So 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 are crisp, with 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 makes the 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.
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 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. Learn more:Audio Technica ATH M40x Review. I don’t get any of the bloat that comes along with headphones that attempt to color the sound around these frequencies.
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 hr. 30-minute 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.
Crisp sound. Intense, fun, and lively.
Bass strikes a near-perfect balance. No bloat here.
Durable, Portable, and Comfortable.
Something odd going on with the treble or mid-range. Slight hiss/papery character.
As mentioned earlier, they will work for most genres. The ones I primarily tested them with:
Thoughts from Stu’s notepad
A few things in particular that jumped out at me:
Mick Jaggers 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.
The Focal Listen provides great comfort, portability, durability, and a marvelous bass head type of sound for a very reasonable price. I think these are better than an M50/50x, but you’re still going to get a bit of hiss. I love how Focal has handled that mid-bass region that I feel a lot of headphones seem to get wrong and over exaggerate.
Marlouzel is a passionate writer and music enthusiast. She writes about culture, music, and the arts while listening to a variety of music - from 1920's Jazz to current indie bands like Belle and Sebastian.