Home Open Back Headphone Reviews Focal Elear Review – Severely Flawed?

Focal Elear Review – Severely Flawed?

I vividly remember my experience with the Elear in 2017, but perhaps not for the reasons you were expecting

by Stuart Charles Black

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Stock image: Fast Forward Audio Video | Design: HomeStudioBasics

Originally published 12/14/17.

Updates:

  • 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

  1. Specifications
  2. Introduction
  3. Build & Comfort
  4. Sound
  5. Pros & Cons
  6. Video Review
  7. Amp/DAC requirements
  8. Who do these headphones benefit?
  9. Consensus/Conclusion
  10. Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!

Focal Elear

Focal Clear Professional Open-Back Headphones

Coiled Cable with 1/4″ TRS Jack

Hardshell Carry Case

Limited 1-Year Warranty

Specifications

  • 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

Introduction

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.

Build

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

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.

Sound

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.

Mid-Range

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.

Pros

  • Liquid smooth sound. Buttery bass that extends deep and sounds nearly impeccable.
  • Great comfort.
  • Amazing build.
  • Sturdy Kevlar cable.

Cons

  • Slightly grainy at times.
  • Weird mid-range that can sound sucked out at times.

Video Review!

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:

“Not as clear sounding, kind of grainy” meant not the Elear wasn’t as clear sounding as the Clear which I was comparing back and forth with.

Amp/DAC requirements

FiiO K9 Pro Review

Theoretically, with a 104dB Sensitivity and an 80 Ohm impedance, the Elear is very efficient and could work out of a phone or mobile device. The problem is that:

  1. They weren’t designed for portable use due to the really bulky cable and 1/4″ termination.
  2. 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:

  • Jazz
  • Classical
  • Rock
  • Indie Pop
  • Hip-Hop

Thoughts from Stu’s notepad

Cable

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).

Emptiness

The emptiness about the Elear that I felt was very disappointing, and it’s the main reason why:

  1. I would never personally buy it.
  2. 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.

Consensus/Conclusion

The Focal Elear is a wonderfully built, comfortable set of headphones with a liquid-smooth bass but an extremely problematic mid-range.

Final Word

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.

Learn more:

 

 


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…

 

 

-Stu

[Xtr@Ba$eHitZ]

Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

Be sure to also check out my Reviews and Resources page for more helpful and informative articles!

Focal Elear

4.4

Comfort

4.9/5

Build

4.8/5

Sound

3.5/5

Pros

  • Liquid Smooth Bass
  • Amazing Comfort
  • Fantastic Build

Cons

  • Grainy at times
  • Mid-Range was a bit disappointing

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4 comments

Jesse December 1, 2019 - 6:41 am

Hey Stu,
Long time no see. Before I dive into my impressions/take on the Focal Elears, I did want to offer a few updates about my current headphone situation. For a while, I did audition at different times the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro and Premiums. While there were things I really admired about those 2 headphones such as pinpoint imaging, great sense of “air”, dynamics, etc. Having either one as a daily driver or continually putting up with it for a lack of a better word would have been too much. Especially for someone who’s still in their 20’s plus retaining the vast lions share of my hearing though I doubt my hearing goes all the way up to 20 khz 🙂

Anyway, I de-cluttered my headphone collection to the Sennheiser HD 600 and 650 in addition to other superfluous things providing unwanted clutter. Being aware of Black Friday looming, I did research into which headphone I’d invest time and possible $$$ into. Plus, I do want to at least somewhat stem continually upgrading trying to find absolute audio nirvana and burning financial holes in my pockets. Seeing that pricing for the Focal Elears on Amazon, Ebay, and Headphones.com (they had a bundle deal which dropped the price to $599) had dropped noticeably from their about $1,000 price tag; the Elears caught my eye for various reasons.

For one, they are more boutique and premium so to speak vs the Sennheisers though neither of them are ratty/cheap feeling. In fact, I like how modular many of the parts on both Sennheisers happen to be. I liked how the Focals despite being quite a bit heavier, they do not clamp or really feel their actual weight once on your head. The cable borders on being too “girthy” yet it gives the impression of lasting a long time. On to how they sound to my ears, they are absurdly dynamic and rich sounding. While I’d not classify the Focals as being very bass-heavy, it is very taut plus present. The mid-range and general overall timbre is very satisfying. Which does remind me of the Sennheisers especially the 650. I do like how the mids are not as forward as the 600 and are on a similar level to the 650s. The treble is where I’m not quite as satisfied. While by no means substandard, it’s not as resolving or smooth as either of the Sennheisers. It’s a bit uneven in presence and more “colored”.

