Focal Clear Open-back Headphones - Official Thread

It’s cool to see Focal’s strategy gradually unfold over time for its high-end headphones. I find it fascinating to see the sequence of their releases. It’s as though there was a grand strategy from the outset but that the company also made some quick adjustments, as when it moved on from less successful experiments with the Elegia and Elear. It seems as though the core design of the Utopia and the Elear, i.e. with the same styling and similar components, m-shaped dome drivers, but different driver materials, worked out very well.

It also seems as though we’re now in a new stage with Focal releases - the Radiance and Celestee being updated versions of the Elegia, and now the Clear MG tweaking the original with a new driver material and the new dust cover you mentioned.

I don’t know if it’s possible for the Utopia to retain its sound signature with the treble having been tamed somewhat, as seems to be the case with the new Clear, but if that were to happen, I could see there being a lot of excitement.

And, you know, while there’s plenty of reason for us to be frustrated with the price of pads and replacement parts for Focal headphones, all the excitement for their new releases this year stands in marked contrast to Sennheiser’s product development.

@deafenears and @generic - I’ve not had the drivers bottom out on my Clear, either. And, I hate to admit it, I don’t always listen as quietly as I should.

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Nice impressions!

I’m curious what your reasons were to go with these over the regular clear mg (which hasn’t been released yet)?

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Yeah, the mechanical clipping.

Reports are also of the Utopia, in addition to the Clear. Either way, I hope it’s been addressed and fixed in the Clear MGs.

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I really like the Black and Red color way. I saw the Chestnut after I ordered mine, it’s not really towards my preferences. I’d prefer a saddle brown for a headphone (if I were going with brown). Stellia is the closest to that color and even then I’m not to keen on it.

I’m assuming it’ll be the same driver/sound as the previous Clear. I’m also looking forward to other’s impressions. Should be interesting to hear people’s takes on them.

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I could never could figure why Focal used such a light colored earpad on the basic Clear. The red pad is sharp on the PRO.

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Yeah, I never ran into that in ‘real world’ use.

I was able to induce the clipping with a variable output from a NAD DAC/amp to a headphone amp. If I ran the output too high, the headphone amp would cause the headphones to clip. I’m guessing it was too much gain/current.

Through regular use it never happened for me.

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I wouldn’t worry about the clipping issue unless you listen at 114 dB :wink:
I’ve turned it up way above comfortable listening levels a few times and haven’t experienced the issue.

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Just wanted add a few more thoughts.

I’ve been intentionally reserved with my impressions. I didn’t want to color my impressions too much with my excitement, I’ve just wanted to relay what I’m hearing.

That being said, I really am impressed with the Clear MG.

The thing that is really impressing me is the level of detail these extract from the recording, and their ability to reproduce harmonics. Every pluck, every drum strike, and every cymbal crash present themselves in full sonic detail. From the initial strike, to the notes decay is being represented. I’m honestly somewhat in awe of this. The details aren’t forced by boosting any frequencies, they’re just there.

Just wow. :laughing:

And I’m not saying they’re perfect. I prefer slightly more present vocals, and I’d maybe tone down the lower-mids (voices seem a little too weighted at times), but damn are they impressive headphones.

Listening to this album just now inspired me to share my current thoughts.

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Excellent impressions @ValentineLuke. As with you I didn’t encounter the issue with the drivers either. It’s nice that Focal has changed the stain magnet that was the OG Focal Clear. Enjoy.

Just to add I didn’t find the treble was ever an issue personally.

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Got to admit I have the same experience. But I’m interested in the MG

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I never, ever experienced clipping with my Clear in owning them for a year. I never experienced clipping with the Utopia during 20 to 40 hours of testing over a week [see the Utopia thread for my review]. However, I was able to make the Elex clip by going out of my way with Why So Serious? from The Dark Knight. At a volume far above my ordinary listening volume.

