As an open-ear alternative to bone-conduction headphones, the Cleer Arc buds offer a modest improvement in sound quality and have a secure fit, even if the unique method of keeping them in place won’t suit everyone.
- Open-ear design
- Sound quality better than bone conduction
- Good-looking carry case with built-in cable
- Sound quality still not in-ear standard
- Case doesn’t hold charge
- Too quiet at times
- Spotty app connection
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Bone-conduction headphones like the Shokz Openrun have become the default solution for people who want to listen to music or podcasts while remaining aware of their surroundings.
The open design is a major reason why I rate Shokz’s buds as among the best running headphones. However, other styles of open headphones are providing legitimate alternatives, such as Sony’s Linkbuds, which are in-ear headphones with a hole to let ambient sound in.
Cleer’s Arc buds offer another route to audio with awareness. They “clip” on to the top of your ear and channel sound in while leaving the ear canal open. It may seem a slightly fussy way to go about things, but it works, and they are among the best workout headphones with an open design I’ve tested.
Cleer Arc: Price And Availability
The Cleer Arc headphones are available now and cost $129.99 in the US and £129.99 in the UK. That’s the same price as the Shokz Openrun bone-conduction headphones, which are $129.95/£129.95. The Arc headphones are cheaper than the Sony Linkbuds, which are $180/£149 and also the Bose Sport Open Earbuds, which have a similar design to the Arc and cost $199.
Design And Fit
The Cleer Arc headphones have an ear-hook design with flexible hinged panels that sit inside the top of your ear. You open these panels to put the headphones on your ears, then close them against the ears to hold the buds in place. It’s a comfortable fit – the panel does not close tightly against the ear – and I had no problems with it shaking loose during runs, cycles, strength workouts or yoga sessions.
It is a little bit of a faff to put them on at times, especially when wearing sunglasses, but I found I could wear them with glasses and a hat while running. I also prefer having two separate buds to the headband design of bone-conduction headphones, and you can use each of the Cleer Arc headphones independently, though the smaller, in-ear Sony Linkbuds are more convenient still.
The panel that sits inside the ear has 16.2mm neodymium drivers in it that channel audio into your ear without blocking the ear canal. It’s basically a speaker near your ear, but is better than that description sounds.
The power button is on the ear hook stem and that is accompanied by a touch panel. You can play/pause, skip and trigger your voice assistant with either headphone, and turn up the volume on the right side and turn it down on the left. This is done with taps, holds or a combination of both. The combination commands are hard to execute while exercising, but the taps were transmitted fairly reliably.
It’s also a boon to be able to turn the headphones off without having to put them back into their case, which isn’t all that common on truly wireless headphones.
Any open-ear headphones will be unable to match the sound quality of in-ear buds, which deliver richer bass and more volume, and the Cleer Arc buds are no exception. However, they sound better than the many sets of bone-conduction headphones I’ve tested, offering fuller bass for one, especially when you adjust the EQ in the partner app (which can be tricky because the app failed to connect to the headphones more often than not).
A lack of volume can still be a problem when running next to busy roads, but they were loud enough to hear music and podcasts on most of my runs.
Overall, the sound quality is good for open headphones, though if it’s a priority you will be better served by in-ear buds, or even open-fit ones like the Apple AirPods or Huawei Freebuds 4.
The Cleer Arc headphones are listed as lasting seven hours on a charge, though as with most open headphones this number drops with real-world use, especially since I had the volume set to max most of the time when outside.
Unusually for truly wireless headphones, the case doesn’t hold any charge itself. You have to plug it in while the headphones are in it to charge them. The case does have a wire that can be tucked around the headphones inside it, so you can plug it into a USB port directly, something I find convenient compared with trying to keep tabs on yet another charging cable. It’s not convenient enough to offset the inconvenience of the case not holding any charge, but it’s a nice touch.
Are The Cleer Arc Headphones Worth It?
I mostly run in a city and listen to podcasts so I find open headphones very useful and it’s great to see another option beyond bone-conduction buds. The Cleer Arc headphones offer slightly better sound quality and a design that some will prefer to a headband, and some will find more annoying and fussy.
Since they are cheaper than the Sony Linkbuds and Bose Sport Open Earbuds (which I am yet to test), I rate the Cleer Arc as the best alternative to the Shokz Openrun, though you can get cheaper bone-conduction headphones from Shokz and other manufacturers like Naenka.
The Linkbuds are the most convenient option because they are so small and comfortable, but you get more powerful sound from the Cleer Arc headphones. No-one has been to truly solve the awareness/sound quality trade-off yet, but the Cleer Arc buds are another strong open-ear option.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.