The Luxurious Focal Radiance – Review

We finally have a new headphone coming from one of the most acclaimed audiophile headphone manufacturers out there. Focal has unleashed the Radiance, a new closed-back model apart of their new partnership with Bentley. This aspect of Focal’s new headphone has been heavily advertised like the company is likening its fresh model to a new car. This actually makes sense to me, and it wouldn’t be the first time we at Major HiFi have likened a Focal product to a car. The Focal Utopia was called the “Cadillac of headphones” here on MajorHiFi, and now we have their latest product that aims for the luxury standard of owning a brand new car. Can this limited edition headphone make an impact?

Headphone Packaging Contents

What You Get

Focal always brings an elegant packaging presentation to match the dignified appearance of their headphones. It should be familiar to manage if you have experience with the Elegia or Clear. Sliding off the top will reveal the Focal’s standard hard case, this time sporting the Bentley insignia on its handle for extra class. The case is compact and manageable enough to carry around with ease if portability is a concern. Inside the hard case, you won’t find many accessories aside from the essentials. The headphones themselves are displayed neatly in the case, along with its stock 3.5mm cable with a quarter-inch adapter. 

Bentley Plate

Look and Feel

The partnership with Bentley is reflected in the headphone’s main build and aesthetic. You may be familiar with the all-around shaping if you’ve seen Focal’s other main products, but this time the Radiance has a sleek, all-black style. The plate design of the cups also sports a different outer housing design that references the style of a Bentley. Both the grill pattern and the inward side of the headband showcase these motifs, giving the Radiance a real luxury aesthetic.

I’m happy to say they also feel like a luxury headphone as well. The ear cushions and headband are made from full-grain leather, supported by a solid aluminum yoke. This completes an utterly superb build that stands sturdy and durable, sure to last you through the years. Knowing that the ear cushions are finished with Pittards leather makes sense, as the Radiance fits over your ears like a glove. The circumaural style of Focals headphones has always helped their comfort quality, but with the soft pads combined with a non-pressured headband, the Radiance, boasts a luxury fit. 

Headphone Ear cushion

Design

Under the hood, the Radiance features Focal’s latest design in their full range speaker technology, a 40mm driver with an aluminum/magnesium “M” shaped dome. This choice makes sure the Radiance features little to no distortion and more precise signal output. Attached to the headphones is an OFC 24 AWG cable that’s 4ft long. 

Output

This brand of high-end headphones usually features a high impedance resistance that requires an amplifier, but the Radiance doesn’t require one. With only an impedance of 35 Ohms, the Radiance becomes fairly easy to drive from any 3.5mm headphone output. You can plug the cable into your laptop of smartphone dongle and you should receive a fair amount of volume to adjust to your preferred gain. I used the iFi Zen DAC through my PC using Tidal master quality for playback. This will do the Radiance justice, as detail retrieval is key, and the headphone grants you a frequency response of 5Hz-23kHz. 

Headphone design

Soundstage

The Radiance is a closed-back headphone, but that doesn’t mean the stage lacks the ability to have width. That being said, the Radiance is a more focused sound than that of other models. It has the ability to show width where it needs to but mainly tried to respect the imaging of the mix. However, there is a depth to this stage, and it becomes very apparent in tracks like “Magneto” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, where Nick’s commanding voice is surrounded by a droning bass and acoustic guitar strums that lay behind you all in full clarity. 

You get a nice spherical response with sounds feeling like they’re blooming from the back of your head and reflecting throughout the tightly knit space of the Radiance. Separation is also a quality that I appreciated in this more condensed stage. Low-end and mid-range elements like drum fills lay in a bottom position around your jaw, and highs take-up the very top of your head. The imaging never sounds too big or thin, but exactly how it appears in the mix.

Low End

From what I’ve heard in other Focal headphones, they never lean too heavy on bass. For the Radiance, that’s also the case. However, this doesn’t mean that it lacks bass in any significant way. In fact, the Radiance sports a fairly deep bass that isn’t the most apparent tonality, but one that you definitely start to feel the more you listen. The track “Horizons of Appearances” by Steven Hauschildt features a deep-seated synth bass that provides a smooth bed for the abstract elements to play around in. At first, I perceived it as a more neutral tonality, but the more you listen, the more you start to notice its subtleties.  It’s a timbre that takes some breaking in, testing with a plethora of different tracks, but in the end, you’ll find its pleasantries.

Mids

Mid-range frequency bands offer crystal clear resolution and fullness across the spectrum. Low mid bands receive a subtle amount of weight, and the upper mids help to lift the timbre to a more serene tonality. Acoustical instruments like guitars appear super crisp, making folkier tracks from the likes of Cat Stevens or Bob Dylan a more enjoyable experience. Everything from the buzzing of the strings to the resonance of harmonics is expressed with precise detail. Vocals are also just as exquisite, like on that Nick Cave track I mentioned previously. His performance appears forward in the Radiance, where the details take on an impressionistic tonality. The many vibrations of his voice bring an ample body to the track, while still leaving enough space for the other mid-range elements to play around in. 

Highs

While slightly recessed, the highs offer bits of texture here and there that help complete the sound signature. Some tracks like the one from Steven Hauschildt provide sparkly synthetic chimes the float around your headspace in an airy resonance that can sound quite ethereal at times. Other tracks have the potential to brighten up which might not please everyone, but the smoothness of the highs helps to balance out what could be perceived as a more harsh tonality. This only has an effect on tracks that really climbed up in gain, but most of the time, the highs are well textured and satisfying.

Summary

I honestly didn’t know how to feel about the Radiance on the first impression, but after a little while of break-in, I ended up enjoying this headphone immensely. The French manufacturer Focal is no stranger to producing high-quality headphones, but I think the Radiance deserves its unique spot in their catalog. The build is striking, it’s a great fit and the sound signature has interesting subtleties that I found exciting the longer I listened. For $1290 Focal offers a great headphone for a fair price considering its quality.

Pros and Cons

Pros: Build, design, comfortable, unique look, subtle details in sound quality

Cons: Bass and treble might not satisfy everyone

The Focal Radiance is available to pre-order now at Audio 46.

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