Cleer Next: A Review of Untapped Potential
Dec 23, 2019 at 4:59 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 25

SureSh0t

New Head-Fier
Joined
Dec 30, 2018
Posts
35
Likes
30
Location
United States
HVacG3B.jpg


Cleer, a small US based company focused on designing slightly premium casual listening headphones while using Chinese OEM manufacturing, came out swinging at the Canjam 2017 tour. Their new flagship dynamic driver headphone was announced as taking aim at the HD800 in performance for a lower price. At that time it was in a prototype state and Cleer was showing off the sleek BMW Designworks contracted design to attendees and getting their feedback. Aside from a few mentions the Next didn't get much press despite Cleer's claims and it's good looks. It was enough to win a Good Design Award followed by a spot in the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. But Cleer said it would delay for work on final adjustments before launch and launch it did, quietly, with zero press or fanfare almost a year later.

Upon first listen you might not understand why. It's vocal clarity, solid bass, surprising detail and competent soundstage might wow you a bit, but after a while or during certain tracks you begin to notice issues. Female voices have a certain metallic shimmer, the subbass lacks a little definition, there's something in the treble fatiguing you which you can't quite put your finger on. You want to love it but it's not quite right.

Build: There is nothing about the housing that seems flimsy and every element seems tight and seamless to the extent it feels like a piece of sculpture as much as a headphone. The headband and deep earpads are real, supple leather well stitched with no signs of looseness or mistakes. The machining of the aluminum frame is extravagant to a frankly silly extent. Every curve and edge seems to receive great attention with no signs of rough finishing anywhere. Even if you don't like how it sounds the Next will look great on your stand.

Comfort: The pads are deep, chonky, soft leather filled with firm foam. Unless you're an Obama or elephant hybrid your ears will probably never touch the pads. The cups swivel and tilt a fair amount such that almost any head shape should be accommodated. The headband is nice and broad but oddly the padding on the underside is somewhat thin and if it sits in the wrong spot it might cause some discomfort after an hour or two. Perhaps a future job for Vesper Audio. Clamp is adequate, maybe a little soft for my preference of secure fit, but if you don't move too much it should be fine.

Bass: Response wise it is in a very nice spot, slightly elevated with very good extension all the way to 20Hz. Goldilocks bass if you will. It is missing that extra bit of subbass slam and dynamics you might find on an excellent planar or what I get from my MDR-EX1000. But for a fullsize dynamic is very impressive.

Mids: Unremarkable, and frankly that is a good thing. While voices and airy passages sound subtly metallic, the mids seem natural and unaffected. There might be a very slight shout at 2k but I find reducing it by anything more than 2dB is too much. I'm just very sensitive to anything off balance in the 1k-3k region. Lower mids just a tad warm maybe because of the extended bass shelf but there is no interference from bass in mid clarity.

Treble: Very large emphasis on female vocals. Allie X sounds incredible. It might be just a little too much but the detail, or at least the lack of grain, means there's little downside to the extra bit of liveliness in voices. However the main problems with this headphone arise: treble peaks and metallic timbre. The aluminum housing and the treble spikes add a subtle shimmer or echoing pipe effect. Sometimes this is pleasing if it fits the music but I imagine this would not be as germane to a country ballad singer as a trance vocal. This can be somewhat alleviated with EQ but the peaks are very narrow and sharp and can be difficult to locate without doing sine sweeps.

Overall the Next clearly (rimshot) falls short of it's bold promise. Interestingly it's price, driver design and sound signature makes it a more natural competitor of the Elex, of which it has features and perhaps build quality beat. Although Cleer probably cannot match the level of product support. How did this dark horse trip so hard before the finish line?

Looking at the inside courtesy of takato14, Cleer's ambitions and follies are made apparent.
ubq4NFA.jpg

IMG_20191002_032543.jpg

A Mr. Memers Precision Treble Attenuator behind the pads and a magnesium coated dome deeply seated within a surround for maximum excursion much like a Focal driver you might find in an Elex or Clear.

The driver is promising and explains the uncanny bass extension for a dynamic but the gaudy plastic waveguide/shroud was a portent of some design hell sealed away, a capstone over the troubled story of a passion project ala Ford vs Ferrari that ends somewhere between winning Le Mans and Icarus falling from the sky.

