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Focal Clear MG Review: Is The Price Tag Justified?

by Stuart Charles Black
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Focal Clear MG

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In The Box

Focal Clear MG Open-Back Headphones (Chestnut and Mixed Metal Finish)

Cable with 3.5m Jack

Cable with 4-Pin XLR Jack

3.5mm to 1/4″ Adapter

Carrying Case

Limited 3-Year Manufacturer Warranty

Specifications

  • Driver Type: Dynamic, full-range drivers
  • Impedance: 55 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
  • Frequency Response: 5Hz – 28kHz
  • Total Harmonic Distortion (THD): <0.25% @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
  • Weight: 450 grams (0.99 lbs)
  • Cable Length: 3 meters (9.8 feet), detachable
  • Connector: 3.5mm (1/8″) stereo mini-jack plug, with 1/4″ (6.35mm) adapter included
  • Accessories: A hard-shell carrying case for protection and transport.

Introduction

Focal, the renowned French audio manufacturer, has had a history of producing headphones that have left audiophiles divided.

While some of their models have earned accolades for their exceptional sound quality and craftsmanship, others have fallen short of the lofty expectations set by the brand.

As such, the release of a new Focal headphone is often met with both anticipation and skepticism.

The burning question that arises with each launch is, “Is this the one that truly captures the essence of Focal’s audio prowess?”

In this review, we delve into one of the new-ish (sorta) offerings from Focal, the Clear MG headphones, to determine if they stand out as a notable entry in the lineup, potentially rectifying the hit-and-miss nature that has defined Focal’s tenure thus far.

Build

The Clear MG headphones, much like their predecessors, exemplify Focal’s commitment to premium craftsmanship.

The build quality is exceptional, from the M-shaped magnesium dome drivers, to the inclusion of perforated microfiber earpads, to the combination of metal and leather, these headphones exude luxury and durability.

They also feel substantial in your hands, and the attention to detail in their construction is quite evident.

Focal has maintained its reputation for creating headphones that look and feel high-end.

With their eye-catching chestnut, mixed-metal finish, and honeycomb grille, these headphones undoubtedly exude a sense of style.

For added convenience, they come with multiple cables to accommodate various consumer devices and balanced headphone amplifiers.

Additionally, a 3.5mm-to-1/4″ adapter is included, along with a protective carrying case for on-the-go use.

Comfort

Comfort is often a make-or-break factor when it comes to headphones, and Focal has consistently excelled in this area.

The Clear MG is no exception, providing a comfortable listening experience even during extended sessions.

The plush ear cushions and well-padded headband make these headphones suitable for long hours of use without causing discomfort or fatigue.

Furthermore, the clamping force on the sides and top of your head is near perfect, even despite them weighing in at a substantial 450 grams.

Sound

  • Amps: Naim Uniti Atom, McIntosh MHA200
  • Source: Roon, FLAC’s got your back.

The Clear MG headphones offer a balanced sound signature that is a testament to Focal’s dedication to audio excellence – at least in this particular case.

They strike a harmonious balance between clarity, detail, and a smooth, balanced sound profile.

The bass response is commendable, providing depth without overpowering the mids and highs.

It thumps without getting out of line, with a nice texture and articulation that allows you to hear individual bass notes rather than feeling them rattle your brain into oblivion.

While the mid-range, as is typical with Focal headphones, may appear slightly recessed to some listeners, it is well-integrated into the overall sound signature and doesn’t sound lost due to the recovery at 3kHz and the overall excellent resolution that the MG provides.

Vocals and instruments stand out without becoming in your face, but they also don’t sound muffled or distant as in the case of something like an Elegia. 

The treble may not contain that sparkle that some users will inevitably crave, but it makes for fatigue-free listening over extended sessions which is always a plus.

Yes, it could use a bit more sparkle as at times, the Clear MG may lack that zip and zest that other headphones provide in spades – sometimes to their detriment.

In other words, the MG can sound a tad blank when you’re listening to it, but the tuning is definitely on point.

This blankness issue is definitely more of a problem in the Celestee, but it’s there nonetheless.

That said, this profile aligns with what the Focal House sound is known for—precision and clarity.

In addition, Focal has made significant improvements in the sound department with the Clear MG, addressing issues present in previous models like the Stellia, Elegia, Elear, and Celestee.

The most notable improvement is the more balanced sound signature, which leads to better resolution and overall instrument timbre.

That is to say that you can absolutely hear the difference when going back and forth between this headphone and the Celestee.

You’ll notice that the latter sounds a bit janky, muffled, and ragged due to, in my opinion, its somewhat overemphasized mid-bass response and jagged signature moving into the mids and treble.

The Clear MG, by contrast, is much more sure of itself and sounds pristine when going back and forth.

It’s also going to sound less claustrophobic due to its more open-sounding nature, with a propensity for better Soundstage and separation.

It strikes an impressive balance between different frequency ranges, delivering a smooth and coherent audio experience.

