Cleer Audio is a San Diego-based company TechPowerUp had met at CES last year, and we were left impressed with the value offered by its audio solutions for the retail market. With a focus on wireless headphones and true wireless stereo (TWS) earphones, the original plan was to do a full review of one of the brand's headphones before two arrived, and I also decided to wait until my new headphones testing setup was up and running. The one for IEMs and earphones has been working well for a while now, as evident by all the recent reviews, and the Cleer PR representative also informed me of an upcoming set of TWS earbuds aimed at besting the market further in the feature set for the price point. Enter the Cleer Roam NC, and thanks again to the company for arranging a review sample to TechPowerUp!
Given I am also in the midst of a full review of the other Cleer headphones, I decided to go with a quick-look article here. It won't be short on detail, just shorter than our usual extremely detailed coverage while offering users a quick, single-page look at the product. Just by going with the stock image above, we can see that the Cleer Roam NC nicely fits into the Cleer portfolio, also by sharing a design language with the other Cleer earbuds. These are Cleer's least expensive TWS earbuds to date, but they still boast active noise cancellation, ambient hear-through mode, a first-party app for further customization, and the usual plethora of other TWS features, including integrated controls, aptX support, and so on. Let's dig deeper now and see whether the Roam NC from Cleer is for you!
Packaging and Accessories
The product box comes with a plastic seal all around, and removing it reveals a small box with the company logo (yes, I know it looks like "deer") and product name on the front, along with a render of the ear buds themselves. There are two color options—dark gray and sand—and I have the former here, which is indicated by the render. We also see marketing features on the front, which then continue on the back in multiple languages. There is also a reminder to download the Cleer+ app to make the most of the Roam NC, and we see the use of a two-piece packaging with an inner box that slides out. This box opens up to reveal a foam lining for case protection, with the other accessories found underneath, neatly packaged between cardboard folds and layers.
Cleer includes a short and sweet user guide, manual, and warranty card all in one piece of paperwork (online copy here), and it goes over the setup, onboard controls, charging, and another reminder to use the mobile app itself. There are also multiple sets of silicone ear tips in sizes S/M/L, with two size M sets of tips, or three if you include the pre-installed tips since it will the more popular option. The case itself comes inside a wax paper wrap with the ear buds inside.
The case is instrumental to true wireless earphones, providing storage and charging capability at the same time, and the Cleer version takes a rounded, rectangular profile. It's quite slim and reminds me of the case used with the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1+, but is longer than taller. The color matches the ear buds, so expect to see a sand version for the other set. The logo is etched into the plastic on the top, with plastic used throughout making for a lightweight solution at ~44.4 g. We see certification and charging information on a sticker at the bottom confirming the 1.45 Wh (~500 mAh) battery capacity, but also support for quick-charging at 2 A, which should certainly help! This comes in the form of the USB Type-C port on the side, and we don't actually get a cable, which is a "cleer" sign (get it?) that we have a more budget-friendly offering in the Roam NC.
A single indicator LED on the front of the case lights up red when charging and white when fully charged, as well as red when the battery level is between 1–19% in use and white for 20–100%; while not very helpful, it isn't completely useless, either. L/R markings inside indicate where the two ear buds slot in for charging and storage, with magnetic pins helping in the process. The two ear buds come with a plastic sticker over the pins on the shells themselves, which you need to remove for the case to work as intended. I will also note that there is some play with the ear buds when inside the case, but not enough to prevent charging. Cleer rates the battery inside the case for two spare charging cycles, which is not great, but each ear bud does have a relatively massive 85 mAh battery inside, which should make this look far better in practice than on paper.
The Cleer Roam NC looks a lot like most other such TWS ear buds, but has the spout that puts the integrated microphone closer to the user's mouth for speech at the bottom since these can also be used as a headset. It won't do much for an ergonomic fit, if that is what you were wondering, with the round shell still clearly a common factory special. Whether you go with the dark gray or sand-colored version, you will get a two-tone color scheme with the expected color used for the plastic top housing and the bottom in black. We see a concave face plate, if you will, with the Cleer logo and a vent that does double duty for the ANC microphones. In fact, there is another vent right above, so it appears to be a case of dual ANC microphones per ear bud, but the Cleer website is woefully short on details. L/R markings have been put on the side touching the ear concha, as we also get a closer look at the magnetic pins for charging and to keep the ear buds securely inside the case. There is a small nozzle that looks cylindrical from one side, and with a notch to help retain the ear tips when installed. But a head-on view confirms the presence of hooks akin to a C-clip, and we also see a fine mesh filter to prevent dust and other contaminants from entering the acoustic chamber.
