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Review: Cleer Audio Ally Plus II – (Possibly) A Clear Winner

The Ally Plus II noise canceling true wireless Bluetooth earbuds.
The Ally Plus II noise canceling true wireless Bluetooth earbuds.

Outstanding audio quality, performance, and function hampered by, well… largeness.

First, a sincere thank you to Cleer Audio for allowing Headphonesty to review the Ally Plus II. As is my standard, I did not read any reviews of the Ally Plus II (hereafter referred to as APII) before my evaluation.
The Ally Plus II noise canceling true wireless Bluetooth earbuds.
Bottom Line

Cleer is one reformed body cavity away from greatness, and possibly a category crusher. The price to performance ratio makes the APII one of the best values in TWS. The driver is outstanding, responds well to EQ, and is quite competent across all genres. However, my overall score comes in close to average because of the fit concerns.

What We Like
  • Exceptional sound quality
  • Cleer+ app with best-in-class Mimi Sound Personalization technology and equalizer
  • Impressive and attractive form and function
  • Easy operation via touch controls
  • ANC is effective enough to make a difference
  • Bass, while strong, is not overemphasized in expertly balanced tuning
  • Microphone and call quality is good enough for business
  • Long battery life, USB-C charging, rapid charge times
  • Excellent value / low cost for quality, sound, and features
What We Don't Like
  • Fit (for me) is a significant challenge
  • Large, bulky body will likely not work for small/medium size ears
  • Ear tip selection is not enough
  • Alternative ear tips that improve fit and comfort may not fit into the charging case
  • Charging case is too bulky to easily put in pant pockets

First Impressions

At first glance, the APII’s face is attractive, with a great sense of unique style. The flat face leads me to believe that their touch controls will be easy to use and work well. Pulling them out of their nesting spot… hmmmm, well, uhhh….

With the thought and style that went into the fascia, it seems like the body cavity was a rough prototype attempting to wrap the internals. As much as the outer appearance and face are unique, stylish, and cool, the body is equally unique, unstylish, and uncool.

The face is a large, flat, almost perfect circle, while the body is extra-large and bulky, with no familiar shape or contour. That said, I do not care how they look; I only care that they fit most people well. I am not at all convinced, at this moment, that these were molded for human ears. I imagine that they are this way to help passively block more external noise.

APII pictured in profile, in Midnight Blue.
APII pictured in profile, in Midnight Blue.

First impressions can be entirely wrong.

If you’re one of those people who loves to jump to conclusions (and ratings)… you will not get the full soundscape here, so to speak. Spoiler alert: the average rating does not necessarily do the APII justice. There are some XL-sized caveats: with a proper fit, they are far above average in almost every category of quality, function, performance, and value.

After a lengthy burn-in period (72-100 hours), I always begin evaluations with the same protocol: experiment with all of the ear tips to find the best fit. In addition, I do not use secondary EQ adjustments while testing.

The APII and I know each other unusually well. They have been my daily life companion for months now, and they know a great deal of intimate details about my life.

We have traveled thousands of miles together, by air, land, and sea. We have spent countless hours together carrying out our daily routines in our usual haunts (it is Halloween season), including the gym, office, shopping, social affairs, and in the great outdoors.

Now that I read this back, it’s a touch creepy, yes? It’s “me,” not “we.” Truly, I do know it’s just a technology product… that I love and am irritated by all at the same time, just like people can sometimes be with old, dear friends.

The distinct shape of the APII.
The distinct shape of the APII.

Seriously, why all this drama? As much as I love music and most things audio, I also appreciate the practicality and flexibility that the TWS (True Wireless Stereo) revolution brought just in the past few years. TWS earbuds accompany me every day, and are gloriously convenient and critically important now in the way I go about my ADLs (activities of daily living).

Clearly, I am not alone, as the global true wireless earbuds market size was valued at USD $5.58 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow 14.4% from 2021 – 2028, according to New York-based Polaris Market Research. Given that this site and review is about audio and not market economics, suffice to say that this is an almost unfathomable number of TWS earbuds bought and used.

