Focal Clear Open-back Headphones - Official Thread

This is actually what I just purchased based on feedback from some head-fi users. It should arrive today and test in the next few days.


Newbie hear to serious Headphone listening and the Focal Clear. I had a $300 headphone and found the Clear for $899 so it is not a fair comparison but it is like listening to good tracks for the first time. Now I am searching for a DAC/AMP. I have read all the above but I am really over my head hear as far as selecting equipment without a way to listen. I am working with Headphones.Com however.

I am looking for the best sounding DAC/AMP to pair with the Clear and seems desktop is the way to go. Jazz, Vocal, other if the recording is great. Not so much Rock, Country, Classical. Currently only Apple hardware and Apple Music as the source.

I would rather not spend $2k plus but the SPL Phonitor X seems perfect to utilize my old nice equipment (phono, CD, reel to reel). Per Torq’s review, the DAC is not up to quality of the AMP.

Q1 - What DAC would you recommend ($500-$1,000) with the Phonitor X?
Q2 - Would the RME ADI-2 DAC with its amp be a good fit with the Clear if I did not want to use my external equipment.
Q3 - I have read all the above but other recommendations?

Thank you. The site has already been so much help (Lead me to the Clears)


I’m a big fan of the Phonitor X/XE and RME ADI-2DAC combo.

The new Monoprice THX 887? Is getting good reviews as a good Solid State amp. The new Schiit DAC Bifrost is also another new piece of kit with a lot of good reviews also…both would put you under $1100


Thank you – I read the amp is the most important but I could start with the RME ADI–2DAC and use its amp and add the Phonitor X later. Expensive for me but this may be my long term.


There a lot of excellent ways to drive the Focal Clear. They’re not particularly demanding power-wise (even the DragonFly Red and Cobalt can drive them to instant-hearing-damage levels) , scale well and don’t have any tonal or behavioral weirdness that needs special considerations.

While the Clear can certainly exploit the full capabilities of the Phonitor X and XE, if you’re not going to use their additional functions they’re probably overkill - and you certainly don’t need nearly the power they can deliver.

The DAC192 module for the Phonitor X isn’t terrible, but you can do better externally for as little as $100-$150. However, the amp and the Clear both deserve more. The DAC768 module for the Phonitor XE is supposed to be a lot more capable, but I haven’t heard it (and it’s also a ~$700 option). But if you want an amp you won’t have to think about in the future, the Phonitor X and XE are definite, and strong, candidates. And there’s an XE with the DAC 768 model as open-box/used available from for $2,299 I believe.

Taking a step back …

You’ll get excellent results out of something as simple as the Schiit Modi 3/Magni 3 combination, or the Grace SDAC/JDS Atom. The Topping DX3 Pro is very good if you want all-in-one capability as well. All of those will come in under $250, shipped.

They’re a pain to get, but a Grace SDAC Balanced/THX AAA 789 would be the next meaningful step up, at around $550. You could substitute any of a number of other DACs there, and the Topping DX7/D70 are viable here (the DX7 on it’s own is a lousy match for the Clear, even though it has a headphone output, since the output impedance is way too high and screws up the frequency response of the cans).

The “sweet spot” is probably either the RME ADI-2 DAC fs ($1,099) or the Holo Audio CYAN PCM ($1,299). The former has way more features, the latter I have a slight preference for the sound of (though the RME unit is definitely more accurate and offers higher fidelity).

The ADI-2 DAC fs has one weakness … a tendency towards slight dynamic compression from the amp. The highly-dynamic nature of Focal headphones tends to minimize the audibility of that, and most people can’t tell its there anyway (it’s really only noticeable in back-to-back comparisons using better amps), but if you went the RME route to start with, you could always add an amplifier later.

Solid options for an amp to pair with the RME are the THX AAA 789, Jotunheim, Lyr 3, Phonitor X/XE/E.

There are others, such as the other ~$500 THX-AAA units (Monoprice and SMSL), and the Schiit Bifrost 2 is getting excellent reviews (as a DAC alternative to the RME) but I’ve not heard those myself so won’t recommend them.

So that’s all well and good … but there’s a not-well-known option that you’d need to pair the RME ADI-2 DAC fs with the Phonitor X/XE ($3,598 total) to beat …

And that’s the Focal Arche.

I will likely have the rest of my episodic review of that, focusing on sound/performance up either later today or early tomorrow (and we have a thread on it here).

Those run $2,499 new, though has an open-box unit for $1,999 currently.

The Arche has demonstrated excellent synergy with all of the Focal headphones I’ve tried it with (which is, well, all of the Focal headphones …). Some aspects of it’s performance with Focal cans is preferable to my “review-reference” RME ADI-2 DAC fs/Phonitor X combination.

