Tom's Guide Verdict
The Cleer Audio Alpha stands out as a cheaper Bose alternative with better sound, longer playtimes, and respectable noise cancellation.
Quality noise neutralization
Long battery life
Premium audio features
Attractive, well-built design
Poor comfort levels
Multipoint technology needs work
Companion app could benefit from more features
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Colors: Midnight blue; stone
Battery life (rated): 35 hours (ANC on)
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1
Size: 8.78 x 7.13 x 2.72 inches
Weight: 10.2 ounces
Cleer Audio might be a newcomer to the audio space, but the California-based company has left a strong impression on audiophiles and critics in a short amount of time. Past releases like the Flow II and Enduro ANC have earned favorable reviews from the Tom’s Guide team, and the all-new Alpha wireless headphones follow suit.
Smart active noise cancellation, lengthy playtimes, and striking aesthetics are a few of the Alpha’s notable hallmarks. But what really sells the Alpha is audio quality, which is first-rate, thanks to Bluetooth 5.1 with aptX Adaptive, Dirac Virtuo spatial audio, and a spacious soundstage that complements all media.
These headphones aren’t without their flaws, such as discomfort issues and the absence of popular features found on several rival models at their price point. At the same time, the Alpha pros override the cons by a wide margin, making them the top $250 noise-canceller available and one of the best noise-cancelling headphones.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Price and availability
Although the Cleer Alpha has an MRSP of $249, you can find it discounted at major online retailers, including Amazon and B&H, or directly from Cleer. Midnight blue and stone are the two colors available. Bundled with the purchase are a 3.5mm aux cable, in-flight adapter, USB-C charging cable, quick start guide, and a carrying case.
For all of the latest wireless earbuds sales, bookmark our best headphones deals page.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Design and comfort
- Sleek and stylish
- Cumbersome on the skull
- Generous accessories
The Alpha over-ear headphones look and feel of a high-end headphone. Durable plastic makes up most of the construction and has a nice smooth finish that feels welcoming every time you pick up the cans. I share the same sentiments about the faux leather wrapped around the earpads and below the headband. The extenders and hinges also feel well put together. Even small details like the laser-etched text on the circular touch panels add flair to the Alphas.
At 11.64 ounces, these are not lightweight headphones. In fact, they’re heavier than the Bose 700 and Sony WH-1000XM4, two higher-priced models listed at 8.95 ounces. Wearing them for more than an hour was fatiguing, especially around the ears due to tight clamp force. Sure, this provided a securer fit, but at the cost of some discomfort.
Most sub-$250 over-ear headphones come with the basic set of accessories: aux cable, carrying case, and charging cable. Cleer decided to add one extra, an airline adapter, something I haven’t seen since the original Bose QuietComfort 35 launched. The rise of wireless transmitters has made this accessory somewhat obsolete, but it’s a notable inclusion for traditionalists that prefer an in-line connection when watching TV on airplanes.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Controls and digital assistant
- Flawless control scheme
- Arguably the best touch detection on a pair of wireless headphones
Cleer installed physical buttons, touch panels, and motion sensors, offering up several ways to operate the headphones. Everything works incredibly well. The buttons produce solid tactility to ensure intended commands are being met, while the motion sensors automatically pause playback whenever taking off the headphones.
Though the real star is the touch control. The plastic-covered sensors on the right ear cup have excellent touch accuracy, registering both input and slide gestures with ease. It’s fun sliding your finger up and down to manage volume or left/right to play the previous/next track. Cleer makes the most of this real estate by engineering an extra feature called Conversation Mode (more on this later) that turns on when placing your entire hand over the earcup.
Google Assistant, Siri, and Bixby are all compatible with the Alpha. If you’re someone who loves having AI bots perform daily mobile tasks and random web searches, these headphones will suffice. The mics pick up every word spoken, and the trio of digital assistants respond quickly to verbal commands.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Sound quality
- Well-balanced across the frequency spectrum
- Dirac Virtuo works better than most spatial audio alternatives
Cleer didn’t skimp on audio perks. The Alphas come equipped with 40mm ironless drivers, aptX Adaptive codec support, a customizable EQ, spatial audio, and a 3.5mm jack. Such a dynamic feature set allows for full-bodied sound that widens when enabling Dirac Virtuo.
The default sound signature pumps out stellar frequency range, resulting in punchy lows, crisp mids, and detailed highs. Drake & Future’s 'Jumpman' is delivered with bold bass sound that is free of distortion. Rumbling 808s bang off your eardrums and the skittish hi-hats sound prominent over the booming production. Switching over to melodic recordings like the Ahmad Jamal Trio’s 'I Love Music,' the Alpha demonstrates superb layering to appreciate each musician’s performance, highlighted by the soulful double bass and piano play.
