Greetings mate and Welcome aboard!
Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions, so…
Focal is a renowned French audio company known for its high-quality headphones and loudspeakers.
Founded in 1979, the company has earned a solid reputation in the audio industry for its commitment to precision engineering and audio excellence.
Focal is often praised for its dedication to innovation, resulting in cutting-edge technology and superior sound performance.
However, it’s important to note that while Focal has produced some exceptional headphones, they are not immune to imperfections.
Like many manufacturers in the audio industry, Focal has faced occasional challenges with quality control and user-reported issues.
These issues can encompass a range of concerns, from jarring variations in sound signatures between models, to occasional build quality discrepancies, to diminishing returns and pricing concerns.
It’s worth considering these aspects when evaluating Focal headphones, as user experiences can vary.
Despite these occasional shortcomings, Focal’s commitment to delivering premium audio experiences and their track record of producing world-class audio products make them a significant player in the audio industry.
Their headphones are still highly regarded by many audiophiles and music enthusiasts for their sound quality, design, and craftsmanship.
In this discussion,
we will delve into the rankings of seven headphones from Focal’s premium lineup, each offering its unique characteristics and sound profiles.
This list will expand based on new experiences/additional demo opportunities, so definitely bookmark it and keep checking back.
While Focal is esteemed for its dedication to audio excellence, it’s important to recognize that individual headphone models may have their own set of strengths and limitations.
We will assess each headphone based on its distinct features, performance, and user experiences to provide a comprehensive overview of Focal’s premium offerings.
By examining these headphones in detail, I aim to help you make an informed decision when selecting the ideal pair to match your specific preferences and listening requirements.
Build & Comfort
Before we dive into the rankings and detailed assessments of each headphone in Focal’s premium lineup, it’s important to note that we won’t be discussing the build and comfort of each headphone in isolation.
This is because Focal consistently maintains a high standard of craftsmanship across its premium range.
These headphones are known for their robust, durable construction, which is designed to withstand the test of time.
Whether you’re considering the highest-end model or a more budget-friendly option, you can expect a level of build quality that instills confidence in their longevity.
Moreover, comfort is another area where Focal excels consistently across its premium offerings.
These headphones feature ample padding, open, deep, and spacious ear cups, and a non-intrusive headband design.
Despite their often substantial-ish weight, the weight distribution and clamping force are finely tuned to ensure that they don’t feel burdensome during extended listening sessions.
This combination of plush padding and thoughtful ergonomics makes Focal headphones a joy to wear for long periods without discomfort.
So, as we assess and rank these headphones, keep in mind that their build quality and comfort are generally excellent across the board, allowing us to focus more on their individual sound signatures, features, and performance characteristics.
As of this writing, I have demoed all but the Bathys, Radiance, and Clear MG Professional. Stay tuned as those are added to this ranking!
Before delving into the headphone rankings and evaluations, it’s important to preface that the assessments are based on extensive experience with these headphones paired with some of the most respected audio equipment in the world.
Furthermore, the listening experience has been enriched by utilizing the highest-quality FLAC audio files.
This level of equipment and source material ensures that the evaluation is rooted in optimal conditions for discerning sound quality, allowing for an in-depth exploration of the headphones’ characteristics and performance.
It’s important to keep this context in mind while considering the assessments, as the quality of the audio files in particular plays a crucial role in shaping the overall listening experience and judgment of the headphones.
So before you comment saying I didn’t use “The right” amp (or some other equally asinine BS), just don’t comment at all.
Because I really don’t care and will delete your comment faster than you angrily banged it out on your keyboard.
These are all my personal opinions and you’re certainly entitled to yours.
That said, if you want to debate something civilly or share your viewpoint intelligently and without malice, I’m all for it.
With that, let’s dive in!
The Focal Elegia easily ranks at the bottom of the lineup, falling short in various aspects despite its initial high price tag of nearly $1000, which has since dropped to around $400 and still isn’t even worth that much.
This is a max $200 headphone.
One of its major drawbacks is its mid-range performance, which is notably poor.