The DAC section doesn’t let the amp down. The amp doesn’t let the DAC down. And you can access both functions separately. It’s the best-balanced, and most enjoyable, all-in-one I’ve heard so far until you start getting up to things like the Chord Hugo TT 2.

And it’s not just good with Focal headphones … it’s been wonderful with everything I’ve tried it with.

It even has an analog input (just one) for other external sources (if you need more than one, passive input switches are inexpensive and won’t affect the sound). Though bear in mind that the Phonitor X and XE will also only have one available analog input left if you pair them with an external DAC.

If push came to shove, I’d personally either go for the RME ADI-2 DAC fs, enjoy it for a while, and then decide if I wanted an external amp (and if you did, and wound up waiting for a THX AAA 789, you’d still have the built-in amp in the mean time).

Or I’d just cut to the chase and get the Focal Arche and call it good.

That’s mostly a budget/features call.

Hope that helps!


Another thought … though a preliminary one …

If my first experience with the Matrix Element:X was anything to go buy … one of those models is also likely a very viable candidate as an all-in-one AND streaming solution (if you’re into that sort of thing).

I’ll be covering those units properly once their iOS app is shipping (needed to configure them for WiFi operation as streamers).

Though sound-wise, with the Clear, I liked the Arche better.


Most of my Clear listening was on the following amps (usually paired with RME ADI-2DAC unless otherwise stated) THX-789, JDS Labs The Element w/El DAC, Monoprice THX-788 AIO, the iFi Nano Black Label (on the go). I agree with @Torq the Clears scaled easily with all of them. Also, I have tried them with the Schiit Modi3/JDS Atom/Magni in some shape or another. My Clears are currently on loan to @raindownthunda who is using a JDS Atom with a D10 DAC (please correct me if I’m wrong :wink: ). So he can give a quick impression (sorry for calling you out, don’t worry, we are all friendly here…if not occasionally a lil grumpy ha)

Anyhow, I also think that the Phonitor could be Overkill if your only headphones are the Clears, if so I would go with Torqs advice regarding either the Cyan, RME ADI-2DAC, or just go full synergy with the Arche. Torqs advice has never steered me wrong (now my wallet might beg to differ :wink: ). Also, I recommend if able to try things before buying as much as possible, see if anyone is in your area etc. Or go to shops if available. Another great way is to dive into the forums preview program:


Outstanding, funny earlier today read some Focal Arche reviews and added that to my options. While the Phonitor can output speakers I wanted to focus on headphones anyhow. You are the best so that is were I am heading. The only alternative would be one of the $500 solutions you recommended. But it would be a throw away as I would always be thinking about the “better” sound.

I will read your review … Thank you so much and others whom have helped. Very much appreciated.


The Focal Arche has both RCA and XLR pre-outs, just like the Phonitor X:


Had the Clear once and really love them. I used to pair them with Modi 3 - Magni 3 or Vali 2 and at the end Vali was the winner with an $20 upgrade tube.
Right now most of my time is not at the studio, therefore the Schiit combo is getting little use, Ifi Micro iDsd black label is getting all the fun and to be honest, when I get to sit at the studio, next to my Modi/Vali… I still use the Ifi dac/amp , it is so convenient and I love the performance.
I will definitely recommend the IFI Micro BL even if you don’t need a transportable/portable device. Now…, if your budget is that high, for sure are better options out there. The new Bifrost is in my list for when the times of sitting down at my studio return, Bifrost/Lyr 3.


Showing my ignorance here but just to confirm. I can use the Arche input for CD player, phono, … etc. and the pre-amp output to an external AMP to drive passive speakers? This would be perfect for my long term audio plan.

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Yes, you can use it exactly like that.

A couple of thoughts …

Depending on how good the DAC is on your CD player, you might well be better off taking the digital output from that and connecting it to the S/PDIF input (COAX/TOSLINK) on the Arche, so that you can use it’s DAC instead (it’s very good).

That would leave the analog input free for another source as well, meaning you didn’t need an external source switch.

For your turntable, you might also need a phono-stage (or phono-preamp). This is purely dependent on whether your turntable has one built in or not.