I will venture a guess that the vast majority (nearly all) buyers will be unwilling to trade off comfort for outstanding sound. They are far more likely to tolerate less than great audio reproduction for style, function, and fit. That said, regardless of how great the APII may sound, and despite my months of searching for a way to get a better fit, my quest, while not a failure, has also not been a complete success.

Company Overview

Established in 2012, Cleer is a San Diego, CA, United States-based, award-winning manufacturer of high-performance headphones and electronics. Cleer was founded with a shared passion for the ultimate listening experience, and a quest to pioneer the highest standards of audio and realize its potential through both performance and style.

“We are passionate audio lovers with deep industry experience, devoted to blazing new trails in performance audio. As champions of functionality and minimalism, we aim to exceed expectations through thoughtful, intuitive design and expert craftsmanship that delivers uncompromising performance and inspires joy.” – Cleer

Technical Specifications

  • Type: In-ear noise-canceling true wireless earbuds
  • Transducer driver: 10mm graphene dynamic driver
  • Frequency range: 20 – 20,000Hz
  • Supported audio CODECs: SBC, AptX, AptX Adaptive
  • Supported Bluetooth profiles: BT 5.2, A2DP v1.3, AVRCP v1.6, HFP v1.7, HSP v1.2
  • Bluetooth transmission frequency range: 2.402 – 2.480GHz
  • Bluetooth transmission power: <8.0dBm
  • Bluetooth transmission frequency range: 2.402 – 2.480GHz
  • Bluetooth transmission power: <4dBm
  • Charging: A 10-minute charge will give 2 hours of playtime; full charge in 2 hours with a 5V1A qualified output adapter or with the computer’s USB interface
  • Battery: High-capacity rechargeable polymer lithium-ion rectangle cell (3.7v, 850 mAh)
  • Playback time (BT+ANC):
    • ANC ON: Up to 10 hours, with up to additional 20 hours with charging case
    • ANC OFF: Up to 11 hours, with up to additional 22 hours with charging case
    • A 5-minute charge delivers up to 1-hour playback; less than 2 hours for a full charge (when charging via the USB-C cable provided)
  • Noise reduction: Qualcomm cVc 8th generation noise reduction technology, adjustable with the Cleer+ App
  • Microphone: Dual microphones (one per side); Qualcomm’s cVc 8th generation technology
  • Connections: USB-C cable and wireless charging for charging case
  • Water resistance rating: IPX4 certified sweatproof and water resistant (for earbuds only)
  • Weight: 6.8g (per earpiece), 58g (both earpieces and charging case)
The outer box cover and inner box displayed.
The outer box cover and inner box displayed.

Packaging

The small, attractive box is nicely designed and well-constructed, intended for hanging displays. Sliding off the outer sleeve and opening the black box reveals the unique charging case with a clear window displaying the earbuds securely stored. The charging case is nestled in a contoured foam insert. There is a small paper box below that contains the accessories. Most of the packaging is recyclable.

Sliding away the cover and lifting the box cover reveals the earbuds through the clear cover case.
Sliding away the cover and lifting the box cover reveals the earbuds through the clear cover case.

In the box

  • Ally Plus II TWS Bluetooth earbuds
  • Charging cable: USB-C to USB-A
  • Round ear tips: XS / S / M / L / XL
  • Angled ear tips: S / M / L
  • Charging case: supports USB-C and Qi wireless charging
  • Quick Start Guide

Design

I appreciate that the APII are distinct from other TWS earbuds. They are a beautiful departure from black on black plastic. They look premium without being ostentatious. Yes, they are plastic of some sort, though in no way look or feel “cheap.”

The outer gold-colored ring on each earbud of this color variation (name: stone) is uniquely attractive — they catch and reflect light tastefully. The Cleer logo is understated and etched into the plastic, with no change in color. The colors nicely complement one another.

