Focal Stellia Closed-Back Headphones - Official Thread

TLDR: I prefer the VC, but the Stellia has better technical performance, it’s faster and has better detail and separation. But, the VC has the better “transport you into a place”, staging and the dimensional 3D magic lol. Stellia is more “intimate”, VC is more transcendent.


Here is my dumb question of the day:

What open backs at the same price and below (rules out utopia!) compete with the stellia?

The stellia sounds basically perfect for my goals ( @PaisleyUnderground you are absolutely correct ) with one caveat: there is a very good chance that these won’t be isolating enough for my situation. Isolating, for me, is sitting listening to music without disturbing my wife sitting nearby.

Since her crazy ears are bothered by other sealed closed backs (lcd-xc and ath-wp900 sometimes), I can’t imagine these will be better unless I naturally want to listen at a lower volume. (I did on the wp900, hence the sometimes)

If these, as closed backs, don’t solve that problem, I can get anything I want for the day and just use the Zen (or any IEM) at night.

Or is the stellia simply the end game for its type of sound signature?


Soooo … I picked up a SPL Phonitor E recently, and it’s like the sound from the Stellias has gone up another notch or three. I honestly wasn’t expecting a huge change from my THX789 (and tbh I haven’t done a direct comparison yet - maybe this weekend) but I’m having a lot more “wow” moments than I remember having with the THX amp. Hey @Torq, thanks for costing me another big chunk of change (and a BUNCH of desk space - this thing is huge) :grin:


Just be glad I didn’t have time to list all my gear for sale prior to moving! :wink:

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Oh, I’m pretty sure FedEx will ship :innocent:

Oh they will … they will …

But I find the added incentive of getting it same-day, for $200 less, makes things much harder resist than having to deal with shipping.


I’ve definitely proved that point for you :smiley: Hope the move isn’t too hellish.


I found them very isolating even at higher than normal listening levels. I don’t have the link on-hand but I remember seeing a review before buying the Stellia where someone did test sound leakage in an anechoic chamber and it ranked amongst the best in preventing unwanted noise.

I will try to find the article :+1:

Edit: I originally returned the Stellia due to my big ears not fitting. Tried out some new Dekoni pads with my Elegia that are almost identical in size to the Stellia and they now fit like a dream. Might be selling some gear and picking the Stellia back up soon as I truly miss how good they were all-around.


Hello everyone! Please help me. 2 months ago I bought Denon 7200 and astell&kern kann alpha. Mostly I listening deep house music. I expected from this combination something much better and because I didn’t like the bass quality in music I will give that denon to my young brother as a present. So the question is, what are the best top headphones to listen mostly deep house music? I plan listen music on my astell&kern kann alpha. Guy from the shop highly advised Focal Stelia. Is this combination is really good or I need to buy something else? Thanks in advance for any support

Not for this type of music!

This is more your problem, Astell & Kern has a “brighter” sound signature due to its built-in chipsets, which is excellent for acoustic, finer audiophile sound illumination. But not so good for powerful, dynamic bass emphasis. Here I would rather recommend an amplifier from ifi Audio, preferably with a switchable xBass function, the chipsets of which are designed to be a bit “darker” and therefore a bit warmer in the sound.

Denon’s biocellulose drivers are usually very good and powerful in the bass reproduction, most likely these headphones are not the problem in your sound chain.

I have just tried your preferred music (deep house music) with the pairing I recommended, and the bass sounds really good.


Many thanks for detailed answer. After research i think i will go for Focal Radiance. From my understanding they are very good for my type of music and there is no point to pay double price for benefits which are not suitable for me. What do you think?

@worten777 Did you buy the astell&kern kann alpha because you want to listen to music on the go, or are you listening at your desk?

What @Lothar_Wolf is trying to tell you is that the alpha isn’t suited to house music, so no matter which headphone you get, you may not be happy. Given that you probably can’t return the alpha, he’s suggesting buying an external amp for the alpha before buying new headphones.

If you absolutely need your audio gear to be portable, then there are various portable amp options from ifi, the smallest being the hip-dac. If you’re going to be sitting down while listening, then you can get something less portable. Schiit and ifi have a ton of options, depending on your budget.

Once you start using the amp in addition to your alpha, you might find that your Denon headphones were perfect after all. If not, you can come back for more advice.

I actually own (and love) a pair of Stellias, and although I’m not familiar with deep house, they do sound great with electronic, bass heavy music. But they are extremely expensive, and probably overkill for what you need. If the Denons don’t work out, then the Focal Radiance or the cheaper Celestee would be options. Many members here would recommend that you look into iems instead, because at that $1000-1500 price, you can get very high quality iems.


