Stock image: Fast Forward Audio Video | Design: HomeStudioBasics
Originally published 12/14/17.
- 12/4/19. Article cleanup.
- 2/18/21. Article cleanup and updated recommendation.
- 5/7/22. Article revisit/overhaul.
Aloha friend and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the Focal Elear Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
You’ve come to the right place!!
What I will bring you in this review
- Build & Comfort
- Pros & Cons
- Video Review
- Amp/DAC requirements
- Who do these headphones benefit?
- Final Word
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!
Focal Clear Professional Open-Back Headphones
Coiled Cable with 1/4″ TRS Jack
Hardshell Carry Case
Limited 1-Year Warranty
- Price: Check Amazon! | Check eBay!
- Type: Open back.
- Fit: Circumaural (Around the Ear).
- Impedance: 80 Ohms.
- Driver Size: 40mm. What is a headphone driver?
- Frequency response: 5Hz – 23kHz.
- Sensitivity: 104 dB.
- Rated Power Input: 30 mW.
- Cable: Detachable Kevlar OFC.
- Cable Detachable: Yes, plugs into both ear-cups via 3.5mm jacks.
- Material: Aluminum, Memory foam.
- Weight: 450g.
- Color: Black and Silver.
- Case: No
Focal’s Elear sits in a weird place and always has, smack between both the Focal Clear and Utopia, but is it worth the money?
Today we’ll take a look at a somewhat forgotten headphone in Focal’s flagship line and find out what exactly sets it apart from some of the others.
To start with, the Elear feels exactly as its price would indicate when you put it in your hands. In this respect, it mimics the others in the line and that is most certainly a good thing.
With not a hint of plastic, it puts your mind at ease with regard to durability and feels incredibly robust.
The only thing I would caution you on is something Lachlan also mentions in his review below – they will creak and like him, I did experience that as well.
It personally didn’t bother me much, but your mileage may vary.
I’m not sure I’ve ever handled a headphone quite like this one. Do keep in mind that while it’s extremely solid, it doesn’t move, rotate, or fold at all.
I suppose this is to be expected given that Focal intended for it to be strictly an in-studio headphone only. The 1/4″ termination made that pretty clear as well.
The solid aluminum yoke headband adjustments are simple and elegant, and moving them to get the right fit feels premium and luxurious. This may sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not.
Focal has become synonymous with class, and in holding these in your hand it becomes quite obvious the amount of detail and careful precision that went into crafting headphones of this caliber.
They really do stand out from the crowd.
Further, the memory foam padding feels amazing to the touch and the cups themselves are incredibly deep. They’re also wide enough to ensure whatever size ears you have will fit comfortably inside without touching the driver or cup.
Rounding out the build are the aluminum/magnesium M-shaped speaker drivers which enable the Elear to provide strikingly realistic sound (according to Focal).
Before we get into the sound, let’s talk a bit about comfort.
Comfort is exemplary, and despite the fact that they’re fairly heavy, they feel amazingly comfortable on your head with a manageable clamp force.
In fact, the clamping force on Focal headphones is just about perfect and is in large part what makes these fit like a glove.
I didn’t feel the need to take them off or even adjust them, but your mileage may vary. For instance, Lachlan would disagree with me a little bit and I can see why. They are very rigid.
In other words, the cups themselves don’t rotate all that much and you may have trouble getting them to conform to the shape of your own head.
Even so, the headband also doesn’t dig which is important, and the padding, while looking sparse at first glance indeed provides an ample amount when actually resting on top of your melon.
- DACS used: NAIM DAC V-1
- Albums: The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Homey, Sigur Ros – Takk, Sufjan Stevens – Illinoise, Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon
As far as sound, these really shine in many ways, but disappoint in others.
Let’s start with the good.
Plugged into the NAIM DAC V-1, they remind me a lot of an Audeze LCD-X and are very open and spacious sounding.
Instead of roll-off and mid-bass bloat, we get what is essentially a flat line – typical of Focal (as well as Audeze), and something I really prefer overall.
With the Elear, you’re able to actually hear bass notes in their entirety, rather than just feel them – a fantastic quality in high-end planar headphones such as these.
There’s texture to the drum kicks and individual notes which helps to provide a more realistic sound portrayal.
In listening to Chon’s “Homey”, the bass pleasured me in a way that’s hard to describe. It has great dynamic movement and speed which really leaves you nodding your head.
The bass is intricate and has personality rather than just being a big booming … thing you hear when listening to music.
As in, it’s now central to the mix instead of just an afterthought but still doesn’t overpower the other frequencies.
The LCD-X is similar to the Elear in that it’s got a buttery smooth, liquid type of bass and sound that will put you in a relaxed state.
It’s full-bodied and crisp, with an accurate, but also engaging quality. The Timbre of the instruments is tonally very true to life, and that’s one of the best characteristics that a headphone can have. What is Timbre?
On Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky”, Richard Wright’s keyboard is more clearly heard and felt. With the Elear, the sound has a chance to actually ring out, and linger for a while.
In other words, the decay of instruments and vocals is superb – something lost in entry-level models but present here in spades.
You’re really able to pick apart, dissect, and perceive the instrument in its proper context.
I believe Wright was the hidden gem of the group, and oftentimes, it’s the higher-end stuff like an Elear that can really illustrate that sentiment effectively.
Unfortunately, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.
While decay and timbre are great, the upper mids are really a sore spot for me and one of the main reasons why I don’t recommend the Elear and really never have.
For as good as the bass and low mids are, the areas at 2-4kHz are really, really strange. So strange in fact, that it really left a bad taste in my mouth and is something I will never forget.
I first demoed these headphones in 2017 and can still remember vividly how I felt when listening to them at my local Audio Advice.
It’s just … wonky. I don’t know how else to describe it. Not only is there a bit of grain/fuzz that I can’t quite reconcile, but vocals and instruments can seem very lost at times – to the point where you wonder where the heck they are and/or what they’re even doing/trying to do.
I mean you can hear them, sure, but they feel distant and pushed back. Almost drowned out or something, as if there’s a layer of fuzz covering them.
Imagine rubbing 2 sweaters together and forming that weird electrical shock you get but now apply the texture of those sweaters to your ears. Yes, it’s very subtle, but in listening closely, you can tell something clearly isn’t right.
When you consider how well some other frequencies of this sound signature perform, it makes the poorly rendered mid-range all the more jarring. Bizarre, even.
In my opinion, this headphone was not tuned very well from about 2-4kHz on and has a cut somewhere that just sounds kind of awful if I’m being honest.
Is it as bad as the horrendous Elegia? Not quite, but getting there.
The treble isn’t nearly as bad as the mids, but you’ll notice that hint of grain (discussed earlier) and to me, it’s inexcusable at this price point.
- Liquid smooth sound. Buttery bass that extends deep and sounds nearly impeccable.
- Great comfort.
- Amazing build.
- Sturdy Kevlar cable.
- Slightly grainy at times.
- Weird mid-range that can sound sucked out at times.
Credit to Lachlan! His impressions of the mids are exactly right.
And just to prove my impressions earlier in 2017 are before watching any videos, looking at any graphs, or writing this review, I dug up my original notes for you to take a gander at:
- They weren’t designed for portable use due to the really bulky cable and 1/4″ termination.
- If your DAC or Soundcard is crap, they still won’t sound good. You’ll just be amplifying bad sound. What is a Soundcard?
So yes, I would go ahead and plan to pair an amp with these. Related: How to choose a headphone amp!
I used them with a NAIM DAC V-1 for my demo which has now unfortunately been discontinued. For a good match nowadays and my top overall desktop solution, I like FiiO’s K9 Pro.
Who do these headphones benefit?
These do well with most genres, but I enjoyed them with:
- Indie Pop
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
The cable is extremely long and bulky (13 ft.), but I found it to be a lot more flexible and tolerable than any Grado cable I’ve come across. 😛
I can’t outright say that the lack of movement is negative, given that it’s strictly made for the studio. But I was a little disappointed in just how stiff it felt (definitely not what she said).
The emptiness about the Elear that I felt was very disappointing, and it’s the main reason why:
- I would never personally buy it.
- I wouldn’t recommend it to others.
It’s not that the Elear sounded bad, because that’s obviously not the case.
Headphones this expensive better sound good, but the problem is that any issues in products like these are magnified ten-fold and put under a microscope due to the bloated price tag.
The Elear is an example of a severely flawed hi-end headphone that should absolutely be fixed in any future iterations.
The Focal Elear is a wonderfully built, comfortable set of headphones with a liquid-smooth bass but an extremely problematic mid-range.
I think it’s obvious that I’m not recommending these.
In listening to them, I wasn’t eager to buy a pair, and I would never spend $1000 or even close to that.
Nothing about them stood out from a headphone in the $300-$600 range, and that’s really the issue – The Law of Diminishing Returns.
I could always opt for something cheaper that sounds just as good.
Would I spend the money on the LCD-X? I’m more inclined to do so, but with that headphone, comfort holds me back. If you’re looking Audeze, I like the LCD-2 Classic. The others in that line are simply too heavy and feel like a bowling ball.
So what would I go with?
I think the HIFIMAN Ananda is a better headphone than either the Clear or Elear. Everything that Elear claims to do, the Ananda does better.
Spacing, Timbre, crisp sound, tonality, Soundstage, and instrument separation are all superior in my mind. The Ananda is one of the only headphones I consistently recommend above the mid-fi category, and it’s since come down in price.
Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Focal Elear Review.
Would you invest in an Elear? What about the Ananda? I would love to know your thoughts.
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…