Focal Clear headphones review - A perfectly balanced listening experience
Focal Clear headphones - A perfectly balanced listening experience
The market for headphones is growing and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate growth of over 7% for the next five years and is expected to exceed $20 billion in revenue by 2023. Little wonder then that we are seeing so many new players in the headphone audio space. One of the newest entrants is Focal, who entered the high-end headphone market in 2016 with its Elear and Utopia headphones.
The Clear is the newest high-end headphone offering from Focal and it follows upon the successful release of the Elear and Utopia. It is the result of both user feedback and market research, and I would argue that it is perhaps the most accomplished headphone in Focal’s high-end headphone lineup.
At $2,199, it is priced somewhere between the Elear and Utopia, but it shares more similarities with the Elear. In terms of design, it looks like an Elear but with a silver coat of paint. The leather and perforated microfiber headband, the aluminum yokes, the mesh earcups, and even the ear pads are all shades of silver. It’s a refreshing if not great look and one that I think is fitting considering Focal’s newbie status in the world of high-end headphones.
The Clear shares the same 40mm aluminum and magnesium M-shaped dome drivers with the Elear, but with an important tweak. In place of the Elear’s copper-clad aluminum voice coil, the Clear has a full copper voice coil that is claimed to produce a stronger magnetic field. This gives the driver greater control, allowing it to be faithful to the audio signals that it receives.
Another key difference between the Clear and Elear lies in its ear pads. Color aside, the Clear’s ear pads feature perforations that create a greater sense of openness. Along with the mesh ear cups, the Clear is one of the most open headphones I have experienced. Putting them on, I could detect no attenuation of my surroundings and I can still hear everything around me perfectly.
The final difference lies in the headphones accessories. Focal has clearly listened to customer feedback on this one and is shipping the Clear with a handy hardshell carrying case and three cables: a short 1.2-meter cable that terminates in a 3.5mm plug and two 3m meter cables that terminate in a 4-pin XLR and 6.35mm plug. The Clear also comes with a 3.5mm to 6.35mm adapter. In comparison, the Elear and Utopia only come with a single 3m long cable with a 6.35mm plug termination.
In terms of sound, the Clear is wonderfully balanced. Bass extends deep for a pair of open dynamic headphones and it is clean without any bloat nor bleeding into the mids. The midrange is smooth and liquid, giving vocals and instruments like guitars and pianos the right amount of presence. Treble is well-judged and is never shrill. It has just the right amount of sparkle and air. Soundstage is decent, but not as impressively wide as Sennheiser’s HD 800 and HD 800 S. Altogether, the Clear sounds wonderfully balanced and coherent.
Despite the Clear’s outstanding performance, I think it could do with a bit of a bass bump as it sounds a little lean and lacking in body. And although the overall tonality is good, I felt that its accuracy also means that it has the propensity to make it sound a little cold and clinical. The Clear is faithful to the source, but in doing so, its downfall is that it lacks character and doesn’t sound as exciting or inviting as some of its rivals in this price category.
As a result, I would direct readers who prefer a warmer and musical sound signature and are looking for a pair of high-end headphones in this price range to look instead to ZMF and Audeze, whose headphones have a lusher and more inviting sound signature. The Clear, therefore, is best suited for listeners who want a faithful and accurate reproduction of music.
At S$2,199, the Focal Clear is an expensive pair of headphones, but its price is justified by its levels of performance and the accessories it has. Overall, I find it to be technically proficient and I think it would make a fine pair of end-game headphones for audiophiles seeking a neutral and balanced sound.
This article first appeared in the March 2018 issue of HWM.