Ope-air headphones are particularly popular among runners who prefer to stay aware of their surroundings. Very rightly so; when running on the road, you're part of the traffic, including cars, bicycles, etc. Open-ear headphones provide much-needed spatial awareness while allowing you to listen to music or podcasts on the go.
Shokz is probably the biggest – or, at least, the most well-known – player in the open-ear headphones business, but many others produce quality audio equipment with spatial awareness capabilities. Cleer is one of these brands, and with their latest fitness-oriented offering, the ARC II Sport, they hit the nail on the head.
I've been testing the Cleer ARC II Sport for a couple of weeks and was thoroughly happy with the performance of these headphones. In fact, I think the ARC II Sport are one of the best workout headphones for people who like high-quality audio and aren't keen on either passive or active noise cancellation. Interested? Read my full Cleer ARC II Sport review below to find out more.
(First reviewed July 2023.)
Cleer ARC II Sport review: price and availability
The Cleer ARC II Sport headphones were released in June 2023 and are available to buy now directly from Cleer Audio US and Cleer Audio UK for $189/ £199 (approx. AU$ 283). This is a significant price increase from the first iteration of the ARC series, which used to cost $129/ £129. The buds are also available at Amazon UK and Amazon US.
Cleer ARC II Sport review: specifications
- Type: open-ear
- Battery life: 35 hours (buds: 8 hours, charging case: 27 hours)
- Water rating: IPX5 water-resistant and sweatproof
- Audio: lossless audio, with aptX Lossless technology, Snapdragon Sound certification and LE Audio compatibility
- Driver: 16.2mm neodymium drivers with aptX Adaptive
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.3
- Weight: TBC
- Bluetooth Multipoint connectivity
- Built-in UV light in case
Cleer ARC II Sport review: design and build quality
The Cleer ARC II Sport headphones have an open-ear design with a flexible earhook hinge. Open-ear means that the buds don't sit deep in your ear canal; instead, they are hooked around the top of the ear and sit higher up, leaving your ears partially uncovered. This allows for more spatial awareness, which is helpful in some situations but not others.
As mentioned above, runners and cyclists often use open-ear headphones to be more aware of their surroundings. Open-ear headphones can be problematic in other situations since they have virtually no passive or active noise cancellation. They can and do often provide good sound quality, but it's often drowned out by environmental sounds when you're in public. This is especially true for bone-conduction headphones.
Instead of resonating with the cheekbones, the Cleer ARC II Sport uses traditional drivers to produce sound, and the 16.2mm neodymium drivers indeed do an excellent job (more on this below). The speakers sit at the top of the ear canal, which takes some time to get used to, but thanks to the hinged design, the Cleer ARC II Sport is comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
I like the Cleer ARC II Sport's carry case with its magnetic closure and UV light, the latter of which ensures the headphones stay bacteria-free (in theory, anyway). The case isn't waterproof, but the ARC II Sport itself is IPX5 water-resistant and sweatproof, meaning that you can wash it under running water (again, in theory). I haven't tested this, though, so be careful. Trickling water should be fine.
Cleer ARC II Sport review: sound quality and performance
I used Shokz bone-conduction headphones before, so when I heard the word 'open-ear', I expected a similar listening experience to those. Boy, was I wrong! The Cleer ARC II Sport is leaps and bounds ahead of bone-conduction headphones in terms of sound quality, thanks to the 16.2mm neodymium drivers with aptX Adaptive technology, not to mention the slew of lossless audio features, including aptX Lossless technology, Snapdragon Sound certification and LE Audio compatibility.
Better still – and I know this is something to be expected from wireless earbuds these days – the ARC II Sport has Bluetooth 5.3, which seems to provide a solid connection between your smartphone and the headphones.
I went for a few runs with the Cleer ARC II Sport and used it many times for listening to music at work and home. Fit seems to be on point; the headphones are adequately secured using the earhooks. In my experience, they stayed put no matter how vigorously I wiggled my head (although I didn't go crazy with the shaking). I also wore the Cleer ARC II Sport with reading glasses, and although the hooks aren't thin, the area behind my ears didn't feel busy.
On to the most important bit: sound quality. Without going full audio nerd here (I'm not one), the sound produced by the Cleer ARC II Sport doesn't lack clarity and power throughout the entire audio spectrum. The sound stage is well-rounded, and thanks to comparatively large drivers, sound comes through the speakers clearly and in a rather enjoyable fashion.
I was particularly fond of the stereo effect and the lossless audio quality. I generally listen to music from various genres, which is ideal for testing headphones. This time, I was lucky enough that the testing period coincided with the release of the latest Queens of the Stone Age album and the soundtrack for the new Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, among other things. Plus, I just renewed my Apple Music subscription to ensure the music streamed is truly lossless.
The Cleer ARC II Sport performed well across all genres, and I found it particularly well-suited for highlighting percussion and pushing bass without distortion. Treble was somewhat overshadowed by the clear emphasis on bass, but not in a way that negatively affected the overall listening experience. There is enough mid clarity to carry the slight imbalance at the ends.
One final note: the open-ear design allows ambient sound to enter your ear; however, it's not quite the same level as bone-conduction headphones. It's a happy medium kind of situation, as the semi-open design does provide a minimum amount of passive isolation while also allowing you to hear sounds around you.
Cleer ARC II Sport review: verdict
As far as open-ear workout headphones go, the Cleer ARC II Sport is pretty much perfect. It offers long battery life, crisp sound, a comfortable yet secure fit, and an IPX5 water rating. It produces a good enough sound to please audiophiles and is resilient enough for workouts. I loved the stereo effect of the headphones and the fact I could listen to songs with such clarity without compromising spatial awareness while out running.
My biggest problem is – and this is true for all open-ear headphones – that I wonder if there is a need for open-ear headphones. You see, the best wireless earbuds often have transparency mode, which allows ambient sound to enter the ears, similar to open-air headphones. But unlike open-ear buds, in-ear headphones also often have ANC, enabling you to enjoy the best of both worlds: spatial awareness and isolation.
For the price of the Cleer ARC II Sport, you can buy decent noise-cancelling wireless buds (with transparency mode), narrowing down the pool of potential buyers. However, it's worth noting that even the most sophisticated transparency mode can't match the spatial awareness of open-ear headphones. Plus, few sports earbuds in this price bracket have such balanced sounds as the Cleer ARC II Sport.
Recommend for: those who prefer lossless music streaming and are also keen runners/cyclists.
Cleer ARC II Sport review: also consider
These days, the Beats Powerbeats Pro can be bought for less than the recommended retail price of the Cleer ARC II Sport, so they are well worth considering for iPhone users. It's not the latest and greatest tech from Beats, but they sound beautiful and provide a secure fit. Read Duncan's full Beats Powerbeats Pro review.
Another option for audiophile gym rats might be the Shure Aonic 215 Gen 2. There is no ANC, but they sit in your ears, so the buds filter out noise better than the Cleer ARC II Sport. Shure claims the components of the Aonic 215 Gen 2 were "developed for the pros" and that you "hear the highs, the lows and everything in between" when listening to music or podcasts through the buds. I tend to agree. Read my full Shure Aonic 215 Gen 2 review.