In the past few years, well over a hundred headphones have come across our desk. In that time, something unexpected has happened — we’ve started to see more similarities between headphones than differences. Sometimes it’s mimicry, sometimes rebranding; in any case, it’s clear not every company starts with a blank page when designing a new headphone. There’s nothing wrong with this practice, of course — it only matters that the end product is good. Cleer’s new Flow headphone has some undeniable similarities to the Sony MDR-1000X we previously reviewed, but that’s OK with us — the Flow borrows all the best aspects of that headphone, adding its own stylistic twist.
Like the 1000X, the Cleer Flow is a full-size over-ear headphone. It comes with a semi-rigid zippered case into which it collapses and folds for storage, an airplane adapter, charging cable, and an analog cable. Its plastic construction feels sturdy, with clicky buttons and no creaks or squeaks. The Flow’s basic structure seems identical to the 1000X, except for it’s more aesthetically-inclined skin — where the 1000X was all black with leather covering the driver cups, the Flow features some classy metallic accents and interchangeable knurled aluminum decorative rings — rose gold and silver versions were included.
The Cleer has the same ear pads as the 1000X but, thankfully, thicker and more comfortable headband padding — we had no complaints about comfort after hours of listening. The Flow is just as comfortable as the 1000X, if not moreso. Perhaps most significant, the Flow includes the same basic features as the 1000X, accessed via the exact same controls. A “NC” button toggles active noise cancellation, and “Ambient” toggles through two ambient sound modes (“normal” and “voice”). Track and volume is controlled via taps and swipes on the right driver housing; notably absent is the 1000X’s ability to pause the music and activate external microphones when a palm was placed on the driver housings. The 1000X’s “sound optimizer” is not present in the Flow either, but we didn’t miss it.
We’re happy to report that the Cleer Flow’s ANC performance is close, if not equal, to that of the Sony MDR-1000X we found so impressive last year. We had the opportunity to test both on a flight from New York to Chicago seated in close proximity to a screaming infant; the Flow performed well enough in those extremely adverse conditions to earn our recommendation and our heartfelt thanks. The Flow’s external microphones are about as susceptible to wind buffeting as the 1000X, and we found its ambient audio functions a bit less clear.
The Flow lasted our entire Chicago trip on a single charge, with ANC enabled — basically meeting the advertised 20 hours. The Flow supports Bluetooth 4.2, aptX, AAC, and LDAC codecs, and is Hi-Res certified. The Flow also plays nicely with iOS — its volume is linked to the phone and battery status is reported — though maximum volume on this headphone is lower than we would have liked. We had only one hiccup in our experience — at one point, the Flow froze. Seemingly for no reason, the music stopped, and the Flow’s buttons became unresponsive. Fortunately, we were able to get the Flow working again by plugging in its charging cable. Though this was an isolated incident, we never find it particularly encouraging for our headphones to need rebooting.
Listening to the Flow in all its modes, we heard a sound that was smooth, but a bit veiled, with less crisp treble than our detail-addicted preferences usually call for. Bass is slightly boosted and “round,” which makes for an easy, non-fatiguing listening experience. Though this headphone is less detailed than we generally prefer, it was well-suited to the noisy environments in which it was tested. Whether the Cleer Flow’s similarities to Sony’s 1000X are the result of copying, licensing, or simple coincidence, we’re happy with the result. If you’re looking for good active noise canceling in a package slightly more fashion-forward than Sony’s offering, the Cleer Flow is easy to recommend.
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