Cleer's Alpha Headphones Offer a Lot of Value at a Reasonable Price

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Based in San Diego, Cleer started as a passion project for a couple of audio enthusiasts. Over the years, it has grown quite a bit with a number of successful products under its belt. Alpha is the company’s flagship over-the-ear headphones. It is also one of Cleer’s most popular products and what they call their “ultimate Cleer headphone.” Priced at $200, the Alphas definitely offer a lot. They might not be the most stunning pair of headphones, but for their price point, they are quite impressive.

Cleer Is Generous With Accessories but Falls Short in Comfort

Alpha comes beautifully packaged. You get a hard-shell, zippered carry case with a hanging loop and a pocket on the back. While the case is quite solid and good for being taken on the go, it is admittedly a bit large for when you don’t have a lot of luggage space. Unlike the Sony WH-1000XM5, it can’t collapse thinner when the headphones are removed.

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In terms of accessories, you get a 3.5mm audio cable for when your cans run out of juice, a Type-C charging cable, and a flight adapter which adds another point to the headphones’ suitability for travel.

As far as looks are concerned, Alpha isn’t exactly what you’d call eye-catching. The earcup exterior features glossy plastic with a matte plastic rim around it that hosts two neat rows of noise-canceling mics. The headband is pretty basic looking too. There’s a thin layer of plastic going around your head with extenders that, when in use, reveal a metal headband inside. The plastic isn’t particularly fancy-looking and the exposed metal doesn’t look very nice when the extender is being utilized.

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You get a decent amount of memory foam cushioning with leather coating on the ear cups and the headband. The padding isn’t very generous, it’s just what’s needed to keep your ears sufficiently comfortable. I do wish the ear cup cushioning band was a bit wider. With the band being a bit thin, the force was applied on a smaller surface area hence resulting in more pressure than what I would’ve liked. The area right around my ears started feeling tired around half an hour after I put these headphones on. I’d say the same thing for headband padding. While the amount of padding was fine, the width of the band fell just shy of being wide enough.

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I must add though that, with a range of extension settings, the clamping force is good enough and suitable for all head sizes. Weighing 0.7 lbs, the Alpha isn’t what you’d call heavy either.

If the headphones carried a little more padding, I’d have passed these headphones in the comfort department. The Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen 2, for instance, fall in the same price range and feature generous leather padding underneath the headband that rests comfortably against the top of your skull. Even keeping the good clamping force and weight in mind, I found the Alpha more uncomfortable than comfortable.

Intuitive Navigation

I am a big fan of buttons, touch controls often annoy me, but the Alpha’s intuitive touch options are very easy to get used to. The left cup hosts an action button along with the Type-C charging port and charging LED, while the right cup sports the power button, the 3.5mm port, and the power plus Bluetooth LED. The right earcup’s exterior doubles as a multi-function touchpad which along with the two analog buttons controls most of the functionality.

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Swiping up and down on the touchpad tweaks the volume while swiping horizontally controls takes you to the next or the previous track. Double tapping the ear cup plays and pauses your music. The action button is for toggling between ANC and Ambient Mode, turning spatial audio on/off (more on this later), and accessing the voice assistant.

Decent Sound That Meets, But Doesn’t Exceed, Expectations

Music on the Alpha sounds pretty good; it isn’t the push-you-out-of-your-seat kinda good, though. Having said that, if you’re a hardcore audiophile, it’d be best for you to stop reading. If you’re an average consumer looking for good sound at a price point that makes sense, these headphones are a good option.

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I listened to a lot of pop and some rock on these. The 40mm drivers did make the bass sound nice, but it isn’t the kind of bass that you’d feel in your chest. It is decent but has the potential to carry more power. The V-Moda S-80 On-Ear Headphones, for example, are available for around the same price but their bass is definitely a lot better. It has that low-end thump and packs a lot of punch. At the same time, it’s not too overbearing or overly thick. It lets other elements of the mix shine, too.

PSB’s M4U 8 MKII is also a good option at the same price point with amazing bass. The lows on the PSB headphones are rich and clear. They have plenty of presence and space inside them. Regardless of the volume, the bass remains powerful throughout.

While the low-end lacks just a little oomph, the high-end is perfect. It is rich, vibrant, and clear. It stands out and demands attention. The mids are pretty balanced and sound full, too. Overall, the sound on the Alpha is well-balanced and layered. I like that all the elements in the orchestra were recognizable, and had sufficient space to shine. They didn’t sound like they were clustered together.

As mentioned above, these headphones also offer the option of spatial audio which is supposed to “move the audio out of your head, and make you feel like you are at the center of the performance” as per Cleer’s promise. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. It may have increased the richness of the sound by a small margin, but didn’t blow me away.

If you’re on the hunt for good noise-canceling headphones, these are worth considering. The ANC is powerful and significantly mutes ambient noise. As is the case with most ANC modes, the low-frequency sounds were muted better than high-frequency ones. The conversation three of my workmates were having right beside me was completely silenced, but the high-pitched constant creaking of a chair nearby was a little audible. The most common problem with ambient modes is the unnatural hiss they feature. Thankfully, the ambient mode on the Alpha steers clear of that issue.

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A Good Mic and Excellent Battery Life

According to my friend, my voice sounded pretty ‘clear and crisp’ on the call we were on for around 20 minutes. He also remarked that he couldn’t hear any of the really loud chatter behind me.

Alpha promises 35 hours of battery life and means it. To my surprise, this claim wasn’t even slightly exaggerated. It charges insanely fast too, and went to 100% from 50% in just 30 minutes. One odd thing that I didn’t quite understand was that it didn’t charge while it was turned on, and I had to quite literally turn it off in order to charge it.

The company does promise multi-point connectivity on these but it’s a bit glitchy. It glitched every single time I tried it and it took me multiple attempts to switch from PC to phone and vice versa.

There’s also a companion app that’s pretty straightforward. You get to adjust a few modes such as ANC and spatial audio on/off as well as experiment with tone presets and an equalizer. The presets aren’t bad; they do their job of emphasizing slightly different instruments in a track but don’t count on them to dramatically enhance your listening experience.

Should You Buy the Alpha?

If you’re looking for fairly good sound, intuitive controls, great battery life, and an excellent ANC, the Alpha is a good option. However, if you’re upgrading solely because you want powerful bass, you might want to consider the V-Modas or the PSB headphones mentioned above. And if you’re looking for a comfortable fit, the Stealth 700 is a decent pick. At $200, which is quite mid-range, it’s not fair to expect mind-blowing sound on these anyway, though. In other words, these are pretty good headphones for the average consumer who’s not looking to spend a lot.

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