The mid-range sounds muffled and grainy, lacking the clarity and definition expected from this product at the initial asking price of $899.
Moreover, the mid-range is pushed back and relegated beneath other elements in the audio, diminishing its overall presence and impact.
While the bass on the Focal Elegia is relatively decent, it fails to compensate for the significant issues in other areas of the sound signature.
The treble also presents problems with a wonky and inconsistent sound quality, further detracting from the listening experience.
In terms of overall sound quality, the Focal Elegia lacks the refinement and clarity that audiophiles and discerning listeners typically seek in high-end headphones.
Instead, the audio output comes across as a mish-mosh of unbalanced and disjointed elements.
Vocals sound weak and lost, instruments have a layer of fuzz over them, and the treble lacks any sort of zip or shine.
The Focal Elegia stands out as the weakest option in the lineup due to its subpar mid-range, lackluster treble, and overall lack of refinement despite its initial premium price point.
I’d advise you to steer clear of this headphone at all costs as it’s easily the weakest of the bunch and almost doesn’t even deserve mention.
And please don’t start with the “It’s the cheapest and thus shouldn’t be compared with the others as that’s not fair.”
That’s a resounding NO.
This headphone, again, retailed at EIGHT HUNDRED AND NINETY NINE DOLLARS at launch. So I don’t want to hear it. It was marketed as a premium offering and is anything but.
It’s come down in price so hard because it’s NOT good and wasn’t even close to being worth $900+.
If you’re looking for a good alternative in the general price bracket of $300-500 I would go with something like an Edition XS as it’s vastly superior in every way.
Ranked at #6 in the lineup, the Focal Elear unfortunately falls short in several crucial aspects, making it a notable misstep within the Focal headphone range.
One of the most significant issues with the Elear is its erratic mid-range, which can sound disjointed, leading to a less-than-pleasant listening experience.
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 by listening closely, you can tell something clearly isn’t right.
This is likely due to some strange peaks and dips moving into the upper mid-range.
Moreover, the Elear exhibits noticeable fuzz and grain in its sound signature, further detracting from the overall experience.
This graininess can obscure fine details in music and create a less-than-optimal listening experience.
Additionally, the sound from the Elear tends to feel recessed, lacking the forwardness and engagement expected from high-quality headphones.
However, there are some redeeming qualities.
The bass performance is one such aspect, characterized by its evenness and punchy sound without being bloated or obnoxious sounding.
In other words, the kicks and low-frequency elements maintain excellent texture and impact.
Despite these strengths, they cannot fully compensate for the Elear’s issues, which have led to its discontinuation in the Focal lineup.
Focal Stellia, or, The Smell Of Disappointment
In some ways, this may be an even bigger failure than the Elegia simply due to its $3000 (!!) price tag.
I would never, ever under any circumstance fork over 3 rent payments for this.
Sheeit, you charge me $3000 for these in a DREAM and you better wake up and apologize.
Ranked at #5 in the lineup, the Focal Stellia, like the Elegia, exhibits a sound signature that leaves a lot to be desired.
One notable characteristic of the Stellia’s sound profile is its oddly elevated bass shelf, which can be polarizing for listeners.
In addition, the great channel balance that Focal is known for is largely missing here, further contributing to its wonky profile.
While some may appreciate a robust low-end response, the bass in the Stellia can overpower other frequencies, further exacerbating already existing issues in the mid-range and treble response.
The mid-range and treble performance of the Stellia, as with the Elegia, suffers from a lack of balance.
This leads to vocals and high-frequency elements sounding pushed back, hazy, and lacking in clarity; a running theme with some of Focal’s worst offerings.
This sonic flaw diminishes the overall audio quality and makes it challenging to discern subtle details in music or audio recordings.
In short, the Stellia doesn’t sound “atrocious” per se, but it definitely comes across as off-putting.
In other words,
you can tell that several things aren’t quite right which makes for a heap of disappointment – especially considering its, again, hefty price tag of roughly $3000.
Three thousand. Really? I want you to just stop and think about that for a second before moving on.