I am currently auditioning the Clear’s on loan from @TylersEclectic (Thanks Tyler!). This is my first post, and I’m very new to the hobby. With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my quick impressions:

Spotify Premium / occasional FLAC album -> Topping D10 -> JDS Labs Atom

Initial impressions & Comparison to 58x
My primary source of comparison are the Sennheiser 58x that I’ve owned for about 6 months. Before trying the Clear’s, I had never heard a better headphone. When I first sat down to compare between songs, I was surprised that I honestly enjoyed the sound signature of the 58x more. Songs felt more cohesive to me on the 58x and drier / less emotional on the Clear. That quickly changed once I started to use the Clear exclusively: within the first 5 mins I started to notice a massive amount of detail I had never heard before in headphones. It was jaw dropping. After a couple hours, switching back to the 58x there was no comparsion. To me the 58x is like watching 1080p TV from 10 years ago. It looks pretty great, no complaints if you don’t have anything better to compare it to. The Focal Clear is like seeing a 4K 65" high refresh rate OLED for the first time. The resolution is just so much better and transitions between every single note faster. There is just so much resolution to appreciate the tiniest details. A couple hours later, switching back to the 58x, I still found that sound signature I knew and loved, but there was a significant amount of detail I was missing out on.

Sound and overall impressions
Crisp. Clean. Clear. Fast. A well named headphone, to be sure. I enjoyed these headphones the most when I was focused on critical listening and could really pay attention to and appreciate all of the details, precision, and texture presented in high quality recordings. I don’t usually listen to classical, but found myself absolutely sucked in for multiple late night listening sessions in absolute bliss. Textured and multi-layered bass in electronic music are mentally very satisfying.

I think these headphones have elevated treble from what I am used to, which helped project the minute detail that much better. That did start to wear me down quicker and had to take breaks after an hour or so. While the bass was very detailed, I found myself wanting more quantity and more impact. I tried bumping up levels with EQ and that seemed to take away too much detail to be worth it. Overall I’ve really enjoyed being able to test drive these headphones and would highly recommend for people who like being able to hear and pick apart every little detail.

Songs I enjoyed the most with the Clear

  • He Would Have Laughed - Deerhunter
  • The Yellow Nimbus Pt. 2 – Chock Corea & The Spanish Heart Band
  • Ghosts - Chon
  • Mercy - CharlesTheFist
  • My Friends and I Pt. 2 - GRiZ
  • Elephants On Ice Skates – Brian Bromberg
  • Breaking Bread - Matoma
  • Violin Partita No. 3 in E Major, Preludio – Johann Sebastian Bach performed by Rachel Podger

Great write up! Glad you are jumping into the forum, lots of great people on here. If you have any questions about what you think you would prefer for your next headphone just ask, lots of experience around here to help narrow down a preference, also highly recommend checking out the preview program: Announcing the *new* HEADPHONE Community Preview Program

Hit all the requirements and request some gear :wink:


Hello and welcome @raindownthunda. Great review.


The final (planned) part of my Focal Arche “episodic” review is posted, in case you want to read about the sound in a bit more detail.

That’s not to say I won’t make other comments on it here, for example I may post something about how it compares to other options in/around its price point (both AIO and separates) but I’ve finished the coverage I planned to do.

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I searching for my first headphone dac/amp to pair with the Clear. I have no experience but I have been reading a lot (thank you). My goal is to find the best sound and be done for some time in the future.

I was able to listen to the Focal Arche and the 4 hour trip was worth it. This was my first time to hear any amp/dac (not counting the blue tooth little guy I returned). It was a completely elevated experience, so nice. So much more depth to the sound. Now I know what everyone is talking about in a good amp/dac.

Unfortunately, the Arche open box must have gone fast as I looked soon after Torq’s post and it was not there. My wife is normally understanding with my hobbies (photography, golf) but she could not understand after purchasing the clear, why I would need to spend so much. So I continue my search with Arche in the back of my mind.

Based on readings, the THX 789 with the SDAC Grace would be one of the top in the $600 range. But I only have until the end of October to pull this trigger (for the 789) for an end of December ship dates so lots of questions.

Q1 - Any thoughts on how would the THX 789/SDAC Grace compare with the Schiit Jotunheim?

Q2 - Ordering the Jotunheim, would you go with the standard DAC or the Multibit? — I may go external with a Modi so I have more flexibility in the future which leads me to Q3.

Q3 - I can call Schitts but is the optional phono card for the Jotunheim a phono preamp? or would I need to purchase one even if I get the photo card. Assume my old B&O phono player does not have a built in phono amp. The card states passive but I still do not know what that means.

Q4 - A transportable unit has some advantages as I could take it on trips and also easily take it from room to room in the house. I am looking for the best sound for the money however. I have read many, many reviews and will continue to do this but any recommendations, comments about;
a. iFi Nano iDSD Black ($199)
b. iFi Audio xDSD ($399) Blue Tooth aptX attractive
c. Mojo ($399) Seems a bit quirky
d. iFi Micro iDSD Black ($599)
e. There is little mention of Fiio or Sony products?

Q5 - Would the THX 789 (with the SDAC Grace) or the Jotunheim be a stop up from say the iFi Audio xDSD or the iFi Micro iDSD Black? or any transportable around the same money?

