So then, let's get the obvious out of the way. No, these are not the latest and greatest Bluetooth 5.3 True Wireless flight companions you may have thought they were, nor are they low-latency gaming monsters that will accompany you into battle. While they have some standard travel-friendly features, this product is aimed at those interested in making speech easier to understand in noisy environments; it also just happens to include noise cancelling and media playback options.
The Conversation Clear Plus doesn't come in a plush leather or fabric case, covered with fancy lighting and features; instead, it has a utilitarian black plastic clamshell design, with no wireless charging, and a simple status LED at the front. This fancy-free casing is functionally sound but difficult to swallow at this price point.
The buds are tiny, covered with vents for various microphone types, and there's a single button on each one. They come fitted with a small removable ear hook and three sizes of tips. The significant upside here is that they are supremely light and comfortable; it's no mystery that the intent behind the design was to leave these in your ears for many hours at a time in social environments. It's often easy to forget you're wearing them. The battery lasts nine hours (give or take, depending on your settings), with another two total charges waiting for you in the case.
The buds could be put into my ears and even paired with a device, but I could only adjust settings once I gave my email and details to Sennheiser for a login – a new development from the company. Once paired, the app allows you to choose one of three modes – Streaming for media playback, Communication for when you want to deal with the outside world and Relax for when you don't. You can switch between Relax and Communication modes using the buds themselves (with a long button press), but you can only access Stream by manually changing it within the app.
The buttons on the buds are contextual and change depending on which mode you're currently in. I often needed clarification and had to double-check which mode I was in. The buttons are sadly not customisable; your only choice is to deal with the programming assigned to them out of the factory.
Sennheiser makes it clear that this is not a hearing aid, nor is it intended to treat hearing loss – it's mainly for those who would like to hear conversations better in crowded or noisy environments. To me, this reads as a product wading into 'proof of concept' waters…
Despite not officially being a medical product, having the technology combination of Sennheiser and Sonova combined is powerful, and it shows. The app is well-designed, slick and intuitive. It's different from the usual Sennheiser Smart Connect app you use for the rest of the company's lineup, and this Conversation Clear app comes with various hearing options.
It will automatically listen to the environment around you and adjust the listening ability of the earbuds to suit. If you're in a quiet environment, the app recognises this and only gently boosts the vocal range in your ears. In a crowded bar, it will increase even further. You can also pop it into Relax mode and block out external sound using ten steps of noise cancelling.
The app sets a clear goal of speech intelligibility, and it does a great job of achieving this. I was able to test these in various scenarios, and speech was intelligible in places where it would potentially be tricky to hear speech-centric frequency ranges otherwise.
Music playback was a positive experience, too. Like a Stone by Audioslave was rendered with a precise, neutral feel, with a little less mid/bass boost than what I would expect from a product from this company. Without any EQ available in the current firmware and app iterations, I yearned for the micro-adjustments available on much cheaper Sennheiser designs.
From A Balcony by Faustir offers a pleasant mix of both male and female vocals, a catchy beat, and jazzy samples, none of which posed a threat to the playback capability of the Clear Conversation Plus. Switching the buds to Stream mode offers a simple slider on the screen, allowing you to choose precisely what ratio of outside noise to external audio you would like to listen to.
It reacts instantly to any change you make to this slider, and I quickly became comfortable adjusting it as necessary. As a test, I sat in my busy living room, flanked by my partner and children. I could listen to these jazzy grooves, and when I noticed someone talking to me, I could pull the slider over to chat, then drown them out again with a flick of my finger. Neat!
Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime by Beck did, however, pose more of a challenge for the buds. It's a detail-rich, delicate track with many samples gently interwoven with each other, and the response from the Conversation Clear felt a little ham-fisted when the song was calling for gentle poise. The soundstage and detail aren't quite there compared to some heavy-hitting portable audiophile Sennheiser offerings available for a similar price.
This is forgivable, however, as the buds aren't just made for listening to music, they are primarily made for listening to people, and they do a great job of this. Even in a crowded environment, you can hear someone's voice, which ticks that box nicely. I asked Sennheiser if it would be possible to use this backstage at a loud concert to hear someone talking to me, and they advised that these don't offer any hearing protection and are not recommended in high-decibel environments. This makes perfect sense in my book.
Video playback is solid, too. Despite not officially having any fancy codecs or low-latency support, these performed admirably when watching TV shows and films. The buds also have a neat trick where the conversation mode disables when video playback is detected, isolating you from your content. When the content stops (or pauses), you're gently brought back into reality for a second or two. There is a bit of perceptible latency, but it's not as bad as some of the other serial offenders on the true wireless Bluetooth market right now.
The Sennheiser Conversation Clear Plus is a signpost that this company is here to make life easier for those who need a little assistance when hearing others at the pub – but we'll stop short of calling this new product a hearing aid. It achieves this promise in spades, offering strong performance for speech enhancement and plenty of options to tailor the audio of the outside world to your personal needs.
However, these features do come at a cost. Despite the case feeling cheap and plasticky and the music-centric feature list being relatively lean, these buds are still priced as high as many of the music-focused flagship offerings from Sennheiser. So, are they for you, then? Well, that depends on your priorities. If speech intelligibility is something you need assistance with, these will be right up your alley. However, if you're looking for a high-priced flagship replacement for your Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless 3, then stay put, as these are not the droids you're looking for.