This quality was lacking in the aforementioned models, ones with either strange peaks and dips, a mid-range that was simply missing, or in the case of the Stellia (and to an extent the Celestee), a weird-sounding bass response that kind of ruined the rest of the signature.

To be fair, it was much worse in the case of the Stellia as I thought the Celestee, while significantly flawed, was at least listenable.

Amplification

In terms of amplification, the Clear MG is relatively easy to drive with an impedance of 55 ohms and a sensitivity of 104 dB.

While they don’t require a high-powered amplifier to perform at their best, having a quality source and amplification setup can still enhance the listening experience to an extent, although this won’t be a night-and-day difference.

I used both the Naim Uniti Atom and McIntosh MHA200, but I firmly believe these are overkill for this particular headphone.

If you’re interested in a sensible option, I like the FiiO K5/K7 or ATOM paired with an ATOM DAC.

Genre Pairing

The Clear MG headphones are versatile when it comes to genre compatibility.

They handle a wide range of music styles admirably, making them suitable for audiophiles who appreciate diversity in their music library.

Whether you’re into Hip-Hop, Classical, Rock, Jazz, Folk, Metal, Pop, or electronic music, these headphones deliver a balanced and engaging listening experience across a diverse array of genres.

Closing Thoughts

The Clear MG headphones represent a significant step forward in Focal’s ongoing quest for audio perfection.

They maintain Focal’s reputation for exceptional build quality and comfort, while addressing previous sound issues found in models like the Stellia, Elegia, Elear, and Celestee.

Their balanced sound signature, with a well-controlled bass response and a slightly recessed mid-range, embodies the quintessential Focal audio experience.

While they may not reach the lofty heights of the Utopia, the Clear MG headphones are undoubtedly among the best that Focal has to offer, catering to discerning audiophiles who demand both style and substance in their listening devices.

However, the question of whether they are worth their $1500 price tag may leave some prospective buyers pondering.

When assessing their value, it’s essential to consider the significant improvements made over previous models.

These improvements make the Clear MG a standout option for audiophiles and critical listeners.

That said, they face stiff competition, even within the Focal family.

For those who seek the absolute best in Focal’s headphone offerings, the Utopia remains the undisputed champion.

Focal Utopia Review

It set the bar incredibly high in terms of audio fidelity and I haven’t heard anything better since about 2017.

However, the Clear MG confidently secures the second position in Focal’s lineup, delivering a fantastic listening experience that comes decently close to the Utopia (let’s be honest, they set the bar REALLY high), all while offering a more accessible price point.

Considering the exceptional sound, comfort, and craftsmanship you’re getting with the Clear MG, a price point of around $800-$900 would likely be more in line with its overall value proposition.

That is to say that even despite this positive review, I still probably can’t justify $1500, but I’d pay that for a Utopia in a heartbeat.

I just don’t think that the Clear MG’s sound, even though it’s an excellent headphone, is worth 3x as much as an Edition XS or Ananda.

At a price of $800-$900, the MG becomes an even more attractive choice for those who appreciate premium audio but wish to strike a balance between performance and budget.

Just find a deal or go with the Edition XS if you want that step up from mid-fi without forking over an arm and a leg.

That is to say that the price range above $500 and below $1000 has always been quite awkward for me.

Ultimately, the Focal Clear MG may not be a budget-friendly option, but it undoubtedly represents a significant step forward in the Focal headphone lineup and stands as a worthy contender for discerning audio enthusiasts if you can find it for a good price.

Learn More:

 

Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Focal Clear MG Review and came away with some valuable insight.

Thoughts on the MG? Is it worth $1500? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Let me know in the comments below or contact me!! I would love to hear from you…

Until then, all the best and God bless…

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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2 comments

Stuart A February 12, 2024 - 11:19 pm

I enjoyed reading this review. After trying out the Clear MG for a few days I agree with your bottom line here Stu. Personally I prefer the Hifiman Edition XS for most of what I listen to, but I did like the timbre and bass qualities of the Clear MG, and they are indeed very stylish. If the Clear MG was significantly cheaper I would keep it as a nice counterpoint to the XS since they have different flavors, but will be returning it. I am considering trying out the Hifiman HE1000 Stealth at some point in the future, which could be the end game for me if it lives up to the reviews I have read.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black February 13, 2024 - 3:49 pm

Stu,

Great to hear from you!

Yeah, I think the Clear MG is the best option outside of the Utopia, but to be honest with you, I’m still a bit underwhelmed by most of this lineup. I think pretty much all Focal headphones are overpriced though the build, comfort, and overall aesthetic are top. The problem is that, for me at least, the sound doesn’t quite match up to expectations and there’s a clear (no pun intended) disconnect between what they charge vs. what you’re actually getting. In other words, it’s good, but not for those prices. That said, the XS is an amazing value and a great headphone! I recommend it a lot. Keep me posted on the HE1000!

Best,
-Stu

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