Cleer has made quite a name for itself in high-quality, high-value headphones, such as the noise-cancelling Flow II I reviewed in 2020. But the company also makes wireless speakers, including the flagship Crescent, which was unveiled at CES 2021.
When I first saw the Crescent during an online briefing, I was intrigued by its unique design and the promise of some pretty advanced technology. Now that I’ve spent some time listening to it, I’m happy to say its compelling sound lives up to its stylish good looks.
The Crescent’s most obvious feature is its namesake crescent shape with a Midcentury Modern vibe—no simple rectilinear box here! It’s fairly large, measuring 26.0 x 4.7 x 7.2 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs in at a hefty 12.3 pounds. The build quality is top-notch, with a handcrafted, champagne-colored, stainless-steel grille covering most of the surface.
Behind that grille are eight forward-facing, 1.6-inch full-range drivers in a curved line array, and two rear-facing, 3.3-inch woofers with two rear-facing ports. The smaller drivers are each powered with 8 watts, while each woofer gets 25W, for a total of 114 WRMS from the built-in Class D amps. According to Cleer, “Unwanted sonic resonance is eliminated thanks to a glass-reinforced substructure and geometrically vaulted design.”
The frequency response is specified from 55Hz to 20kHz (-6 dB) with a THD <1% for the electronics. Cleer touts the speaker’s ability to reproduce high-resolution audio up to 24 bits/48kHz and support for FLAC and Apple Lossless as well as WMA and MP3 audio formats. But since the frequency response does not exceed 20kHz, I find that claim to be of dubious value. The maximum sound pressure level is said to be 90dB with a pink-noise input measured at 1 meter.
The linear driver array and powerful DSP support advanced beamforming, allowing for flexible placement and listening positions with three sound modes: Stereo Widening, 3D, and Room Fill. As the names clearly indicate, Stereo Widening mode is designed to present a wide stereo sound stage, while 3D mode is said to surround the listener with three-dimensional audio regardless of wall locations or reflections. Room Fill mode is intended to present a large sweet spot that sounds similar to listeners anywhere in the room—in other words, a party mode.
The Crescent is a wireless wonder that supports Bluetooth 4.2, Chromecast, and Apple AirPlay 2. Its Bluetooth capabilities are quite basic, with support for the A2DP and AVRCP profiles and SBC codec, which has a maximum bitrate of 345 Kbps, though 200 Kbps is more common. It offers no support for aptX, AAC, or any other advanced Bluetooth codecs.
So, it’s best performance is clearly via Chromecast and AirPlay 2, which transmit music on your home wireless network at 2.4 or 5 GHz with its Wi-Fi 5 client adapter. Supported codecs in this case include FLAC, ALAC, WMA, and MP3 as well as uncompressed PCM. AirPlay 2 can convey PCM audio up to 24/44.1 (2.1 Mbps) as well as ALAC, AAC, and MP3, while Chromecast supports PCM up to 24/96 (4.6 Gbps) as well as FLAC, AAC, MP3, Opus, Vorbis, and WebM.
The streaming services listed in the user manual include YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio using the Google Home app. But I was able to use Tidal and Qobuz via Bluetooth, Chromecast, and AirPlay as well. When I asked Cleer about this, I was informed that only Spotify Connect is built into the speaker, while the other listed services rely on the Google Home app. The company added Chromecast and AirPlay 2 to enable customers to stream content from other providers using iOS or Android devices.
In addition to wireless, the Crescent provides two physical inputs on the back: a 3.5mm analog aux input and an optical digital-audio input. Also among the connections is an ethernet port and the receptacle for connecting the speaker to AC power.
The onboard controls are located on top of the speaker. There is no power button; the speaker is always on when it’s connected to AC power. Naturally, there’s a play/pause button as well as volume up and down buttons. One button lets you select the source, with dedicated LEDs for each source. Another button cycles through the sound modes, and a single LED indicates the selected mode. Finally, a mic button enables and disables the two built-in far-field microphones, which are used for Google Assistant voice control.
Four LEDs on the front of the speaker along the bottom light up when the speaker is connected to AC power. When you change the volume, these LEDs momentarily indicate the volume level as well. That’s fine, but it seems like a bit of overkill to have four LEDs on all the time just to let you know the speaker is powered on, especially since you can tell that by the fact that some of the LEDs on the top are lit as well.
Cleer has no app for the Crescent; playback is controlled from the streaming app, while all other app-based control is provided by the Google Home app. You use the app to name the speaker, connect it to your Wi-Fi network, and activate Google Assistant.
After setup, you can control the volume and adjust the two-band EQ (bass and treble) from the Google Home app. You can also set some parameters regarding recognition and personalization, notifications, who can control the speaker from their device, and whether or not to send usage data and crash reports to Google. Finally, you can see some information about the device, including name, placement, Wi-Fi network, firmware version numbers, and MAC and IP addresses.
Still, I wish there was a dedicated app for the Crescent with a graphic EQ and the ability to select inputs and sound modes from the listening position.
I started by trying to pair the Crescent with my iPhone XS via Bluetooth holding the input-source button for five seconds as instructed in the manual, but the device never appeared in the list of Bluetooth devices on my phone. And when I tried to connect to my Wi-Fi network via AirPlay 2, I got an “unexpected error” message.
According to Cleer, AirPlay can sometimes cause such problems, and the solution is to unplug the unit and plug it back in, or reset the unit using a paper clip inserted in the pinhole near the connections. It turns out that I didn’t have to do that, because connecting to my Wi-Fi network with the Google Home app did work, so I could use Chromecast. And once I started playing music from Qobuz, AirPlay 2 somehow started to work, and I was eventually able to connect via Bluetooth as well.