Behind this (no pictures, sorry) it is evident a somewhat frantic effort was made to damp this driver with a VERY powerful magnet assembly (enough to hold the entire headphone together without screws and take measurements) in a resonant/reflective housing. The copious felt lining the back of the housing explains the surprising amount of isolation for an open back. It also explains the extended shelf of distortion in the bass range that, while at or below 1% is somewhat concerning for the performance of the driver and lead Tak to suspect it was overdamped. After removing some felt and strategically placing Twiron, overall THD in the bass was reduced except for a slight bloom of 2nd order around 300Hz. (Full disclosure the scale was changed slightly between graphs but it should still be apparent.)
Stock
uO8Vwhz.png

Modded
DNpjOal.png

Extended resonances are reduced/eliminated, the 4k peak on at least one side is killed and it appears some cancellations/echoes in the upper treble are reduced. My overall impression was that dynamics, especially in the bass, were improved. Timbre seemed far less metallic and listening is comfortable enough that I haven't felt the need to use equalization since. Resonance in the bass got a little more jumpy (as you can see in the CSD and impulse response) but wasn't noticeable and I'm more than willing to take it for the audible improvements.

Next is a remarkably interesting headphone for something claiming to copy an HD800 and being yet another dynamic driver. Despite all these idiosyncrasies that I've laid out, it actually sounds pretty damn good. It hits a lot of my preference marks for bass and vocals, has some correctable flaws and is very well made in some key respects. It enables me to have something that sounds good from a headphone that (at least until now) few know about and isn't another one of the cans everyone has or lusts after. Which is neat.

All credit to takato14 for investigating and modifying the internals.
 

Attachments

  • DSCF5160.jpg
    DSCF5160.jpg
    3.9 MB · Views: 0
Last edited:
Dec 23, 2019 at 5:35 AM Post #2 of 25

takato14

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jul 23, 2012
Posts
3,043
Likes
544
Location
Hell, probably.
I cannot believe I screwed up the THD scale on the first graph! Oops.

Very good sounding headphones after mods and one of the most technically capable fullsize drivers I've heard in quite some time. If the double penetrator peaks could be fully gotten rid of, I would definitely be buying a pair and I'm still very much interested in trying a driver swap with these. The stock enclosure is nice but is overall just too far gone with all the random, reflective plastic surfaces. Maybe some 3D printing could resolve its issues...
 
Dec 23, 2019 at 10:07 AM Post #3 of 25

kman1211

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Feb 13, 2012
Posts
5,069
Likes
3,102
Location
Edmond, OK
Nice review, your impressions are similar to mine as when I tried them. Had the chance to try a friends pair for a few days and the metallic timbre was what ruined them for me. So looks like it’s all the plastic reflective surfaces that ruined them. I did note they likely have great modding potential, it’s sad they had lacked proper acoustic damping. If I bought a pair I would likely of returned them or attempted modded them with easily reversible mods.
 
Last edited:
Sep 12, 2020 at 1:28 PM Post #4 of 25

Roderick

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Nov 7, 2014
Posts
1,581
Likes
1,820
Location
Finland
Bumping and old thread here but I was hoping that @takato14 or @SureSh0t could explain the mods in bit more detail. I could do it with trial and error way but I'm bit concerned about removing the pads over and over again. I'm afraid of breaking those plastic pieces that attach to the cups.

Was the felt removed that Black/Grey transparent thing that is on the grilles? Or just the part on the round part at the bottom. How much was removed?
IMG_20200912_000540.jpg
How much of twiron was used? Did you put it only behind the part that holds the driver or did you put some inside that part which goes around the driver too?

Also do you remember if you saw anything like that black piece next to the magnet on the paper ring next to wire board? It looks out of place imo.
IMG_20200912_000424.jpg

I know it's annoying trying to remember old things like this. Sorry.
 

Attachments

  • IMG_20200912_000600.jpg
    IMG_20200912_000600.jpg
    1.7 MB · Views: 0
Last edited:
Sep 13, 2020 at 4:26 AM Post #5 of 25

takato14

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jul 23, 2012
Posts
3,043
Likes
544
Location
Hell, probably.
Take out the four silver screws on the inside of the cup. Remove the sheet of paper underneath the metal mesh. Reassemble.

