Following the launch of last year’s Clear and the Elegia, Focal has come up with a high-end offering - the Focal Stellia - that’s supposed to offer “acoustic sound purity, everywhere”. Priced at a cool S$3,999, this slots in between the Clear and the Utopia from a price perspective, while placing it as Focal’s flagship closed-back option.
The Stellia comes in a luxurious-looking cognac finish, with the headband wrapped in full-grain leather that’s cognac colored on top and mocha below. Likewise, the large, full-grain leather cushions follow the same color scheme but in reverse, with cognac on the inside and mocha for the main surface. These are plumped with 20mm memory foam and offer great comfort even over extended periods of listening.
As expected for headphones of this price range, the Stellia comes with a good set of accessories too. Here's what you'll get in the box:
The frame of the headphone again follows a similar design to the Elear and Clear, but with a distinctly different circular pattern on the steel case. The earcups have been specially designed to reduce resonance, with vents to dissipate low frequency sounds and EVA foam to absorb higher frequency sounds. The yoke and headband follow the design from the Utopia, and offered the same easy molding to our head without excessive clamping.
We tried these out on the go, and found the Stellia secure enough to stay in place even while moving up and down the stairs of the moving bus; all without suffering the dreaded clamping effect. However, the headphone doesn't fold and you may find the rigid carrying case a little too bulky to bring around with you comfortably.
Going back to the memory foam ear cushions, these offered excellent passive noise isolation, allowing us to enjoy our music despite the external noise from being on the road. Lightweight and comfortable is an easy summary, but perhaps the most impressive thing besides comfort is how easy the headphones are to drive.
Our tiny FiiO M7 had no issues driving the Stellia, with it happily running just under 30% volume. In fact, there's was virtually no difference in performance listening to the headphones when on the go and when powered by our Creative Sound Blaster X7. That's certainly impressive, given that this full-sized headphone uses 40mm 'M' shaped Beryllium dome full-range drivers.
We started our testing with a recording of Get Lucky by Daft Punk, and the headphone provided good energy to the fast moving piece. However, the bass could be considered lacking by some. With the Stellia, bass is heard rather than felt, so if you're looking for the heavy thump you might get from something like the LCD-2, you'll be a bit disappointed.
That said, the headphone resolves mids and highs superbly, as evidenced on a recording of Rebecca Pidgeon's Spanish Harlem. There's a whole range of instruments in this piece - strings, piano and percussion instruments like maracas. The Stellia renders them all superbly, and delivers Pidgeon's vocals with good warmth. You literally hear the resonance of her notes in your ears, as if you were listening to her live.
Finishing off with a recording of Hotel California by The Eagles, we thought the headphone did a great job of imaging the piece. It renders the track like you’re sitting right in the crowd, with people cheering on either side of you, and the band right in front. We'd say it was a mid-size soundstage with vocals seeming to come from ahead and slightly above; good for a closed-back headphone. Certainly, the live atmosphere was brought through, making for an enjoyable listen.
If you want a musical headphone that leans more towards being accurate than exciting, the Focal Stella is definitely for you. It may not be at the level of the flagship Utopia, but for S$3,999 you get reference-level performance that doesn't require a high-end headphone amp to drive. It's great for mainstream music, instrumental and vocal pieces, as well as fast moving dance tracks, with great dynamics and crisp delivery.
And you can realistically bring it on the road with you, pairing it with just your smartphone or media player, making it more versatile than many of the contenders at this level. Certainly a headphone worth auditioning if you're in the market for one at this level. That said, we'd be remiss if we didn't recommend you try out the Sennheiser HD 820 too. This is another high-end closed-back headphone that features a patent-pending piece of Gorilla Glass that reflects sound waves emitted by the rear of the transducers into special absorber chambers for lower levels of resonance.
Read next (1): Focal Clear headphones review
Read next (2): Audio Roundup: The mid-fi closed-back headphone edition
Read next (3): Sennheiser HD 820