Freelance Contributor, TechHiveAug 23, 2022 4:00 am PDT
Image: James Barber/Foundry
At a glance
Great for situational awareness
They sit on your ears, not inside them
Zero noise cancellation, active or passive
No wireless charging
Distinct lack of bass
If you’ve avoided earbuds because you find them uncomfortable to shove in your ear canals, consider the Cleer Arc open-ear true wireless earbuds. Be aware, however, that the same design elements that eliminate discomfort also affect audio quality, so be prepared for a tradeoff.
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For more than a few people, in-ear headphones are a source of endless frustration. Some can never get a comfortable fit from either silicone or foam ear tips. Others can’t stand the way a tight fit makes them feel disoriented and disconnected from their surroundings.
On-ear or over-hear headphones aren’t a good alternative for anyone who’s looking to exercise while listening to music, audiobooks, or podcasts. They’re unwieldy and tend to slip off when you work up a sweat.
Cleer has an alternative: Its Cleer Arc open-ear true wireless earbuds sit atop the outsides of your ears, with hooks that go around the top of your outer ear to hold the headphones in place. There’s zero discomfort, which could make them the perfect solution for more than a few people. There are, however, some important audio issues to consider before you decide if this is the earbud solution for you.
The Cleer Arc earbuds are available in midnight blue or light gray. They come with a gray fabric zippered charging case and a paper manual. That’s it. Since these earbuds don’t need to fit in your ear canals, they don’t come with the usual array of ear tips. The cable for charging their batteries is built into the charging case.
What features do the Cleer Arc have?
Each earbud features a 16.2mm graphene neodymium driver and connects via Bluetooth 5.0, with support for both the SBC and aptX codecs.
The speakers are connected to a hinge that allows the user to rotate them out from the ear hook while putting them on. Each earbud sits comfortably around the ear, balanced by the battery that sits behind the ear and is located at the base of the earbud.
How do the Cleer Arc work?
The Cleer Arc earbuds are in paring mode when you take them out of the case for the first time. They easily paired with an iPhone and reconnected without issue throughout testing. After you put them on, the speaker unit rests on the outside of the ear canal. Because they’re so well balanced, they don’t move once in place, and I experienced zero pressure or irritation.
The touch controls on the speaker unit are forgiving, allowing taps on a large area rather than forcing users to have a precise aim when tapping. The default settings for both ears are that a single tap controls play and pause, a double tap skips to the next track or answers/hangs up a call, and a triple tap skips to the previous track. Press and hold to trigger your device’s default voice assistant.
Double tap and hold the second to control volume. The right earbud raises the volume and the left lowers it. The earbuds play a “battery low” voice prompt when the battery level drops below 20 percent.
How long does the Cleer Arc’s battery last?
You get only 7 hours of battery life from a full charge, and there’s no additional battery life from the case. The case has a built-in USB-A cable that unspools from the inside of the case when you need to plug it in for charging, and that cable is only 11 inches long, which severely limits how and where you can charge your earbuds. The good news is that you can get an hour of playtime from a 10-minute charge if you’re in a pinch.
There’s no wireless charging, no USB-C charging, and no option to swap out for a longer cable if you prefer. The entire setup is very reminiscent of early 21st-century electronics. Still, if you’re buying the Cleer Arc earbuds for their unique fit, these are issues you will likely be able to ignore.
What is the Cleer app like?
Cleer has a common Android/iOS app for its full line of earbuds and headphones. The primary reason for downloading and installing would be to get firmware updates for the Cleer Arc earbuds. I had one available and the update process was painless.
The app home screen allows you to play/pause and skip forward/back, both functions more easily accessed from your music app or home screen. You can also see battery levels for each earbud here and you can tweak an equalizer.
There are no EQ presets for the Cleer Arc and you can’t save multiple profiles, but I was able to adjust the equalization to cover for some of the Arc’s audio weaknesses. The settings screen allows you to change the language in the app for the voice prompts and to adjust how the touch controls work.
What do the Cleer Arc sound like indoors?
The comfort from the Cleer Arc earbuds comes at a cost. The lack of a seal between the speakers and your ears means that some audio will leak out, and you’ll never get the kind of bass-forward sound that many users prize in workout headphones.
Even with the bass cranked up in the Cleer app’s EQ settings, a track like “Down” from the 2022 Hot Chip album Freakout/Release is conspicuously missing the detail from the distorted bass track. You can hear a vague thump, but all itse musicality is missing. That bass part is really the hook of the song, and the Cleer Arc earbuds just can’t deliver the track in the way the band intended.
What do the Cleer Arc sound like outdoors?
If you’re going on a bike ride or for a run in a park or an offroad environment, the Cleer Arc’s open design is not an issue (aside from the limited bass). You can easily communicate with anyone who’s along for the journey, and the earbuds stay in place no matter what your activity.
Things get complicated when you use the Cleer Arc in a more urban environment. If you enjoy podcasts or audiobooks, trucks or loud cars will make it impossible to follow the story while they pass. If you’re listening to music, those moments are likely to be less frustrating but you’re still going to lose some lyrics if you’re trying to pay attention.
The Cleer Arc solve one problem, but create another
People who hate sticking silicone and foam tips in their ears don’t have many options. Bose makes the Sport Open earbuds, but reviews suggest they suffer from many of the same issues I’ve observed with the Cleer Arc. Those audio issues don’t make these on-ear earbuds any less comfortable. If you work out on a treadmill or stationary bike at home or live in a quiet neighborhood, you might love these earbuds if what you want is something compact that won’t block your ear canals. If conventional earbuds aren’t a problem for you, you’ll be better served with one of our best picks in headphones.