of ANC that equals and even surpasses some of the best ANC headphones we’ve tested.
The Cleer Audio Alpha headphones feature a pair of Qualcomm cVc beamforming microphones integrated into the earcups that are designed to allow you to make phone calls or participate in online meetings while using the headphones. The microphone quality is decent, providing clear and intelligible audio to the person on the other end of the call, but it lacks a little bass.
Integrated microphone noise-cancelling technology reduces background noise fairly well, but like the ANC, it’s most effective at reducing lower-frequency sound. For calls, it’s the higher frequency sound that’s likely to interfere with your voice, which means the clack of your keyboard or people talking in the background are still picked up relatively clearly.
The microphone quality is good if not great, but if you are in a particularly noisy environment, you might consider using a dedicated microphone to improve the clarity.
The Cleer Audio Alpha headphones offer excellent battery life, providing up to 35 hours of playback from a single charge with ANC turned on (which I found to be accurate, from my testing), and closer to 40 hours with it disabled. Although it’s still far behind the incredible 60-hour battery life of Cleer’s Enduro ANC, this is still hugely impressive battery life that will last several days of heavy use without needing to be charged.
Charging is quite fast, with the USB-C connection taking just two hours from empty, but I found it easier to just top them up every few days and never had them running low on me. The Alpha also supports quick charging, which will give you four hours of playback from empty with a ten-minute charge.
The Cleer Audio Alpha are a high-quality pair of headphones with a well-defined sound signature, effective noise-cancelling technology, and long battery life. Stylish design and Cleer’s exceptional build quality make these a desirable pair of headphones, and the comfortable fit and intuitive controls make them a joy to use. The Cleer Alpha are an easy recommendation, and one of the finest pairs of Bluetooth ANC headphones we’ve tested.