AirPods alternatives are everywhere you look, perhaps even more so than the popular Apple earbuds themselves, but few rivals at the affordable end of the market offer noise cancellation and 30-hour battery lives, as these Cleer Audio Ally Pluses do.
Such specs will certainly help US company Cleer Audio stand out in a crowded true wireless earbud market dominated by some of the biggest names in consumer electronics, such as Apple, Amazon, Samsung and Sony.
The Ally Pluses support aptX Bluetooth, offer fast charging and are water resistant, which ticks pretty much every box on a checklist you could draw up for earbuds at this price.
They don’t have the AirPods’ unique Audio Sharing feature (which allows two pairs of AirPods to listen to a single iPhone), nor the Alexa voice control integrated into the Echo Buds. But they offer a lot on paper for the Android user, or even the iOS device owner who wants noise-cancellation at a cheaper price than the AirPods Pros.
Using the Ally Pluses doesn’t diminish our enthusiasm for the buds. They are some of the most comfortable we’ve tested – lightweight, stem-free and, thanks to their circular disc housings, they sit more or less flush against the ears. Their form makes them ideal for running and exercise, as does their IPX4-rated water resistance, which means they should survive ‘splashing water’.
Cleer Audio has done its best to make the curvaceous charging case as compact as possible.
Battery life 30 hours
Fast charging Yes
Water resistant IPX4
aptX Bluetooth Yes
It fits easily in the palm and is nicely pocketable, despite housing a battery that can top up the earbuds by a decent 20 hours when fully charged. The buds, which have a 10-hour battery life with noise-cancelling off, can also be re-juiced for an hour’s playback from just a five-minute charge in the case.
The Ally Pluses initiate pairing mode as soon as they’re lifted from their case, and once a pairing is established with our iPhone or Android handset, subsequent connections are automatic and quick. To manually pair a new device, press the touchpad on either earbud three times, holding that final press for two seconds.
Interacting with the touchpads controls playback – double tap to play and pause tracks, while a single tap cycles through noise-cancelling modes – which is simply on, off, or activating the Ambient Mode that amplifies external noise and allows the wearer to hear their surroundings. Press-holding briefly rejects an incoming call, while holding for slightly longer triggers your smartphone’s default voice assistant.
The flatness of the circular touch panel makes it easy to perform these controls. The swiping motion to adjust the volume is occasionally mistaken for a tap or two, and choosing not to implement gestures for skipping tracks does feel like an oversight, but it’s a small blemish on what is otherwise a good design.
However, the Ally Pluses’ more notable flaw lies not in the aesthetics or user experience, but instead in the performance. They’re easy to listen to and will satisfy those who like bass, but ultimately aren’t up to the all-round calibre of similarly priced rivals.
The Cleers’ sonic balance is likeable – smooth, upbeat and with decent punch. Play Joe Goddard’s Truth Is Light and the track-defining bass line is not only meaty but agile too, underpinning the accompanying vocals and electronica with a real sense of solidity. If the Cleers are your exercise companions, the importance of that low-end presence cannot be understated.
Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of transparency – the Ally Pluses lack the insight, rhythmic ability and clarity of their class-leading rivals. The JBL Reflect Flows inject bass depth and punch into their delivery while tightly grasping the musical interplay of the intertwining rhythmic strands and communicating the synths’ trebly twinkle.
The JBL’s presentation is clearer too, making the Cleers sound relatively muddy in comparison, particularly through the midrange. That is only accentuated when their effectively isolating noise-cancellation functionality is activated.
If you find the Sony WF-1000XM3s’ bulkier design agreeable, you’d happily pay the extra for their significantly greater dosage of subtlety and rhythmic cohesion, too.
The Cleer Audio Ally Pluses’ sonic shortcomings when compared with their class-leading rivals are a shame, because they do everything else right by offering premium features and a pleasing design at an affordable price. If only they could add a more competitive sound quality to the pleasant design and reasonable price, we’d be looking at a clear, or indeed a Cleer, winner.
- Sound 3
- Comfort 4
- Build 5
Read our Apple AirPods Pro review
Read our Sony WF-1000XM3 review