I also put some twaron in the cup volume but that's probably not an option for you.

The bass THD is mostly destructive interference between the paper and the rear port of the driver. Basically, sound reflects off that reflective paper and back into the driver ports, wreaking havoc.

The black piece on the driver looks to be some kind of porting adjustment. Sometimes companies will do this if a driver is slightly out-of-spec to get better channel matching. Or, this may be part of the stock spec. I don't remember; mostly because I spent very little time actually looking at the driver itself.

@Roderick
 
Sep 13, 2020 at 10:41 AM Post #6 of 25

Roderick

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Nov 7, 2014
Posts
1,581
Likes
1,820
Location
Finland
Thanks @takato14 ! I'll try removing that paper. Besides bass thd I hope it fixes some of the audible echoes too. Snare attacks are also too agressive imo. Maybe it's the elevated 2-3khz or spike at 4khz.

Cleer_Next_channel_average.jpg
Other than that I really like these headphones. If I get over my fear of damaging the pads I'll try some other mods too, depending on the effects I get from removing that paper. Maybe some polyfill inside that hollow middle piece, rugliner around the driver "runway" or something...
 
Last edited:
Sep 13, 2020 at 2:35 PM Post #7 of 25

takato14

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Jul 23, 2012
Posts
3,043
Likes
544
Location
Hell, probably.
Those two spikes ruin the entire headphone. Really not a bad piece of equipment but I really want to try the drivers in something else more than anything. That driver is one of the most innovative that has released in a while.

Just hope they actually do something with that magnet patent. We need more of this in the audiophile market!
 
Mar 22, 2021 at 8:26 AM Post #8 of 25

frank2908

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 6, 2009
Posts
334
Likes
134
In this photo is the surrounding of the driver a fabric mesh or is it a piece of plastic (the material with the CE sticker on). Looks like a strange place for a piece of plastic since there would be lots of reflection. But for mesh, looks like there is no frame to support this fabric (like FOCAL headphones where there is skeletal frame supporting the driver and for the fabric mesh to be glued on)
So which is it?
 
Mar 22, 2021 at 1:34 PM Post #9 of 25

Roderick

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Nov 7, 2014
Posts
1,581
Likes
1,820
Location
Finland
In this photo is the surrounding of the driver a fabric mesh or is it a piece of plastic (the material with the CE sticker on). Looks like a strange place for a piece of plastic since there would be lots of reflection. But for mesh, looks like there is no frame to support this fabric (like FOCAL headphones where there is skeletal frame supporting the driver and for the fabric mesh to be glued on)
So which is it?
It's hard plastic. Underneath it looks like this.
IMG_20200912_001116.jpg
I also suspected it would cause reflections but I tried all sort of stuff over the plastic but it did not change things much. Foam circle directly around the driver was more effective. Most drastic changes were with bigger foam circles that fully or partially seal the gap between baffle and that plastic piece. It's a strange and perhaps over engineered design.
 
Mar 22, 2021 at 3:37 PM Post #10 of 25

frank2908

100+ Head-Fier
Joined
May 6, 2009
Posts
334
Likes
134
You mentioned they have a patent for the magnet design? Looks like a copy of focal utopia. Too bad they have the tunning wrong otherwise theybwould be ahead of times as in now focal is leaning towards magnesium diaphragm but with inferior but cheaper magnet arrangement imo
 
Mar 22, 2021 at 6:33 PM Post #11 of 25

Roderick

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Nov 7, 2014
Posts
1,581
Likes
1,820
Location
Finland
It's quite different from Utopias magnet. Utopias have seven magnets in their design and there 20 or so on Cleers. I'm not a tech guy enough to understand how it works but looking at pictures it is quite complex indeed. But I guess it works as Next sounds noticeably clean.
81mZ-6mSAyL._AC_SX679_.jpg
One thing that puts Focal ahead is their m-dome which places voice coil further from the center and allows a big open vent at the center.

They keep saying they have a patent for it so I had no reason to believe otherwise. However I started looking for it. First I found nothing. In the manual it says Mickael Lefebvre is the Chief Technology Officer at Cleer. I found bunch of speaker and magnet patents where he was listed as inventor. Weird thing is that according to LinkedIn Lefebvre is Chief Technology Officer at Shenzhen Grandsun Electronic Co., Ltd.

