ProsExcellent noise canceling; great sound; eye-catching styling, good price
ConsInnovative but quirky controls; won't fit all heads
As much as the Cleer FLOW gets ahead of the competition in features and style, it pulls even further ahead in terms of performance. We rated performance based on three characteristics: audio reproduction, noise canceling effectiveness, and comfort/fit. Starting with audio performance, FLOW is just leagues better than its higher-priced competition, which as never made much of a claim regarding hi-fi superiority. Listening to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor as performed on organ by the inimitable E. Power Biggs, the FLOW sounded fantastic, with booming but accurate bass and a wide soundstage. We also listened to a wide variety of other audio, including voice-heavy YouTube videos, some Adele, and even a bit of rap, and it all sounded great. Wireless headphones, particularly of the Bluetooth variety, are often underpowered in the driver department, and add insult to injury with background static and intermittent popping due to wireless interference. We experienced none of that with the FLOW. We even tried it for gaming, and while the FLOW doesn't have quite the bombast required for intense sound effects, it could work in a pinch.
Then there's noise canceling, which has come a long way, baby. With two microphones per earcup, the FLOW truly detects and eliminates the vast majority of ambient sounds, particularly the low humming that can be so bothersome on planes, trains, and automobiles. It also knocked out a lot of the human voice, unlike other models that essentially allow all spoken word to make it through to the wearer. With that said, you can still hear people talking, and the voices are distorted due to being partially blocked in certain pitch levels, but striking the right balance here is probably tough. Entirely eliminating voice probably isn't a great idea, both for safety and practicality while traveling.
Finally, we get to comfort on the ear, and this is where it really does come down to the individual user, for better or for worse. While our testers found the FLOW fairly comfortable, we were struck by two things: they fit quite snug, which was fine given our fairly narrow heads, but those with pumpkin-shaped craniums need not apply. Secondly, the well-padded headband was unfortunately fairly flat across the top, which ironically would make more sense for those with very broad heads. We found that there was a pressure point right at the top where the frame actually contacted our heads, while the rest of the headband floated above. Cleer could probably do a bit more fine-tuning of the headband shape and flexibility for greater comfort for a greater number of people, but overall, we thought the FLOW was decent, aided in particular by nice, thickly-padded earcups, which is what you notice most on headphones that simply don't feel right.
There's another area of performance that is a little unique, and a little bit of a letdown with the FLOW: the touch controls. You swipe up and down on the outside of the left earcup for volume, and swipe forward and back for track controls, but with no tactile feedback, nor any visual markings, it's not all that intuitive, and in practice, we found it didn't work all that reliably, because when the headphones are on your head, they don't sit parallel to the body (they are tipped slightly back), which often led to a track advance when we were trying to increase volume. You also can't continuously swipe to increase volume incrementally; you must swipe over and over again for each step of volume (or for each track). We like the concept, but we think the execution needs just a bit more refinement.
By the way, there's also a built-in microphone for phone call use, which worked well in our limited testing, but isn't something you'd want to use for important conference calls. Given that most users these days will be using the FLOW with a smartphone, however, we're glad the feature is there.
Now, to give you the best sense of the style and features of the FLOW, we've put together the short YouTube review below, which touches upon comfort, controls, style, and our overall impressions:
Overall, there's a whole lot to like in the Cleer FLOW Noise Canceling Bluetooth headphones. Coming it at a price that undercuts the big-name competition, you get a headset that offers audio fidelity that is far better, noise canceling prowess that is at least as good, along with the cool Ambient mode, the innovative, if slightly unintuitive swipe controls, and a very healthy does of style. This is a headset that has something for just about everyone, all wrapped up into one travel-friendly package. The Cleer FLOW Noise Canceling Bluetooth Wireless Headphones are available for $279.99 shipped through Amazon as of our publication date. They are an easy pick for inclusion in our next Headset and Speaker Buyer's Guide.