Focal Clear Open-back Headphones - Official Thread

Beware, very controversial opinion :boom: :bangbang:

— Focal did it again! — :raised_hands:

Since 2016, with the Elear & Utopia models, Focal has been bringing headphones onto the market with a certain degree of regularity that are “optically” at least miles ahead of all other competitors. This has also been the case in the past few months with the latest design series.

French and design, a symbiosis that has undoubtedly always been a perfect match. :+1: :heart_eyes:

BUT, now comes an argument that I noticed when I was at school and that I’ve personally questioned again and again ever since. Experience has shown that the most visually attractive person has always been the “magnet” to which many others have attached themselves without really questioning their human as well as intellectual abilities.

It was assumed that “looks good, has to be follow it to be good ”and if enough participate, it has to be right.

In my opinion, this argument also applies to Focal headphones.

— I; Music lover with hat size XXL or 65 in Europe who likes to relax and enjoy the “acoustic art” in his wing chair with a glass of wine and closed eyes and not sit analytically at the PC and every “source of error” in the recording to penetrate. —

So I; have a problem with Focal headphones, i.e. all models in the series. Of course, the following criticism is related to the called price! :euro: :thinking:

So what is objectively being offered?

It starts with unpacking, what is offered there so “shiny and noble” is, in my opinion, a total “blender”, because actually I have to buy an after market cable for every headphone, because even if I use these cables regularly even after 2 years of intensive use, they are still as bulky as an Andalusian mule.

Then I put these headphones on my “skull” and realize that even when the headband is fully expanded, it presses me hard in the middle of my head, :fearful: it pulls the earlobes inside the auricles upwards and the auricle is whole rather designed for smaller ears.

Now I can widen the headphones, for example by putting them over a couple of books, but then I’m missing a few centimeters in the depth to the ears.

Difficult! :smirk:

— Then the sound so highly praised by many — :question: :interrobang:

When you listen to music, as it is my habit, you inevitably ask yourself very quickly, why do I feel every time I close my eyes as if the musical performance is being performed in an modern industrial plant.

I really don’t know any other headphones whose sound is presented so “mechanically”. And by that I really mean all Focal models, with slight cuts in the Stellia, which comes across as reasonably “musically”.

Now one could argue that the synergy to the sound chain could play a role, everything from Chord Dave, to the Cayin HA-6, Feliks Audio Euforia MK2, Focal Arche to the AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt, the sound image was steadily “mechanical” every time there was a lack of “naturalness” that every voice and every musical instrument has :man_shrugging:

These headphones undoubtedly have their “technical” qualities and, if you like, also “dreamlike” frequency curves :blush:.

Although I also find the highly praised detail representation in many songs with Clear, at best, average.

If someone wants to know, I can immediately tell them at least 2 dozen songs in which even a Koss KPH30i provides more details in the higher and middle pitches than the Clear.
PS: I’m not claiming that these are technically better than the Clear, god forbid!

In addition, few headphones tend to audio clipping as quickly as these focal drivers, you have to be very careful not to overdrive them in terms of input power and volume :exploding_head:.

So if a pair of headphones was overrated for around € 1500, then it was the Focal Clear.

I got mine for € 899 at an anniversary promotion, which seemed like a reasonable offer to me.

However, it is still one of the least used headphones in my portfolio, because it is not really a musical “enjoyment”, at least for me.

— I very much hope that all of these problems will improve significantly with the latest model series, especially with regard to the prices shown.
And this time Focal does not focus mainly on the visual appearance of these headphones. —

So, now “fire open”, beat me for my opinion, but I stand by it.

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From my brief ownership experience with an Elex i agree with your points about comfort. My ears felt pinched and I had a hot spot on top of my head. It wasn’t the most uncomfortable thing I’ve worn, but it definitely took something away from the experience.

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11 posts were merged into an existing topic: The Off Topic

Soooooooo. Anyone compare the cables of the Clear MG to the ones on the original Clear?