So, if the main issue with the Elegia was a horribly poor-sounding mid-range and complete lack of cohesion, the Stellia’s primary problem is simply a lack of balance across the bass, mids, and treble, with the mid-range issues specifically a close second.
It’s as if they couldn’t decide if they were going for a V-shaped signature or something resembling some sort of semblance of neutrality.
Thus, it ends up trying to be a bit of both but doesn’t actually achieve anything of significance.
I recently got a chance to demo this one and it’s markedly better than a Stellia.
In other words, what they were attempting to go for in the Stellia is also apparent in the Celestee, only the sound here is more focused, less wonky, and overall sounds tighter and better refined.
The Celestee absolutely feels more sure of itself, and though you can clearly hear the discrepancy in it vs. say, a Clear MG, it still sounds mostly clean and punchy without being overdone like your mom’s meatloaf.
Even with all that said, this headphone isn’t without its issues although I will say they aren’t nearly as apparent.
The overall sound, while tight and impactful, still retains an obvious imbalance when going back and forth between it and the Clear MG.
MG is simply smoother and has better overall resolution and balance.
From my notes, I wrote down that the Celestee simply sounds a bit “ragged” or “janky” by comparison.
This mostly manifests in the mid-bass bump around 100Hz and subsequent dip into the low mid-range.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible sounding, but you can tell that maybe that little extra bit of emphasis can kind of result in some overall grain and lack of clarity across the entirety of the spectrum.
That is to say that the mid-range is still pretty similar to the others in that it’s a bit pushed back, but the issue isn’t as painfully obvious as it is with say, a Stellia or Elegia.
With all that said, I would still steer clear of the Celestee as it doesn’t quite represent Focal’s true house sound and is significantly overpriced at around $1000.
This felt like yet another “experiment” to me, but again, it’s not completely awful.
Focal Clear OG
Ranked at #3 in the lineup, the Focal Clear represents a significant advancement in sound quality compared to the Elear (and the others), offering a notably clearer and more balanced sound profile across the entire frequency spectrum.
One of the key distinctions of the Clear is its well-preserved mid-range, which doesn’t experience the same pronounced dip as the Elear.
This results in a less recessed character and provides a better focus on resolution and fidelity, making vocals and instrumentals more prominent and engaging.
However, it’s worth noting that, similar to the Elear, the Clear still exhibits a subtle grain issue.
While this may be noticeable to discerning ears, it’s a characteristic that becomes increasingly subtle and less obvious as we move into the realm of “God-Awful” to “meh” to “good” to “excellent” territory within Focal’s headphone lineup.
The absence of a 5k peak in the Clear’s frequency response contributes to a cleaner and more predictable overall sound signature without the jarring cuts and bumps.
This refinement ensures a smoother listening experience without the potentially off-putting characteristics found in some other models.
As such, the Focal Clear is an excellent choice for audiophiles seeking a high level of clarity and balance in their headphones.
But, is there something better on the horizon?
Focal Clear MG
Ranked at #2 in the lineup, the Focal Clear MG stands out as an outstanding representation of the ideal balance between price and performance.
Well, I lied.
I checked the price of these and I still think they’re overpriced at roughly $1500.
Come down to around $900-$1000 and I think that’s about right for what you’re getting.
Whereas I absolutely would under no circumstances purchase a Celestee at $900-$1000, I may consider it in the case of the Clear MG.
This model manages to address and rectify nearly all of the issues present in its predecessors, offering a sound signature that is remarkably refined and well-rounded.
One noteworthy characteristic of the Clear MG is its slightly warmer tone, which distinguishes it from previous models (the Clear OG specifically).
This warmth contributes to a more inviting and enjoyable listening experience.
Most notably, the subtle grain that was present in both the Elear and the original Clear’s mids has been effectively eliminated in the Clear MG, resulting in a smoother and more transparent sound profile.
Such resolution, many separation, what do.
The Clear MG epitomizes the Focal house sound, and it truly shines in delivering an excellent audio experience.