Setup and Audio Performance
Here is where things start to get interesting, especially since we know that these are budget-friendly TWS earphones. The Cleer Roam NC is using Qualcomm's QCC3046 SoC with Bluetooth 5.2 support, and pairing was a breeze on my phone, laptop, and PC with the Intel AX210 NIC for Bluetooth 5.2 connectivity. This was not what I expected since the QCC3046 typically is found in more expensive TWS products, but it also helps explain the presence of ANC and ambient mode. There is also first-party app support with Cleer+, available on Android and iOS mobile platforms. I can't speak for others, especially on iOS, but I did have some connectivity drops on Android, which unfortunately seems to be a common issue based on Google Playstore user reviews. It's a good thing then that you don't need to use the app much, other than to update the firmware as it comes and customize ANC/ambient mode balance. There is also a quick setting for the onboard touch controls and an extremely basic 5-band equalizer with more options when it pertains to the steps taken with the EQ rather than the actual EQ mechanism itself.
The onboard controls work well enough for media playback and volume control, and bringing up the smart assistant on the platform of your choice. It can be somewhat trigger happy given the touchpad used, for which there is no good solution in the absence of a tactile button placed elsewhere. Battery life is a key metric for TWS earbuds, and these promise a measly 5 hours of use when fully charged and without ANC on. I hit just over 4 hours regularly at ~60% volume on my phone with aptX and no ANC, which drops to ~2.5 hours with ANC on. Battery life is one of the lowest among the TWS earphones I have tested, which is all the more strange considering the larger battery capacity inside. I don't know if there is more possible with a firmware update, but as it stands currently, the quick-charging support is the only thing that helps with charging the case. Charging the ear buds inside the case is still slow, so the maximum of 15 hours you get combined with the case is over breaks you might as well just charge the case in anyway. This is a shame since the rest of the features are fairly good. In fact, the included microphones to use the Cleer Roam NC as a headset are also quite decent, and their placement towards your mouth helps further. These are also IPx4 water resistant for the more intense physical workouts, which makes the Cleer Roam NC a good audio solution for the gym and outdoors.
Testing was done in a similar manner to other TWS earphones, such as the aforementioned Melomania 1+. I was in two minds about even doing a frequency response measurement for a quick-look article, but decided to do it for the Cleer Roam NC without testing the effect of the ANC, ambient modes, or EQ. Testing was done with the pre-installed size M ear tips, which make for an alright fit in the ear—nothing to distinguish it from the vast majority of other TWS earphones. There is a single 5.8 mm neodymium dynamic driver, nothing too fancy, and it shows with the tuning, where Cleer has gone with what I can best describe as a W-shaped profile. The first part is the typical V-shaped tuning I was not surprised to see. There isn't much sub-bass here, with Cleer giving energy far more to the mid-bass and lower mids. In fact, sub-bass is nearly non-existent, and this is even with another set of foam tips I quickly used for testing. I am also disappointed by the relatively big difference in the lows in the two channels, so much so that I definitely noticed the discrepancy. I can't tell you whether the left channel is artificially boosted past the target curve or the right channel is recessed, but it was reproducible and not just a measurement artifact.
I wish there was a channel balance option in the app, which might have helped with the channel imbalance in the mid-bass. That aside, listening to the Cleer Roam NC in a typical mode—either with no app control or the mode set to 5 on the scale of 0 with ANC maxed out and 10 with ambient mode maxed out when the app is used—is better than I thought it would be. I admit I knew the price already, which does play more of a role here. There is decent resolution throughout, especially in the lower mids, where I was afraid the tuning and any bass warmth would leak through. EDM is not a strong suit, nor is house music in general, but bass guitars with soul and funk music strum along nicely. Male vocals take a small step back to female vocals when it comes to tonal separation, especially with instruments playing simultaneously. Imaging is lackluster though, and the soundstage is narrow to where it does feel like you are in a small haze at times, especially with classical music and/or orchestral performances.
This gets worse if you use ANC or ambient mode, both of which make things worse. The former induces the typical pressure in the ears, akin to what it feels like when moving up stories in a very fast lift. Clearly, the pressure equalization wasn't accounted for well, although you do get decent noise cancellation on top of the passive isolation from the fit itself. Ambient mode simply boosts things from outside, including noise, and there's not much to go with in terms of any filters to clean things up. It works in a pinch for when you need to use it, but it does feel as though ANC and ambient mode were happily tacked on for a longer feature list since both are available on the Qualcomm chipset, instead of using those resources to make this TWS sound better.
The Cleer Roam NC is currently up for pre-order, but may well be fully released by the time this article goes live. Cleer wants $59.99 for either color option, and either is available over the Cleer web shop as well as authorized retailers, including B&H in the US. Prices in the UK are unfortunately exactly the same, but with the currency symbol changed, coming in at £59.95 from the likes of HiFiHeadphones. So while I continue to fret about non-US regions getting a worse deal and now understand how most of you felt all the time I was in the US, it's fair to say that the Cleer Roam NC at $60 is a fantastic buy. In fact, this is exactly the market where ANC and ambient modes, as well as app support and touch controls, make for a big statement even if the actual implementation is not very good. I would have probably done the same as a company, and it helps the Roam NC better set itself apart from among the vast majority of budget TWS earphones available today.