Focal Clear Open-back Headphones - Official Thread

Hello, has anybody tried the clears with the fiio m6? I just ordered it to use it as a portable device.
Thanks in advance.

I don’t know if any of us have tried the M6. The power seems fine, as the Clear isn’t demanding. My biggest concern is its ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip. It may make the Clear sound too bright.

Ultimately, there’s no way to determine whether you’ll like it without trying for yourself.

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Thanks for the response. My biggest concern is the audio quality. I had tested the clears with my old htc 10 and I was quite satisfied. So I have no high expectations from a mobile device.If it reaches around the same sound quality of the htc then I’m ok.

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As we near the release of the Clear Pro Mg, here’s my take on the original Focal Clear, especially against the Focal Elex! Check out the full review on audiodiscourse.com for some housekeeping items but most on this forum would already know all about it!

Introduction

A little while ago, I posted my review of the Focal Elex thinking it wouldn’t be a while until I had a chance to review another Focal headphone. Well lo and behold, the folks over at headphones.com reached out to me and asked if I’d like to review the Focal Clear after seeing a conversation I had with a friend on Discord asking if I’d compare the Elex to the Clear. Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no. So here is my take on the Focal Clear vs. the Focal Elex. Do read my Focal Elex review before this one! I’m going to assume you have for this review. I also did a video version of this review on Youtube! Though the content is mostly the same, I take a more conversational style in the video that changes the dynamics of the presentation so check that one out too for a fuller picture!

Shoutout to headphones.com for the loaner unit!

What’s in the Box

The Focal Clear’s box is a minimalist black box with a slideout design. Inside is a carrying case containing the Clear along with a 3.5 mm and a 1/4 in adapter. There’s also a box that opens up like a book containing two more cables. One is a 1/4 in cable and the other is an XLR cable. They have the same lengths. Finally, there’s a user manual.

The cables are the same as the cable on the Focal Elex, except with a lighter gray. It is similarly awful. The fabric sheathing introduces a ton of cable noise. There’s an insane amount of cable memory and constantly kinks in the shape it was shipped in. Please get a new cable for yourself if you pick up a Clear.

As for the build itself, it’s built exactly like the Elex except for a light gray color instead of all black. I did notice that the pads and headband had a more substantial feel compared to my worn-in 2-year old Elex that gave in at a fairly light touch. But otherwise, they’re the same. They’re hefty but comfortable for 2-3 hours before I need a break to relax my neck. I get a really nice seal with these headphones so no complaints there.

Sound

The Clear and the Elex sound surprisingly similar in a lot of ways yet have subtle differences that give life to each individual headphone. The main difference really comes down to tuning. Though they’re tuned very closely to each other, the Elex draws my attention to the top half of the frequency response while the Clear focuses my thoughts on the lower mids and bass. Where the Elex emphasizes the primary melodies of a track, the Clear reminds me not to forget about the subtleties in the background.

Bass

The bass and lower mids of the Clear sound like they have about a 1-2 dB bump over the Elex. This elevation isn’t focused around say the subbass or midbass, but rather it’s an overall perception of meatiness in the low end of the Clear compared to the leaner Elex. Where the Elex’s bass is tighter and lighter, the Clear’s feel weightier and nuanced. The Clear’s better bass resolution, rumble, and refinement is lightly reminiscent of the Utopia. This improved bass quality and elevation is what makes me consider the Clear to be more low end focused compared to the Elex. It’s as if the Clear is comfortable spending time exploring the intricacies of the notes in the bass and lower mids; I’m able to more easily pickup on the trailing backend character of notes that may get passed over when the Elex slams and moves on. An simple example is the kick drum: on the Elex, I mostly hear the defined attack of the beater head. On the Clear, the body of the kick blends seamlessly in to fill and round out each note with an added layer of character. The same could be said for the toms and even the guitars, though to a lesser extent.

In some ways, the bass of the Clear sounds like what I tried to EQ the Elex to. Though I tried to increase subbass quantity for a larger impact, I wasn’t pleased with my EQ as I found the Elex needed to remain lean to get the most out of its clean slam. By adjusting the bass, that cleanness would be marred ever-so-slightly, enough that I felt the tradeoff wasn’t worth it. Though the Clear doesn’t solve that issue, the sense of physicality and weightiness of low notes was the missing piece of the puzzle I didn’t have in my EQ attempts. While the Clear didn’t manage to achieve my dream of a clean, thunderous subbass slam like I was trying for on the Elex, I was met with a more mature solution. For those considering the Clear vs. the Elex, this is where I’d say the Clear has its most definite edge over the Elex unless you’re a diehard fan of a lean tuning.

