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Start-Up Cleer Targets Premium Audio Segment

2/02/2014 07:00:00 PM Eastern

BOSTON – Former Soul Electronics executive and cofounder Bob Bonefant is starting up a new premium audio brand whose initial products will ship in July or August with selective distribution and unilateral retail pricing.

Bonefant’s Cleer AV, which showed prototypes at the Paris Hotel during International CES, is setting up a nationwide network of independent reps with training capabilities to sell the products.

Cleer AV plans six stereo headphones and ear buds priced from a suggested $49 to $399, three active three-way studio-monitor speakers priced from $1,995 to $4,995 per pair, and a trio of under-TV speakers at $399 to $799. The TV speakers will be offered with three optional wireless subwoofers at $399 to $799, optional wireless surrounds, and ability to transmit music wirelessly to active speakers in other rooms.

All products will combine high levels of performance and craftsmanship with stylish designs, said Bonefant, Cleer’s president/CEO. The products will be targeted to 25- to 44-year-old mid- to high-income consumers, he said.

Cleer will advertise through such magazines as Vibe, GQ and O, and promote through social media with the tagline “Be inspired by look, sound, feel.”

The U.S. launch will be followed by European Union and Asia-Pacific distribution later in the year.

Bonefant is an industry veteran who once worked at H.H. Scott when the company offered high-end audio products. He owns the Cleer AV brand and is the majority owner of the company, which is also part-owned by four factories.

The headphones are positioned as “not inexpensive but a tremendous value compared to the competition,” Bonefant said. Targeted consumers “want something better” than Beats but won’t step up to Bose because they consider the brand “their father’s Oldsmobile,” he explained. The headphones will offer Sennheiser and Grado performance but with the style of Bang & Olufsen and Bowers & Wilkins, he added.

The headphone lineup includes the $399 Cleer DJ Monitor in multiple colors, the noisecanceling Headphone NC at $299 in multiple colors, and the Bluetooth-equipped Headphone BT in multiple colors with AAC and AptX decoding, NFC, and touch controls for music playback and call management. A sensor automatically pauses music when the headphones are taken off. Three ear buds start at $49 and range up to $199 for a noise-canceling model.

The under-TV speakers, called Cleer Pedestal Bass Monitors, are also targeted to consumers who want performance and style. They’re also positioned as offering louder and deeper bass than competing products whose bass output creates buyer’s remorse, Bonefant said. To improve bass response, all three of Cleer’s under-TV speakers incorporate wireless eight-channel transmitter to connect to one or more optional wireless subwoofers. The transmitters, however, can also simultaneously drive active wireless surround speakers and compatible active wireless speakers in other rooms. Two different connected music sources can be distributed wirelessly to remote rooms. Line-of-sight range is up to 100 feet. The speakers are also designed to deliver high-performance music playback.

The opening-price Pedestal Bass Monitor is designed for 24- to 34-inch TVs, with the step-up designed for 42- to 55-inch TVs and the top model for 55+ TVs. All feature Bluetooth to transmit audio to Bluetooth headphones and play back music from Bluetooth- connected mobile devices. Music can be stream in the AAC and AptX codecs over Bluetooth.

The TV speakers also feature HDMI switching, HDMI output with audio return channel, and discrete left, center and right channels.

The top two under-TV speakers and perhaps the opening-price model will incorporate surround decoders, the company said. The top two models will also feature Apple AirPlay, HD Radio tuner and Sonic Emotion technology. The top model will add built-in Wi-Fi.

Sonic Emotion widens the soundstage, adds height to the soundstage, and delivers a room-wide sweet spot, said engineer James Tuomy.

The active studio-monitor speakers are targeted to music studios, prosumers who mix music at home on computers and DJs who create their own mix of songs. Musicmixing software is included in the speakers’ prices. Because target customers will use the speakers for nearfield monitoring as they mix music, the speakers were designed to reduce distortion perceived by a listener sitting nearby, Bonefant said. The speaker cabinets, for example, feature multi-faceted surfaces to eliminate soundwaves reflected off desktops and off the person sitting at a computer The cabinet geometry also eliminates interior standing waves and time-aligns the drivers. Built-in DSP also supports these goals, which open up sound and enhances clarity and detail, he said.

Targeted retailers include A/V specialists, upscale lifestyle catalogs and online stores, and, for headphones, airport stores. The active studio monitors will also be targeted to music stores and outlets that cater to recording studios.