To me, the Focals are not the best for being a pure reference point or best all-rounder. They’re a really impressive unique take on an audiophile type sound which does not discard details. Though, they are a bit of an acquired taste though not nearly as much of the Beyerdynamic DT 990s. On a side note, the overall imaging and Soundstage is interesting on the Focals. While they seem a little wider than the 600s and perhaps the 650s though still fairly intimate, they sound for whatever reason not as laser/pinpoint as I expected. Maybe it’s a placebo effect or being related to the headphones possessing a very engaging yet somewhat laid-back character. Anyway, I wanted to put out some of my thoughts/observations on the Elears though I’ve only had them for a little over a week. It was somewhat surprising how there have been no comments/thoughts posted on the review’s page for the Elears. As always, keep up the great work Stu.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 4, 2019 - 4:52 pm

Hey man!

Great to hear from you again. You made a good decision in keeping both the HD600 and 650. Since we last spoke, I did some purging of my own. All but 2 of my headphone collection is gone. I sold off 9-10 headphones over the last few months. Just found that I wasn’t really using them and had already done videos/articles on all of them. So out of the 12, I kept the Philips SHP9500 and Sennheiser HD600. I even sold the MDR V6 which was kind of a tough decision considering I really love that headphone for mixing/general listening. I really needed the money.

Anyways, the Elears sounded pretty good but I could never justify purchasing them. To me they sounded too grainy for something that expensive, and there was this weird sucked out quality about them that I couldn’t quite reconcile. I remember them not having any life to them, and a quick look at a graph would later reveal why. The mids just take a nosedive after 1 or 2k, and the treble isn’t that great as you pointed out. It’s relaxed but lacks any sort of zing or sparkle.

Kind of a meh headphone for me overall. Definitely also agree on the Soundstage; it wasn’t bad, but should have been better for aheadphone of this pedigree. Comfort and build are top notch, but the sound overall leaves a bit to be desired.

Anyways, glad you stopped by! Do you plan on investing in something else? I’d highly recommend an Ananda or Drop’s Edition XX.

That’s definitely a headphone worthy of it’s price tag, even at $1000 I’d probably invest in one.

Anyways, keep me posted brother! Always great talking with you.

-Stu

Reply
Jesse December 4, 2019 - 10:31 pm

You do bring up a valid point in how at around $1,000, the Elears are not great value for $$$. There are definitive areas where the Focals are more worth the extra cash over the Sennheisers whereas there are areas which lag a bit behind. Considering how I purchased them via Headphones.com which knocked the price down to $599 which is by no means bargain basement, it’s an easier pill to swallow. On paper, Headphones.com have a 365 day return policy which you’d get a full refund as long as everything remains in good operating condition plus the original packaging or something along those lines. I don’t have their return policy memorized by heart 🙂

The Hifiman Ananda and Edition XX are certainly headphones worth looking into. While pricing isn’t the absolute #1 factor at the present moment, I do not see the appeal of exceeding $1,000. Some might though as being someone who’d like to avoid financial setbacks, the law of diminishing returns rears it’s head here. Another element aside from sound quality which is important to me regards overall comfort. While I’m not one who continuously has headphones on for several hours with minimal breaks, I prefer the concept of taking off headphones at my leisure vs having to due to excessive discomfort.

Recently, I swapped the headband padding on my 600s with brand new padding akin to ones found on HD 650s (6xx), 58X, 660S, etc. Because while pretty comfortable, the 600s gave me more hot spots and moderate discomfort on occasion. The reason why I bring this up pertains to very fleeting thoughts about selling the 600s. Knowing that the 58x is notably less pricey plus not a notable step-down in build though it can depend person to person; it makes a compelling case aside from the 6xx.

Whenever those fleeting thoughts arise, I always have this sense of regret I’d feel at some point with selling the 600s. This became further established when I saw the “slight” refreshing of the 600s as being now made in Romania vs Ireland. While it does not look bad by any means, the new look goes away from the granite countertop finish which can grow on you overtime.

Reply
Stuart Charles Black December 5, 2019 - 12:40 am

I’ve been staring at Drop’s 58X for like the last hour, reading reviews, and agonizing over whether or not to purchase them. The $135 price tag ($25 off) is good ’til tmw. I really want to buy them for my lady friend, but also want a pair so I can do a comparison with the 6XX. Lol it’s like stressing me out or something. I’ve been all anxious and antsy about it.

Like you, I would have serious regrets if I ever sold my 600’s. They aren’t without their issues, namely 3k but that’s been discussed ad nausea by me and many others. It’s just something I deal with. I could EQ it down, but I just don’t really feel like it, lol.

My pads are starting to wear down quite considerably after 3 years, so I need to replace them as well. Totally worth it to me and why I recommend these so often to people; they’re a perfect long term investment. Everything’s replaceable and the build is just as good as the day I got them.

Comfort for me has always been top notch. I’ve never had to really adjust these much when I’m listening, and I can wear them for hours without having to take them off. I catch myself wearing them while nothing’s playing – a sign of a truly remarkable headphone.

Totally agree about diminishing returns. Did you see my video on it?

Someone on YouTube had also alerted me to the refresh of the HD600 and 650. Didn’t know they were being made in Romania now. Very interesting.

Are you thinking about getting a 58X?

Reply

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