It feels like Christmas morning here at Major HiFi. In a few hours time, the Focal Clear will arrive at our doorstep. There has been a lot of hype about these headphones. They are the mid-point–in price, and perhaps quality–between Focal’s other audiophile headphones, the Focal Elear and the Focal Utopia. Today I’ll determine where the headphones land with this full Focal Clear review.
Review of Focal Clear Headphones
Frequency Response: 5Hz-29kHz
Impedance: 55 ohms
Sensitivity: 104 dBSPL
THD: .25% at 1 kHz/100 db SPL
Type: over-ear, open-back
Drivers: 40 mm aluminum/magnesium M-shaped dome, dynamic driver
In the Box
Hard-shell carrying case
3 low resistance cables with cotton braided sheaths
-1.2 m cable with 3.5 mm connector
-3 m cable with 6.35 mm connector
-3 m cable with 4-pin XLR conenctor
⅛’’ to ¼’’ adapter
Optional: headphone stand
Fit and Comfort
Focal, with its dedication to acoustic research, has a permanent seat at the table when it comes to high fidelity, audiophile headphones. But in addition to their attention to detail in sound, they also give plenty of love to to the fit and comfort of their headphones.
All three of Focal’s most well known audiophile headphones, the Utopia, the Elear, and now the Clear are extremely comfortable. In fact, they are the most comfortable headphones I’ve ever experienced. If you know much about the Utopia and Elear, you know that the Utopia is somehow even more comfortable than the Elear. The Clear falls closer to the Elear in comfort and style. It has spring loaded swivelling ear cups that form to fit your individual head shape. The headphones are light considering they’re made of metal. But they don’t feel too heavy on the head.
Let’s take a closer look at the Focal Clear.
The headband is flexible, and I could see it fitting with the same amount of comfort for folks of all head sizes. The top of the headband is coated with soft leather, and underneath it features a memory foam cushion coated with suede. The overall weight of the headband feels extremely balanced and secure. It doesn’t hug the top of the head too tightly, and sits just right.
The earcup of the Focal Clear is large by design, as it is meant to fit completely over the ear. It is an open-back design, and when you look at the earcup from the inside, you can see through it. The earcups feature a metallic aluminum mesh on the other side, counterbalanced with a shiny Focal decal. This contrasts beautifully with the matte finishing of the headband. As mentioned before, the earcup swivel is spring loaded, making it a lovely fit.
The earpads are thick and comfy, presenting the same memory foam as the headband. It is coated with perforated suede. Whether or not this affects the acoustics of the headphones, I can’t be sure. But it does not contribute to the overall comfort as the suede doesn’t get stuffy throughout long duration use.
The new cotton-braided cables for the Focal Clear are less bulky than the previous audiophile models. They feel very durable, but they will also be more difficult to clean if needed. The headphones come with three different cables: one with a 3.5 mm connector for listening on a phone or other portable player, one with a 6.35 mm connector for professional use, and one with a 4-pin XLR connector for balanced listening.
During my first listen to the Focal Clear headphones, I decided to try purely driving them with my smartphone. I was impressed, actually, with how well they performed straight from the phone, although overall the dynamics of the music suffered significantly. While I do recommend listening with an amp, if you need to listening with a phone, you can get by purely from a technological standpoint.. Next I listened using the iFi Black Label to drive the headphones. This method revealed more nuance and detail. Finally, I listened using the balanced cable with the iCan amplifier. The full potential of the headphones was exposed. As a result, the headphones purred like a kitten, full, punchy dynamics and spacious frequency separation. But alas, here is the full sound review.
As I begin playing some tunes (from the album, Salutations, by Conor Oberst), I notice how fast reacting the headphones are to the bass frequencies. The kick drum is detailed and punchy, and has nice separation between it and the low-mid frequencies of the bass guitar. I know many folks are wondering how the bass response compares to the Elear because for some, the Elear’s are a little too polite for their tastes. The Focal Clear performs well, although the sub-frequencies, below 50 Hz could use a little more energy. There seems to be a slight, broad boost around 80 Hz, resulting in a more audible, but still balanced bass response than the Focal Elear.
Midrange frequencies in the Focal audiophile headphones are thought-provoking because while they is clear and detailed, they aren’t hyped at all. The Focal Clear is no exception here. Now I’m listening to Margaret Glaspy’s album, Emotions and Math. There is a low-mid boost around 200 Hz, giving the guitars thickness, while somehow maintaining both clarity and warmth. Switching over to the album, The Iceberg, by Oddisee, I notice a boost in the high-mids, around 4kHz. It isn’t over the top, but it gives the vocals a little extra bit of detail. And while the mid-range as a whole is detailed, it is still laidback. Its overall sound is more balanced than boastful of personality, but this fact makes it unique among other audiophile headphones in the same price range. As I switch to some Brahms, I’m excited again by this headphone’s response to dynamic changes, especially in the low-mids of the cello.
The high frequencies of the Focal Clear are closer to the Focal Elear than the Focal Utopia. They are nicely balanced, but have a boost between 10kHz and 12kHz. It isn’t airy in the same way the Focal Utopia, and I wish it had that little extra sparkly extension. Listening with the balanced cable seemed to improve the highest frequencies, and as a result the imaging and detail.
The Focal Clear has a wide stereo image. Its height is good, although more extension in the high frequencies would have made it taller and more accurate. Like I mentioned before, using the balanced cable helps in this area a bit, but it doesn’t perform as well as the Utopia here. Like both the Utopia and Elear, the Clear doesn’t have have an extreme amount of depth. It’s depth becomes more apparent in particularly dynamic recordings, like orchestral or jazz music.
So is the Focal Clear worth the extra $500 above the Focal Elear? If you have the cash, yes! The slight downfalls of the Elear are addressed with the Clear. However, it is worth knowing the headphones will play at their full potential using the balanced cable, which means you’ll need an amplifier with the 4-pin XLR output. Overall, the Focal Clear is a great headphone for those who like the flat, laidback sound Focal’s audiophile headphones.
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