Some of our viewers on the MajorHiFi YouTube channel have asked about how the Focal Stellia compares in sound to the Focal Clear. At first, I hadn’t considered this comparison since they are in such different price points and since The Stellia is closed-back and the Clear is open-back. However, the question somehow grabbed hold of me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. How do the two compare? And is an upgrade from the Clear to the Stellia worth it? If so, who is it worth it for? Today, let’s take a closer look at these two with this Focal Stellia vs Focal Clear Comparison Review!
Focal Stellia vs Focal Clear Headphones
In the Box
|Focal Stellia||Focal Clear|
|Focal Stellia headphones||Focal Clear headphones|
|1.2 m cable with 3.5 mm connector||1.2 m cable with 3.5 mm connector|
|3 m balanced cable with 4-pin XLR connector||3 m cable with 6.35 mm connector|
|3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapter||3 m balanced cable with 4-pin XLR connector|
|zipping rigid travel carrying case||3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapter|
|leather storage case||zipping rigid travel carrying case|
The headband of the Focal Stellia and the Focal Clear are identical in shape and size, although the Clear is a bit heavier than the Stellia. Both are extremely comfortable and balanced on the head. Their frames are made of aluminum and both have soft foam coating their undersides. Firstly, the headbands of the Stellia and Clear differ in their color. The Clear is silver. The underside of the padding is coated in gray perforated suede. The top of the padding is coated in slick, dark gray leather.
On the other hand, the Stellia is a copper brown color. In my opinion, its color is hard photograph, and in reality the headphones are less orange than they appear in photos. The underside of its padding is coated in a thin layer of extremely soft, dark brown perforated leather. The top of the padding is coated in a nearly-as-soft lighter brown leather. In general, this leather is softer than that of the Clear, and more pleasant to the touch, although it will be warmer as well.
The earcups of the Focal Stellia and Focal Clear, like the headbands, are equal in size and shape. Both sport a Focal logo in the middle. The biggest, most obvious difference between the two in regard to design is that the Stellia is closed-back and the Clear is open back.
As a result, the earcups look quite different from each other. The Stellia has a pattern of circles in brown and copper which circulate around the metallic Focal logo in the middle. As a result of this contrast in colors, the headphones have a cool mixture of a retro and futuristic look. By contrast, the Clear has a silver, aluminum protective grill that goes around the logo. It has a classy, mature look but isn’t overly flashy.
The earpads of the Focal Stellia and Focal Clear have the same size and shape. Both are stuffed with soft foam. Their coatings are different which not only will affect the sound, but will also affect how they feel.
On on hand, the Stellia’s earpads are coated in super soft leather. For folks in warmer climates, you might find these too hot! However, if you’re in a more moderate climate, the soft leather on the ears is sweet and comfortable and exudes a sense of lavishness.
By contrast, the Clear’s earpads are coated in the same perforated suede material as the underside of its headband. They’re soft and cool to the touch.
The cables of Focal Stellia and Focal Clear are nearly identical. Both headphones come with two cables: a 1.2 m unbalanced cable with a 3.5 mm connector (and a 3.5 mm to 6.35 mm adapter) and a 3 m balanced 4-pin XLR cable–although, in addition, the Focal Clear comes with another cable, a 3 m unbalanced cable with a 6.35 mm connector. The cables attach to the same place at the bottom of each earcup. They are exactly the same except for their color. The jacket of the Clear’s cable is coated in cloth and has black and white cloth stripes. By contrast, the Stellia’s has brown and black stripes. I appreciate the brown and black design because it will show dirt less than the other.
While both the Focal Stellia and Focal Clear have the Focal patented ‘M’ shaped domes, they’re made of different materials. The Stellia’s is made of Beryllium and the Clear’s is made of Aluminum-Magnesium. So what are the benefits of Beryllium over Aluminum-Magnesium?
Focal says there are three important factors when deciding on driver materials: mass (which will determine the headphone’s ability to exude signal dynamics), rigidity (which will relation to the amount of distortion), and damping (which will relation to the amount of coloration). Beryllium has the best ratio between mass-rigidity and damping of all the materials.
The low frequencies of the Focal Stellia and the Focal Clear feel similar in level and energy. In fact, they’re so similar, that I couldn’t hear much of a difference at all. However, I did feel a difference in the relationship between the lows and the low-mids.
On one hand, the Stellia had more space between the lows and low-mids. As a result, low-mid rich instruments like bass guitars, cellos, and organs had a bit more separation than the Clear. The Clear’s low-mids feel slightly more vague in comparison.
