If you’ve ever struggled to hear what people are saying in a busy restaurant, bar or crowded space you’re not alone. Sometimes that background noise can take over leaving you struggling to keep up with the conversation and that can be really infuriating.
Audio firm Sennheiser may have a solution though. Its Conversation Clear Plus earbuds are designed to deal with exactly this issue using a combination of its noise cancellation and speech enhancement technology.
I’ve been using the Conversation Clear Plus earbuds for a few months now. As someone who spent many years going to loud gigs and playing in bands, my hearing isn’t 100% and I do struggle in noisy situations. In quiet rooms I’m fine but turn up that background noise and I have to concentrate.
Sennheiser is clear to point out that these wireless earbuds aren’t designed to be used in place of hearing aids or to treat hearing loss. Instead, they allow you to fine-tune the noise you’re hearing to focus only on the sounds you want to hear.
Design and features of the Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus
The Conversation Clear Plus connect via Bluetooth to your phone or other device and can be used as regular earbuds to listen to music or make calls. The controls in the accompanying app allow you to adjust the mix of external sounds, speech or audio, with different settings for streaming, communication and relaxation. You can also control the earbuds directly with short and long presses or a double tap.
The earbuds themselves are bigger than your standard buds, with a chunky feel that protrudes slightly out of your ear when wearing them. To keep them firmly in place it comes with three sizes of ear tips and three sizes of ear fins that hold the earbuds firmly in place. Once you have the sizing right, they do hold securely in your ear, despite their weight.
The charging case is quite chunky at nearly twice the length of the earbuds, presumably to allow for the battery, and has a USB-C port to allow easy charging. You get up to nine hours of charge per use, with the case holding two additional charges, giving you a total of 27 hours before needing to plug them in.
To get the best out of these earbuds you need to have both buds fitted securely and connected in the app. It then uses a combination of active noise cancellation and beamforming to identify the sound you want to hear and the background noise you don’t.
The Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus app
Sennheiser’s dedicated Conversation Clear Plus app provides a great deal of control over your sound but it also will adjust automatically to provide the best settings. For general use, the earbuds work like any other Bluetooth earbuds when connected. If you play music or make a call, you’ll hear it as usual through the earbuds. The main time you might want to adjust the settings is for listening to conversations or switching to the relax mode, which can block out all external noise.
In both the Relax and Communication modes you are given a dial to determine the amount of noise reduction or speech enhancement provided, while in Streaming mode, you get a slider that goes between external noise and internal audio. There’s an additional clarity boost option in Communication mode too that sharpens the speech.
Using the Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus
The main reason to buy these earbuds is, of course, the speech enhancement, and it does this extremely well. With the earbuds in I was able to pick out conversations much more clearly in loud environments, and over much greater distances. The beam forming means that the earbuds will pick out the conversation of the person that you’re looking at. This also means that if you look away, they will no longer be as clear.
Though I was able to hear conversations really clearly, when it came to having a conversation, I found the earbuds were somewhat of a barrier. Even with non-noise cancelling headphones, I automatically want to take my earphone out to have a conversation, and that’s because your own voice sounds amplified when you have something in your ear. That’s even more the case with these in, as they completely seal your ear.
If you have the app open, you can switch across to a transparent setting when you are speaking, which helps, but it’s a bit of a faff. In some ways I felt more removed from conversations, as although I was able to hear, I didn’t want to reply. This perhaps just takes more time to get used to, but it was certainly offputting. Using bone conduction technology might have helped with this but I guess it needs the closed ears to remove the background noise.
I also found, as the earbuds are quite big, they were pretty conspicuous. This could put some people off wearing them in public. In the way that modern hearing aids are often so small you can’t tell people are wearing them, slimming down the Conversation Clear Plus would help – even offering them in a lighter colour as well. I also found the tight fit means they can be uncomfortable after wearing them for longer periods.
Using the Conversation Clear Plus as regular earbuds is possible and the quality of the audio is similar to premium offerings for music and phone calls. Though you could definitely pick up a pair of headphones with equal or better audio quality for a lot less.
Should I buy the Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus?
With a price tag of nearly £750 / $850 / AU$1,400 you wouldn’t buy the Sennheiser Conversation Clear earbuds without specifically wanting to use its speech enhancement. Luckily this side of things is impressive, though the experience of using them for conversation – rather than just hearing – takes some getting used to, and isn’t entirely a pleasant experience.
For devices designed to be worn while chatting, the Conversation Clear Plus earbuds also feel pretty bulky in the ear. This is likely to make some users self-conscious or at least feel uncomfortable after wearing them for a prolonged period of time.
If it’s speech enhancement you are looking for, these earbuds do the job. Personally, though, I’d wait for the next generation before investing.