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Focal Elear Review

by Stuart Charles Black

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Updates

  • 12/4/19. Article cleanup.
  • 2/18/21. Article cleanup and updated recommendation.

1,390-word post, approx. 3-4 min. read

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. Ratings/Price
  2. Specifications
  3. Summary
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. Video Review
  7. Amp/DAC requirements
  8. Who these headphones benefit?
  9. Consensus/Conclusion
  10. Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!

Focal Elear

Ratings/Price

Specifications

Summary

Simply put, this open-back wonder feels like a $1000 headphone when you put it in your hands. With not a hint of plastic, this baby puts your mind at ease with regard to durability. I’m not sure I’ve ever handled a headphone quite like this one. My only gripe with it is 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 this to be strictly an in-studio headphone only. The 1/4″ termination made that pretty clear as well. Closed back vs. open back headphones.

Comfort is exemplary, and despite the fact that they’re fairly heavy, they feel amazingly comfortable on your head with a manageable clamp force. 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.

My barometer is about 2 hours. If I don’t feel the need to take them off after that, I will render them comfortable. Why? Because I rarely wear headphones for longer than that unless I’m mixing down a track.

If I do feel the need to take them off before 2 hours, comfort varies. If I have to make a slight adjustment, it’s not the end of the world. But, if I have to take them off after less than two hours, that means that comfort is average and likely below average depending on the headphone. If the sound is great, I will grin and bear it. 😛

Anyways…

Back on track. The Elear is super comfortable, so no worries there.

Sound

As far as sound, these really shine. Plugged into the NAIM DAC V-1, they remind me a lot of an Audeze LCD-X. Learn more: Audeze LCD-X Review. The bass is definitely there, but it’s leaner than your typical bass-head outfit. I actually prefer bass this way. With the Elear, you’re able to actually hear bass notes in their entirety, rather than just feel them. 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 but still renders you nodding your head.

The LCD-X is similar to the Elear in that it’s got a buttery smooth, liquid type of 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. This is something lost in entry-level models. 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 this that can really illustrate that sentiment effectively.

So overall: A laid-back experience, best enjoyed with a glass of wine on the couch.

Pros

  • Liquid smooth sound. Buttery.
  • Great comfort.
  • Amazing build.
  • Sturdy Kevlar cable.

Cons

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

Video Review!

Amp/DAC requirements

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

  1. They weren’t designed for portable use
  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?

That said, because they terminate in a 1/4″ jack, I would go ahead and plan to use an amp with these. How to choose a headphone amp!

Recommendations:

Budget Options:

Keep in mind if you go with the DragonFly or HA-2, you’ll need an adapter (a 1/4″ to 3.5mm one).

Who 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

  • The Soundstage could be better for an open back. I wasn’t all that impressed with it. What is Soundstage?
  • 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.
  • I can’t really explain what it is, but there was a sort of emptiness about the Elear that I can’t quite put my finger on. There was something missing, but I don’t know what. In reading Head-Fi forums, others noticed it as well. They, as well as Lachlan, would contribute it to the mid-range being slightly recessed in areas where it shouldn’t. I can’t claim to know exactly where I felt it, but that’s likely the case. Keep in mind the treble is somewhat darker sounding than your average headphone as well, so that might be a factor. This graph from Tyll kind of confirms a lot, in that there’s a weird face plant after 2k that is likely the culprit.

Consensus/Conclusion

The Focal Elear is a wonderfully built, comfortable set of headphones with a liquid-smooth sound signature and a bass that has an impact. Intended for home use, with a bulky cable. An amp is almost mandatory.

Final Word

Do I recommend these? If you’re looking for a warmer, laid-back sound, and don’t care to be overly obsessed with details (but still like some!), then I would say it’s a decent buy. That said, in listening to them, I wasn’t eager to buy a pair, and I’m not sure I would spend $1000 on them. In fact, I know I wouldn’t. 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. It’s simply too heavy and feels 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 the Elear claims to do, the Ananda does better.

Spacing, Timbre, crisp sound, tonality, Soundstage, instrument separation are all better. 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

4.15

Value

3.3/5

Sound

4.0/5

Comfort/Durability

5.0/5

Soundstage

4.3/5

Pros

  • Liquid Smooth Sound
  • 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?

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