I have a very similar problem…I’m always like but what if…I tend to try and get them in the hands of friends who I’m trying to give the audiophile bug( I know I’m evil and no ones wallet deserves that…but think of the ears!).
What is crazy for me is, when I’m listening to them for a long time and they are amazing, I’m in love with them…then I’ll throw on my HD800s or HD700s and just be blown away at how good those headphones are comparatively. I felt the same way about the HD6XX and my modded M1060(I know M1060 is not a great set but I really enjoy them).
The Focal Elex is currently available on Massdrop again.
I knew it was coming back…they sent a “please review” request a week ago. When they send review requests the product will return soon.
I finally found time to collect my thoughts and write something about these.
Focal is a French company with a long history of making high quality loudspeakers and studio monitors. In more recent years, they started developing and releasing headphones starting with their Spirit and Listen lines. More recently, they developed a new driver concept that mimics loudspeaker design – a super-near-field monitor driver – and used it on their flagship Utopia, Elear and Clear headphones. These stunning headphones drew instant praise for many reasons I’ll discuss about in my review.
The Elear is the entry-level headphone of this upper-tier series. They retail at $999 but can be found for about $799 now. The Clear, on the other hand, is the mid-tier at $1500. The Utopia is quite a stretch in price past these others at $4000.
Last year, Massdrop announced a collaboration with Focal and started collecting funds for the Focal Elex. This new model to this lineup essentially takes the Elear, removes it’s pads and puts the Clear pads on them, along with a fresh paint job, improved cables from the Clear, and reduces the price tag by a couple hundred dollars to the selling price of $699. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.
So how are they? Let’s take a look.
Packaging & Build
The Elex comes packaged in a large magnetic snap box, that opens up with a simple presentation. The headphones are surrounded by thick foam to protect it during shipment, with the two cables (balanced and unbalanced) in another slot in the foam. Pretty simple but effective.
The cables are wrapped in a paracord-like sheath and 6 feet long, as opposed to the really lengthy 10 feet ones that come with the Elear. I found the cords a little stiff, despite looking very attractive. I ended up leaving them in the box and using my own paracord-based braided cables with XLR termination.
The Elex, themselves, feature a darker appearance than the Clear and Elear. The logo is dark on dark so everything blends together giving it a clean finish. The build quality is phenomenal. Everything is well built and sturdy. The alcantara wrapped headband gives a plush feel to the crown of the head, while the metal band and cups feel ultra-premium.
One thing to note with these is that they will leak like crazy. The cups are nothing more than a metal mesh. The driver is fully exposed and completely visible and will leak sound out in all directions. This open-air driver design is all part of Focal’s intent of giving the user a Speaker-like experience.
The Focal Elex is a bit on the heavier side though. Weighing at 450 grams, the headphone is now the heaviest in my lineup of headphones, outweighing the Hifiman HE560 and Audeze Mobius. They are not in the ballpark of Audeze LCD series weight though, so that’s a blessing. You won’t get neck cramps quickly, but for some, the Elex and really, all of the headphones in this Focal lineup may give some neckaches. I found them more comfortable to wear than say the LCD-2 and the Monolith M1060 but the additional weight over my daily driver HE560 shows.
The Focal Elex has all the characteristics I love about headphones. It has a neutral sound-signature that leans bright, providing additional detail and air, and retains a good deep bass that chooses quality over quantity. That’s not to say the Elex isn’t fun.
The bass on these can really hit you. It’s a dynamic driver that pushes the limits of a dynamic driver, with an excursion distance unlike any other headphone. The most impressive thing about it is that the decay is fast and this provides a surprisingly planar-like bass that has punch and dynamic detail. I really have nothing bad to say about this region.
The midrange is ever so slightly forward. This makes the Elex have a more intimate feel to it. Vocals typically sound fantastic, but with the upper-mids being on the brighter side of neutral, they can sometimes have a metal sheen to them, as does my comparable HE560.
Speaking of the two, in my measured MiniDSP EARS responses, they look very similar, outside of the region between 1-3KHz. In this area, the HE560 becomes a little recessed, putting vocals slightly back, while the Elex moves them forward. The bass and the treble response are very similar besides that.