Also, which design /look do you prefer?

Clear vs. Clear MG design preference
  • I prefer the design of the original Clear.
  • I prefer the design of the new Clear MG

0 voters

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I will be getting something (almost) unknown next week, 4 headphones from Spirit Torino to test. It’s their whole lineup. They are an Italian company, so they are close to Switzerland where I live.

Those headphones are truly special in looks and tonality. They are surely not everyone’s cup of tee, but I am thrilled to be testing them.

I bought the Focal Clear a couple of weeks ago after a long time struggling with the purchase.
I am glad I did, because, together with my Burson amps, they are my reference point until now.

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I’ve been looking into the issue of changes to the pads over time, further to posts by @reallyoldcob and @ValentineLuke, among others.

As someone with short arms and deep pockets, as the expression goes, I was looking into pad options other than the stock ones, and have been reading up about the Elex pads. Interestingly, Drop had a tough time selling replacement pads to its customers, as one of its representatives stated last summer:

Our internal testing has confirmed that the latest batch of pads varies in weight from the “stock” pads by as much as 15%. Although we have reported these concerns to Focal, they have not offered us a substantive resolution at this time, and we’re continuing to try to work with them on a solution.

I wonder if issues of consistency have affected the pads for the Clear. If so, then the $200 price becomes even more unpalatable.

At least Clear owners have had opportunities to buy replacement pads; I feel sorry for those who purchased an Elex and hoped to enjoy it for many years; it doesn’t seem as though replacement pads are readily available.

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Is there any sense, or are there any signs, that the original Clear is being discontinued? I ask because the Elegia and Elear were sold at lower prices as they were being phased out - or sold on deep discount via Adorama - and I’ve not seen this happen yet with the original Clear.

If their sound signatures are different enough, it would be nice if the two continued to be sold alongside one another.

I’ve been thinking about this too. I think it’s unlikely that Focal would continue to produce 4 headphones at the same price point. Seems like a bad idea as far as manufacturing. So I’m hoping to get an og Clear at a reduced price at some point. Also, from what was said, it seems the redesigning of the Clear, at least in part, was to a have a cohesive design throughout their lineup.( honeycomb pattern) So does that mean a redesign of the Utopia as well??..wouldn’t surprise me.

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Actually, that would be awesome to get a Utopia at a nice discount. :crossed_fingers::crossed_fingers:

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Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t make sense to have so many headphones in production simultaneously. I wonder how many of the original Clear are still to be sold. I suppose fewer have been provided to dealers in recent months so they don’t have too much old stock to sell off.

I did a bit of sleuthing and found this on Moon Audio’s website:

If you’ve been following Focal, you know the French headphone and speaker manufacturer has been busy lately. They’ve introduced the Radiance and Celestee headphones while discontinuing the Clear and Clear Pro.

Here’s hoping the Utopia gets discounted if there’s a replacement forthcoming…

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One problem is when you are cobstantly churning headphone models, the buyer’s end up with devalued product if they decide to sell them down the road.

Case in point Elegia. Started at almost $900. Used are now going for $400-500. ZMF is the other side of the spectrum. You can sell a pair used for almost what you paid new.

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Yes, agreed - and it was worse than that, for early adopters, when new Elegias when were selling on Adorama for $400-500. It was great for those who picked up deeply discounted Elegias, good for them.

But with a finite supply of replacement Focal pads, which are also exorbitantly expensive, ZMF looks like an ever better investment for those who want to buy a high-end headphone that can last them a lifetime.

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I bought my Clears and Elegias at a discount, both well under MSRP. TBH, I wouldn’t pay full retail for Focal stuff. It’s like driving a new car off the lot. Instant price hit.

Definitely not like the ZMF stuff on price retention.

I love my ZMFs. I have two Aeolus, and plan to add an Auteur or Verite.

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Would they be Aeoli? (I’m kidding)

I hear you - I purchased my Clear used for less than half the retail price. I’m seldom willing to pay MSRP but I’d fork out the full amount for a Vérité or other ZMFs.

