Home Closed Back Headphone Reviews Focal Listen Review – A Bass Head’s Dilemma?

Focal Listen Review – A Bass Head’s Dilemma?

by Stuart Charles Black

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Stock Photo: B&H | Design: HomeStudioBasics

Originally published 12/7/17.

Updates:

  • 9/9/19.
  • 5/10/22. Article revisit.

Greetings friend and Welcome aboard!!

Before we get into the Focal Listen Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…

You’ve come to the right place!!

What I will bring you in this review

  • Specs/Intro
  • Sound
  • Comfort
  • Build
  • Pros/Cons
  • Video Review
  • Amp/DAC requirements
  • Who Benefits?
  • Thoughts From Stu’s Notepad
  • Consensus/Conclusion & Final Word

Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!

Focal Listen

Specifications

  • Price: Check Amazon | Check Focal | Check B&H | Check eBay
  • Type: Closed-back. Closed back vs. Open back headphones.
  • Fit: Circumaural.
  • Impedance: 32 Ohms.
  • Sensitivity: 122dB.
  • Frequency Response: 15Hz – 22kHz.
  • Driver Size: 40mm. What is a headphone driver?
  • Weight: 273g. (0.6 lb.)
  • Cable Length: 4.60 ft.
  • Accessories Provided: Soft carrying case, inline remote w/ Omni-directional microphone, airplane adapter.
  • Cable detachable: Yes.
  • Fold-able: Yes
  • Material: Chrome plated ear-cups, Memory foam, Leather.

Introduction

The Focal Listen is like a bass head experience, but without all the bloated mess included.

Not only does the low-end slam, but it’s articulate and controlled, with an extremely detailed, airy, and exciting overall sound with regard to mid-range and treble.

I got a chance to demo these on numerous occasions, and the most recent time I spent on the couch at Audio Advice for 3 straight hours without taking them off. Call it the “Casting Couch.” Lol.

Mid-range & Treble

The mids have a nice presence and an exciting character. A set like this proves that exciting sound is achievable without the use of exaggerated mid-range and treble peaks.

This is a fun experience that will appeal to the audiophile as well as the average listener looking for a good time.

That said, there is something strange going on with the overall signature, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.

My guess is that the gradual drop-off going from 1k to 4k and then the sharp rise at 5kHz makes the low treble sound a bit papery, with some slight hiss.

I noticed that this was fairly consistent across all of the music I listened to, which included Rock, Indie, Pop, Hip-Hop, and EDM.

That said, the cause of this issue may not be accurate, but the issue itself still does manifest, and it’s something you will likely notice in some capacity.

It also could be the rise after 10kHz which is causing this essiness up top, but it’s hard to say one way or another as most of us can’t even hear 15-20kHz.

Bass

As stated in the open, the bass here is marvelous and provides plenty of impact without getting out of line.

While most bass-oriented headphones go for a mid-bass hump (generally between 100-200 Hz), the Focal Listen opts for some slight low bass emphasis around 30-50Hz and then a gradual incline starting from 100Hz going into 200.

For me, this seems like a better solution than what you see with something like the Audio Technica ATH M40x, which is a lot less subtle.

I don’t get any of the bloat that comes along with headphones that attempt to color the sound around these frequencies, but the Focal Listen certainly isn’t “balanced” by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s fun in a way that isn’t over the top or obnoxious sounding.

Comfort & Build

Not only are these babies rugged and durable, but they are very comfortable despite my research suggesting otherwise.

After about 1 hr. and 15 minutes, I had to make a slight adjustment, and at the 1.5-hour mark, I started feeling the headband slightly digging into my dome piece.

After a minor adjustment, it was smooth sailing until I took them off. I will say that while I wasn’t desperate to rip them off my head, I was a bit relieved towards the end.

Regardless, this is still an above-average headphone in the comfort department, and I was pleasantly surprised at how they fit snugly without much clamp force.

The build is solid, and while they do employ quite a bit of plastic, it feels like an upgraded, more robust plastic and not typical of your standard-issue dog food headphones you’d find in a drug store.

The overall aesthetic here is fairly low profile and utilitarian, with standard adjustments and a compact, foldable stature, and great feeling pads.

These may crack and peel over time, but it also looks like they now come with velour instead of the faux leather I demoed back in 2017.

Pros

  • Crisp sound. Intense, fun, and lively.
  • Bass strikes a near-perfect balance. No bloat here.
  • Durable, Portable, and Comfortable.

Cons

  • Something odd going on with the treble and mid-range. Slight hiss/papery character.

Video Review

Amp/DAC requirements

At 32 Ohms Impedance and 122dB Sensitivity, the Listen is very efficient and won’t need much power from an amp to reach acceptable volume levels.

They’re definitely ideal for portable use and will work with 99.9% of phones, so you’re not going to need separate amplification. Related: How to choose a Headphone Amp!

If you really wanted to purchase something separate, I’d recommend an E10K, K3, or if you’re really daring, a BTR5 to pair with a phone.

Anything more than that and you’re wasting money in my opinion.

FiiO K3 vs. E10K

Two peas in a pod.

Who do these headphones benefit?

As mentioned earlier, they will work for most genres. The ones I primarily tested them with:

  • Rock
  • Hip-Hop
  • Indie
  • Pop
  • EDM

Thoughts from Stu’s notepad

A few things in particular that jumped out at me:

  • Mick Jagger’s voice on “Can’t Always Get What You Want” was startlingly clear at the beginning. His presence was so live that I could have sworn he was in the room for a split second. The reason is that you could hear the intricacies of his breath as he prepared each lyric. Pretty cool.
  • On Grateful Dead’s “Truckin”, the guitars seemed to have more life and depth, even though I’ve heard the song a million times now.
  • There was an extra synth heard in the background of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” I had never heard that in all my time listening to the song.
  • I know how Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away” should sound, when the bass and drums come in, there should be excitement that gets you in the mood to rock out. Sadly, most headphones fail to achieve this balance of impact with no distortion. I’m happy to report the Focal Listen has exceeded my expectations. Now go get the Led out!

Overall, the bass is so good on these that I’m tempted to recommend them based on just that and nothing else. It has rumble, but still somehow feels natural and fits in perfectly with the rest of the sound.

Consensus/Conclusion

The Focal Listen provides great comfort, portability, durability, and a great bass head type of sound.

Final Word

So what’s the issue? Can you recommend them?

At the end of the day, I’d have to say no, and for one real reason: price.

While these are excellent, they’re not any better than a DT990 or M50x – both around half the price of the Focal Listen, which will still run you around $299.

I think part of this has to do with Focal’s reputation. They tend to price their headphones rather high and I’m not sure the Listen is entirely worth double the price of some of my favorite solutions for Hip-Hop.

Interested in a carefully curated article covering many options I believe to be a better purchase than the Listen?

 


Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this Focal Listen Review.

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

What do you think about these headphones? Am I wrong? Are they worth the investment? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

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 Listen

4.65

Sound

4.9/5

Build

4.8/5

Comfort

4.8/5

Soundstage

4.3/5

Pros

  • True Basshead Sound
  • Very Comfortable
  • Good Build Overall
  • Clear, crisp, and tight. Nothing overpowering

Cons

  • Slight Mid-Range Issue

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