I love a nice surprise when it comes to reviewing audio equipment. However, they don’t seem to come around too often these days. So many products are good, but few stand out from the crowd for being exceptional. This week was an exception because a very pleasant surprise turned up on my desk in the form of a pair of wired headphones from Cleer.
I’ve reviewed quite a few of Cleer’s wireless headphones and earbuds in the past and most of them have sounded pretty good but none was particularly outstanding. However, the Cleer NEXT are a pair of wired, open-back headphones that bowled me over this week with their excellent build quality and stunning sound.
Open-back headphones are favorite with audiophiles and serious music lovers because they sound so much more natural compared with closed-back headphones. Unlike closed-back designs, a pair of open-back headphones enable the music to breathe because the soundwaves aren’t trapped in a soundproof earcup. Open-back headphones enable the soundwaves to transmit freely and the circulation of air also helps to keep the listener’s ears cool.
The downside of open-back headphones is they also enable any surrounding sounds or noises to reach the listener’s ears. For that reason, this style of headphone is best reserved for listening to favorite music in a quiet room where there are no external sounds to spoil the listener’s enjoyment.
The Cleer NEXT are a classic-looking pair of over-the-ear headphones with a yoke that’s constructed from 6061-T6 aluminum alloy. Oversized earpads made from superbly soft lambskin are specially shaped to enclose the listener’s ears and hug the contours of the head thanks to both lateral and vertical adjustments. Beneath the lambskin covering the earpads is memory foam that adapts to the shape around the wearer’s ears. The headphones feel light to wear thanks to their generously padded headband that fits well on any size of head.
Each of the NEXT’s earcups has a socket that mates with a LEMO push-pull, self-latching connector for maximum connectivity. The connector plugs are superbly engineered and click into place, making a secure connection with the socket on each earcup. The substantial quad-core, four-conductor cable feels incredibly well-made and is splendidly thick. The cable terminates with a Canare 6.35mm headphone connector made in Japan. No expense has been spared with Cleer using only the best quality components. Everything about these headphones feels top quality.
The Cleer NEXT’s drivers are a custom dynamic design. Cleer has rejected using soft iron for the driver and opted for a patented ironless motor assembly paired with a proprietary magnesium diaphragm instead. These 40mm drivers provide an exceptional listening experience. By eliminating the soft iron parts of the loudspeaker with their inherent distortions, Cleer has avoided one of main problems of headphone transducers. In doing so, it’s removed a layer of audible fog that prevents the listener getting closer to the music.
Take it from me, the sound that Cleer has managed to create with these novel drivers is nothing short of miraculous. The frequency response is an incredible 10Hz – 45kHz and it sounds as if the music has been brought into sharper focus, but without sacrificing the warmth and musicality. The NEXT have an airy soundstage where every instrument is picked out to create a listening experience that’s superb and engaging. I always know when I’m listening to great headphones because they invariably rekindle my enthusiasm for music and make me end up listening to my favorite albums all over again. It’s a bit like having a new pair of glasses; everything seems clearer and more in focus.
To put the Cleer NEXT through their paces, I turned to a classic recording with the clarity and warmth that would bring out the subtleties of the NEXT’s non-ferrous drivers. Ella Fitzgerald was not only the best female singer of her age, but she was also fortunate enough to be recording at a time when sound engineers were turning out some of the best sounding music ever. Ella Fitzgerald’s Rodgers & Hart Song Book is a perfect example of superb music recorded with a staggering amount of care and some incredible orchestration.
The track “Have You Met Miss Jones” kicks off the first side of the album. With this recording, the NEXT headphones articulated the French horn section with a sublime delicacy. The deep resonance of a grand piano on “You Took Advantage of Me” was joined by a muted trumpet and a kick drum that sounded as if I were there in the studio.
The Cleer NEXT managed to bring out every detail in this beautifully recorded album in a way that was simply divine. Often, when I listen to music like this on a regular pair of headphones, everything seems to get compressed into a mushy midrange and yet there’s so much detail on these classic recordings from the 1950s and 1960s and the Cleer NEXT headphones managed to squeeze every drop from the performance.
The neutral tone produced by the Cleer NEXT headphones is breathtaking in its clarity and openness. There’s no coloration of the sound that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck at times. I never really associated Cleer with this level of audiophile performance, but the designers of these headphones have pulled a rabbit out of a hat with the headphones, creating a musicality that’s matchless.
Verdict: I’ve reviewed plenty of headphones and the Cleer NEXT are one of the most impressive pairs of headphones I’ve heard in a long time. The Cleer NEXT are pushing at the kind of quality you can expect from a more expensive brand like Focal or T+A. If you want a pair of open-back headphones for use with a proper high-end audio system, I don’t think you can do much better that these. I may be sticking my neck out, but the Cleer NEXT are some of the most musical headphones I’ve auditioned in a long time. Everything about them is spot on. From the superb build quality and excellent connectors to the high-quality cable and those super-soft lambskin earpads, these are deluxe headphones. If you want to sit back in an easy chair with a soothing drink while you listen to your favorite tunes, these are the headphones to go for. They’re relatively expensive but they sound it. Highly recommended.
Pricing & Availability: The Cleer Next wired and open-backed headphones are available now and cost £699 / $699.99 / €829.
- Drivers: 40mm Ironless driver with magnesium diaphragm.
- Frequency response: 10Hz – 45kHz
- Max. power handling: 90mW / 1.2V (10% THD).
- Optimal power requirement: 10mW (0.4V).
- Max. SPL: 112dB / 1kHz (1% THD).
- THD: <0.3% / 1mW / 1kHz.
- Sensitivity: 92dB / 1mW / 1kHz.
- Impedance: 16Ω.
- Weight: 395g.