Speculating here, but I’d guess not. Focal prioritizes accuracy over a tolerance band for distortion. Many cone drivers (e.g., paper, plastic) flex and flap when the volume is high. Focal uses stiff metal cones that don’t flex much, but may ring/resonate per the metallic tone character. For those who experience clipping with a Focal product, it would be valuable to know the dB output.

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Never experienced any clipping or driver travel issues with my Clears…

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There are definitely mechanical “clipping” limits on the Focal headphones … Focal have said as much.

But I am not sure that’s what everyone who has “reported” the “issue” experiences; which is one of the reasons why some people don’t experience it and other’s do. I’ve owned all of Focal’s headphones at once, and never run into it in any normal listening scenario and couldn’t even provoke the behavior while trying to with any of my sets:

Among a few cases where I know people that have experienced it personally, two of them were using fairly significant bass boosts via EQ and in both of those cases they were causing clearly audible, highly obnoxious, digital clipping (by not reducing overall gain in their EQ settings) long before the signal ever got to the headphones.

Showing them how to apply EQ properly fixed the issues for both of them.

In another couple or three of cases it was down to the owners also applying significant levels of bass boost, while listening to sub-bass heavy music, at, frankly, dangerous listening levels. In which case, a) it’s not going to matter much for very long and b) it’s probably the wrong headphone for the job.

So, while Focal acknolwedge the artifacts of their design, no one has ever been able to give me a track that caused any of my Focal cans to exhibit the issue at any level I’ve been willing to listen to them at, even momentarily.

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You’re right, I find myself a bit excited about headphone releases again, which I didn’t really think would happen anymore!

Like you say Sennheiser has been incredibly disappointing… especially given how happy I’ve been with my trusty HD600s, my daily drivers and easiest-to-listen-to set. I’ve pretty much given up on expecting anything new and exciting from them sadly.

Then most of the other headphones I’d actually want coughZMFcough are both too expensive to justify for me currently, and too long of a wait to really feel any sense of “ooh I gotta have that”.

The Z’s are probably an “endgame” kind of thing for me, like a nice watch or something unnecessarily luxurious where I’d think in sort of a “yeah it would be nice to have one someday” in a distant sense; where as the new Focals are building direct excitement with each release and actually have me thinking about selling my OG Clears - despite my enjoyment of them - and maybe another set that’s been collecting dust, just to jump on one of these new ones!

Reading @ValentineLuke’s great little review on the new Clears too has reinforced their spot on the forefront of my gear lust, that’s for sure… and I also can’t wait to see what they unveil next :slight_smile:

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Focal Clear Mg Professional

Intro

I’ve been using the original Focal Clear to work just about every day since last March when the Coronavirus pandemic first hit the US. I purchased them in anticipation of many months stuck at home and they’ve truly been a saving grace for both business and pleasure. As an audio engineer, I’ve come to rely on the Clear’s neutral tonality, sharp imaging, and speaker-like dynamics. So when I saw the announcement about an update to the Clear, I was PUMPED. Since then, I’ve been looking for an honest review of the new Focal Clear Mg Professional. More specifically, I’ve been looking for comparisons between the Mg Professional and my treasured original Clear. This morning, after seeing this post on Reddit: “Focal Clear MG Pro — only two left in stock from Audio 46,” I dropped everything and went on an adventure to Manhattan so I could write the review myself.