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Bingo…

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Somewhat of a newb here but with all due respect, what is the difference in these terms?

BTW - enjoy your reviews!!!

Hi,

bought the Focal Clears some months ago. I had heard them a few times at stores and hi-fi shows. I really enjoyed the clarity and separation and thought to myself: I wonder if these would pair really well with the right tube amp?

So I am currently testing them out with my collection of DACs & amps. And I might as well post it here, as it might be of interest to someone else.

Source is desktop PC running Spotify and Tidal Masters. Tidal should be on a bitperfect chain. I dont EQ. Interconnects varies but USB is usually Supra or Wireworld Ultraviolet. Power when not on battery is using Supra Lorad cables connected to Supra LoRad MD06-EU MKII mains block.

I use the Focal Clears for music and casual gaming. Music ranges from proper hifi stuff like Agnes Obel, Leonard Cohen and tracks i Shazam at hi-fi shows to lots of electronic music, folk-pop, acoustic, hip-hop, some rock and then many other genres which I don’t even know the name of. I’m pretty open to any tune as long as it sounds good. But not much Classical or Jazz.

All impressions are my own. And I might even change my view when I revisit a combination later after more listening :smiley:. Likely many will be of different opinions on which pairing they prefer.

Anyway here goes:


Focal Clear pairings pt1: Geek Pulse Xfi (2x ES9018K2M, 2x Femto clocks) + SBooster 12V doing quite well. Perhaps bit more weight to the sound is needed. Amp part of the Geek Pulse Xfi is kinda light weight.


Focal Clear pairings pt2: The search for magic synergy continues. Added JDS Labs Atom to the mix. A great entry-level amp. DAC is still Lh Labs Geek Pulse XFi + SBooster 12V PSU. This combo sounds good. But (to my ears) something is still missing, need to try out the Focal Clears with more gear.


Focal Clear pairings pt3: LH Labs Geek Out 450. This is now a 7 year old DAC & AMP, but still extremely good sounding to my ears. It uses a very well implemented ESS9018K2M DAC chip. I think a lot of stuff released after and to higher pricepoint than the original $149-199 RRP simply does not compete. The GO450 drives the Focals with really good authority, clarity and a nice tonal balance. Some slight tizziness on hi-hats and such on poorly recorded stuff, probably due to the clarity from both headphones and DAC/AMP. Soundstage could be bigger not getting the holographic feeling I am looking for. But considering these can be found used for 60-120€ it’s a solid budget/starter option for the Focals. And actually for almost any headphone, as my GO450 and GO1000 play well with everything I have tried them on Denon, Fostex, Audeze, Hifiman, HD6xx etc. For Focals I’d stay away from the Geek Out 1000 (usually red coloured) model as its get loud too quick. It’s really sad the Geek Out is not produced any more, maybe a steady revenue stream would have saved the company?


Focal Clear pairings pt4: Cavalli Tube Hybrid + Hegel HD12. Things are falling into place. I think it’s the best combo so far. And instantly I start thinking of better tubes :laughing: Hmm what to get?


Focal Clear pairings pt5: Chord Mojo. Highly enjoyable. There is something with the slightly grainy Mojo sound character that I really like together with the Clears. Soundstage is quite big with sounds coming in from around the head. Maybe a bit more authority in the bass department is needed, not sure need to compare with more amps & dacs.


Focal Clear pairings pt6: iFi Micro iDSD. Dual Burr Brown PCM1793 equipped DAC/AMP. Pretty good synergy to my ears. Enough weight to the sound, soundstage is ok and tonality is good. Somewhat similar grain/crisp as Chord Mojo but authority is better, likely since the iFi Micro iDSD has more power. Flip the Xbass switch for even more grunt. From what I have read the new iDSD Signature and Diablo are differently tuned than the old Micro iDSD silver, hopefully they play nice with Clears aswell. Still have at least 16 amp pairings to try out, this gonna take a while…


Focal Clear pairings pt7: THX AAA789 + Geek Out V2+ Infinity (ES9018AQ2M DAC). Great clarity and separation but something just sounds off with this combo. It’s like parts of the midrange is sucked out, some sounds and instruments sound really flat and lack weight. A bit weird, enjoyable and not enjoyable at the same time. I think the THX Amp tech just doesn’t pair well with the Clears. Anyway the THX amp is really nice with other headphones, so no worries.