The eye-catching premium-looking face plate with gold complements the stone color beautifully.
The eye-catching premium-looking face plate with gold complements the stone color beautifully.

The fascia finishes are well executed. Any visible seams on the body that you can see with a macro lens or microscope are not noticeable to the naked eye. The fit and finish are excellent, with all parts perfectly aligned. The earbuds feel tight and solid. Considering their large size, they are relatively light and can be quite comfortable with a proper fit (more on this below).

The charging case is also unique, as mentioned previously. The clear display window is classy! The cover opens and closes firmly and stays shut via internal magnets. There is a single indicator light in between the holes reserved for the earbuds, and a USB Type-C port on the rear. The case will charge wirelessly if you have a proper Qi dock/pad.

The case has ample battery power, charges via USB-C or wirelessly, and protects the earbuds well.
The case has ample battery power, charges via USB-C or wirelessly, and protects the earbuds well.

The size of the case is expectedly bulky to accommodate the XL-sized earbuds and a large battery. If you’re a fan of tight pants or form-fitting clothing, the case will be going in your personal carry bag of choice.

Comfort

The shape of the body is odd to say the least, which is not to say that they won’t be comfortable for you. For me, not so much. They are unforgettable, not in a good way. I am always aware that I have something large in my ears.

That face? Attractive, functional, and unique! The body? I’m confused. Big, bulky, and botched. I cannot figure out whose ears they used to benchmark and contour these, and I would really like to understand how Cleer concluded that this was the best build for the most people. Not only do I not get it, they don’t get me either.

The large body will not fit most small ears.
The large body will not fit most small ears.

I have larger than average ears and ear canals. There is a lot of space to fit things in there (and by things, I mean earbuds; for the record, I don’t normally store anything else in there). Even so, the APII are just too bulky. This is not to say that they are uncomfortable, they just don’t sit well and are not stable during vigorous movement.

Compounding the bulky body issue are nozzles that seem too short and tips that are too low profile to insert into the ear far enough to grip, make a good seal, and stay put.

One way to overcome some fit issues with earbuds is with ear tip changes. The included ear tips are also a miss for me. The round tips do not work at all. The conical tips are interesting, unlike anything in the rest of my vast ear tip collection. They work surprisingly well, with a good seal and sound, until I have to move around or talk much. They are lacking in grip, and the APII still require frequent adjusting.

Included are soft, color-matched silicone round and conical ear tips.
Included are soft, color-matched silicone round and conical ear tips.

I spent weeks experimenting with approximately 18 pairs of tips. I have decided that the best are an expensive pair of AZLA Sedna Earfit XELASTEC tips, and an inexpensive pair of RIYO Premium Memory Foam Tips (5mm-7mm nozzle). The AZLA provide the best seal, grip well in place, and do not negatively affect the sound quality. Even with all the changes and attempts, I am still generally not thrilled with the fit and cannot overcome the bulky body challenge.

Internals

The APII employs a single 10mm dynamic driver fashioned from graphene.

The APII's graphene driver, in detail. (From: https://cleeraudio.com)
The APII’s graphene driver, in detail. (From: https://cleeraudio.com)

APII Performance & Features

Bluetooth performance

Pairing the APII is simple and fast. Bluetooth connectivity, speed, stability, and range are generally solid. In congested environments with myriad competing signals, such as the gym, they are occasionally prone to interference and connection issues.

The APII use BT 5.2 and support a generous number of important and class-leading Bluetooth audio codecs, including: SBC, AptX, and AptX Adaptive. I experienced no noticeable lag between video and audio while watching videos from a computer or various mobile devices (Android or iOS).

Active noise-cancelation (ANC)

The ANC in the APII and generally performs well. Given the lack of data or evidence to support Cleer’s claims (below), I cannot attest to the exceptional 34dB noise suppression performance claimed. Without a graph showing suppression at what frequencies, it is also hard to tell where it is most effective.