For most of my evaluation, I listened to high-res audio tracks on Qobuz from my iPhone XS using Chromecast. That’s a much higher quality connection than Bluetooth—1.3 Gbps on my Wi-Fi network and iPhone XS versus ~200 Mbps via Bluetooth—and it was relatively easy to switch between the Crescent and the Sony SRS-RA5000 (more about that later). The Sony doesn’t support AirPlay, and switching between Chromecast and AirPlay was problematic—AirPlay stopped working when I did that—so I stuck with Chromecast.
I started with “L.A. Mysterioso” by the David Angel Jazz Ensemble from their new album Out On The Coast. The group features some of the best jazzers in Los Angeles playing the music of David Angel, which is exceptional. In the default Room Fill mode, the sound was rich, thick, and smooth, though a bit closed in. I walked around the room while it was playing, and the sound remained quite consistent regardless of my location. But the sound appeared to be coming almost entirely from the speaker itself.
The Stereo Widening and 3D modes actually work, expanding the soundfield well beyond the speaker cabinet. But you must be far enough away; I was initially too close, but when I backed up and sat on the center axis, the effect was startling.
The 3D mode had an even wider soundfield than Stereo Widening, but I didn’t hear anything behind me or directly overhead. Also, the effect collapsed when I moved far off axis, and both of these modes lost some high frequencies compared with Room Fill mode, which had the most well-balanced sound from anywhere in the room.
Next up was “Say You Love Me” by Fleetwood Mac from Live (Deluxe Edition). The album includes recordings from various performances in different venues; this track was recorded in the Kansas Coliseum. As before, the sound was rich, thick, slightly congested, and very smooth in Room Fill mode. The Stereo Widening and 3D modes did their thing admirably.
I’m not a big Taylor Swift fan, but I’ve been reading recent news stories about how she re-released her album Fearless on her own terms, so I listened to “Hey Stephen” from the new version. Once again, the sound was rich with deep, satisfying bass, though it was just a bit sharp and brittle in the mid-highs. The vocal was very present but also slightly sharp-edged.
Tower of Power is one of my all-time favorite bands, so I was delighted to find 50 Years of Funk and Soul: Live at the Fox Theater. I cued up “What is Hip?,” my favorite TOP song. In Room Fill mode, the sound was rich and just a tad closed in, but overall, it sounded great. The Stereo Widening and 3D modes created a very wide sound field while losing some high frequencies.
For something a bit gentler, I played “All in the Mind” by Peggy Seeger, half-sister of the late, great Pete Seeger, from her album First Farewell. This track includes vocals, guitar, piano, and concertina, so it’s much simpler than what I had been listening to. In Room Fill mode, the vocals were nice and clear, though the midrange was a bit congested, especially the piano. As before, the Stereo Widening and 3D modes presented a wide soundfield with slightly rolled-off highs.
Turning to classical, I played the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 in A Major, Op. 92, as recorded by Musicaeterna under the direction of Teodor Currentzis. Room Fill mode sounded rich and full with only a hint of congestion, while the Stereo Widening and 3D modes expanded the soundfield way beyond the boundaries of the speaker cabinet, this time with a bit of brittleness in the violins.
I happened to set up the Crescent on a stand in front of my bedroom TV, which put it low enough to not obstruct the screen. So, just for grins, I decided to give it a try as a soundbar. I connected a TOSlink optical cable from the TV’s output to the Crescent’s optical input and watched some TV.
Overall, the sound was very good; the Room Fill mode was the smoothest, while the Stereo Widening and 3D modes sounded just a bit harsh. Unfortunately, the volume control in the Google Home app didn’t work, so I concluded that it’s not practical to use the Crescent as a soundbar, especially since there’s no way to control it using IR remote codes. It might be okay if the TV lets you control the optical-output level, a feature that is not available on the TV I used in this test.
Comparison to Sony SRS-RA5000 and Urbanears Rålis
I recently reviewed a similar speaker, the Sony SRS-RA5000, which offers a 360-degree room-filling mode and carries the same list price as the Crescent. I’m afraid my review of that speaker was not positive, but because of their similarities, I decided to compare them anyway. I also pulled out the Urbanears Rålis, a more basic Bluetooth speaker with a nice, clean sound that lists for $200.
I played all test tracks on all three speakers. I set the Crescent to Room Fill mode and enabled the Immersive Audio Enhancement (IAE) mode on the SRS-RA5000, which expands stereo content into an immersive sound field.
As I had heard during my review of the RA5000, its sound was far more congested, muddy, and boomy than the Crescent’s, and its tonal profile was whacked out. In particular, vocals sounded pinched and artificial. The IAE sound field extended somewhat beyond the speaker’s cabinet, but it wasn’t a sound I enjoyed listening to.
Meanwhile, the Rålis sounded clean and clear with a good overall tonal balance that skewed slightly toward the bass. Of course, the sound appeared to come entirely from the speaker, but it was quite consistent from different listening positions.
Overall, I really like the Cleer Crescent. It has a rich, full sound that is only slightly congested, and the different sound modes work remarkably well to create their intended effect—as long as you sit on axis. Another plus is its support for AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and Bluetooth, though the Bluetooth implementation is pretty basic. And the elegant design is way cool.
On the downside, I really wish Cleer offered a dedicated app that provided a graphic EQ, which could help the slight congestion, as well as the ability to change inputs and sound modes from the listening position. And in my experience with it, AirPlay was somewhat fussy, leading me to use Chromecast most of the time.
At a penny under $700, the Crescent is much more expensive than the other speakers in Cleer’s lineup, which list for less than $200. And you need a fairly large space to accommodate it. But with compelling sound and a stylish look, it’s worth serious consideration.
Z Lane Media Network