The start of 2021 in the headphone world belongs to Focal. It’s only March and we have seen the release of three brand new models from the French manufacturer. The Celestee and the Clear MG Professional have already made their marks on the audiophile market three months into the year. I previously reviewed the MG Pro and stated that it was their most studio-friendly headphone to date. Studio reference is really only something Focal focuses on outside of headphones with their line of studio monitors, so the MG Pro was a nice change of pace for them. Focal has now released the Clear MG separate from the Professional moniker. Is the Clear MG a return to Focal’s standard of audiophile open-backs?
What You Get
When it comes to Focal and their packaging, you pretty much know what to expect. The slide-out case reveals that fabulous carrying case we all know and love. This time the case has this dark grey shade with a bronze tint. Inside the case is usually the headphone with a shorter 3.5mm cable and adapter, but you only get the headphone with the Clear MG. This is a strange choice, as one of the included cables is the same length as the one Focal usually stores in the case. It makes me think they could have added another, longer cable option for 3.5mm and quarter-inch. Otherwise, the only other included cable is a 4-pin XLR, 10ft in length.
Look and Feel
Focal has been knocking it out of the park this year in the design department. They haven’t been much of a departure in terms of build, but each headphone has had an eye-catching aesthetic style that sticks out amongst most headphones in any price range. The Clear MG has this solid bronze primary color. The appearance of the headphone looks like it was mined and crafted to perfection from bronze material itself, even though it’s really solid aluminum. The honeycomb grille is back with the m-shaped silver grill on the inside of each ear cup. They are suspended by Focal’s patented solid aluminum yoke which is always reliable, and a leather/microfiber headband. The earpads are also made from microfiber, and they’re perforated for an extended soundstage. As for the fit, it’s what you’d expect from Focal. The Clear MG meets their rigorous standard for comfort and stability.
Inside the housing is Focal’s usual 40mm speaker driver, only this time with a new magnesium dome. This provides an even more dynamic output, with a wider spectrum of detail and resolution. The construction of the acoustic makeup looks to deliver a neutral sound signature with a more open stage, using the magnesium to deliver an even more rich timbre.
There aren’t a lot of headphones in Focal’s library that are very hard to drive. Like the other members of the Clear family, you’ll receive an ample level of loudness with most devices. Personally, I think having a small DAC/amp adapter is quite enough to juice up the headphones and do them justice, but using a nice amplifier with the 4-pin XLR is going to give you the Clear MG at its very best.
One of the biggest showcases of the original Clear was its soundstage and imaging, so I was excited to hear what magnesium could add to it without the leashes of accuracy. The answer is an utterly absurd amount of depth. The Clear MG having exceptional width and height shouldn’t really be news to anyone familiar with Focal, but here it is especially limitless. The stage expands past my shoulders and out into the ether. Combined with the height, the stage feels more like air coming toward you, rather than from the driver, almost like the properties of a great planar headphone.
Listening to ambient tracks like “Assembly” by Ray Porter feature these hymns and sweeps that run across your head on the Clear MG, with chants sounding properly distant like they’re coming from a true source. The incredible sense of depth resonates best with these types of instrumentations and effects, as the stage shows its greatest qualities when the image extends far outside your headspace.
While I wasn’t expecting a large amount of bass presence, as the Clear headphones tend to deliver a more neutral response, the MG was surprisingly dynamic and satisfying. With an equal amount of clarity and detail as the Clear, the MG provides a subtle texture that amplifies the sub-bass to being just noticeable. The bass hits on tracks like “One Shy Morning” by Amon Tobin appear deep and gratifying with a chest-pounding impact. The bass can also have a softer resonance without sacrificing its sense of depth, like on more mellow classical tracks. Overall, you get out of it whatever you put into it, making for a versatile low-end that features a ton of details.
The performance of the midrange is lightly textured with a smooth amount of low-mid warmth that is just present enough to provide a pleasant character to frequency response. This features a unique timbre that isn’t short in detail but leans more on the fun side than the analytical, which is what I think the Clear MG needed to be. This is showcased very well on the new Tigers Jaw album “I Won’t Care How You Remember Me” with the changes between airy acoustic performances, to crisp and crunchy electric guitars. The combination of male and female vocals also highlights the details in the mid and upper midrange for an interesting mix of tonality.
When it comes to the treble, you can get a couple of different mixed responses. At first, I thought the treble might have been a bit too hot, but over time I grew more comfortable with the brightness and was able to appreciate more of the timbre. Some of the highs feature a smooth sibilance that resonates with great detail. The track “Leave the Door Open” by Silk Sonic was a great example of this sensation, with a blissful texture to the vocals of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. The high harmonies in this track produce some nice sizzle with a sweet reverb tail. There’s a fine timbre here if you’re willing to get past some of the brightness.
The Focal Clear MG is exactly the open-back you might be looking for if you’re looking to upgrade from the original Clear. There’s definitely a reason to analyze both sound signatures together, but for now, I can tell you that the Clear MG has some of the best depth in Focal’s library, with some exciting bass and warm textures. The treble might be a bit of a climb, but it still has the consistency of detail you’d expect. Magnesium drivers are a great innovation that I can’t wait to see Focal develop further. This is absolutely the audiophile open-back I expect out of Focal, with rich details and exceptional clarity.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Holographic soundstage, Dynamic bass, Warm textures, Aesthetic, Build
Cons: 3.5mm cable too short
The Focal Clear MG is available at Audio 46.
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