It’s not everyday that a non-audiophile headphone peaks my interest as much as the Listen by Focal has. While Focal is historically a audiophile speaker system company, with a few headphones here and there, they have been gaining press and momentum with their grand entrance into the headphone market as a serious competitor. The French company’s Listen and Sphear being their latest releases, with their awaited audiophile grade Elear and Utopia being released in the near future. The Listen is marketed as their premium mobile headphone being aimed more at the masses than the audiophile market.
Focal Listen Review
Employing a pretty standard setup the Listen’s headband is made from a pliable plastic giving it the ability to stand up to the abuse of being an on the go headphone. The headband also has a strip of padding going across the entire band length, while being a more firm padding I can only imagine it will break in and offer a more relaxed fit with continued use. The headphone is also collapsible, so it takes up a smaller footprint when not in use. The earpads are pretty large but they have a pretty comfortable ware. A surprising characteristic from the headphone is there is an insanely high amount of passive noise cancelling from how well the earpads sit around your ears. Becoming more of a standard in headphones is that the cable is removable and is a standard 3.5mm twistlock connector, so replacing it shouldn’t require too much effort. There is a universal pause button and an in-line microphone for when you need to make calls. The headphone is on the heavier side so it might be more tiresome for longer listening sessions if you are sensitive to headphone pressure.
Since the headphone market is flooded with countless headphones in the price range it is hard to develop a product that can stand out above the rest and have it’s own image, and somehow Focal has done just that. I compared the headphone to it largest competitor, in my opinion, the MSR7 by Audio-Technica and I was surprised by my preference to the Listen. Since both are marketed as a premium mobile headphone with similar pricetags I considered this a fair match up.
This is the sonic weak point of the headphone, the lack of power behind the low end. There is detail and structure to the low end it’s just missing the right amount of energy behind it. While you will hear what you’re supposed to there will be that gap in power that will leave you wanting more. Being a fan of brighter headphones I still found it a little lackluster. While the MSR7 has more bass the detail isn’t as sharp as the Listen.
The mid-range of the headphone has presence and body. Vocal quality comes out very well and there is a crispness to the range that helps it shine. The Focal’s overall mid range is more laid back and smooth compared to the MSR7 which comes across a little more aggressive and bright.
There is a lot of energy in the high end making it come off as a brighter sounding headphone. Strings and Brass come off clean while not too sharp. There is an articulate and detailed approach to the high end without causing it to become overbearing and sharp. While the MSR7 comparatively has a more fragile and present high end causing it to come off too sharp at times.
The soundstage offers some okay separation and depth, it’s pretty par for course in this price range. There isn’t much of a difference in the soundfield between the two headphones so it’s a tossup in this category.
The Listen is a great mobile headphone to be used on the go. I like the design and overall feel of the headphone, even if it may come across a little larger. Since I am a fan of brighter sounding headphones I appreciate the overall sound quality. The build looks solid enough to stand up to the long term abuse a mobile headphone can go through. I don’t think that I can say this a serious competitor to the MSR7 as the premium mobile headphone under $300, however, the Listen has earned it’s place by it’s side at the top.
For a high quality mobile headphone the Listen isn’t a bad choice. If you’re a fan of a brighter sound quality then the Listen is a great investment. If you find yourself liking bass more than the next person then you might want to consider the MSR7 or even the M50x as another option for your listening device.
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