Focal Clear pairings pt8: Chord Hugo. I like this pairing. Instruments have the proper weight and the sound is pleasant. I think 3D and soundstage might be improved with adding additional amplification. Like tubes or a coloured solid-state.


Focal Clear pairings pt9: Chord Hugo + Cavalli Liquid Carbon. Almost instantly when the music started I felt “I might be onto something here”. Instruments and sounds were more 3D and presentation was more live and realistic. Compared to some of the flatter “music pushed into your ears” presentations from previous combos. I think the Liquid Carbon expands the Focal Clear sound like I’ve only heard tubes do before, but its still able to maintain the punch and authority of a solid-state. To my ears this is the best combo for the Clears so far. Let’s see which of my DACs work best with the Clears and Liquid Carbon, more on that later😄


Focal Clear pairings pt10: Chord Hugo + Eddie Current ZDT Jr (Laconic Night Blues Mini). This is the way :bulb::bulb::bulb::bulb::notes::headphones: Another favourite combo. ZDT Jr makes the Clears sing. The sound reminds of the Liquid Carbon but slightly sweeter, less grainy without getting tube mushy or losing dynamics. And then the 3D-ness of tubes, instruments and sounds can be felt rather than just projected from distance, everything I play just sounds so nice. A “just one more tune” moment. It makes me want to turn up the volume and I can play this combo for hours without ear fatigue. Once you hit that tube magic synergy between amp and headphone, life is good. My ZDT Jr is the revised version with steelband wrapped around the main transformer, but it did have some hum issues with the stock tubes, louder in the right channel. Rotating tubes left/right did not help. Tried with some GE 5654W as the front tubes, hum is more or less gone with the Clears! Tried 2nd pair of Voshkods and those are silent as well. Weird that switching left/right did not help but replacing tubes did. Need to investigate more but I’m not a tube doctor. So anyway…amazing amp, no hum, just had bad stock tubes (the smaller Voshkod 6ZH1P ones). Although still some hum with 124db inears, which is expected as it’s the same even with many solid state amps. Let’s see if I can fix it with some additional modding. I have some Woremor WMF-200 shielding which was suggested at some forums.


Focal Clear pairings pt11: HRT Headstreamer. A combined DAC/AMP using Burr Brown PCM1793. Needed some perspective after enjoying the ZDT Jr for a few days. Initially I felt this is surprisingly good with nice dynamics and detail, considering the price (140€) and it’s age. But after a while the Headstreamers limitations start to shine through. Volume is not an issue but compared to previous devices the sound is quite harsh sometimes. Imaging, soundstage, tonality etc is also better on most or probably all of the previous amps/dacs.

To be continued…

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Really nice write up.

I find tubes in general really add that layer oof realism (harmonics) that solid state tend to lack. Focal seem to especially open up when matched with the right tube amp. I’m glad you’re enjoying them.

Cheers.

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Great impressions - thank you!

I use my Clear with the MCTH amp and it’s a great pairing. I found the ZDT Jr to make the bass a bit too strong for my tastes but I’m going to go and check out that pairing again this evening!

You may find that the ZDT Jr’s hum has to do with EMI. I have the same revised version as you and it’s dead silent when kept at the right distance from other components.

If placed where the Jot 2 is in this photo, i.e. on the shelf below, my ZDT Jr. hums because of its proximity to the components next to it (an Airist RDAC and the MCTH). So vertical as well as horizontal distance between components can make a difference.

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Really fab writeup @Hifi_and_Headphones.

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