Friends and colleagues often approach me with inquiries like this: “I’m looking for noise cancelling Bluetooth headphones and have tried the Bose QuietComfort models (hasn’t everyone?), but are there other good models I ought to check out?” In cases where headphone seekers say they care just as much about sound quality as about convenience and noise reduction I’ve got several good recommendations to offer and one of my favourites is the Cleer FLOW headphone ($199.99). Another good option would be the just-released Cleer FLOW II ($279.99), which is priced the same as the original FLOW (which continues in the product line). The FLOW II is now available in two colours – gunmetal and metallic silver – and provides a Google Assistant Voice Interface, but is otherwise almost identical to the original FLOW.
The FLOW is an attractive, satin black, closed back, noise cancelling, Bluetooth 4.2-capable wireless headphone that offers unusually good playing time with noise cancelling engaged (approximately 20 hours, which is excellent). The FLOW also can be driven directly from a 3.5mm audio mini‑jack.
Inside, the FLOW uses a 40mm dynamic-type driver with Cleer’s patented ironless motor design, said to deliver, “bold and articulate playback via high-excursion with optimised control and exceptionally low distortion.” Honestly, the ‘Achilles heel’ for many noise-cancelling Bluetooth headphones is an element of sonic veiling that can make headphones sound as if you are hearing them through a wet pair of socks. Recognising this, Cleer has gone out of its way to give the FLOW greater measures of clarity and overall tonal neutrality than is typical for designs in its price range.
The FLOW is also admirably quiet owing to Cleer’s “hybrid noise cancellation technology and optimised passive isolation,” said to give listeners approximately 30dB of ambient noise suppression across a broad band of frequencies. For moments when one might need to hear what’s going on in the outside world, the FLOW features an Ambient Aware control switch, where the listener is offered three options for allowing ambient sound to pass through: Ambient Normal, Ambient Voice, or Conversation mode. I found the FLOW does an exemplary job of blocking out external sounds, yet does so with virtually no observable diminution of sound quality (something easier said than done).
Other controls include an on/off/pairing switch, a noise cancelling on/off switch, and touch controls on the outer surface of the left ear cup. Swiping up on the cup face increases volume (and vice versa), while sweeping a finger fore or aft provides previous or next track selections. Finally, tapping the left ear cup provides (depending on context) either play/pause or call answer/call end functions.