Some music selections:
One of my favorite headphone test albums is listening to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memory. It’s one of those albums that have tracks that have great dynamics, some with absurd amounts of bass, and some that have great imaging and width. It has a little bit of everything to try out a new set of cans on.
The Elex destroys this album – especially on the last two tracks. Doin’ It Right is a song that has a vocal intro followed by a bass slam that can knock your socks off. When I heard it for the first time on the Elex, I thought I was listening to the full range towers in my living room. The bass slams, but the transient reponse is fast and you get the little textures that you may not hear in a typical dynamic that compensates with a mid-bass hump. This can sometimes muddy up vocals and the lower mid-range. Not a problem on the Elex.
Contact is the final song on the record which sounds like a typical Daft Punk song. It’s got a big build-up before synths and drums go nuts, all with a spacey theme to it. The little faint sounds in the background are clear and distinguishable and you can easily point to in space where they are coming from. Again, the drums slam with enthusiasm but are never out of control.
Changing pace, another track I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Krysta Nick’s Miles Away. This is a folk/bluegrass song with some fiddles, some acoustic guitars, and some heavy bass notes thrown in during the bridge. But really, I’m focusing on her voice. She has a higher pitched voice, and on some headphones, with exaggerated treble, you may hear sibilance in her voice and harshness in each guitar pluck with this song. For me, the Elex handles this fine. There’s some very subtle over-pronunciations of the SSS sound (sibilance) but its very faint and doesn’t distract me like some other headphones may.
As the HE560 and the Elex share similar treble response, I imagine if you can handle one, you can handle both. I am a huge fan of the HE560, so the Elex is following suit.
For EDM, these can be awesome, or they can suck a lot. It’s a genre that likes to heavily emphasize bass and treble. But in many songs, they distort the heck out of both sides. So while the Elex handles bass with ease, songs where treble is already distorted or on the cusp, may sound extremely bright on the Elex. It’s just the nature of the beast really. This is a brighter than neutral headphone, and if you throw really bright tracks at it, it’s going to be harsh. I found this on several songs going through my EDM playlist.
I like shoegaze, and this headphone does this genre well. Again, the fast decay these drivers produce really helps make this genre excel. The fuzzy sounds, the walls of noise, all of that, they sound great – because the texturing of the sound is never lost. But of course, the downsides are that this headphone requires volume, in my opinion to excel.
I found the Elex with potential untapped at lower listening volumes. But this headphone with volume cranked up sounds phenomenal. And because of that, I always find myself listening to this headphone at volumes higher than I normally would on other headphones. This, along with the leakage, could cause problems for others around me.
Luckily, the Elex doesn’t seem to need a big amp to drive them. They are efficient. I did the majority of my listen with this headphone on the Topping DX7 balanced headphone amp/DAC, or the Millet Starving Student Hybrid Tube amp. Both have plenty of power, but I was able to power it to crazy levels using my Onkyo DP-S1 DAP, the Radsone ES100 bluetooth amp, and even my Essential phone with a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter.
The Elex, and really, any of the Focal line, is one of those headphones you really need to listen and experience. It does sound unlike any thing else. The dynamics have bass quality that can give planars a run for their money, and the upper end provides the needed detail and air that make this headphone a good all-arounder.
The biggest flaws I found with this headphone are that it does leak quite a bit, and can be uncomfortable to wear over a lengthy time due to it’s weight. It is distributed as well as I can imagine given it’s design, however a comfort strap may have helped.
It is a brighter headphone so songs that are emphasized in the upper region may sound harsh. This isn’t really an issue for me on most music I listen to, but for those who may enjoy EDM music, the more bass emphasized Elear may be better suited for the task.
In the end, I am pretty happy with my purchase. This is a luxury looking, feeling and sounding item and it really does come at a good price that Massdrop is offering it at.
I’d like to thank redditor oxtoacart (pwjazz on Headphone Community) for selling me his set at a discounted price. I originally purchased a set from Blinq but it was faulty and I had to return it. He also happened to buy it from them during the same sale, but decided to keep another headphone instead. He graciously offered to sell it to me for the same discounted price on Blinq instead of me waiting for the next Massdrop drop to come out. Thanks!
I’m thrilled that the Elex found a good home and that you’re enjoying it!
they’re back on massdrop again, ending today Dec 26th.
i was trying out the audeze lcd2c i just got in…too heavy…ugh.
and their sound sig didn’t blow me away, as i was expecting.
esp compared to my hd6xx that i picked up used/mint (under 2 hrs) for cdn $260.
looking at these elex or the upcoming hifiman jade 2 in Feb.