Grandsun is a huge chinese OEM manufacturer of audio products. Grandsun owns the trademark for that ironless magnet design and in some documents Cleer Audio is listed as Grandsuns alias.

So Cleer=Grandsun. Why does it matter? Because Cleer likes to talk about how American they are in their marketing.
Channeling our San Diego, CA roots and decades in the audio industry, we created Cleer to share our passion for the ultimate listening experience.
And who is the "we" who created Cleer. Cleer was founded by Bob Bonefant in 2014 (co-founder of soul electronics[remember Soul by Ludacris?]). Bonefant has not been with Cleer since 2016 so saying "we created Cleer" is bit untrue as original creator has moved on long time ago. So it's a Chinese company selling their products pretending to be American for marketing reasons. I mean they have over 2800 employees in China so pretending to be something built on a small californian startup is bit low.

Chinese origin of the Cleer is not a problem. Despite some tonal issues it's a very good headphone and build quality is among the best. Pictures don't do it justice. I just hate all this dishonest marketing.

Btw... cheaper enduro model has same magnet but with bio-cellulose driver. That might sound pretty cool too.
 
Last edited:
Mar 22, 2021 at 6:47 PM Post #12 of 25

kman1211

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Feb 13, 2012
Posts
5,069
Likes
3,102
Location
Edmond, OK
The sound was incredibly clear on them, actually almost as clear as my DT 480 which also have a strange magnet and driver situation. But tonally Cleer was a little wrong, had a metallic sounding treble (similar problem to the Focal Elear), and it couldn’t repdroduce the sheer body and physicality the DT 480 driver could in the midrange and vocals but the bass was indeed nice on them. If they did more work on tuning it, it could’ve been fantastic. I wasn’t able to determine if the metallic tone was more driver or tuning/damping related as I didn’t have it in my possession for that long. The build is good and comfort excellent in fact comfort was some of the best I’ve come across.

That marketing is a bit low, I didn’t know that.
 
Last edited:
Nov 15, 2021 at 9:23 AM Post #14 of 25

Gvladi

New Head-Fier
Joined
Nov 13, 2021
Posts
7
Likes
0
Location
Toronto
Take out the four silver screws on the inside of the cup. Remove the sheet of paper underneath the metal mesh. Reassemble.

I also put some twaron in the cup volume but that's probably not an option for you.

The bass THD is mostly destructive interference between the paper and the rear port of the driver. Basically, sound reflects off that reflective paper and back into the driver ports, wreaking havoc.

The black piece on the driver looks to be some kind of porting adjustment. Sometimes companies will do this if a driver is slightly out-of-spec to get better channel matching. Or, this may be part of the stock spec. I don't remember; mostly because I spent very little time actually looking at the driver itself.

@Roderick
takato14, excellent insights.
reviving an old thread, working on getting the pads off but can't seem to budge them (popped one clip out but nothing else is moving) any suggestions.
Also how do you think they compare with the Hifiman and Focals?
Any input is appreciated as its hard to find any info on them still.
thanks,
 
Nov 16, 2021 at 12:11 AM Post #15 of 25

Roderick

Headphoneus Supremus
Joined
Nov 7, 2014
Posts
1,581
Likes
1,820
Location
Finland
It took quite a bit off wiggling to get the pads out but I don't think there was any particular trick to it. I broke one clip which was actually a good thing because pads still sealed well and taking the pads of became easier.
Screenshot_20211116-065223.jpg

I think those six rectangular holes are for pad clips so maybe knowing where they are is helpfull.

If anyone in UK is interested hifiheadphones has -50% sale on these. https://www.hifiheadphones.co.uk/products/cleer-next-open-back-headphones-with-detachable-cable

I'm allmost tempted to repurchase Cleer's but added VAT and shipping fees are holding me back. It's a good headphone. Weird it never got any traction. Metallic timbre and those treble peaks are real issues but I don't know If there is anything that is obviously better in it's price range. Elex lacks soundstage (and working drivers), LCD2c needs eq for most people, Ananda has limp dynamics. IMO problems with cleer are not any worse than that.
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top