Focal Clear amp suggestion

I’m getting the feeling there are mostly amicable interactions with ampsandsound…


Glad to hear that! That’s my setup, and I just ordered a set of the last run of the OG Clears :+1: :sunglasses:

Old thread, but just to throw some wood on the embers;
I have OG Clears, a THX 789, Hugo2, Mojo, Vali-2, Topping D70, Dragonfly Cobalt, and Dark Voice 336se (with whatever upgrade tubes some detached voice(s) on the internet said are good). With all the above, in various combinations, the best chain I have found is Source-> Hugo2->Darkvoice->Clears. By a long shot. I’ve also thrown my Elears, Elegia, and HD600’s into the mix and still come back the the chain and Clears mentioned above. To the point I am at end game, unless I decide to experiment with a different chain and planars or something. But as far as dynamics go, I got what I need. Other’s mileage may vary, good luck!


Glad to see the Dragonfly Cobalt mentioned, as I’m currently my Clears directly from that excellent DAC/amp but wondered whether I needed to go for dedicated headphone amp in between, to do the Clears justice. Grateful for any thoughts on that…


I’m afraid I can’t give you a direct answer because I’ve not heard the Clear through a Cobalt, and since I tend to listen to my Clear from my desktop setup, I can’t really say how significant the difference would be for you to go from portable to desktop sources. I can welcome you to the forum, though… Welcome!

It’s worth bearing in mind a few things. The Clear are easy to drive. You don’t need a desktop amp to drive the Clear properly. But the Clear do scale with better gear, and they benefit from good quality, clean amplification with a low noise floor. Solid state and some tube hybrid amps work well. Tube amps don’t.

I’ve seen several recommendations for the Schiit Audio Lyr 3 on this and other forums. @generic uses this setup and might be able to help you, and you might like to see his review of the Rebel Amp. The Liquid Platinum might be another option. Other amps from Schiit include the Asgard 3, potentially - disclaimer, I’ve not heard the pairing myself so you’ll need to see if there are any impressions out there - and the Jotunheim 2.

For what it’s worth, I’ve listened to my pair of Clear from a Magni 3, a Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (MCTH), and a Jot 2 amp. The Clear enjoyed significant improvements with the latter two amps over the Magni 3. Whether the Jot 2 represents 4x the benefit over the Magni 3, given the price difference, is an open question, and your budget would, of course, be a factor to consider here.

The MCTH (only available used now) and Jot 2 offered different presentations. Here are my comparative impressions of the two, which I’m copy-pasting from another forum:

The Jot 2 is superior in several ways:

  • It has a blacker background and sounds cleaner
  • Macrodynamics and slam are slightly stronger
  • Resolution, instrument layering and separation are all better. I wonder if the Jot’s better imaging make its soundstage seem larger (in both width and depth). In other words, the Jot goes a long way towards offsetting one of the Clear’s main weaknesses
  • The Jot sounds a bit more refined, by which I mean that its sound is rounder and softer in some ways; it lacks the harder, more crystalline treble of the MCTH
  • At the same, time, though, higher frequency strings have more bite than with the MCTH, and cymbals are crisper and cleaner
  • My sense is that the treble is smoother, then
  • Bass with the Jot 2 seems less prominent than with the MCTH; by contrast, the Jot’s mids sound richer and more prominent
  • Overall, the Jot’s a warmer amp

In the MCTH’s favor are its greater bass heft and its less-forward staging. Out of both amps the Clear can be a bit too bright and aggressive, even with the darker RDAC.

As this last comment suggests, it’s worth thinking about overall synergies between headphones, amp, and DAC.

Some other things worth considering are your preferences and, what benefits, specifically, you’re hoping to get with a desktop amp.

If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your budget?


Last year I did an extensive back-to-back comparison between the Clear, Utopia, Elex, and HD-600. That was before I got the Lyr 3 and RebelAmp.

In brief, yes you need an amp to do the Clear justice. It plays very well on a phone, tablet, or notebook, but gets better with a dedicated amp. I recommend that you stay away from technical amps like the THX AAA 789 and those from SMSL or Topping because they will likely sound too edgy with the sensitive Clear.

I got the RebelAmp about a month ago, and it kicked the staging, details, and dynamics up a notch or two. Per my Utopia comparison, the RebelAmp moved the Clear in the direction of the Utopia. But the Utopia is still in another league. The Lyr 3 has a lot of power and is also good. However, it’s colored by the tube, and not very technical. It’s for warmth, mood, and fun, while the RebelAmp is smooth, full, spacious, and accurate.


Good advice offered above. Please also see:


I have the new Clear MG as the endpoint of the following path: Lumin U1 Mini -->Chord Hugo TT2 → Clear MGs, and it sounds absolutely spectacular. A combination of crystal clear detail with impressive punch.

Taking delivery of my ampsandsound Kenzie Ovation next week and can’t wait to pair them up. Also have ZMF Aeolus coming shortly and that should pair well with either the TT2 or the Kenzie.

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Though I don’t have the MG, I do have the OG Clear, as well as an Aeolus and Ovation. I gotta be honest, the Clear/Ovation combo sounds a bit off to me, no matter the impedance tap used. It’s just a bit too warm sounding. I really appreciate the Clear’s speed and precision, and the Ovation seems to dull that just a touch in favor of a more musical and euphonic presentation. IMO it’s just not a good match due low dampening factor.

