Home Open Back Headphone Reviews Focal Clear Review – Promising Clarity With a Hint of Dissonance

Focal Clear Review – Promising Clarity With a Hint of Dissonance

by Stuart Charles Black
Published: Last Updated on
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Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…

Focal Clear

Price: Check Amazon!

In The Box

Focal Clear MG Professional Open-Back Headphones

Coiled Cable with 1/4″ TRS Jack (16′)

Cable with 3.5mm TRS Jack (3.9′)

3.5mm to 1/4″ Adapter

Hardshell Carry Case

Limited 1-Year Warranty

Specifications

  1. Type: Open-back, circumaural (over-ear)
  2. Driver Type: Dynamic
  3. Driver Size: 40mm
  4. Driver Material: Aluminum-Magnesium “M-Shape” Dome
  5. Impedance: 55 Ohms
  6. Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz
  7. Frequency Response: 5 Hz – 28 kHz
  8. THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): < 0.25% @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
  9. Connector: 3.5mm (1/8″) stereo mini-jack plug, unbalanced
  10. Cable: 3m (9.8 ft) OFC cable, 6.35mm (1/4″) stereo jack plug, balanced XLR cable available (sold separately)
  11. Weight: 450g (0.99 lbs)
  12. Ear Cushion Material: Microfiber fabric
  13. Frame Material: Stainless steel and aluminum
  14. Accessories Included: Rigid travel case, 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter

The Focal Clear headphones have garnered quite a reputation among audiophiles for their sound quality and build, but let’s dive in to see if they truly live up to the hype.

Positioned as a premium option in Focal’s lineup, the Clear boasts impressive audio performance, though the asking price may leave some questioning its overall value proposition.

In other words,

does the law of diminishing returns play a part here?

Starting with the sonic experience, the Focal Clear undeniably presents a mostly delightful auditory journey.

The headphones deliver a detailed and crisp sound signature that showcases a broad frequency range, allowing listeners to appreciate intricate instrumentals and vocals with admirable clarity.

Let’s begin with the bass.

Bass

Focal Clear Review

Turning our attention to the bass frequencies, it’s evident that the emphasis here is on accuracy and control rather than overwhelming impact.

The bass response is well-defined and tight, catering to listeners who prefer a more balanced and precise low-end representation.

In comparison to headphones that focus on bass-heavy profiles, the Focal Clear offers a more restrained and disciplined bass response.

While it doesn’t deliver the visceral thump that some might seek (cough Beats by Dre snobs), the bass produced is accurate and free from muddiness.

This approach is likely to be appreciated by audiophiles and music enthusiasts who prioritize a faithful rendering without overshadowing other aspects of the sound spectrum.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that the restrained bass might also contribute to the perception of a slightly leaner overall sound signature, particularly when considering the pushed-back mid-range and treble frequencies.

The bass, while articulate and well-controlled, doesn’t possess the same weight or presence as headphones designed with a more pronounced low end.

That said, for most people, this will be plenty deep enough, as the “flat line” Clear tends to strike a perfect balance between the overdone-like-your-mom’s-meatloaf bass shelf inherent in say, the Meze 99 Neo vs. the rolled-off-a-cliff bass of something like the Koss KSC75.

Ultimately, the bass response in the Focal Clear headphones aligns with the headphone’s overall commitment to clarity and precision.

As with all aspects of audio, preferences vary, and whether the Focal Clear’s bass performance resonates positively will depend on individual listening preferences and musical genres.

Mid-Range

Focal Clear Review

However, the mid-range performance is where things start to waver.

While the Focal Clear strives to maintain a coherent and transparent mid-range, there’s an occasional hint of graininess that slightly taints the overall audio experience.

This minor flaw wouldn’t be a deal-breaker at the right price, but unfortunately, it is if we’re talking about dropping $1000+ on a pair of headphones.

For audiophiles accustomed to smooth and seamless mid-range transitions, it might be a recurring issue that’s difficult to ignore.

This occasional dissonance in the mids detracts from the otherwise impressive clarity that the headphones offer.

Comparatively, when stacked against its sibling, the Focal Elear, the Clear undeniably lives up to its namesake – at least by comparison.

The Clear manages to outshine the Elear regarding overall clarity and precision, presenting a more refined soundstage that audiophiles can appreciate.

However, it’s essential to note that despite this improvement, the Clear does carry forward some of the pitfalls found in the Elear, including the aforementioned mid-range issue, albeit to a lesser extent.

The mid-range graininess experienced in the Clear could potentially arise from the interplay between the mid and treble frequencies.