With the proper seal, sound isolation is good and the ANC performs well.
With the proper seal, sound isolation is good and the ANC performs well.
There are many options: ANC On, ANC Off, and an Ambient Mode with a 10-step scale – sound quality is best with ANC enabled.”

What I can attest to is that the APII’s ANC performs well to attenuate a noticeable amount of noise, especially in lower frequencies (e.g., airplane noise). It is not a rival to over-ear headphones, even Cleer’s own Audio Flow II. The ANC makes it easier to concentrate on the sound you want to hear and less on the sounds you do not. In the middle and higher frequencies, the ANC is modestly effective.

“Industry leading active noise cancelation with Feed Forward and Feed Backward technology and custom filters provide up to 34dB for the peace and quiet you need while on-the-go. Ambient Awareness mode allows you to let the outside audio in to hear the world around you without removing your earbuds.” – Cleer

Cleer strongly believes that super high output and ear damage is a massive detriment to health later in life. ANC helps you enjoy more sound and detail at lower volumes, helping to protect your hearing.

If you’d like to learn about ANC, click here for The Fascinating History of Noise-Cancelling Headphones.

Touch controls

The fascia of the APII is a touch-sensitive pad. The tap controls for the APII are easy to learn and remember and they function reliably, with controls for music play/pause, volume, calls, and your default voice assistant. With the free Cleer+ app, you can customize the double and triple tap functions for each ear.

Microphone performance

The APII performed admirably, much better than most of my other TWS earbuds. This is particularly impressive since there is not a long protruding extension from the body of the earbud. Credit here goes to the microphone placement, and the use of Qualcomm’s cVc (Clear Voice Capture) 8th generation technology.

If you are an anatomy aficionado, the APII’s microphone is placed in the incisura intertragica of the outer ear, the deep notch in the lower part of the auricle between the tragus and antitragus. Essentially, referring to the picture below, you will note that this is the closest point to your mouth, presumably the source of sounds you make to communicate.

The structure of the human ear, labeled! (From: https://www.freepik.com)
The structure of the human ear, labeled! (From: https://www.freepik.com)

The microphone quality is acceptable for professional/business calls taken indoors in relatively quiet environments. It does an adequate job of reducing wind and extraneous background noise.

There is one challenge to note, though rare. The microphone is sensitive enough that it will pick up and transmit sounds you make yourself into your ears back through the earbud itself, if loud enough. You may experience this the first time you speak really loudly or cough. This can create an unwelcome distortion amplified back to your ear drums.

Battery performance

Battery life is an impressive 11 hours of playback time continuously with a fully charged battery. The APII have a quick charge feature as well, with one hour listening for every 5 minutes charging via USB-C cable. They will automatically power off to save battery life.

Remaining battery capacity can be displayed on supporting phones after connecting, as well as in the Cleer+ app. When the APII battery is low, there will be a “low battery” voice prompt.

The ear tips grip the nozzle well and will stay attached.
The ear tips grip the nozzle well and will stay attached.

Cleer+ App and EQ

The Cleer+ app is available in the Apple App store and Google Play store. It currently has a great user interface and allows you to personalize and control your listening experience with noise-canceling and ambient adjustments, EQ settings, and sound personalization. Touch controls can be customized.

Cleer+ app has a range of useful capabilities that perform well.
Cleer+ app has a range of useful capabilities that perform well.

The app automatically checks for APII firmware updates, and Cleer has done a good job updating and upgrading both the APII and the Cleer+ app itself over time.

If you experience trouble with Cleer+ app, especially in Android, make sure it’s updated and that your location is ‘ON’ before you open the app.

The app can:

  • Turn the ambient noise control on and off, with real-time adjustment of the levels
  • Customize the equalizer setting (though it does not allow saving of multiple personal presets)
  • Change the touch pad controls
  • Change the Bluetooth name of your APII
  • Check playback time and battery level
  • Change the app and voice prompt language
  • Enable/disable your device’s voice assistant
  • Get help, provide user feedback, and view the User Manual
  • Receive software updates when new features and improvements are available
Sound settings are saved to your APII, so you can enjoy the same performance with any playback device connected to your APII.

