(Pocket-lint) – We saw, heard and were intrigued by Cleer’s Crescent smart speaker at CES in Las Vegas back in January 2020, but what with one thing and another – well, just one major thing really – it’s taken over a yearfor us to get our hands on a review sample. One thing’s for sure, though: the Crescent hasn’t become any less dramatic to look at while we’ve been waiting.
Even at this heady asking price, there’s quite a choice for wireless speakers, from quite a choice brands, and with quite a choice of varying aesthetics. Not one of them, though, could ever be mistaken for the Cleer Crescent. So can it back up those looks, those dimensions, and that price with its audio performance?
- Dimensions: 119 x 660 x 184mm / Weight: 5.6kg
- Flawlessly constructed and finished
- Finish options: ‘Champagne’ only
There’s not so much an elephant in the room here as a smart speaker. Do you want your source of music to be anonymous? Discreet, at least? Look elsewhere.
Certainly there’s a hint of the crescent to the way the Crescent is designed – but it’s also one of those 3D shapes that almost invites you to put your own interpretation on it. In any event, though, this is a big and hefty speaker that pretty much demands a shelf all to itself. Which is, in some respects, exactly what’s so great about it.
Naturally, you’ll make your own mind up about the way the Cleer Crescent looks. And given that it’s currently only available in one finish – ‘champagne’ – you’ll need to decide if a big gold-aluminium-and-brown smart speaker is the sort of decorative statement you’re prepared to get behind.
Don’t let there be any ambiguity regarding build quality, though. The Crescent is impeccably constructed, with consistent panel gaps and clean finishes throughout. Which is just as well, given how assertive it looks.
- Wireless: Bluetooth 4.2, AirPlay 2, Google Assistant, Chromecast, Spotify Connect
- 10 speakers: 8x 40mm full-range drivers, 2x 84mm back-firing woofers
- 114W of Class D amplification total
- Ports: 3.5mm, optical, Ethernet
It would be strange if Cleer had restricted its maximalist tendencies to the way the Crescent looks – and, sure enough, the inside of this speaker is almost as attention-grabbing as the outside.
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At the front (which for the purposes of this review is the side of the cabinet that doesn’t house mains power or the physical connections) there are eight 40mm full-range drivers arranged in a gentle curve that follows the swoop of the aluminium grille. Behind them, and firing upwards through the back of the Crescent, there are a couple of 84mm mid/bass drivers. There’s additional low-frequency activity provided by a pair of bass reflex ports, one at each end of the cabinet.
Each of the big drivers is powered by 25 Watts of Class D amplification, while the smaller drivers are treated to 8W Class D each. That’s an all-in total of 114W – a figure that manages to look adequate while, at the same time, seeming just a bit tentative when compared to the numbers attached to some big, expensive wireless speaker alternatives from the likes of Bowers & Wilkins.
Cleer wants the Crescent to sound even bigger than it looks. So it’s used the vaulted cabinet design and some fearsome digital sound processing to equip the speaker with three listening modes: ‘stereo widening’, ‘room fill’ and ‘3D’. They seem self-explanatory – but ‘stereo’, we can’t help but notice, is not an option.
Getting music on board the Crescent can be done in quite a number of ways. There’s an Ethernet socket, a 3.5mm analogue input, and a digital optical socket bear the bottom of the back of the cabinet – the optical socket means you could quite easily get TV sound into the Cleer (as long as the speaker doesn’t get right in the way of your TV screen, anyhow).
Wireless options are even more numerous: dual-band Wi-Fi, Chromecast, Bluetooth 4.2, and Apple AirPlay 2 are all options, as is Spotify Connect.
- Selection of physical controls
- Google Assistant integrated
- No remote or control app
There’s no remote control handset accompanying the Cleer Crescent. There’s no control app either. What there is, though, is a fairly brief selection of physical controls and compatibility with Google Assistant for voice control.
Setting up the Crescent via the Google Home app is rapid and logical – and once it’s established in your personal ecosystem, the two mics on the top of the cabinet prove to be both vigilant and perceptive. There are four little LEDs across the bottom of the front of the cabinet that illuminate to let you know that Assistant is paying attention.
Those mics are set into a tidy strip of physical controls along the top of the Cleer. Controls run to ‘mic on/off’, ‘play/pause’, ‘volume up/down’, ‘input selection’ (scroll through ‘Bluetooth’, ‘aux’ and ‘optical’) and ‘mode’. The ‘mode’ button is accompanied by a little LED that glows green (for ‘room fill’, it’s blue for ‘stereo widening’, red for ‘3D’).
The way the Cleer Crescent looks primed us to expect a certain sort of sound, and a quick head-count of speaker drivers made us even more expectant. Which just goes to prove you shouldn’t judge a massive smart speaker by its cover (or its driver-count).
GIven the best opportunity to shine, with an MQA-powered Tidal Masters file of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ People Ain’t No Good streaming and ‘stereo widening’ mode selected, the Crescent is an idiosyncratic combination of pin-sharp fidelity and vague approximation.
Certainly there’s no shortage of detail to the sound the Cleer serves up: low frequencies are admirably deep and textured, with nice straight edges and a good sense of momentum – there’s no danger of the Crescent getting bogged down in its own bass reproduction.
Up in the midrange, the vocal is immediate and intimate – nothing glossed over or understated. There’s a good dose of dynamism to the sound, too – even low-key recordings can deliver on harmonic variations.
The top of the frequency range isn’t quite so successful, though. Leaving a relatively big full-range driver to deal decisively with treble sounds doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, and the Crescent’s insubstantial, slightly indistinct high-end is at odds with the positivity of the rest of the frequency range. There’s a lack of bite and substance to the treble that makes music sound just a little vague at times.
That’s a characteristic that’s only exacerbated by the Crescent’s listening modes. ‘Stereo widening’ is definitely the most coherent and unified presentation – it’s a sound a little wider than the physical cabinet, but there’s no sense of dislocation to the Cleer’s soundstage when you listen this way.
Switching to ‘room fill’ makes good on Cleer’s determination to fill the room with sound – but the unity and timing of recordings suffers as a result. Yes, the sweet spot is much bigger now – but it’s really not all that sweet.
Similarly, ‘3D’ does what it sets out to do, insomuch as there’s definite width and even a suggestion of height to the sound with this mode engaged. You’ll never confuse it for a Dolby Atmos-style presentation, naturally, but it makes the Crescent an option as an occasional soundbar.
If you want your next smart speaker to look and sound big and bold, the Cleer Crescent should certainly be on your radar.
But it’s not the last word in sonic fidelity – and this sort of money spent elsewhere will ultimately buy you greater musicality and better sonic focus. It may not buy you quite as much gold-coloured aluminium, though.
A little more high-end pomp would give the Cleer Crescent’s shapely sound a little more grit. It’s certainly not lacking as centrepieces go though.
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Writing by Simon Lucas.