Focal Clear Open-back Headphones - Official Thread

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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Thanks guys!

I have done some experimenting trying to reduce the hum on the ZDT Jr. As I wrote earlier replacing the smaller faulty tubes made it almost fully silent on the Focal Clears, up to a level where many wouldn’t care. But it is audible when using IEMs. And as I like problem solving and DIY I went on to see if the hum could be reduced even more.

I have disconnected all cables expect power, moved the unit to reduce any interference from other electronics, even switched between rooms and power outlets (earthed / unearthed). No change.

So I went on to start modifying using Woremor WMF-200: Magnetic Shielding Film for LF and HF Radiation. Inspiration was found on another forums ZDT Jr thread.

  • Wrapped WMF-200 around the back output transformers.
  • Back output transformers are raised slightly. Unfortunately the cables to the PCB did not have much slack on my device.
  • Inside I have tried to shield below the output transformers with WMF-200 and sheets of PVC to keep the WMF-200 in place. Its ugly at the moment using electrical tape. Final solution after testing will hopefully look better.

Caution: This is risky business as the WMF-200 is conductive at the edges. You might ruin your device or create an electrical hazard. You may also electricute yourself as the device can be electrically charged even if you have disconnected the power cable.

Soundwise I think the device is quieter now. Shielding the bottom of the transformers was probably the biggest improvement. Lifting and shielding transformers was really hard to tell if it made a difference. Using the Focal Clear and other headphones the hum is barely audible. With IEMs its still there but I can now even use IEMs on the ZDT Jr. I have started to hear the slight buzz from moving the mouse around on my PC, this could not be heard before. This is USB EMI or ground interference I believe, but solving that will be another topic.

Anyway getting off topic but hopefully this of interest to any Eddie Current ZDT Jr owners, as I think its a great pairing for the Clears. Also the mods do not need to be performed for the ZDT Jr to sound good with Focal Clears.

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I’m not sure if it’s possible to get rid of hum altogether with sensitive IEMs out of the ZDT Jr. I’m no EE so I can’t claim to know. From reading threads, I see plenty of folks using the iFi IEMatch with desktop and tube amps. That might be an option for you, although you may not like the effect on the sound of your IEMs.

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I just installed Dekoni Elite Velour pads on my Clear. Their initial quality is equal or superior to Focal’s factory pads. My ears don’t hear meaningful differences with my everyday listening setup (i.e., Lyr 3). I can’t perform a valid A/B test because my factory pads are worn and flattened. In any case the tonal differences are too minor for me to care. I’ll definitely try other Dekoni pads in the future.

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Update: The foam in these Dekoni pads seems to make my Clear less susceptible to this model’s infamous chassis creaking. Is it memory foam? Is it just a function of having new and more resilient foam?

I’ll probably never buy the grossly overpriced and stain-friendly factory pads in the future.

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Here’s some potentially good news about replacement pads for the original Clear.

In a post above, @reallyoldcob’s new, replacement pads were of a different thickness to his old, worn-in ones. He and I were concerned that these difference might affect the sound of the headphones. I was also concerned that Drop and its customers had encountered unit variations in Elex pads a year ago (the ones currently on sale are said to be fine). Did all this speak to problems with Focal’s QC (or its supplier’s, if the pads weren’t made in-house)? Did it mean you’d be forking out a bunch of cash for replacement pads that might not, in fact, be exact replacements?

I picked up a new, replacement pair of the original Clear pads a couple of weeks ago. Lo and behold, they’re of a different size to my worn-in pads, which are at least two years old (I purchased my Clear used). In both photos the old pads are on the left:

I realize these aren’t the best photos (and my phone’s camera isn’t exactly perpendicular or perfectly horizontal/vertical to the pads). But I measured the pads and had the same findings, more or less, as @reallyoldcob:

  • The old, worn-in pads: the outside thickness of both the pads at the bottom, i.e. where the seam runs across the pad, is 23 mm. (The seam faces down when the pads are on the headphones).
    Both pads’ thickness on the side, i.e. 90 degrees around from the seam and where the pads are the thickest, is 26mm.

  • The new replacement pads: not only are the pads different in size to the old worn-in ones but they’re also different to each other at 20 and 22 mm. The thickness at the sides again varies, at 21 and 22 mm. Put another way, that’s a 4-5mm difference in thickness, which would seem to be pretty significant.

The good news is that, in some slapdash A/B blind comparisons, I couldn’t reliably hear differences in the sound of my Clear with these replacement pads vs my old ones.

Admittedly, I don’t have the best hearing - I’m in my mid-40s and have suffered some hearing loss. Also, my testing was far from scientific or rigorous. (My wife indulged me and switched the pads over without me seeing which ones were which). And before deciding to do a blind test, I’d compared the pads and had convinced myself that the new replacement pads were slightly bassier and warmer, and that treble was less well extended with them. When I did the blind A/B comparisons, though, I couldn’t reliably pick out the new vs the old pads; in several tests I did no better than pick them out correctly half of the time.

So, all of this is to say that while the pads are different, physically, to my ears they don’t make for a difference in the sound—at least insofar as I can tell. And all of this, of course, disregards how the aging process of the pads - as the material stretches, flexes, and absorbs moisture - may affect everything, or not.

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Dekoni makes a suitable replacement for the Clears. I’m using Elite Sheepskin. I like them.

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Thanks for this review! I have the Clear OG and Arche. Please let me know your thoughts on this pairing, if possible.