Build, Design, and Comfort

Grade: A-

The first Focal Clear Mg Professional that Audio46 gave me to listen to was broken — There was significantly more low end in the left driver than the right driver. Since I had my original Clear with me, I knew that there wasn’t anything wrong with the rest of the chain but we tried swapping cables, adapters, DACs and amps anyways just to make sure. After ruling everything else out, the manager came out with a brand new pair. The second pair seemed to be working fine…

Apart from the first pair being defective, the build, design, and comfort of the Clear Mg Pro seemed more or less the same as that of the original Clear so I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote in my Focal Clear review:

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The Focal Clear, like everything Focal produces, is beautifully designed. I’ve had mine for almost a year now and they still look / feel brand new apart from the ear pads . Replacement ear pads are extremely expensive at $200 per pair. For reference, Sennheiser sells replacement pads for their HD 6-line for $50 per pair. In theory, ear pads have a substantial effect on a headphone’s sound which is how Focal justifies such a steep price. There are third-party replacement pads available for the Focal Clear but according to objective measurements and subjective impressions by Andrew Park at headphones.com, none of them sound the same as the stock Focal Clear pads. The pads on my Focal Clear do look worn but despite wearing them for 6+ hours just about every day this year, they still feel firm and sound the same as they did when I got them.

Unlike the ear pads, the headband is not replaceable. This is an unfortunate design flaw. In order to keep the headband fresh for as long as possible, I purchased this headphone headband which happens to perfectly match the Focal Clear color scheme.

The Clear is unreasonably comfortable for how heavy it is. At almost twice the weight of Sennheiser’s HD 6XX, the Clear is almost just as comfortable as the 6XX if not more comfortable in some ways. The (very expensive to replace) ear pads are perforated which probably contributes to the Clear’s breathability along with the Clear’s open-back nature. In the year that I’ve spent using the Clear for recording/mixing/mastering sessions every day, comfort has never been an issue. It isn’t as comfortable as wearing nothing, but it may be the next best thing.

Eyeglasses seem to have a noticeable effect on low end response. With glasses on, the sub frequencies sound slightly off. I avoid this issue by resting my eyeglass temples on top of headphone ear-pads like a complete maniac.

Note: These are open-back headphones. This means there is no isolation between you and your surroundings. These are useful for listening critically at home in a quiet room. They would be totally inappropriate for use in public spaces because 1. everyone would be able to hear what you’re listening to and 2. the noise of your surroundings would make it difficult for you to hear what you’re listening to.

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Reference Tracks | Jake Cheriff

REFERENCE TRACKS

Frequency Response / Sound

Grade: B

The Focal Clear Mg Professional has a very safe frequency response. I don’t have any measurements to reference this time because no one has posted any measurements for the Clear Mg Pro yet. So these impressions will all be purely based on my subjective experience today. It will be fun to see how those impressions line up with measurements taken in the future. In the mean time, let’s talk about what I mean by safe .

Bass

My least favorite thing about the new Clear Mg Professional is the bass. It’s hard to tell whether Focal has managed to extend the sub bass response because there’s slightly too much bass in general. If we had a graph to look at, I imagine there’d be a wide and subtle hump around 120 Hz extending as high as 200 Hz — not unlike the frequency response of the renowned Sennheiser HD 650. While that doesn’t line up with my personal preference, which leans more towards Crinacle’s neutral target, I do think it will satisfy average listeners who are less concerned about transparency and detail. I find that the increased bass does mask some detail in the low mids, slightly, compared to the transition between bass and mids on the original Clear. This low end frequency response, to me, makes for an incredibly relaxing listening experience. However, these are being marketed as mixing / mastering headphones and from a music production perspective, I don’t understand the update to the low end. I’m happy to report, at least, that the bass dynamics hit just as hard as they do on the original Clear.

Mids

The midrange of the Mg sounds sounds a little smoother than it does on the original Clear in both tonality and timbre. But like the bass, the smoothness seems like a safe choice rather than a productive choice for what should be professional headphones.

Listening to “Rolodex” by Aidan Knight:

  • The snare drum has more thump and less crack than it does on the original Clear.

  • The bass guitar and vocal seem to share more in common, tonality-wise, on the Mg than they do on the original Clear.

  • The instrumental interlude at 1:30, which opens up the mix beautifully on the original Clear, is less effective on the Mg. The contrast between sections in general is less significant on the MG.

  • The syncopated guitar and synth at 1:30 also sound less wide on the Mg.

