Cleer ALPHA Review Dirac Enabled ANC Headphones

Own the moment is the slogan of the new ALPHA headphones by Cleer Audio - a strong and powerful pair of ANC headphones that rivals Bose's QC35II headphones!

ALPHA uses hybrid anc - two mics built-in to the earcups - to actively cancel external noises. The anc performance is really good. It does a good job muffling everyday sounds - including voices, making the ALPHA headphones perfect for listening to music in a noisy place. Speaking of noises, the microphone for calls is also noise cancelling and very good at drowning environmental noises, making ideal for taking important work calls. When on a call, you can answer a second call too.

The ALPHA headband has a metal reinforced inner band for head adjustment (up to 3cm). The headband has some padding underneath it, which is soft although not as firm as the memory foam padding inside the earpads. The ALPHA headphones have a soft rubbery finish with clear plastic plates on the front of the earcups.

There are two physical buttons on the earcups, as well as a touch control panel built-in to the front of the right earcup. The touch control panel controls several functions, including conversation mode, which works similarly to ambient mode but better because it automatically reduces the audio in the earcups, making it better for talking to people. Ambient sound mode works well too but doesn't lower the audio volume in the earcups. To turn on conversation mode, you simply tap (you can do it gently) the touch control panel with the entire palm. To turn it off, you tap again with the palm. The touch control is very responsive and activates conversation mode instantaneously without delay. Conversation mode increases the volume back to the level you had it and, t works in both wired and wireless mode.

The Cleer ALPHA headphones charging time is 4 hours and provides 35 hours of battery life at 75% volume with anc turned on. With anc turned off, you can get around 46 hours of battery life, which is very good, although not as long as the Enduro ANC headphones. There is also quick charge support, which gives 2 hours of battery life from a quick 10 minute recharge. 

Speaking of charging, you can use the ALPHA headphones (in wired mode) when the internal battery is empty, which is worth pointing out as this isn't the case with all headphones. Also, when plugging in a cable for wired mode, the bluetooth connection does not disconnect, which is convenient when switching from wired to wireless back and forth. You can listen to audio whilst charging but only in wired mode - not whilst in bluetooth mode.

The earcup touch control allows you to control track skipping (next/previous) and volume (up and down) via swipe gestures, as well as play/pause and calls via double tap. Connectivity ports included a 3.5mm audio port and USB-C, which is charging only. There are also two leds on-board the earcups to feedback power, bluetooth connection and charging status. The bluetooth led blinks (every 4 seconds) when playing audio.There are two physical buttons on the ALPHA headphones - one on each earcup. The button on the left earcup is multi functional and controls multiple functions including voice assistant, Dirac audio and anc/ambient modes

ALPHA's Bluetooth 5.1 chipset supports Dirac Virtuo, which is an spatial audio solution that emulates 3D audio similarly to DTS Headphone X, Windows Sonic and Dolby Atmos. When turning on Dirac, it widens the soundstage making the sound more spacious and higher tones more detailed, which is perfect for gaming. Dirac sound comes integrated withing the headset, although it requires downloading the Cleer+ mobile app to turn it on and off. When Dirac is turned on, you cannot use the EQ (it gets disabled).

From the Cleer+ app, you can turn on/off wearing detection, as well as change anc/ambient mode settings and regulate the ambient noise sensitivity depending on how much external noise you want to hear. There is no setting to manually adjust anc but there is an auto anc mode, called "smart noise cancellation", which automatically adjusts anc according to the level of noise. The Cleer+ app also gives you access to a 5-band equalizer so, you can manually change the default sound signature, which is "balanced" by default. Having anc turned on acts as a bass booster too, which is nice when needing extra bass.

The overall feel of the Cleer+ app is user friendly. It is easy to use and it isn't very intrusive. You don't have to register an account and app permissions are minimal. The app could have been a little bit more expansive though. There are no EQ presets and no button remapping, which could have been useful for swapping functions around.

When changing settings on the app the new settings get saved automatically into the headphones so, you don't have to keep he Cleer+ mobile app open. Another plus for the ALPHA is low latency aptX Adaptive support, which is perfect for gaming. This is likely to sway a many people towards the ALPHA's over Bose's QC35 II and QC45's, as they do not support aptX at all. ALPHA also supports
multipoint connectivity so, you can pair and connect two devices at the same time. 
As far as fit, the ALPHA headphones are comfortable, thanks to the clamping force and weight (330 grams). The earcups have a slight angled construction. A lot of headphones you can wear them whichever way without paying attention to the R and L markings but with the ALPHA headphones you do because of the angled orientation of the earcups.

There are two metal hinges in the ALPHA headphones - one for rotating the earcups (one way up to 90 degrees) and the second hinge for folding the earcups inwards. The hinges feel strong and do not creak when operated. The earpads are oval shaped and are replaceable too. The inner hole measures 6cm high, 4cm wide and 2.5cm deep. The earcup depth to the driver is deeper than with a lot of headphones, which helps the anc and the spatial audio. The 40mm drivers are covered with a thin layer of foam, which is a good thing since the top of drivers aren't entirely flat due to small plastic bumps.

The user guide included is clear and detailed, showing you clearly how to use the ALPHA headset, which is nice for first time users. There is a snazzy hardshell carry case included too, which seals the deal. It is made with water resistant cloth fabric and has a clamshell opening with a reverse coil zipper and metal slider/ rubber pulltab. The carry case has no branding on it (except on the pulltab), making it discreet and ideal for a workplace.

The ALPHA carry case has a long webbing strap lanyard and an elastic mesh pocket on the outside, which is useful although it seems like an odd place to put it. Inside the case, there is soft fabric lining and a detachable padded divider designed to store the headphones and cables. The divider is removable, which is useful if you just want an empty case for carrying other things. The carry case weighs 180 grams and measures 20cm long, 17cm wide and 5cm deep. Other accessories included are a plane audio adapter, a flat audio cable (1.2 meters/12 grams) and a charging cable (1.2 meters/17 grams). The cable accessories are Cleer branded. You can buy the Cleer Audio ALPHA from amazon.

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