An impressively specc’d open-ear headphone with an audio performance that exceeds expectations, the Cleer Arc II Sport are a fine example of how this type of headphone has progressed forward in just a few years. They are expensive, with cheaper alternatives available for those who can’t match Cleer’s asking price.
- Comfortable enough to wear
- Secure fit
- Better than expected audio performance
- Solid battery life
- Spatial awareness at all times
- Poor noise isolation
- App features feel rather redundant
AudioSupports Snapdragon Sound for lossless audio over Bluetooth
DesignOpen-ear style for hearing the environment around the wearer
IPX5 ratingHigher protection against water, rain, and sweat
Open-ear headphones are gaining traction and one of the brands at the forefront of bringing it to a wider market is Clear with its Arc headphones.
The original Arc showed up at a CES show in a different form, and when it was formally released it had undergone a sporty rebrand. It didn’t score too well on this site.
But now the Cleer is back with the Arc II Sport, which firmly places them in the sports/activity market with their over-ear hook and open-ear design. Has Cleer learned its lessons from before? Here are my thoughts.
- Comfortable to wear
- Design not affected by wind noise
- Spatial awareness at all times
Anyone familiar with an over-ear hook design for wired or wireless earphones will find the Arc II Sport adheres to the same principles. Wedge it in-between your ear and head and it’ll find a nook to settle into. Where it differs is there’s no earbud/tip to insert into the ear, but a speaker on a hinge that fires audio into the ear.
There are advantages and disadvantages, but in essence these are earphones for people who want to maintain a connection to their surroundings rather than cut themselves off from it.
If you do intensive activities indoors and out (like running alongside busy roads), the awareness the Arc II Sport provides is a boon for observing your environment. The negative is the sensory overload from competing noises.
There’s little point in using these for the commute – I found in public spaces that it can be too overwhelming. On a bus I felt it (somehow) exacerbated the sharp sounds of doors swinging open. In busy areas I can still hear music, which is to the Arc II Sport’s credit, but I can never fully enjoy it. Wearing these headphones makes me aware of how loud city life can be.
Having taken them on several runs, I’ve not had an issue with wind noise, even when getting a full blast of it in the face. There is an Enhanced Anti-wind Noise setting in the Cleer+ app but I don’t believe it’s needed. I’d go as far as to say it has very little effect.
They are solid in comfort terms – I didn’t review the previous model so can’t compare – but they feel secure once positioned at 14g per earbud. While they weigh more than a standard earphone, it’s not as if they’re weighing down on my ears. I have found they can pinch, but I think this is more down to wearing glasses, the arms of both sometimes get in the way.
There are tap controls, and they’re alert and responsive even during runs. Usually, I find I have to slow down to use tap controls, but it’s not difficult to locate controls for stop/start playback or skipping forwards or backwards. They’re easier than I expected to use.
A press and hold on each bud can activate a mobile device’s voice assistant, and that’s it. There’s no volume control, which is a shame for fitness focused headphones. It should be easier to raise the volume than fish your mobile device from a pocket.
Colours include this fetching red sample and a black (and red) finish. They’re rated to IPX5, which means they can deal with water, rain, and sweat.
The case doesn’t appear to be rated for IP protection, and though Cleer would have you believe it’s slim, it’s also big, like a worn-down bar of soap. It looks great – there’s a nice fabric cover to it, though aesthetics aside my first thought is to put it in my bag for runs. I don’t like it jangling about in my pocket.
- UV charging case
- Solid battery life
- App features have little effect on performance
Like LG’s Tone Free UT90Q, the charging cradle supports UV sterilisation to remove bacteria. Who knows how much bacteria it gets rid of, but it provides some peace of mind for the germaphobes out there.
Cleer asserts the buds and case have enough capacity for 35 hours of playback – 8 hours in each earphone, and 27 in the case. Having streamed a Spotify playlist for an hour, I got 90% overall on Android and in the Cleer+ app, the left bud fell to 90%. That would suggest 10 hours at 50% volume.
Another attempt, this time closer to max volume over two hours saw it fall to 70%, which is closer to 7 hours. In either case, that’s not too shabby.
There’s no mention of wireless charging but fast charging is included with 10 minutes providing an hour of playback.
Bluetooth support equates to SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive and aptX Lossless, the latter means that the Cleer Arc II Sport support Snapdragon Sound. To get the best audio performance from these headphones, I’d suggest pairing them with a) a high-quality music service such as Qobuz or Tidal and b) a source device that supports Snapdragon Sound.
Having Snapdragon Sound as part of the specs feels like overkill for a sports focused headphone, but I’m not complaining – unless its addition has added to the premium price. Bluetooth multipoint, for connecting to two devices at once, is also included.
The wireless performance is good with aptX Adaptive onboard. Walking through a not-too-busy Waterloo station, there weren’t any signal interruptions. I haven’t experienced many elsewhere aside from some weird interference at a certain spot in Streatham that affects every headphone I use there.