For example, when I was listening to the song Roll with the Punches by Dawes, the kick drum feels nearly identical in both pairs. Perhaps there is slightly slightly more punch to the kick on the Stellia (although I’m not sure if this is more of a difference I hear because it is easier to drive, and thus hard to level match between the two). However, the place I was able to hear the difference is evident in the song around 3:11. At that time stamp, the new verse becomes sparse. With the Clear, the bass guitar and kick feel close to each other. And while I can hear both, their congruity in the groove makes them harder to hear as separate parts. By contrast, when listening to this section the Stellia, the bass guitar feels like it has a greater sense of tightness which helps to separate it from the kick drum tonally.
The midrange of the Focal Stellia and Focal Clear have similar tonality as well. The Stellia has slightly more energy in the low part of the low-mids. However, both have a nice sense of evenness in the middle part of the midrange, making them capable of showing harmonic complexity in midrange rich instruments like guitars, synths, pianos, and strings. I start to hear a bigger difference between the two headphones in the high-mids.
On one hand, the Clear feels more even in the high-mids. Nothing is particularly emphasized, although it does have a bit of a cut toward the top part of the high-mids. By contrast, the Stellia has more energy in the low part of the high-mids. As a result, vocals sit more forward in space with the Stellia and tonally lean more toward the face than the chest. Additionally, instruments with high-mid energy like crunchy electric guitars, drum attacks, and horn stabs take up more space and feel more intimate.
For example, when I was listening to the song Lazarus by David Bowie, the snap of the snare drum felt louder in the mix with the Stellia. Additionally, Bowie’s voice had more presence and the wide, crunchy electric guitars felt textural in a more specific way.
By contrast, the Clear had more spaciousness in the high-mids. Bowie’s voice had emphasis closer to his throat than his face. The snare drum sat back in space a bit, closer to the horns. The crunch of the wide electric guitars matched the energy of its middle-mids level-wise, and thus felt smoother and less textural.
The high frequencies of the Focal Stellia and the Focal Clear both have emphasis in the lower treble and upper octave. However, their high ends are weighted slightly differently. The Stellia has more energy in the extended highs with emphasis on higher frequencies in the upper octave. By contrast, the Clear has more emphasis in the upper treble than the Stellia. As a result, highs have more extension with the Stellia but feel more textural with the Clear.
For example, when I was listening to the song So Tender by Keith Jarrett, the cymbals feel lighter, higher, and a bit thinner with the Stellia. By contrast the cymbals feel a bit louder in the mix with the Clear and have more texture than then Stellia.
Despite one having a closed-back design and one having an open-back design, the sound stages of the Focal Stellia and Focal Clear are remarkably similar. In other words, surprisingly, the Clear doesn’t sound particularly extended in comparison. However, the differences in frequency emphasis translate to different feelings in regard to soundstage.
On one hand, because of the Stellia’s emphasis in the high-mids, vocals and other high-mid heavy instruments feel closer in space. This comes across as being more intimate than the Clear, but also contributes to a little bit of a sense of crowding there. Additionally, because of the dip in the Stellia’s upper treble, the high frequency instruments seem to have more spaciousness and a more expansive sense of height compared to the Clear.
By contrast, due to the Clear’s evenness across the midrange, the soundstage feels more true to the mixer’s intention. Additionally, because it doesn’t have such a big emphasis in the high-mids, there seems to be a more accurate sense of directionality widthwise.
This sounded the most clear when I was listening to the song Didn’t Cha Know by Erykah Badu. With the Stellia, the emphasis of the high-mids on the background vocals brought them closer in space to the lead vocal, making less space for the vocal in those parts. By contrast, the Clear helped them sit further back in space, and as a result, they seemed to sound wider too. Additionally, the height of the hand drum, percussion, and high-hat had wonderful contrast from the grounding kick drum and bass guitar in the song. However, this difference seemed a bit greater with the Stellia than the Clear.
Overall, there are a lot of similarities between the Focal Stellia and Focal Clear. Tonally, you might not notice the difference if you aren’t intimately familiar with either. However, the biggest difference is in the midrange and highs and where the two emphasize things. The Stellia has a greater sense of air, and brings out more specificity in the high-mids.
By contrast, the Clear has slightly more emphasis on textures and is more neutral in the high-mids. If you’re considering upgrading to the Stellia from the Clear, I would recommend doing so if you’ve been concerned with sound isolation but want a headphone with an overall similar sound characteristic. You get a bit more detail with the Stellia, and a have better isolation from the outside world.
Both the Focal Stellia and the Focal Clear are available for the best price here:
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|Focal Stellia||Focal Clear|
|Type||over-ear, closed-back||over-ear, open-back|
|Impedance||35 ohms||55 ohms|
|Sensitivity||106 dBSPL @ 1 kHz/1 Vrms||105 dBSPL/1 mW @ 1kHz|
|Frequency Response||5 Hz – 40 kHz||5 Hz – 28 kHz|
|Weight||435 g||450 g|