Treble

As you’ve probably already guessed, I prefer the treble on the original Clear as well. The Mg’s treble is considerably more subdued/laid-back sacrificing a disappointing amount of clarity and detail. The original Clear’s treble isn’t perfect — There’s definitely some spiciness around 6 kHz that gives way to occasionally abrasive sibilance. But each time I switch back to the original Clear, I am reminded of how much I love that spiciness. The original Clear’s treble frequency response lives on the edge of neutrality in a way that appeals to me as a lover of detail and, more importantly, as a mixing engineer. I’d much rather overshoot in sibilance reduction, reducing slightly too much sibilance in my mixes rather than undershoot and leave behind some embarrassing ESSSplosions . The Mg’s treble is safe — Songs with questionable amounts of sibilance come across smooth as butter.

Listening to “Body” by Julia Jacklin:

  • The occasional sibilance that I hear on the original Clear is gone. The vocals are much smoother.

  • The increased bass sounds slightly bloated and unrefined.

  • The center image is less solid than it is on the original Clear.

Listening to “Come Home” by Fell Runner,

  • The guitars have less edge to them than they have on the original Clear.

  • The snare has more thud and less crack than it has on the original Clear.

  • The vocals are less clear.

  • The bass sounds slightly bloated.

Soundstage / Imaging

Grade: B+

The Clear Mg Professional’s soundstage trades blows with the soundstage of the original Clear. The increased low end makes the soundstage sound deeper at times but the decreased high end pushes everything away slightly. In music production, you can often makes things sound closer to the front of the mix (or the listener) by adding high frequencies to a sound. So it makes sense that the front of the Mg’s soundstage is slightly less intimate than that of the original Clear. But the Mg is more intimate in other ways. Although I did not have my Sennheiser HD 6XX on hand to compare, I was reminded of the vocal intimacy exhibited by the 6XX’s meaty midrange tonality. Like the 6XX, the Mg’s lower mids seem to sometimes consume a larger portion of the overall image.

The imaging also trades blows, probably depending on the frequency content per song.

Value / Conclusion

Grade: B+

I…

Read the full review on Medium.com

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Excellent review @reallyoldcob. Seems from your review as though Focal have tried pandering more to the masses. If this is so, then for me personally, it isn’t a positive move. Still great looking headphones though.

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Thanks for the review – this answers quite a few of my questions. I’d like to try for myself, but also prefer transparency. I’m curious how the bass compares to the Utopia, as it too is extended and more prominent than the original Clear. The Utopia is also more spicy in the treble.

I wouldn’t call it pandering, rather, providing a product suitable for specific genres. Some music (e.g., Hip-hop, EDM, etc.) is produced on bass-heavy equipment and usually played on bass-heavy car and home systems too. The HD650 is the bare minimum for bass, with Beats the norm. So, the Clear Mg Pro may be fully suited for music with a strongly different tonal emphasis than vocals, classical, jazz, acoustic, etc.

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I am dying to check out the Utopia… If anyone has a pair in Brooklyn I would be so so SO grateful if I could borrow them for a day or two (or a couple hours) :scream_cat:

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Great review, thank you!

It’s disappointing to hear about the mid-bass hump as its absence on the original was one of the ways in which the Clear improved on the HD6XX. The soundstage of the Clear is already intimate enough, and an emphasis in that range might make the headphone sound more closed in. I wonder if the high has been “pushed away slightly,” as you put it, to avoid making the headphones sound too congested?

I love the term “spiciness” - I’ve often thought of my Clear as having a slightly crystalline or glass-like quality to the treble (my current amp is the Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid, which contributes to this, I suspect), but spiciness might be a better word for it.

Nice to see more New Yorkers on the forum. We should set up a meet once the world’s back to normal!

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Compared to the original Clear, the Mg Pro definitely sounded a little congested to me.

100% down for a post-Covid headphone meet!

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