It was just a few weeks back when Cleer released the excellent Enduro ANC headphones. Now, the audio brand looks to build more momentum with the launch of its latest flagship wireless earbuds: the Ally Plus II (opens in new tab). Several upgrades were introduced with this sequel, including enhanced noise cancellation powered by the Qualcomm QCC5141 chip, aptX Adaptive support, Bluetooth 5.2, and wireless charging. Battery life and the controls have been minorly improved as well.
- Our expert picks for the best noise-cancelling headphones, per budget and style
- Check out our Apple AirPods Pro review
- …and our Bose QuietComfort Earbuds review
That is a lot more functionality than you’ll get from an average pair of $129 wireless earbuds, let alone some of the best wireless earbuds. However, not everything is what it seems. For the loud, vibrant sound these buds pump out, frequencies are often recessed. There’s also the finicky connectivity and lack of extra features that hold the Ally Plus II back from earning a higher score.
- Cleer Ally Plus II at Cleer for $129.99 (opens in new tab)
- Cleer Ally Plus II at Amazon for $129.99 (opens in new tab)
- Cleer Ally Plus II at B&H for $129.99 (opens in new tab)
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Availability and price
You can purchase the Cleer Ally Plus II for $129 at major online retailers, including Amazon (opens in new tab) and B&H (opens in new tab) or directly from Cleer (opens in new tab). It is sold in two colors: Midnight Blue and Stone. Included with the purchase are a charging case, five sizes of round ear tips, three sizes of angled ear tips, a quick start guide, and a USB-C charging cable.
For comparison, the Ally Plus II is priced lower than the Beats Studio Buds ($149), as well as category staples like the AirPods Pro ($249) and Laptop Mag’s favorite wireless ANC earbuds, the Sony WF-1000XM4 ($279). We also recommend looking at the $129 Anker Soundcore Liberty Air 2 Pro, which is currently on sale for $99 (opens in new tab) and combines adjustable noise cancellation with powerful sound customization. If you’re looking to go cheaper, there is also the $98 Sony WF-SP800N, a noteworthy selection for sporty types.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Design and comfort
Cleer stated that the Ally Plus II was given an updated design, though the eye test suggests differently. The only changes I could detect were the weight and bolder color options; it does feel lighter than the original. Besides that, these buds boast the same oval shape, shiny accents around the touch panels, and IPX4-rating for sweat and water resistance.
Luckily, the Ally Plus II maintains the series’ chic, minimalist appearance, and the Midnight Blue version looks sharp. Construction is also durable to withstand the daily abuse you’ll likely put these buds through.
The charging case is practically the same as its predecessor, only this version comes with wireless charging. Everything from the LED in the middle to the see-through panel to the USB-C charging port remains untouched. While not the most attractive case, it’s conveniently portable and won't weigh you down when traveling. The magnet closing the flip-top lid has some force to it and keeps the buds secure.
I’ve worn these buds for about a month and have found them incredibly comfortable. They rested pleasantly on the inner part of the ear and never pressed up against the concha, which is a common issue regarding many oval-shaped buds. Fatigue wouldn’t set in until about the three-hour mark, where I noticed some slight soreness, but nothing painful.
The fit was reliable as well. The acoustic cavity is ergonomically shaped to mold and cover the ear, plus the multiple round and angled ear tips create a tight seal for proper in-ear stability. It would have been cool if Cleer developed an Ear Fit Tip Test like Apple, Sony, and numerous others have, but it isn’t necessary.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Controls and digital assistant
The Ally Plus II has a versatile control scheme consisting of touch gestures, motion detection, and digital assistance. Functions can be enabled through single (play/pause/answer/end call), double (next track, listening mode), and triple taps (previous track) or a long press (digital assistant). You even get onboard volume controls (2x tap and hold). The touch sensors are wide and responsive. On-ear detection is also precise to automatically pause media when removing the buds and resume playback when placed back on your ears.
Google Assistant, Siri, and Bixby are compatible with the Ally Plus II, though voice activation isn’t. All that means is you can’t use wake-word phrases (e.g., “Hey Google,” “Hey Siri”) to turn on the feature. Nonetheless, the Ally Plus II’s mics demonstrate solid speech recognition and register commands accurately no matter what AI bot you fire up. My only complaint is the lag present whenever turning on Bixby and Siri.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Active noise cancellation
According to Cleer, these buds use Feed Forward and Feed Backward technology, along with custom filters to provide up to 34dB of industry-leading active noise cancellation. I don’t know about “industry-leading,” but I will say that the level at which these buds reduce external sound is impressive for the price.
The feature came in handy during work hours. Household distractions like cat meows, the humming noise from our centralized AC unit, and voices of unexpected guests went silent. Not hearing my baby boy’s cries from the bedroom was relieving at times. However, they were very transparent when occurring several feet away, along with other high-frequency sounds such as appliance timers and kettles (my mother-in-law loves her tea).
Using the buds outside provided a similar experience. Much of the fracas surrounding me was either muted or minimized. While low-frequency sounds (e.g., engine rumble, lawnmowers) didn’t draw much attention, louder noises such as horns and sirens were audible. Luckily, they didn’t sound as harsh or loud as they would on other wireless ANC earbuds in the same price class.