Both of these frequency ranges seem to be subtly pushed back, which could lead to some wonky characteristics that can be a little hard to pinpoint.

Treble

Focal Clear Review

In particular, the treble frequencies exhibit a slightly dark-ish quality.

While not entirely lacking in detail, there’s a subtle absence of liveliness or vibrancy that could provide more energy to the overall sound.

However, due to the mid-range also being somewhat recessed, this compensation might result in a lack of distinction between the 2, leading to the occasional grainy texture.

In other words,

both the mids and treble are frequently at odds with each other, at least per my experience.

It’s hard to really pinpoint exactly what is going on here, but I’ve talked with folks who have undergone a similar ordeal.

That is to say that when you’re listening, you get the sense that something isn’t quite right. It doesn’t make you want to just stop listening altogether, but it is problematic.

Keeping in line with this review, it is rather subtle but a the same time very unnerving – especially considering the price tag.

In an ideal sonic profile, each frequency range should have its own space to breathe, allowing for a coherent and immersive listening experience.

When both the mid-range and treble frequencies exhibit a slightly pushed-back quality, the overall presentation might lack the crispness and separation required to fully showcase the intricacies of the music.

This could potentially cause elements within the music to blend together, resulting in an uneven and wonky overall sound.

Balancing and positioning frequency ranges within headphones is a complex task that requires meticulous tuning.

The interaction between the mid-range and treble frequencies can greatly impact the overall sonic experience, and slight shifts in positioning can lead to unintended consequences.

Build & Comfort

One of Focal’s consistent strengths lies in its impeccable craftsmanship and comfort, and the Clear is no exception.

The headphones feature a robust build quality that exudes a premium feel, with a blend of metal and leather that’s aesthetically pleasing and ensures durability.

Moreover, the ergonomically designed ear cups and headband allow you to listen for extended periods without causing discomfort, making them suitable for prolonged sessions or critical listening.

Genre Pairing

Focal Clear Review

The Clear is going to mostly do well with a variety of genres given how open and fairly neutral it is, but do keep in mind its drawbacks.

Hip-Hop, Rap, EDM, Electronic, Acoustic, Jazz, and Classical will all work very well.

Even despite its issues, I do think the Clear functions as a jack of all trades headphone and will sound good with various types of music.

Amplification

JDS ATOM HEVI Review

The Focal Clear headphones, with their impedance of 55 Ohms and sensitivity of 104 dB SPL / 1 mW @ 1 kHz, are relatively accommodating in terms of amplification requirements.

While they don’t demand an excessively powerful or specialized amplifier to perform optimally, they can benefit from amplification that enhances their sound quality.

With an impedance level that is moderately low and a sensitivity that allows for sufficient volume with a range of audio sources, the Focal Clear headphones can be driven adequately by a variety of devices, including portable players, smartphones, and entry-level amplifiers.

It’s worth noting that these headphones can be enjoyed without the need for high-end or high-power amplifiers, making them accessible to a wider range of listeners.

For those seeking to extract the fullest potential from the Focal Clear headphones, a variety of amplifiers, including models like the JDS ATOM, will do the job admirably and provide plenty of power to boot.

These amplifiers can enhance the sonic nuances and dynamics of the headphones, particularly for discerning listeners who prioritize the finest details in their audio experience.

However, it’s reassuring to know that the Focal Clear headphones can still deliver a satisfying performance even without the need for top-tier amplification.

Closing Thoughts

Focal Utopia Review

In closing, the Focal Clear is a decent contender in the high-end headphone arena, offering a level of clarity and detail that many listeners would find impressive.

However, it’s difficult to ignore the occasional graininess in the mid-range, which becomes more noticeable upon closer scrutiny.

In essence, the Focal Clear is a headphone that promises a lot and delivers on several fronts.

It’s a headphone that will undoubtedly please many audiophiles, but the price is still a bit high.

If I’m paying this much for a supposed upper-echelon headphone, it has to be close to perfect.

The Clear falls well short of perfection, leaving a sense that, despite its strengths, there’s still room for improvement in its overall value proposition.

I could excuse its issues if it was say, $500, but at that point, I’m simply going to recommend an Edition XS or Ananda instead.

You may also opt for the Clear MG which in my mind improved on some of the issues mentioned here today.

That said, the MG is still overpriced so I may look to the second-hand market.

While the Clear is a noteworthy step up from its predecessor, the Elear, the price point it commands might raise eyebrows considering the not entirely flawless sonic performance.

For those willing to explore further and invest in an even higher tier of audio excellence, the Focal Utopia undoubtedly stands as a pinnacle of dynamic headphone craftsmanship.