The Ally Plus II are highly responsive to the EQ adjustments, and allow for great flexibility in the sound reproduction. Brilliant! What is not quite so brilliant? The EQ will save and retain your last setting only. Note to Cleer: the extra step of saving and naming user EQ profiles is a miss that ought to be corrected easily with an app update.

Additional features

For me, one of the greatest features is quite understated, even though it has become more commonplace lately: when you remove one or both earbuds, whatever you are listening to, including online and offline videos, will automatically pause. Even better, they will auto-resume when you put the earbuds back in. This is also true for phone calls, as music is automatically paused when a call is received or made. When you hang up, music will resume playing automatically.

The APII has sensor to detect if the earbuds are in your ears or not, pausing the music automatically when you take one or both out.
The APII has sensor to detect if the earbuds are in your ears or not, pausing the music automatically when you take one or both out.

A huge additional benefit, especially at this price, is the Mimi Sound Personalization Technology available connected through the Cleer+ app. It is a unique processing technology that replicates the way the human ear works. It adapts the audio signal to a user’s hearing ability, compensating for less than perfect hearing. The result is a sound experience where listeners can hear more again, and are better able to enjoy music and to follow dialogue.

After completing a thorough hearing test, I had my own profile created and saved. Mimi boosts the signal in areas where the listener is deficient and limits those areas that are more sensitive to the listener. It was ear-opening, so to speak, listening to the difference in the sound that’s produced before and after. In addition, the Cleer+ app allows you a sliding scale to enable its effects.

Phenomenal results, better than any other I’ve used prior!

Possibly most important to a listener’s hearing health is that Mimi calibrates sound to the specific hearing ability of the user, providing greater clarity at a lower volume. This reduces the need to listen to audio at ear-damaging levels.

Cleer Flow II Sound

The links posted will generally be YouTube or YouTubeMusic links. Please note that the quality of these online files varies drastically and are provided for quick reference. I primarily listen and evaluate from original source CDs or high-quality lossless files when available. You can likely source them through high-quality streaming services. Let me know if you find some new favorites, and please share yours with us at Headphonesty!

For evaluation, I listen to a great variety of music through numerous sources, including:

For all of the APII’s attributes, sound quality tops the list. The APII have a non-fatiguing, fun, and warm sound signature. There is definitely a bump in bass region, slightly recessed mids, and slightly rolled-off treble. Overall, they are balanced to mildly U-shaped. There is high clarity and no noticeable distortion at any volume. Channel separation is excellent.

Soundstage width, imaging, and dynamic range are all above average for BT earbuds. I find timbre to be natural with excellent resonance and tone. ANC enabled seems to consistently produce the best sound quality. With Mimi personalization, the sound improves from excellent to “Wow!”

Sound quality is top-notch and will compete with any earbuds on the market today.
Sound quality is top-notch and will compete with any earbuds on the market today.

In this review, we will travel around the world to listen to singer-songwriters with diverse styles and backgrounds.

Let’s start with the singer-songwriter power duo of Lady Gaga (American) and Elton John (English), with Sine from Above. Imaging, presence, and soundstage are excellent, especially with Dolby Atmos. In this track we find a great deal of space at times, and intense layering at others. The APII kept up speedily with the transitions.

Bass

With a strong single dynamic driver, bass is powerful and will satisfy most bass cravings. There is enough elevation throughout the mid and upper bass to cause bleed and congestion into the midrange with heavy, resonant music. The huge caveat here is that the EQ functionality in the Cleer+ App can fix this. It is the most effective and useful implementation I’ve heard yet in combination with the same brand of hardware.

It is far better to have powerful bass that can be tuned down to your liking, than weak bass that cannot be boosted. This is the case with the APII.

Bass speed is right where I want it to be for this type of earphone – not too fast, not too slow. Decay is long enough to make the sound feel full and rich, and quick enough not to muddy things up. Texture, while not nuanced, is good.