The bass has that signature slam, and parts of the mid-range, while still a tad pushed back, don’t sound lost and muffled underneath a sea of fuzzy blankets.
Put simply, this is the Focal sound through and through and what you should be targeting.
With its well-tuned sound signature and meticulous attention to detail, the Clear MG is a top choice for budding audiophiles seeking exceptional sound quality (at the right price of course).
Ranked at the pinnacle and #1 in the lineup, the Focal Utopia lives up to its bold billing as “sound purity at its finest.”
Amidst a sea of bizarre and unfounded marketing claims I’ve heard over the years, this statement about the Utopia is strikingly accurate.
The Utopia stands as an unrivaled achievement in the world of dynamic headphones, representing an unparalleled sonic experience as far as what I’ve personally heard.
What sets the Utopia apart is its more subdued approach to sound, favoring balance over exaggerated peaks and dips in the frequency response.
There’s still a bump at 5-6k, but it doesn’t sound weird or jarring as it does with some of the other models.
This decision results in an exceptionally smooth and refined sound signature.
Remarkably, this subtlety doesn’t compromise on detail or resolution; in fact, it enhances them.
The Utopia manages to deliver a level of clarity that surpasses its counterparts, excelling and topping the others in resolution, timbre, instrument separation, and overall frequency response by a wide margin.
The Focal Utopia is, without a doubt, the epitome of audio perfection and a beacon of what an endgame headphone can be.
Its commitment to achieving an extraordinary level of balance, refinement, and sonic detail makes it a cherished choice for audiophiles seeking nothing but the best in their listening experience.
It’s important to note that users who were considering the Clear MG may find it tempting to save and invest in the best Focal has to offer.
While there is still a price gap, if you’re already prepared to spend $1500, it might be worth considering taking the leap to the Utopia.
Understandably, a $4000 price tag represents a significant investment, and concerns may arise.
However, it’s crucial to recognize that the Utopia is as close to audio perfection as it gets, making it a truly exceptional choice for those seeking the pinnacle of sound quality in their headphones.
If you can get it for around $2000-$3000, I say go for it and don’t look back.
This exhaustive shootout of Focal’s premium headphones has provided a comprehensive look at the strengths and weaknesses of each model in their lineup.
From the Focal Elegia at #7 to the Utopia at #1, we’ve explored the nuanced differences in sound signatures, balance, and overall performance.
It’s important to emphasize that audio preferences can vary significantly from person to person.
While some headphones may excel in certain aspects, they may not necessarily be the perfect fit for every listener.
Each headphone model has its own unique character, which may align more closely with specific tastes and priorities.
Ultimately, these are my views based on dozens of listening hours.
And for me, the Focal Utopia stands as a remarkable achievement in the world of headphones, representing the pinnacle of audio quality and sound purity.
While it comes at a higher price point, it offers an unparalleled listening experience that may justify the investment for those seeking audio perfection and a truly end-game product.
However, the Focal Clear MG at #2 also deserves special recognition for its impressive balance, refinement, and sound quality, making it a superb choice for audiophiles who want something more affordable.
When it comes to choosing the perfect headphone that transcends the boundaries of audio quality, the Focal Utopia unequivocally stands as the ultimate choice.
Beyond its substantial price tag, the Utopia offers a listening experience that is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Seriously, it gets better every time I hear it and that’s not something I can say about any of the other 130+ headphones I’ve tried.
With a remarkably balanced and refined sound profile, it achieves a level of audio purity and clarity that eclipses its counterparts.
The Utopia’s nuanced approach to sound, absent of glaring peaks and dips, ensures that every note, every instrument, and every vocal is rendered with unmatched precision and fidelity.
While the investment in a Utopia may represent a significant commitment, it’s essential to recognize that this headphone represents audio perfection in its purest form.
For those who demand nothing but the best, the Focal Utopia delivers an unparalleled sonic journey that transcends expectations, making it the ultimate choice for discerning audiophiles.
Well, that’s about it for today folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion on the best Focal Headphones and came away with some valuable insight.
Which of these do you believe is most worth an investment? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..
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…