Focal is a brand I’ve admired for a long time. I originally caught wind of them because of their studio monitors, which have been all the buzz among producers and high profile recording studios for years now. Their headphones have garnered just as much respect from the audio world, and they’ve been building up quite a product line. Their “Clear” line of headphones has a few members now with deceptively similar names: the Clear, Clear MG, and Clear MG Pro. Today we’ll be comparing the Clear MG and Clear MG Pro. These both sell for $1,490 but cater to different markets. The Clear MG is meant to be more for the listener whereas the Clear MG Pro is meant to be more for the creator. However, whether you’re an avid listener, artist, or both, if you’re choosing between these two headphones, their intended uses shouldn’t be the sole deciding factor. Their differences are much more subjective.
What’s in the Box
|Clear MG||Clear MG Pro|
Look and Feel
I think these are some of the cooler looking headphones I’ve seen on the market recently, you’re definitely compelled to try them on before you even know much about their build. They both sport essentially the same design but in different colors. Their most striking feature is their honeycomb grills, the Clear MG Pro’s in black and the Clear MG’s in silver, which give them an innovative, modern look and grab your attention immediately. Their leather headbands are very comfy along with their extra soft ear pads. The Clear MG is a creamy beige all around whereas the Clear MG Pro has an all black exterior with red ear pads. These also both have solid aluminum yokes that are built to help the headphones better mold to your face. Both come with a hard shell fabric carrying case in a unique curved shape. The cases are super cool looking though can be a bit finicky with the zipper because of their shape.
Both of these are circum-aural open back headphones and feature Focal’s specially designed M-shaped magnesium dome on their drivers. This dome is meant to allow more lightness and dampening. They’re both said to offer a more neutral sound signature, and their perforated microfiber earpads are supposed to create a greater sense of space for their relatively small size. They share the same frequency response of 5Hz – 28kHz.
Both of these have an impedance of 55 Ohms. An amp isn’t a necessity with these, though it’ll give them some extra oomph. I used the iFi NEO IDSD with both of these and it drove them perfectly.
The soundstage of the Clear MG feels noticeably wider than that of the Clear MG Pro. To be clear, both of these have that nice and wide open back soundstage, you’re not getting robbed of that on either of these at all. However, the scale and width on the Clear MG just stretches a bit further. Additionally, the instrument separation is a bit more pronounced on the Clear MG. This makes sense given the Clear MG Pro doesn’t want to give tracks much more divided imaging than they already have for the sake of accuracy. The Clear MG Pro is giving us realistic and the Clear MG is giving us idealistic. By realistic I don’t mean the Clear MG Pro is more intimate or upfront, but more honest to the mix and master of a song. The Clear MG gives more body on the sides of the mix whereas the Pro puts its focus closer to the center.
For the most part, both headphones have really full bodied, punchy lows, staying tight and well tuned. The Clear MG puts this punch on the sides of the stereo field whereas the Clear MG Pro focuses the punch in the center a bit more, consistent with their respective soundstages. Overall, the Clear MG seems to have a heavier low end response than the Clear MG Pro. However, the Pro at times outdoes the Clear MG in certain areas of the spectrum. I tested out Lianne La Havas’ “Midnight” and felt both headphones translated the song with great warmth and color in the low end. I expected the Clear MG Pro to focus on the bass and kick at the center of the mix more, but surprisingly they both seemed to give a more love to the lows on the stereo recorded piano and horns. That being said, the Clear MG added more warmth to these wider elements whereas the Clear MG Pro added more sub. The same went for their punch. The Clear MG Pro has more punch in the sub frequencies that in some ways make it feel overall less punchy than the Clear MG, which punches more in the 50-60Hz range. However, its greater focus on the sub areas make the Clear MG Pro feel more guttural and all encompassing in its low end response at times.
The mids are what divided these headphones most for me. The Clear MG Pro has stronger high mids with a bit more snap to them. The Clear MG keeps its mids more tame and silky, letting them take a backseat to the lows and highs. I found neither of these to have any harshness in their midrange, but definitely different attitudes. I listened to “Honeycomb” by Kadhja Bonet, one of my favorite tracks for a lot of warm mids (and fitting for both headphones’ design). The Clear MG really opened up the mix of this track and let its mellow harmonies and fluid vocals stream through the speakers. The Pro gave a more straightforward presentation of the track, still letting its vocals flow smoothly but with a bit more texturized mids. Additionally, the harmonies in the song had more body in the low mids on the Pro .This gave them a fuller, more velvety quality, but also made them sound slightly less delicate than they did on the Clear MG. These are both very clean cut headphones, but the Clear MG Pro has harder edges and a more pointed signature. The Clear MG likes to keep the midrange overall more relaxed.
The difference in high end between these is subtle but noticeable. The Clear MG Pro has more of a metallic sheen to its highs while the Clear MG has a bit more warmth and color in this area. The Clear MG Pro’s more sparkling high end paired with its sharper mids definitely add to its overall biting articulation. On the other hand, the warmer highs on the Clear MG paired with its more docile midrange definitely gives it more tranquility. I tried out “Experience” by Victoria Monét because I was in the mood for some bright disco-inspired pop. Both headphones killed it it on this track, but the Clear MG smoothed and stretched the highs more whereas the Clear MG Pro gave them to me straight up and shiney. Both of these are pretty bright. I was trying to decide if one headphone was much brighter than the other, but kept going back and forth on it. It seems their brightness differs in tone more than it does in amount. Neither headphone feels sibilant in the high end, which I appreciate brighter headphone avoiding.The highs are not as huge a difference as the mids are on these, but each headphone still takes its own hold on them.
The Clear MG and Clear MG Pro definitely feel like cousins. They’re not fundamentally different and I think a lot of listeners might love them equally for various reasons. Still, if you’re trying to choose, there’s definitely some key differences. In many ways, these live up to their name. The Clear MG Pro is clearly more the producers headphone while the Clear MG is more the listeners headphone. The Clear MG feels like it holds the sound’s hand a bit more, giving it a bit of an upgrade, while the Pro more so leaves the sound to swim on its own. As a producer and engineer, I would want to listen to my mix with the Clear MG because I know it might cover up some imperfections, but I would need to listen to it on the Clear MG Pro first in order to fine tune it. I really appreciate that they both run for the same price, because at the end of the day what “pros” need doesn’t necessarily need to be of a higher quality as much as it just needs to have a more applicable sound signature. Focal seems to respect the creator and the listener equally, which I think is important in the world of HiFi audio. Especially those who are very particular about their sound—looking for high resolution audio, trying to match the correct amplifier, seeking out the best pair of headphones for their liking, etc—while they may not be creating music or mixing audio, they are forming an experience for themselves. It’s not the same as plugging in your headphones and pressing play, this is curating and cultivating a level of specificity and expertise that often leaves the listener with ears as, if not sometimes more, critical as the artist themselves. So hats off to Focal for understanding the assignment!