Mids

Continuing the story from the bass, the lower mids of the Clear are warmer and more coherent than the Elex. What stands out about the Clear is its coherency and nuance in that transition region between the bass and the lower mids. I find a lot of headphones and IEMs struggle getting sound across in this critical region but the Clear has no trouble at all. To be fair, the Elex doesn’t have an issue in this area either. It handles it easily. But its leanness does mask some of the challenges that are often presented here.

For how good the lower mids are, it’s the upper mids of the Clear that fall short. There’s a bit of edginess to the upper mids that make it slightly sibilant on certain vocals. The sharp Sss sound is especially pronounced on wispy female vocals or when a sharp breath is taken. As mentioned in my Elex review, the Elex seems to always toe the line when it comes to vocal sibilance; it gets right to the threshold without ever crossing it. A similar sort of effect happens with the Clear where I can sense it stretches right up to that threshold… anddd steps over it occasionally. While the lower mids of the Clear does smooth out the sound of the mids as a whole, it isn’t enough to soften the edginess of the upper mids. As such, I think the Elex does have a better tonal balance for vocals. That said, I do want to emphasize how subtle this difference in the upper mids can be between the Clear and Elex, especially depending on the vocalist. For some singers, I had to A/B test the tracks to check if it wasn’t just the recording.

I find that instrument tone is slightly better on the Clear as it isn’t as affected by the upper mids edginess nearly as much as vocals are. The lower mids warmth and coherency of the Clear works beautifully if you’re looking for something like the emotional sounds of a moody electric guitar. The Clear’s rendition of these stringed instruments really shine in quieted segments. But if you primarily enjoy high-paced rock or metal tracks, the Elex’s lean mids may be advantageous. As mentioned at the start, I find the Elex is very good at bringing forth the main melodies of a recording and part of that reason is its ability to sound effortlessly clean in the mids.

Treble

The treble of the Clear and Elex is pretty interesting. Neither is truly brighter than the other, though sometimes that upper mids edginess does make its way into the lower treble of the Clear. The Elex’s treble is pervasively forward; I continuously hear the crisp sound of the hats and cymbals in tracks where they have any level of prominence. The Clear’s treble are more mellow, with the warmth from the lower mids balancing the overall tone. Because it’s less crisp than the Elex and has a lengthened decay, the Clear’s treble oftentimes sounds just a bit more natural to me where the Elex can sometimes feel a little exaggerated. It adds a sense of musicality and emotion that leads to melancholic enjoyability. I find that the Clear is also more forgiving of poor recordings as it doesn’t amplify the metallic sound of badly recorded cymbals nearly as much as the Elex does. In terms of airiness, neither headphone really has much top end air or sparkle.

Presentation

From a staging perspective, they’re extremely close. For soundstage, I’d say the Elex takes a small edge here, maybe about 5% larger at most. Imaging wise, I want to say the Clear pulls ahead though part of that perception may be because the Clear sounds just a bit more coherent than the Elex.

On a resolution level, the Clear has better resolution, mostly in the bass and lower mids where it’s more nuanced. Though it is hard to tell if its simply because there’s more quantity. Regardless, the low end of the Clear is more satisfying and it’s where the Clear pulls ahead of the Elex. It has the ability to make subtleties in the background pop just a bit more. When I’m listening to a familiar track, background instruments and melodies are more noticeable. Especially those that play in the lower frequencies such a deep snare roll. The Clear manages to paint a clear, nuanced picture of those notes. When I listen for the same thing on the Elex, I can hear it but it’s less noticeable and the overall “image” in my head is fuzzier.

Instrument separation and layering is better on the Clear as well. The overall presentation is just a little more mature on the Clear and elevates its sound compared to the Elex. I’d say that, to some extent, the sheer dynamism of the Elex, its slam and lean tuning, causes it gloss over some of the finer details that the Clear lays out. I do think the Elex is the more dynamic headphone by a small margin and sounds a bit cleaner as a whole thanks to its tuning.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, if you want something a little thicker than the Elex and have deep enough pockets for it. Let me be the first to say that the Clear will NOT beat the value the Elex brings to the table. For all the compare and contrast I’ve given in this review, both headphones honestly sound quite similar to each other. Diminishing returns and the like; the truth is when headphones are this good, differences are often partially exaggerated (unintentionally) just to be able to illustrate them. At $700, the Elex is pretty much the best value Hi-Fi headphone you can currently get IMHO. The HD600 is nice but the Focal Elex and Clear are truly in a different league from it.