The Elex have been regularly stocked for some time now. With a reset every 24 hours.
The LCD-2C are heavy, but they cause jaw compression too. Wear them high and tight. I’m in pain myself! They work best on tracks that benefit from bass impact. Not super technical but fun.
oh thanks, i wasn’t aware of that…good ole’ massdrop and their ‘…hrs left’ ploys
per audeze, a friend did warn me about the infamous weight issues for many of their models: suggested instead to try hfm…but their qc is so so.
will be interesting to see how the hfm/massdrop edition xx works out…guess we’ll see
in may when they ship per qc and sound sig.
for the price i preferred the massdrop fostex ebony with their v shape signature.
still searching for a new toy to step up from my hd6xx without breaking the bank.
I got a pair of HiFiMan HE-560s for $250 on Black Friday. Retail was an absurd $900. They are cheaply made in every way and I’d be upset if I paid more than $300. The pads are thin so I ordered replacements already. The sound quality is fantastic on the THX AAA 789, and they need lots of power. Clean and bright overall, great for classical.
I initially joined the Edition XX drop but got scared off by the QC issue and long wait.
fab!..that’s supposed to such a classic model.
isn’t hfm replacing the he560s with a new one?
they’re a somewhat confusing company to me with their lineup and the frequent
changes (new editions) and new models that keep coming out.
i wonder if it creates resale issues for their owners
It does get confusing. I also have the HE560 and the Elex and love both of them. They are lighter than the LCD series and have a more technical sound to them than the Audeze. My favorite audeze product was the sine of the under$1000 ones I’ve tried. I never owned anything above that price point from audeze because the lcds are just too heavy to wear.
zmf is another company on my radar…but just like hfm they come out with too many models too fast, each supposedly being the best one yet, most open, balanced etc etc
The LCD2C’s stock sound is definitely quite colored. Comfort is not their strong suit, though I had some success by wearing the headband further back on my head than I would typically. I don’t have a 6XX/650, but I do have a 58X and honestly I hardly ever listen to my LCD2C anymore. EQ’d, the 58X is capable of plenty of bass presence, and it just sounds more natural than I can make the LCD2C sound, no matter how I EQ it.
A lot of people like the Elex and my impressions in terms of comfort and sound put me in the minority, so if you get a chance to try the Focal sound and packaging you might like it,
Bottom line, I’m working on selling the LCD2C and find myself quite satisfied with my mid-range Sennheiser (that being the HD58X) and some cheap EQ’d hybrid IEMs for more portable use.
It may be my ears, but the LCD2C sound “just fine” to me. The low end often rumbles (they don’t have much technical potential) but that’s “just fine” with some genres. Never my choice for classical or acoustic though.
I think Audeze’s design aims for synesthesia (sensory cross-over) and the traditional audiophile experience. If you’ve ever driven a 4x4 or diesel truck…they feel the same but on your head… If you’ve played an electric guitar through a powerful amp and overwhelmed an entire room with the lightest touch…they feel the same on your head… If you’ve fired a 12 gauge shotgun slug…they feel the same on your head…
Now, none of this about audio quality or natural sound. The Elex, HE-560, and HD-600 are for natural. The LCD2C just adds entertainment with electrified and electronic sounds and can put a smile on your face (unless they crush your jaw first).
After swapping my HD-600 cable for balanced, they truly do provide a surprisingly deep and satisfying bass experience. But…they will never be a 4x4 on your head…
Has anyone used the ELEX with Dekoni Pads? Massdrop has another drop on them. They posted measurements vs the Elear but I haven’t seen them with superimposed Elex measurements on them and since I don’t know what they used to measure with, it’s a little hard to determine if I’ll find any of the pads very useful.
I picked up the fenestrated sheep skin pads… hopefully they sound good
Nice. I was thinking of grabbing those or the Hybrids. I love the hybrid look/feel for the HE560, but dont know how the sound will be affected by it.
The fenstrated sheepskin look like they have the best effect for the Elear though so that’s a safe bet.
Yeah, I went with them for similarly styled to the Utopia pads. Not that they will be the same.