The Utopia manages to transcend many of the limitations that the Clear grapples with, providing an unparalleled listening experience for those who demand nothing but the best.

Learn More:

 

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

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

What are your thoughts on the Clear? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..

All the best and God bless,

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

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14 comments

EthanFriend August 31, 2023 - 8:47 am

Price is the only reason I didn’t buy one when they were available, even at 700 euros when on sale. And the new clear MG is also so expensive that I’d rather buy something else.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black August 31, 2023 - 12:31 pm

Yeah, they’re not worth the money though out of the ones I’ve tried, the Clear is probably second best behind the Utopia. Elear was worse than Clear, Stellia was pretty bad, and Elegia. OMG, worse piece of shit I ever heard lol. Click the review for some laughs. What people don’t understand is that if I’m going to drop that much money on a pair of f’ing headphones, they better be perfect in every way. That’s what the Utopia is, but it’s still a bit high.

Reply
Stefan September 1, 2023 - 12:28 pm

So they have extreme clarity and detail with a refined soundstage, but lack clarity and detail and have an undefined soundstage? ALL of the frequency ranges are either restrained or recessed? Audiophiles will appreciate the tonality, yet audiophiles might have a hard time with the tonality? You’re throwing around a lot of contradictory statements in this review.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 1, 2023 - 1:56 pm

Fixed, thanks. This review was a bit of a challenge to write because, on one hand, I mostly liked it. Out of the ones I’ve tried, it’s second behind the Utopia. Utopia > Clear > Elear > Stellia > Elegia. The Elegia was horrendous.

But on the other hand, I would never buy the Clear at over $1000 given the issues I experienced. For that amount of money, the sound has to be flawless and it wasn’t. So it’s simply not worth the asking price in my opinion. I edited the article to make this a bit clearer.

The Utopia is ultimately what people should buy out of this lineup and I’ve been saying that for a few years now. If you can’t afford that, just get an Edition XS.

Reply
Jimmy A. Neel September 20, 2023 - 6:40 am

Wow nice review. I am looking for a headphone past few days. From this review now I can easily make my decision. Thanks for this informative article.
Keep it up.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 20, 2023 - 8:42 am

Thanks, Jimmy! So you’re deadset on… the Clear? I got a chance to try out the Clear MG (review coming soon) and it doesn’t have the grain issues that the OG Clear did.

Reply
Ramon September 30, 2023 - 7:15 am

Currently have the Sen HD650. Found the clears for $500. Wondering if its a worthy upgrade?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black September 30, 2023 - 5:15 pm

Ramon,

Thank you for the comment! How much did you pay for the 650? Just curious. The Clear at $500 is priced right. You may also consider the Edition XS, but if you’re after that Focal signature, by all means go for it. As for an upgrade in sound from the 650, I’d say that’s a definite yes. You’ll get better Soundstage (although the Clear isn’t amazing, it’s good), better timbre and resolution, and generally a more open and spacious sound.

It’s also interesting to note that the Clear MG doesn’t have the issues I heard in the OG Clear (i.e. it sounded smoother and better refined to my ears), but yes, it’s also a lot more expensive (and overpriced imo). You may try and find an MG on the second hand market.

Hope that helps! Keep me posted on your decision and if you have further questions.

-Stu

Reply
Ramon October 1, 2023 - 2:40 am

Thanks for the reply!
The 650s i got for around $350 (I’m from Australia and have been converting to USD). I did end up buying the Clear OGs, would be nice to do a comparison with the 650s.

Its actually funny you mentioned the Edition XS because that’s another one I was looking at just to test out Planars. And might get one during a sale.

Only reason why I asked about the clears is because there’s a retailer from Aus selling Clear OGs at a steep discount. I’ve read the MGs are better but sadly still sell at a high price, or higher than i’m comfortable with, without having actually tried it. Unfortunately I live in a remote area so there’s no retailers that demo headphones let alone sell Hifi Headphones.

Just recently dove into this as a hobby and have been enjoying it. Coming from cheaper headphones and basic gear its crazy how much more clarity and detail you can get even with “mid range” stuff.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black October 5, 2023 - 7:13 pm

Ramon,

Thank you for the comment!

Oh, you recently dove into this hobby? How about diving right back out LMAO. Don’t do it man. I’m half kidding but really not. The rabbit hole is real. Once you’re down it, there’s no getting out, but even worse than that is it becomes completely UN-fun (is that a word?) after years of second guessing every decision you ever made. I had a guy once tell me he spent $25,000 on gear in a calendar year and still wasn’t satisfied with any of it, to be quite, how shall we say, “Clear” xD. Yiiikes.