Now the Aeolus/Ovation combo is another story. Man the Ovation rocks the Aeolus hard! If you want a tighter more technical listen, the 16 and 32 ohm taps are perfect. If you want to warm it up and double down on the Aeolus’ inherent lushness, the 300ohm tap is the way to go. Honestly all my ZMFs sing on the Ovation. My HE-X4 and Clear are just ok. I’d rather listen to those on my Phonitor, or even the headphone out on my Holo Cyan.


Hi all, thanks for the welcome and these excellent responses and comments. A huge amount of experience and knowledge out there. What a fantastic forum!

Really interested to hear how a good amp can also go some way toward making up for the lack of soundstage with the Clear. Love these headphones for listening to rock etc where the punch and slam really enhances the experience. But I also listen to a lot of jazz that would benefit from more layering, separation and soundstage than the Clear has. I’d therefore considered buying a second pair of headphones [as many of you must have] such as the HD 800S for would be better for jazz, knowing that the Clear would still have the better bass.

So the question I now have is whether a good amp could lift the Clear’s soundstage to HD800S level, or would I really need the Sennheiser for that.

I’m fresh into the audio world, but have also been reading much about the SPL Phonitor xe headphone amp and it’s matrix system that apparently uses crossfeed and other effects to make the headphone experience more like listening to a pair of speakers. My thoughts were that the high quality amp within the Phonitor might improve the Clear soundstage, with the matrix system also able to project the image forward? In theory, the best of all worlds, so probably too good to be true!


You can enhance a headphones soundstage with tube amplification, some really good solid state amps, things like that, but you’re fighting against the nature of the headphone itself. The headphones natural stage width and depth really are the limiting factor, and there’s no way a Focal Clear is ever going to stage like an HD800. Sorry.

Crossfeed only works with some headphones, I’ve noticed. It really isn’t that effective on headphones like my ZMF Auteur or Verite, but it does however work very well on the HD650s.

Crossfeed works best with old recordings that have hard panned instruments on separate channels. Like on some old blues recordings, the bass guitar could be solely in the Left channel, a piano could be only playing in the Right channel. There are a few Rolling Stones and Doors recordings that are done this way.

Crossfeed makes it sound more like it would if you had speakers in front of you, but only kinda sorta. With speakers, some of the Left Channel information is being bounced off of a wall and into your right ear (something that cannot happen in a headphone). That’s all cross feed is doing - trying to simulate how those recordings have ‘natural crossfeed’ from being in an open room - but with headphones the transducers are still sitting over your ears, and how much stage you perceive is entirely dependent on the headphone. It’s not a perfect translation. Further, ccrossfeed is not trying to overcome the inherent limitations of your headphones natural head-stage, it’s trying to overcome the way a recording was mastered.

In short, crossfeed is not meant to correct headphones, it is meant to correct recordings. Thus, crossfeed wasn’t designed to do what you’re looking for.



I concur with the above. HD800 soundstage size is best in class for a conventional over-ear headphone. I believe soundstage size is a function of the size of the ear cavity, among other things. See HD800 dimensions in relation to other headphones, and ZMF Auteur pads.

In addition to amplification, some DACs are said to excel at staging: Chord for depth, Holo for width. I have a Qutest, yet to hear Holo.

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They do vary, and the RebelAmp is the best I own regarding the Clear’s soundstage. The Lyr 3 has the worst soundstage of my headphone amps. Admittedly I don’t care very much about headphone soundstage – delivery is strongly affected by recording methods and wideness is often simulated too (see @ProfFalkin). I won’t comment on the 800S. Perhaps @taronlissimore has something to add about Clear amp pairings.

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Thanks both for the great advice.

Soundstage aside, I’m still delighted with the Clears. Guess I need to take them with me to go test a few of the suggested amps.

I’m also reading good things about the new Headphone edition of the Naim Uniti Atom. And it pairing really well with the Clear. Apparently supports up to 3 headphones plugged in at once, with the ability to switch sets according to the type of music being listened to! Could well suit those lucky enough to have multiple sets…

One more thing to consider regarding your questions about crossfeed with the Clear (or any other headphone for that matter), which is that it’s possible to experiment with it using software, depending on your source.

I use my Mac to output lossless audio through Soundsource from Rogue Amoeba software, and the CanOpener Studio audio plugin from Goodhertz. This plugin works for both Macs and Windows, but I have never used it with Windows so I can’t speak to that part.

The plugin allows you to experiment with crossfeed, with lots of customization options as desired. Since it’s software, you can use it with any amp.

Going this route allows you to try it with different recordings, and see whether it adds or detracts for the “realism” of what you’re listening to. With some music it is a positive change, and sometimes neutral or negative. It’s interesting to play with, and reminds me of a Headroom amp I once had that had crossfeed, but this is much more customizable.

Fwiw, I’m in the Schiit contingent, with a Bifrost 2 DAC feeding a Lyr 3 and Asgard 2. I love my OG Clear using either amp, and the Clear scales really well. The Lyr 3 is a beast which will drive almost anything, and from all I’ve read is a better pairing with something like the Clear, as it is a bit less analytical than something like a THX amp.

Have fun! :sunglasses:


Thanks for the tip. I quite like the thought of being able make adjustments to music tracks that I understand are usually mixed primarily for playback through speaker setups. Partly why I am drawn to the use of a SPL Phonitor as headphone amp for my Clears.

I take onboard that it’s matrix system wouldn’t boost soundstage, but I often find myself enjoying background instrumentation such as cymbals in Jazz music as much if not more than the lead instrument such as a sax or vocals, an like the idea of altering their relative levels by attenuating the centre a little, as the matrix can apparently do.

That’s adjustment of the audio signal. What you must be talking about is manipulation of the digital source with Soundstage, which I’m assuming could have much more effect.