I hope this is not too many questions, I know it is often better to split them up. Thank you for any feedback. Carl


Hi moosehead/Carl

as ifi xDSD/SMSL SU-8 + THX AAA 789 user with the Focal Elegia…

The Grace SDAC balanced or maybe the ifi Zen DAC are good DACs to be run with the 789.

With the Zen DAC you can even change the sound a touch by adding low end

The Q5s or ifi xDSD - here it depends what your preference in soundsignature would be

the Jotunheim as AMP without DAC - from what I read it is warmer compared to the 789 - again what is your preference in soundsignature?

You could simply get away with one of the named transportable DAC/AMPs- the Clear is easy to drive and from what I know, it scales well with better sources

Adding later a stationary DAC/Amp solution can bring you Benefits in usability and soundquality

Fiio K5 Pro is a often named product for beginners
Here you would miss a balanced hf out

As Sony products- here you won’t find amything cheaper than the Focal Arche

It is rumored… a new Chord Mojo is on the way

What would be your budget for the mobile/transportable DAC/AMP + the stationary DAC/Amp without the money for the Clear?

Have you thought about a DAP only solution?


Hi there. My experience is pretty young ( or almost none) but I can answer a couple of your questions.

Q2 - if you decide for the Schiit Jot. avoid adding a module to the same equipment. Just order an individual DAC, either Modi 3 or Modi MB and connect it to the Jot.
Q4 - I own bot IFI you mention here, the Nano and the Micro. When I had the Clears, the IFI Nano was enough, but Modi3/Vali2 where a lot better. Now I don’t have the Clears any more , but I have the IFI Micro and is amazing with my HD800, HD6xx and Elears, I’m pretty sure will be incredible with the Clears!!


It’s currently sitting in my office, in its box, awaiting return to

At least, I believe this is the unit that’s available as an open-box option (I’ll need to confirm with Taron, who’s traveling at present). It’s possible there was another such unit.

But, due to a former situation where an open-box unit I had for review wasn’t removed from the “available” list, and someone actually purchased it via the store, making for a fiddly situation and misunderstanding, they now get removed from the listings when they’re out for evaluation/Community Preview Program.

Competitive but different. The THX AAA 789 will post better numbers. I preferred listening to the Jotunheim, however (I’ve owned both). Both are highly enjoyable and pair well with the Clear. The Schiit unit is much easier to come by, of course.

If I had to choose one, I’d go with the multi-bit. But based on your question 3, I’d go with an external DAC instead and use the internal slot for the phono card.

The phono card is a proper, balanced, phono pre-amp. You can plug any proper turntable directly into it, provided you’re using a moving-magnet cartridge. You don’t need an additional box. I used it this way with the Rega Planar 3 I had at work.

The “passive” part refers to how the RIAA EQ network is implemented. Which is part of what makes it a proper phono pre-amp.

The reason I say to go with the phono card internally and an external DAC, is that I think the phono card is closer to the performance of similarly priced external phono pre-amps than the internal DAC card options are to similarly priced external DACs.

My path here would likely be, Jotunheim + internal Phono Card w/ Modi 3 - followed by an upgrade to Bifrost 2 (which will let you take advantage of the Jotunheim’s balanced input too) when you’re ready to move up.

Is this in addition to a desktop DAC/amp or instead of?

Ahead of an answer there, I’ll just rank the items you list in what I think is the appropriate order, from best-to-worst based purely on sound (bearing in mind the desire to pair with the Clear):

  1. iFi Micro iDSD Black Label
  2. Chord Mojo
  3. iFi xDSD (wired)
  4. iFi Nano iDSD Black Label.

Mojo can be finicky with a phone as the source (EMI issues with some phones).

Sony and FiiO have lots of options. Can’t really comment on the recent FiiO stuff, and hard firmware issues with the older X-series (which may well have been fixed as that was 2 years or so ago now). I’ve liked all the Sony players I’ve tried (ZX2, ZX300, WM1A, WM1Z), and they’ll do a nice job with the Clear.

Well, the transportable options there have better DAC sections, but aren’t as good on the amplification side of things. Though they’re both very flexible (other options such as bass-boost and 3D+ if you like those sorts of things).

An option to consider might be the Jotunheim w/ Phono Card + iFi Micro iDSD Black Label (it has proper RCA DAC outputs). That’d get you both portable and desktop options with the better amp, balanced headphone drive, a better external DAC, more features, etc. If you want both sources (phono and DAC) with the THX AAA 789 you’ll have two external boxes.

Though if it was me, I’d still likely pair the Jotunheim + Phono Card w/ a Bifrost 2, and if I still wanted something portable, go with a dedicated unit (I hate have to connect/disconnect stuff frequently).