But anyway, the MG should NOT be priced anywhere close to $1500, and I personally still don’t feel like it’s objectively better than the Ananda or XS for that matter. I honestly feel like Focal’s reputation is what allows them to sell their headphones at such high prices. Reputation in the sense of, “Yeah, these headphones look absolutely breathtaking, feel good in your hands, are built well, and are super comfortable to boot.

But in terms of the sound being 3x better than an Edition XS? Absolutely not under any circumstance. The other issue is that there are significant sound issues across the lineup, and I finally got around to writing all of the articles.

I still have to get to the Radiance and Bathys, but after hearing 7, eehhh. Utopia is amazing, MG is definitely good but overpriced, but after that I’m pretty meh on it.

I wish more people would discuss the issues with headphones rather than cream their pants over every release. Most reviewers haven’t EQ’d a single thing in their entire life, so that’s part of it.

In the case of headphones, as we’ve seen so many times before, once the hype dies down, you have products that, which, initially sold for astronomically high prices, are now experiencing enormous markdowns years later, and for good reason. They just aren’t worth what companies try to trick you into thinking they’re worth at the time of release.

Two headphones that immediately come to mind are the SHP9600 and Focal Elegia. And I will NOT get started on the latter. xD

People may argue this with me but I’ll die on the hill lol. A Clear is not worth 3x more than an XS. Not even 1.5x or 2x better. The XS, and all HIFIMAN upper echelon headphones really, have better Soundstage and separation than the Focal lineup (exception being the Utopia which is the best headphone I’ve ever heard bar none. And call me crazy, but HIFIMAN’s (and Audezes as well) typically have some of the best resolution. I suppose it helps that they’re planar, but still, when you have a company like HIFIMAN selling excellent sound for way cheaper, it really makes you wonder.

In any event, this was way too long winded. Hope to hear from you soon and please keep me posted on your impressions of the Clear.

-Stu

Reply
Ramon October 6, 2023 - 7:06 am

HAHA. Yeah i get what you mean, i’m sensible enough to know my limits. No way i’m spending that much on gear. I’m happy within the 500-1000 range. So far, I can tell the difference between my 650s and the Clear. It is indeed..Clear lol. Do I think its worth the retail price? Oh hell no. Which is why I’m glad i got it at a steep discount. My main gripe with the Clears though, is the weight. compared to the 650s, much heavier, which makes sense because of the materials used. Big plus is the box opening experience haha. Felt fancy opening it.

My next and honestly probably final set for a long time is the Hifiman XS. Just want the Planars to compare these two with. Curious to see the difference in soundstage and the resolution of course.

Stuart Charles Black October 7, 2023 - 2:56 pm

Ramon,

That’s all well and good, but if you wanna be fancy, hold your pinky up, like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMnXg-96Dhs

Lol in all seriousness, keep me posted on any and all impressions!

-Stu

Fabio December 10, 2023 - 11:14 am

Hi stu!
As a Clear owner and as well hd6xx and r70, I have to say your review is spot on.
The Clear is an excellent headphone but the frequency response is a bit problematic. There is no doubt that on a technical level is better than 6xx family. To me, the most boring feature was the dip in the upper mids that dulled the electric guitars… there is also some peak on the treble, the combination of this features makes the sound a bit strange.
Anyway, I switched with some dekoni velour pads and the sound it’s much better imho.
Still searching to an upgrade… maybe the Aeolus?

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 12, 2023 - 12:56 pm

Fabio,

Thank you for the vote of confidence! Glad to hear others can recognize that Focal headphones aren’t perfect and need to be taken down from the pedestal a bit. I feel like people glorify this brand a lot and it’s kind of annoying lol.

Gosh, I don’t have any experience with ZMF headphones. May have to change that up soon! I will keep you posted.

As far as an upgrade from the Clear, hm.. the Clear MG is actually a bit better tuned and improves on some of what made the OG a bit of a disappointment – especially for the price. However, I still kind of think the MG is overpriced. That said, it’s definitely the second best in the line behind the Utopia, so take that FWIW. Definitely check out the articles to get a feel for where I stand on everything.

The ultimate upgrade would be the Utopia but I understand that not everyone has that kind of budget lying around for headphones haha.

Have you considered going the Audeze route? Their headphones are super heavy but in my opinion resolution and timbre are both a step-up from Focal (outside of the Utopia).

Anyways, keep me posted with questions!

-Stu

Reply

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