The Rotterdam rebels of Fresh ‘n Rebel want to challenge the big brands in the competitive market for noise-canceling headphones.
Competing with the Sonys and Boses of this world is no easy feat. It typifies the idiosyncrasy of the brand and we can only sympathize with that. Moreover, Clam Elite are the most ambitious headphones that the Rotterdammers have ever launched and they are considered a solid upgrade of the previous ANC model.
Solid build quality
When you take the Clam Elite out of the box, you immediately notice the solid build quality. The ear cups are made of a particularly soft synthetic leather, the parts of which are joined together with sturdy seams. The inside of the earcups is finished with a breathable mesh. The same material is wrapped around the headband and it kept our heads nice and fresh, even when the temperature rose and during longer sessions. Its weight of 260 grams further contributes to airy wearing comfort. Fresh ‘n Rebel doesn’t do boring black or gray and also keeps it nice and stylish. Our copy was Storm Gray and the Clam Elite is also available in Silky Sand and Steel Blue. Although Fresh ‘n Rebel thinks of affordability, you wouldn’t immediately deduce that from the quality of the materials. While it’s not entirely fair to compare the Clam Elite to (slightly) more expensive competitors (such as the Bose Quietcomfort II 35 or Sony XM4), the control panels on the outside of the earbuds felt a bit cheaper and the buttons a bit ‘looser’. That never affected the ease of use. The box also contains a sturdy case and a USB-C charging cable.
Noise reduction and features
The Fresh ‘n Rebel Clam Elite is operated entirely via the right earcup, in the familiar way: double tap to pause the music, swipe vertically to adjust the volume and horizontally to skip between songs. In addition to the power button, there is a second physical key to switch between active noise cancellation (ANC), ambient sound (when you want to make a call), or a neutral mode, without ANC. A clever detail is that there is a dot on the second button, so that you always press the right button by feeling.
Despite its relatively limited experience in the market, Fresh ‘n Rebel has managed to deliver a more than decent noise reduction. If we make the inevitable comparison with our personal Sony XM3 again, the Clam Elite succeeds in filtering out just as much ambient noise. A roaring extractor hood, dishwasher or washing machine will no longer take you out of your concentration at home. At higher frequencies, such as those of a portable vacuum cleaner with a sharper, higher sound, the Clam Elite (just like the Sony by the way) scores slightly less well. The feed-forward ANC, in which an external microphone picks up the ambient sounds, has its limitations. During the artificial silence of the ANC, we were able to detect slightly more ‘noise’ than with the competitors. The most practical feature is the Autopause. When you take the headphones off and on again, the music will pause and resume automatically. That is a dead simple, but pleasant feature that we missed in our slightly older Sony XM3. And then there is also support for Siri and Google Assistant.
Deep bass, shallower sound
The audio drivers are the critical point when it comes to the audio quality that headphones can deliver. The Clam Elite wants to impress with its basses and honestly: it just works. We therefore increased the volume with a smile. The vocals are also convincing and lively. Our feeling is that drums and guitars don’t always come across completely. They sound a bit too flat for that. Audiodo’s Personal Sound app does give you ample opportunity to play with the frequencies to match the sound to your expectations. The application can measure your hearing and compensate for frequencies that you personally hear more difficult. It didn’t seem to add much, but every little bit helps.
The Clam Elite is certainly not miles away from segment peers at Bose and Sony, but the latter manage to add that little bit of sharpness and extra detail for that live studio feeling. Improving that technology for audio drivers therefore requires years, if not decades, of experience, an undeniable advantage of top brands such as Sony and Bose. Since Fresh ‘n Rebel is a relatively new player, you have to take that criticism with a large grain of salt. Audio calls were very clear and our interlocutors always indicated that they could understand us clearly. Charging the Clam Elite was possible in just under 2 hours. That’s half the claimed charging time (4 hours). Our fast charger may have had something to do with that. We were able to use the headphones intensively for three working days before asking for a charge. You cannot use the Clam Elite while charging, but that is usually the case with such headphones. It is therefore best to refuel at night.
Excellent Rebellious Alternative
The Fresh ‘n Rebel Clam Elite is solidly built and is nice and light and fresh on your head. The noise reduction isolates quite a lot of ambient noise. Sensitive ears will pick up some noise in the artificial silence. The music quality is excellent, but just doesn’t reach the pinnacle level of the more experienced brands. Those who want to take their first steps towards quality headphones can blindly put the Clam Elite from Fresh ‘n Rebel on their shortlist.