If gaining greater awareness of your surroundings is vital, then you’ll be happy to hear that the Ally Plus II not only comes with an ambient listening mode, but also has 10 levels. Adjusting the slider to max level will ensure you hear ambient noises from afar and up close. Unfortunately, the mics don’t do the greatest job of making those noises distinctive. They don’t allow for clear conversations to be heard either; turning the volume down to 30 percent was the only way I could understand what my wife was saying in our tiny home office.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Audio quality
Sound is neutral right out of the box, though you can customize it in the companion app (more on that later). In addition, Cleer claims that it specially tuned the 10mm dynamic graphene drivers to support the structure of the product, tightening up bass and the overall soundstage. I didn’t get that feeling when testing these buds.
Frequencies were either hit or miss, depending on the records played. I thought Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride” had some amazing bounce to it, thanks to solid reproduction that gave the funky bassline and drum groove an impactful presence. The soaring synths and striking whistles were properly balanced as well. The Ally Plus II didn’t perform so well on boom-heavy bangers like Run the Jewels’ “Out of Sight.” Hearing more buzz added to what’s already monstrous, distorted bass isn’t my definition of “specially tuned.”
Orchestral genres are given better representation, in particular, Latin Jazz. The instrumental separation on The Fania All-Stars “Ponte Duro” was fantastic. Everything from the conga taps to the clave strikes to the whistle blowing in a live crowd sounded transparent.
I’ll also confirm that the Ally Plus II handles most low-fi recordings surprisingly well. Billie Holiday’s rendition of “April in Paris” was a serene listen that filled my ears with gentle string and sax play and crisp, prominent vocals. Jazz classics like Donald Byrd’s “My Bird” were satisfying, granted the mids and highs were recessed. If it wasn’t the cloudy vocals, it was small details like the tambourine lacking oomph.
To see aptX Adaptive support is a shocker, mainly because it’s a feature usually seen on more premium wireless earbuds like the Bowers & Wilkins PI7. What the technology does is award you with lossless wireless sound when streaming music on hi-res music services. I didn’t notice any crackling or popping when listening to Tidal tracks, and mids were cleaned up a bit.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: App and special features
The Cleer+ app won’t wow you with special features. At the forefront is the Equalizer, where you can adjust the five different kilohertz (kHz) levels to tune audio to your hearing. Unless you’re familiar with frequencies, you may feel a bit out of place tweaking the different levels; other apps keep it simple with low, mid, and high settings. You’ll likely stick with the default flat profile.
Once making these adjustments, the EQ will automatically adapt those changes and save as is, unless you revert back to the default. There is no option to save and create different sound profiles, nor are there any presets for variety.
Other than that, Cleer+ comes with the aforementioned Ambient Noise Control adjuster, battery level indicators for each bud, control customization, toggle controls, and firmware updates. The latter is extremely buggy and makes downloading the latest V.1.2.7 update one huge headache; it required lots of troubleshooting and patience (downloads often froze around 0.01%) to finally access it.
A future update is said to bring Mimi Sound Optimization. This technology helps create a hearing ID profile for you by performing a two-minute test with tones and musical notes, which then determines your preference of hearing and makes improvements. It wasn’t made available during my testing and is said to be available sometime in late July.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Battery life and charging case
Cleer increased battery life by an hour, giving listeners up to 11 hours of use on a single charge. ANC playtime is rated at 9 hours, though our testing saw the buds last around 8 hours. Volume, heavy streaming, and Ambient Noise Control will bring down listening times by about an hour. No complaints here, especially since this is nearly double that of the AirPods Pro (4.5 hours) and slightly more than the WF-1000XM4 (8 hours). I used the buds moderately for 3 days before tossing them in the charging case.
Speaking of which, the charging case holds up to 33 hours. Again, a higher amount of portable power than the AirPods Pro case (24 hours), but just a tad short of the WF-1000XM4 case (35 hours). Wireless charging is also supported, so you can juice up the buds by placing the case on any Qi-enabled charging pad.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Call quality and connectivity
The Ally Plus II serves as a decent calling headset. It’s not something you’ll rely on for lengthy business calls, but it’s fine for short convos that you’ll hear clearly in quiet settings. The sound was great on video calls. My wife could also hear everything I spoke during phone calls and wasn’t distracted by the keyboard clatter or TV playing in the background, though she mentioned my voice wasn’t as crisp as on other headsets. Wind resistance isn’t strong either, meaning callers on the opposite end will likely hear that whooshing effect created by gusty winds and whisking cars.
Bluetooth 5.2 didn’t operate as smoothly as I would have liked. For the positives, the range extends out to 37 feet, and connecting to devices is basic with the buds entering pairing mode whenever opening the charging case. There were issues with cutout on the left bud, which either occurred when switching from one music program to another or when inactive for several minutes. Google Fast Pair and multipoint technology would have been appreciated as well.
Cleer Ally Plus II review: Verdict
For $129, the Cleer Ally Plus II gives you plenty of performance at an attainable price. Noise cancellation will get the job done better than most sub-luxury wireless ANC models. Battery life is some of the highest in the category and should you get through an international flight with some juice left for the cab ride home. I’m also fond of the responsive controls and quality comfort these buds provide.
Sound isn’t as refined as advertised, but still satisfying for contemporary music genres that enjoy a bit of warmth to their audio. The lack of extra features and functional setbacks like dropout seem like things that could be corrected with an update if you can actually get downloads to work properly. If such drawbacks seem like dealbreakers, there are always models like the AirPods Pro or WF-1000XM4 that deliver better overall performance for a premium.