The call quality for these headphones is decent. Vocal quality is fine, but voices can sound a little muffled and at a low level. It can be tricky to hear what someone is saying in noisy environments – I find it’s worse on my end as I genuinely can’t hear what’s said. The Shokz OpenRun Pro Mini offer better call quality than this model, I feel.
There’s an app that graphically looks great with its black and gold presentation, but I don’t think many will use it. There’s a graphic/percentage representation of battery life, and the headphones also keep track of your steps – you can set a goal for how many steps to do – but if you have a phone or a smartwatch this feels redundant.
There’s a selection of EQ presets that includes a custom five-band EQ but with some I can’t hear much of a difference (with classical music, the flat and classical EQs sound the same). I can’t fathom what the Smart Sport EQ does because nothing changes there either. Others can upset a track’s balance (Pop can make voices sound artificial) so I see no reason to waiver from the Flat EQ.
Touch controls can be customised, but again, it’s rather worthless as there are no more than three options to choose in play/pause, skip forward and skip back. There’s a toggle for an Anti-loss reminder that is not a ‘Find My’ feature but a reminder the headphones may be missing (for instance, if one falls off). There’s a ‘Sedentary Reminder’ function that’s effectively a chime telling you to get up off the sofa.
Finally, there’s Motion Control, which works in practice but is prone to mishaps. Wearing the Cleer at a bus stop and looking to my right to see if the bus was coming is the same motion for skipping tracks. Imagine how long it took before I disabled that feature.
- Impressive stereo image
- Bass exceeds expectations
- Not the sharpest or most defined sound
While I’m not hot on the app, I am much warmer about the sound quality, which is far better than I anticipated. With bone and air conduction headphones, generating enough bass has been an issue but that’s a problem the Arc II Sport jumps over.
They can produce a sizable amount of bass with genuine depth and punch that adds excitement to music. Where on bone conduction headphones bass can be perfunctory, with the bass beat in Elaine’s Fading Away, the Arc II Sport summons a pleasing amount of weight to the low frequencies; while with Busta Rhymes’ Touch It there’s decent variety to description of bass beats in the track so it doesn’t come across as one-note.
There is a limit to its bass performance. Even with Touch It, the Cleer Arc II Sport can struggle to extend the bass to give it the kind of depth and wallop you’d get from a true wireless pair like Bose’s QuietComfort Earbuds II, and with Kingdom’s Bank Head there’s decent heft (for an open-eared headphone), but it’s not the most defined performance. But what the Cleer can do is very commendable for an open-ear headphone.
Even more impressive is the stereo image that the Cleer produces, far better than I’ve heard on bone conduction headphones such as the Shokz OpenRun Pro mini and Creative Outlier Free. It’s big and expansive with a genuine sense of left and right channels along with depth to the soundstage – I can point out the placement of instruments and vocals within the soundstage whereas with other headphones of this type there’s a fuzzy sense of definition and clarity.
Having said that, the Arc II Sport aren’t the clearest or most detailed performer. They give up a little sharpness across the frequency range, Anderson Paak’s vocals in Fire In The Sky or Jorja Smith’s in Addicted take on a smooth but still detailed presentation. There’s a warmth to the Cleer’s performance that obscures a finer sense of detail in the midrange, but I find myself not too bothered because the end result is a performance that engages. You would not think these were open-eared headphones from the performance they offer.
The top end of the frequency range is not rendered in the brightest fashion with GoGo Penguin’s Raven, the lack of sharpness and definition is probably most felt in this area; the piano notes in Atomised from the same band also feel rolled off. However, there’s still good clarity and variation to high frequency notes, if not the extension and definition that could make treble notes stand out with more precision.
Nevertheless, the Cleer Arc II Sport winningly makes their case as one of the best-sounding open-earphones on the market – like the Sivga S01, the Cleer’s audio performance exceeds expectations.
Should you buy it?
For their impressively realised audio performance: I haven’t tested too many bone or air conduction headphones, but of the ones I have, the Cleer Arc II Sport are easily the best executed in terms of the audio.
There are cheaper options: If you’re looking for an open-ear/air conduction headphone, then a much cheaper option is to look at the Sivga S01.
The Cleer Arc II Sport are a well-conceived and executed pair of open-ear (or air conduction) headphones with very good sound, an impressive spec, and comfortable design.
I’m not fond of the app’s features, with many not affecting the resulting performance. Call quality is an area that’s tricky in noisy areas where it’s as hard to hear the other person as it is to hear yourself. Travelling with these headphones and it’s harder to hear music fully if you’re not in a quiet place.
Problems like these highlight that Arc II Sport are focused on a specific part of the market – the clue is in the name – so these aren’t everyday use headphones.
This makes the price of £199 / $189 a steep ask for some. If the Cleer are too pricey, have a look at the Sivga S01, JBL SoundGear Sense or the Soundpeats Run Free Lite instead.
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Tested over several weeks
Tested with real world use
Better Bluetooth support (v5.3, aptX Adaptive, Snapdragon Sound), Bluetooth multipoint for connecting to two devices at once and extended battery life.
Cleer Arc II Sport
SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX Lossless, Bluetooth LE audio
16.2mm Neodymium Dynamic
20 20000 – Hz