At $1,500, the Clear is more than double the price of the Elex. So what does it bring to the table? Ultimately, it really comes down to that layer of musicality in the low end. Its coherency and nuance brings this tactile physicality to the lower mids and bass that cannot be said of the Elex. Combined with better instrument tone and a more mellow treble, the Clear has an overall more mature sound than the aggressively slammy Elex. But its greatest flaw is the slight upper mids edginess and sibilance on vocals. For those who are extremely sensitive to vocal sibilance no matter how small or infrequent, that may be enough to prefer the Elex. Otherwise, I think the warmer, bassier signature of the Clear should appeal to more people.

Going back to the question of worth: one of the bigger justifications for paying the huge premium is quality control and dealer support. In my Elex review, I touched briefly on the potential concerns over the Elex’s driver failure. The Clears do not have this issue (or at least, nowhere near the same extent). Furthermore, with the Clear you get 3 years of warranty from Focal instead of 1 year from Drop with the Elex. Obviously, how good this warranty will be would partially depend on how good your dealer is but in general, aftermarket support from dedicated audio dealers like headphones.com or similar companies should be better than Drop. While I don’t think it’s worth more than double the price of the Elex, it is something to consider.

And make no mistake, not every new Clear sells at $1,500. If you message a dealer and ask nicely, they may give you a sweet little deal on them. Or if you’re lucky and there’s an open box Clear in stock, you might get a pretty good discount on that too. Or even a used set since the 3-year warranty transfers. All that to say, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find a Clear for around $1,000 or less with a little bit of luck, making the value proposition much better.

To conclude then, I suppose I should tell you which I prefer. It’s actually a pretty simple decision. Since I own an Elex, I’ll stick with it for now. If you follow my reviews, you’ll know that I like a lean tuning and forward treble so the Elex is right in my wheelhouse. But if I owned neither and assuming the price difference wasn’t an issue, I’d probably get the Clear. While I will absolutely miss the superior vocal balance and lean cleanness of the Elex, the physicality and coherency in the low end of the Clear is quite hard to beat.

Written by Fc-Construct

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Really excellent review @Fc-Construct.

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Testing out the new Clear Mg Pro on the Amps&Sounds Kenzie OG. Photo credit to @Resolve

It’s been a while since I’ve heard an original Clear so comparisons I give later today will be strictly based on memory between the two.

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Excellent and accurate review, imo.

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Focal Clear MG product sheet:

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Thanks for this, @ValentineLuke.

I wonder if the OG Clear will end up getting discontinued; my concern is less that the headphones disappear from the lineup than that Focal will stop selling the pads. Ugh, I’d prefer not to fork out for a replacement pair just to be on the safe side…

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For some day Clear OG disappeared from the Headphones line up on Focal website.
Last week I’ve checked the website and they’re there again.
Probably the launch of the Clear MG has been delayed.
As for the professional line new Clears will replace the older ones.

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Don’t worry about it…just replace the headphone itself with the new clear! :wink:

If you’re paying that much for pads why not buy the new headphone instead! :joy:

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Yeah, I’m not sure wether or not Focal will still offer Clear pads.

The new MG pads are a bit shallower, so they are different.

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Seriously.

The smart move might be to wait until an early adopter sells his or her new Clear MG, buy it, and sell my own OG Clear and hope that the difference isn’t too much greater than the $200 for the pads. I have a feeling it won’t work out that way… :roll_eyes:

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I have backup pads for my Stellia and Dekoni pads. We never know how long Focal will offer replacement parts.

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Yeah, it’s too bad Focal doesn’t price its accessories as generously as Sennheiser does, and it’s too bad that Sennheiser hasn’t kept up with Focal in releasing new, exciting high-end headphones in recent years.

I have a feeling I’m going to be investing in both HD 800 and Clear pads soon. The rub is that I’ll probably be able to get a decade longer out of the same investment for the Senn pads… ugh.

Discoloration aside, how long do Focal pads typically last before the foam gives out? 5 years or 50,000 miles?

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Probably depends on a person’s usage…mine is still going after 2 years but I replaced em not too long ago. I mainly use mine during the night not during the day for my usage. I’m sure others’ experiences vary.

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My Stellia only made it a year. They were light before.

P.S. Appreciating Drew today. NOLA legend.

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Oof, and the Stellia pads are even pricer, iirc.

Yes, hats off to Drew. He’ll be sorely missed. He helped get us through some tough times.

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Would I be right in thinking that, apart from the color, the original Focal Clear Pro’s pads are the same as the regular, original Clear’s?

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I believe so…:+1:t4:

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