Checking in with Singaporean electronic music singer-songwriter and producer Jasmine Sokko. Her track MEDUSA, while not natural bass, is a good test for earbuds for distortion, sub-bass rumble, and bass control. There is ample distortion in the lower registers, while the midrange and treble are quite present and step out distinctly in the mix. This will twist most earbuds into knots.

Undoubtedly, the body supports the substantial bass response.
Undoubtedly, the body supports the substantial bass response.

The APII did an adequate job controlling the bass and allowed the musical clarity of the track to shine. While not super tight, the constant rumble of the bass makes for a full-sounding mix.

Midrange

The midrange, while slightly recessed, comes through beautifully in most music, with very good vocal presence. Jumping from Singapore to Belgium, we meet Stromae, a Dutch musician, rapper, singer, and songwriter. With 851 million views and counting, Papaoutai sounds to be a somewhat upbeat and catchy song. Digging into the lyrics and tone, you will discover a powerful and gut-wrenching story, presented artfully in the video.

Stromae’s voice is always clear and textured, helping to transfer the intense emotion of the song through the midrange dynamics.

Next, we’ll spend some time with American singer-songwriter and composer Billy Joel. Across the 20 years of his solo career, he wrote and produced 33 Top 40 hits in the U.S. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1999).

His voice on The Downeaster Alexa, has a knack for making the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The music supports his voice and the storytelling, which echoes in the APII on an unusually wide soundstage, sounding more like open-back headphones than BT earbuds.

If you like them as much as I do, the case will be mostly unoccupied.
If you like them as much as I do, the case will be mostly unoccupied.

Treble

Treble is distinct, well-represented without becoming fatiguing; I have yet to experience sibilance or any excessive unpleasant sharpness. Clarity and detail present well and are generally unaffected by the prominent bass, likely due to the properties of the graphene driver.

Our last destination for today is Canada to hear Bria Skonberg, a jazz songwriter, trumpeter, and vocalist of Swedish descent born in Chilliwack, British Columbia. Down in the Deep highlights APII’s treble well. All the instruments sound distinct. The trumpet and clarinet ranges from upper midrange to treble, while the cymbals and hi-hats sound off to the side with crispness that doesn’t interfere with the main focus of the music.

Where to Buy

Thank you once again to Cleer for providing the Ally Plus II for review. If you’d like to purchase a pair, you can buy them directly from Cleer or from Amazon.

Conclusion

Cleer is one reformed body cavity away from greatness, and possibly a category crusher. The price to performance ratio makes the APII one of the best values in TWS. The driver is outstanding, responds well to EQ, and is quite competent across all genres.

Sonically, they are only a step behind some of the best earbuds available on the market, bar none. I’m confident that the APII’s excellent tuning and flexibility will please both general listeners and audiophiles alike.

IF the fit works for you.

The APII are available in Midnight Blue, as pictured, as well as Stone.
The APII are available in Midnight Blue, as pictured, as well as Stone.

The functionality of the earbuds, complemented by the capabilities of the Cleer+ app and phenomenal addition of Mimi Sound Personalization Technology, is second to none. ANC and ambient mode work well enough to make a difference where it counts. These are excellent and reliable lifestyle earbuds, especially with the battery endurance.

While my overall score comes in close to average because of my fit concerns, the APII are most certainly not average in most regards.

They receive a high recommendation from me, and are earbuds you ought to experience for yourself. If they fit you, you will have something exceptional – performance and value. They are definitely worth a try – they may be perfect for you.

In the end, I just keep coming back to the APII. There is so much to love that I argue with myself to look past the fit frustrations because of the stellar sound reproduction.

A personal note to Cleer (if you’re reading): please change the shape to fit more normal human ears, address the body to nozzle ratio, improve and refine the microphone performance further, provide more ear tips, and allow the EQ settings to be saved as user presets. If this has to wait until the APIII, please, please, please… make this right and we will all have myriad reasons to celebrate together.

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