Cleer ARC Review Open Back Ear Hook Earbuds With Touch Controls

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The single earbud method and transparency mode are two popular ways to enjoy music while maintaining situational awareness. If you're paranoid enough about your surroundings though, trusting the ambient mode mic won't be enough! Fortunately, there are other alternatives such as bluetooth audio sunglasses and ARC - Cleer's new open ear true wireless earbuds which have the advantage of completely freeing your ears, eliminating the common issue of earbud wind noise.

The Cleer ARC have a P shape ear hook design with a D-shape body shell (same as the new Cleer Arc II), making them more secure to wear than regular true wireless in-ear earbuds. ARC has a long stem design that fits around the top of the ear similarly to sports ear hook earphones. The ARC ear hook stem is substantially thicker though, so they are more noticable when wearing them around the ears. The total dimensions of the Cleer ARC earbuds (including the ear hook) is 5cm tall and 4cm wide. The earbud shell measures 2.5cm long, 2cm high, 1cm thick and, it is designed to sit outside the ear canal, making them less intrusive.

The ARC earhook design does not cause any discomfort, thanks to the silicone construction, which is not only soft but also hypoallergenic (does not sensitize the skin). The bottom part of the stem is made of smooth matte plastic, while the ear hook section is made of silicone. The ARC earbud shell is made of smooth matte plastic and, it is attached to an aluminum barrel style swivel hinge to help adjust fit. 
The Cleer ARC earbuds integrate one large physical clicky button, a touch control panel, an open back metal grille mesh and a status led, which does not flash when listening to audio. The touch control panel is located on the earphone shell and is highly responsive, requiring only a light touch to activate (no tapping on the earphone). There are four gesture controls (single tap, double, triple tap and long press) to control audio playback (play/pause, volume up/volume down, skip to previous/next), voice assistant and calls (answer/end/reject). 
The Cleer ARC earbuds come with a custom charging dock built inside the included hardshell zippered case. The charging dock is made of hard plastic and magnetized to keep the earbuds securely in place. There is no battery inside the charging dock; hence it's just a passthrough power dock. It is not capable of storing any power. If you want to recharge the Cleer ARC earbuds on the go, you can use a powerbank and charge them that way via the USB-A cable built-in to the ARC case, which is 23cm long and non-detachable. The cable neatly winds around the dock like an earphone cable winder.

The ARC charging dock zippered case design works well without issues. It has a snug clamshell opening and a  strong magnetic connection that keeps the earbuds securely in place, preventing them from accidentally falling out of the charging dock. The only slight drawback with the charging dock design is that it cannot be removed from the case, which means you cannot use the zippered case to store something else.

The dimensions of the Cleer ARC zippered case are 12.5cm long, 8cm wide and 2cm high (thick). The ARC case weighs 79 grams and opens via a single slider with metal pulltab. The outer shell of the case is covered with water resistant woven material. The zipper is not waterproof but has a reverse coil design, which helps minimize water and dust ingress. The ARC case has Cleer branding heat printed on top of the case.

You can use one Cleer ARC earbud at a time for mono listening and then switch to stereo (4 second re-connection delay) with a seamless transition without the audio pausing or bluetooth disconnecting. Each earbud cannot be connected with different devices at the same time. 
The charging dock cradle is designed to automatically power off and power on when removing and charging the earbuds inside the dock. The bluetooth 5.0 chip supports SBC and aptX codec, which delivers reduced latency for Android devices. There is no multipoint support and no AAC support; hence latency maybe more noticeable in iOS devices. The charging time of the Cleer ARC earbuds is 1 hour 20 minutes with around 6 hrs of battery life at 60% volume. There is no quick charge support.  
Cleer ARC has many great selling points, including the snazzy storage case, aptX support, volume control, powerful 16.2mm dynamic drivers and 5-band EQ to change the stock sound signature which is bass heavy. The EQ is accessible via the Cleer+ app, which shows battery level of each earbud, as well as firmware update. 
The experience of using Cleer ARC is very different compared it regular earbuds. It is closer related to on-ear headphones than in-ear earbuds; hence the audio quality is more natural and you get the advantage of the open-ear design, which is a plus for situational awareness. The call quality is another plus. ARC has dual beamforming mics, which deliver natural sound with noise suppression, making the ARC earbuds ideal for work calls and video calling. 
ARC does have some potential deal breakers too. There is no battery powered case and ARC resemblance to a hearing aid, which maybe an issue for brand conscious fashionistas. The IPX rating isn't listed; hence it is likely to be below the standard IPX5 (~IPX2 or IPX3). That said, ARC's open ear design makes them less susceptible to sweat damage when working out. Rain, in the other hand, is a different story. If you like running in the rain, it's safer going for a different set of earbuds such as the ROAM NC earbuds. 
The lack of AAC codec support could be a deal breaker for those who own an iPad or iPhone since aptX isn't compatible with iOS. The Cleer+ app does not feature sound presets and no button remapping so, you cannot swap  around the earbuds gesture touch control functions. The app has an EQ, which is nice but it doesn't seem to have an option to save a custom EQ sound; hence you are forced to keep the app running, which is not ideal. Cleer ARC are also heavier than the average true wireless earbuds, weighing 79 grams (case), while the earbuds weigh 14 grams each, making it a total combined weight of 107 grams. You can buy Cleer ARC from Cleer Audio and amazon.

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