I’m torn between these and going with the Open Box Clears. I love the look of the Clears, though I must confess I’m concerned about how it will stand up to dirt over time.
A-ha! I was starting to believe that my own concern over dust contamination on the Clear was perhaps mere figment of my imagination, then I saw this. Dust is not very noticeable on the Clear and it can build up over a long period of time before it becomes visible, possibly allowing for potential damage to the delicate drivers and/or restriction of the airflow through the grille. I try to avoid this by storing the cans in their carrying bag when not in frequent use, and I brush the cups with an old Decca vinyl record cleaner , a sort of double-sided brush with extra-soft silk hairs that must be as old as I (I’m 56) but still works like new. When done I blow on the cups to clear out potential loose hairs from the lattice. Individual hairs are just not visible, at least not to me.
I’m newer to the headphone community. What things would I need in the rest of my chain to take advantage of the clear over the elear?
Seriously, if your goal is to take advantage of the Clear over the Elear just do nothing and if you’re like 90% of audiophiles you’ll prefer the Clear “as-is” over the darker Elear (I mean the tone not the colour). However introduce pad swapping, amplifier variations, dsp etc. and there is no telling which one you’ll prefer. The Elear is one of the most responsive to DSP headphone that I know of, features a huge “playground” in the mids area where FR variation is most revealing, it’s like having 20 headphones in one with practically one single constant value: badass yet superbly tamed deep bass (“slam”) that no other Focal -or any other make for that matter- has and I still have no idea how Focal achieved this because it’s not easy, ask any engineer and you won’t get a clear answer from any of them, only educated guesses. In theory you can make the Elear sound even better than the Clear but for that you’ll need to be patient and read/view tons of material, many of it rather cryptic, and have some basic familiarity with EQ’s, filters, gain, etc.
Not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. Unless you’re already familiar with headphone technology I would not recommend this approach. But there are many DSP’s on the market that provide two-click presets for specific models and the Elear is almost always included in the mix. Those will cost you within the range of about $100 to $300. It may seem like a lot but considering it can turn $1,000 cans into $1,500 to $2,000 headphones there is plenty food for thought. Personally I like my Clear a lot but I managed to tweak the Elear into something that sounds better than the (plain non-DSP’d) Clear, at least to me. As usual in such situations YMMV.
The Clear and Clear Pro do not respond that well to DSP, most likely because they have been tweaked to death by design because other than that they are built pretty much the same way the Elear is, using the same general drivers and frame. In fact at Focal HQ in France all the audiophile phone models the company makes -except the Utopia- are referred to as “Elear-Class” after the name of the initial model. Navy brats will be familiar with that nomenclature technique as it applies to military ships.
Regarding amps I would stick with solid-state with all high-end Focals. I don’t clearly recall the reason but I’ve read convincing material to the effect that relatively low impedance dynamics can become ferocious with tubes. I haven’t tried it so can’t really comment further. Focal recommends pretty expensive high-end SS amps but, and this will sound odd, I obtained my best results using a desktop-DAC-vintage receiver chain linked with resonably priced cables (1 USB 1 pair RCA outs into the receiver’s “aux” input). Regarding this receiver it is a fully restored Pioneer SX-650 of 1977 vintage. It is modestly rated at constant 35wpc 20Hz-20kHz (“real watts” as we say) but its weight and part values hint at more beefy specs, in the vicinity of 46 “real watts” per channel. It weighs a solid 30lbs. Be advised that this photo is pretty large but worth viewing full-size:
This receiver will push more watts into the headphones than most HP amps. This is the result of a phenomenon known as output voltage swing on machines that were wired in parallel and had a simple resistor pad circuit between main speaker and headphone outputs. It was common in the 70’s but rare nowadays. Remember, this is by no means a cheap alternative to a dedicated HP amp, in fact it would cost you more because the receiver must be fully restored which is very expensive unless you do it yourself, if so inclined. The result is easy on the eye tho, which can be of great value should WAF issues become involved.