Cleer keeps a finger on the pulse of contemporary mass-market personal-audio trends and offers a wide range of affordable feature-laden earphones, headphones, and Bluetooth-capable products. Even so, I suspect dyed-in-the-wool audiophiles might ask, “But does Cleer build a model for us?” Happily, the answer is “Yes,” and it takes the form of the firm’s recently released Next headphone ($699).
The Next shows it is a headphone to be taken seriously, in part through its handsome industrial design, which was created by Designworks (a BMW Group company). Cleer says the Next’s design motif is meant to “evoke the feelings of a favorite timepiece,” so that ideally it will “be considered delightfully exquisite, intimately personal, and intended for decades of enjoyment.”
The open-back, dynamic-driver-equipped Next sports a frame, swiveling earcup yokes, and earcup housings machined from 6061-T6 aluminum treated to a satin-textured bronze-anodized finish. The rear sides of the earcups feature black mesh grilles. Completing the picture are a thick leather headband pad, leather-clad beveled earpads, and—on the undersides of the earcups—recessed sockets for LEMO-type signal cable connectors. Overall, the Next looks and feels more expensive than it is.
On the inside, the Next uses a 40mm dynamic-type driver featuring a magnesium-alloy diaphragm and a patented ironless motor. In place of one large, ring-shaped, ferrous motor magnet the Next uses a ring-shaped array of “20 strategically layered, rare-earth magnets” with claimed benefits that include enhanced efficiency and dramatically reduced distortion. The magnesium driver diaphragm, in turn, is said to “benefit from low mass, high rigidity, and high internal damping,” thus yielding a “vivid and nuanced high-resolution sound.”
My listening tests showed the Next was easier to drive to satisfying volumes than its specified 92dB sensitivity might suggest. For example, the Next performed quite satisfactorily when driven by my iPad Air—a device that, let’s face it, doesn’t have a surplus of power. Similarly, it sounded full-bodied and dynamically alive when powered by the three digital audio players I had on hand, without requiring the DAPs to have their “high gain” settings engaged.
The Next conveys overarching sonic qualities of clarity and resolution. In practice this means it reveals small textural and transient details in recordings in vivid and explicit ways, while also offering impressive articulation and vocal intelligibility. On pop music, where intensely modulated vocals can overlap one another in momentarily confusing ways, for example “Poison and Wine” from the Civil War’s Barton Hollow [Sensibility, 16/44.1], the Next helps clarify the picture, deftly teasing out the words and phrases being sung. Similarly, if you enjoy ensemble pieces where multiple instrumental musical lines are intricately interwoven, the Next makes it easy to pick out individual threads and to follow them to your heart’s content. Similarly, the Next performs beautifully on recordings featuring realistic spatial cues or delicate harmonic information.
The tonal balance of the Next is mostly neutral, with well-controlled and deeply extended bass, open-sounding mids, and revealing highs, but with a mild tendency toward upper-midrange forwardness. For bass connoisseurs, the Next can be especially satisfying. Listen to the low percussion found on “Rites,” an excerpt from “Glimpses of Tibet” on 10th Anniversary of Rhymoi: 2003-2013 [Rhymoi Music, 16/44.1] and you’ll find the Next can play loud and low, while maintaining excellent pitch definition and control.
Like most musically informative headphones, the Next sometimes overemphasizes hard, sharp transient sounds and can expose overly compressed or bright-sounding recordings for what they are. It’s simply a case where the very qualities that make the Next desirable occasionally make it somewhat unforgiving.
The ergonomic Next is comfortable and easy to fit, though earpads with fabric touch surfaces would be welcome in the future. In everyday use, Cleer’s well-made Next is a joy to handle and to hear. It stands as a fine first audiophile-grade headphone—one blessed with ample clarity, expressiveness, and control.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Open-back, dynamic-driver
Driver complement: 40mm ironless dynamic driver with magnesium diaphragm and patented ironless motor magnet assembly
Frequency response: 10Hz–45kHz
Impedance: 16 ohms
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