It’s also cool that the Alpha has a five-band EQ to tweak sound, but, honestly, the headphones are fine-tuned right out of the box.
Lastly, there is Dirac Virtuo, which Cleer markets as a relaxed and immersive listening experience. Overall, the technology is impressive. Sounds are more expansive when watching action flicks, and certain stereo recordings like Fleetwood Mac’s 'Dreams' sound particularly impressive with the tech enabled.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Active noise cancellation
- Moderate noise neutralization
- Ambient listening mode is powerful
The Alpha blocked out various noises when indoors. Loud voices and kitchen appliances didn’t break my concentration during work hours. Low-frequency vibrations like washing machine tumble were minimized, along with my son’s bellowing and the email notification chimes that came from my mom-in-law’s PC monitor. However, his cries fighting nap time could be heard from several rooms over.
There is a Smart Noise Cancellation mode available that automatically adjusts the feature depending on the environmental level. I felt it diminished the Alpha’s noise neutralization and made specific noises more audible. The headphones have decent wind resistance, but enabling Smart allowed more whooshing effects to enter the soundscape. I felt the same about alarms and doorbells. On the other hand, Smart did suppress certain mid-frequencies: dog barking and pedestrian chatter weren’t audible.
Cleer also developed an Ambient Noise Control mode with 10 adjustable levels. This is one of the more powerful transparency modes out there and it’s great for increasing environmental awareness on walks or specific situations like monitoring your infant during naps. Vocals sound a bit muffled, but you can hear them much better when enabling Conversation Mode. This drops the volume down to about 30 percent and opens the mics so you can hear conversations clearer.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Special features
- Simple to navigate
- Missing a few coveted features
All extended functionality runs through the Cleer+ app. I previously touched on several big features, including ANC, Ambient Noise Control, Dirac Virtuo, and Equalizer. As for what’s left, you’re looking at an Auto Power Off setting, digital user manual, firmware updates, media player, and a toggle control for wearing detection. Talk about uneventful.
Considering how much Cleer prides itself on sound, it is jarring that there are no preprogrammed presets attached to the EQ. A lack of control customization and other common features like Alexa integration and Find My Headphones don’t do the Alpha any favors either. One can only hope that more software perks are rolled out in the coming weeks.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Battery life
- Not category leading, but better than most
The one area where Cleer never compromises is battery life. A full charge nets you 35 hours of ANC playtime. This trumps what the 700 and AirPods Max offer, 20 hours each, and is also higher than the QuietComfort 45 (24 hours) and WH-1000XM4 (30 hours). It’s also far less than what the company’s inexpensive Enduro ANC headphones grant: 60 hours. Still, this is enough to earn you about three weeks of moderate use before recharging.
Speaking of which, the Alphas have some of the strongest quick-charging technology I’ve tested. 10 minutes plugged in gets you 4 hours of listening time. For comparison, a 15-minute charge on the Bose 700 generates 2 hours.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Call quality and connectivity
- An acceptable calling headset
- Reliable connectivity
Placing the Alpha on our list of best headphones with a mic for voice and video calls is warranted. Qualcomm’s cVcTM (clear voice capture) two-mic beamforming architecture does pick up lots of ambient sound, but it also emphasizes vocals, meaning you’ll still sound loud and clear over noisy backdrops.
Bluetooth 5.1 is at the helm, producing exceptional range that allows for up to 50 feet of wireless listening. It felt great leaving my connected device in the back of the house to grab my mail out front; music played without stuttering.
Multipoint technology doesn’t operate as smoothly as it does on other models. Pairing to two devices simultaneously wasn’t the issue. It was the Alpha’s inability to perform commands enabled on the secondary device. At times when my MacBook Pro served as the primary audio source, no sound would come through on any media programs that ran on my Samsung Galaxy Note S20 Ultra or Google Pixel XL 2.
Cleer Audio Alpha review: Verdict
The Cleer Audio Alpha earns its flagship status with prime sound quality that only a few luxury audio brands can outperform. Battery life is some of the highest on a pair of wireless cans, and you get satisfactory noise cancellation at a reasonable price.
Had it not been for the discomfort issues and inconsistent multipoint functionality, these headphones might have earned a perfect score. Nonetheless, the Alpha is well-deserving of an Editor’s Choice badge and one hell of a Bose rival.
A lifestyle journalist with an affinity for consumer products, Alex has over a decade of experience and has worked with popular publications such as Complex, Thrillist, Men’s Health, Gear Patrol, AskMen, and Hoop Magazine. He currently focuses on audio, reviewing the most coveted headphones in the market for both Tom’s Guide and Laptop Magazine.