[quote=“Chrono, post:381, topic:2704, full:true”]

Sources and Music Used in Listening Tests

The Amplifier/DACs used in this review were the SPL Phonitor XE (with built-in DAC), Grace Design SDAC + Topping A90, and the JDS Labs Element II connected via USB to my desktop computer.[/quote]

I’m aware that this - very informative and well written - review is 10 months old, but did you feel that these various options all did justice to the Stellia ?

Specifically, I’m wondering if the JDS element II is enough to get the most out of them. Or do they reach another level of performance on the Phonitor XE ?

Thanks !

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Thanks for checking out the review!

In my experience I didn’t really hear much of a difference in performance when comparing the Stellia on the Element II v.s. Phonitor XE. The only difference I observed was a slightly tonal one, and it was probably due different DAC’s used if anything—though, for me, these were extremely subtle and for the most part negligible.

That’s not to say that there won’t be any source equipment combos that will synergize better with the Stellia, but at least between those three setups I used there wasn’t much variance.


Thanks Chrono for the quick reply… that I was hoping for! I will go for a lower priced and smaller dac/amp if the difference is negligible. JDS Element II or maybe ifi micro IDSD Black label. Getting the Stellia at a reduced price and upgrading from a Sundara so I’ll soon get my taste of high-end sound. Should be a treat!

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Hey @Danton. I don’t have a Stellia, but I have a Utopia, which I would guess scales similarly to the Stellia with equipment. I think it’s important to note that, while the Phonitor XE is a fairly high end amp, the DAC chip in it isn’t anything spectacular. It’s not bad, to be sure, but if you’re wondering if better DACs matter with the Stellia, they absolutely do. The Stellia are easy to drive, so a high end amp actually isn’t super critical (so long as the amp isn’t meaningfully hurting).

I haven’t heard a JDS Element II, but I do own a Phonitor XE w/o the DAC chip (and have heard the DAC chip version at a show). I feel you will get more bang for your buck on the Stellia by going up the DAC chain before worrying about the amp (again, provided the amp isn’t holding you back). Something like a Chord Mojo will outperform the Element II, and maybe even the Phonitor XE with a DAC chip (though, the latter might be pretty close and more up to personal taste). A Chord Hugo 2, though, would toast both of them.

That is all to say, the Stellia will get close to the most out of almost any source chain you throw at it, but you absolutely should notice differences in DAC and amp improvements. How much you care about those differences, and how much it’s worth spending on them is totally up to personal taste, of course.


Hey @andris ! I assumed from what I heard that the DAC portion of the chain made the least audible difference. But I understand that, being easy to drive, the Stellia will benefit from a DAC upgrade rather than an amp upgrade. Thanks for pointing that out!

I had the Hugo 2 on my list. As it looks to be the endgame portable device, it will stay there until the time comes I guess.

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I don’t think that was quite what @andris was saying. He did say this:

Speaking from experience, I agree with that. The Stellia doesn’t need a powerful amp, but it will benefit from a quality amp. It will also benefit from a quality DAC.

I was very happy with a Bifrost 2/Lyr 3 pairing, and would still be happy if I’d have stayed with that combo. I appreciated the bigger stage and more holographic imaging on the Stellia when I replaced the Lyr 3 with a Burson Soloist 3 and then an A&S Nautilus, and I’m assuming that’s because the Stellia passes through whatever qualities the amp possesses. This is different from a Verite, which scaled quite considerably as my amps got better. Similarly, when I replaced the BF2 with an Yggy, I could quite clearly hear the increased detail and black background of the upgraded DAC, but note that I also had the amps to realize those DAC benefits.

So I still think you need a good balanced setup for the Stellia.

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@Danton - agreed with @PaisleyUnderground

To put it another way, some headphones - typically those that are harder to drive (lower sensitivity / higher impedance) - absolutely need a fairly good (and expensive) amp before they’re at a decent baseline of performance. It’s not that the Stellia will be exceptional off of literally any amp, but you also don’t need to start getting into the seriously expensive stuff as a baseline. For example, they’ll perform exceptionally well out of the built-in amp on a Chord Mojo or Hugo 2. You simply couldn’t do that with a Susvara or Abyss 1266.

Because the Stellia are highly resolving, you’ll hear every upgrade you make (DAC and amp), but I guess my point was that the DAC will matter more at the start because you don’t have to get a crazy amp for it to sound good. If you had a Chord Mojo as your DAC and spent $7K on a DNA Stellaris amp, will it sound way better than running it straight into the Mojo? Sure - a lot. But it would be a bit of a waste, because you’re not feeding the amp with a signal that it’s worthy of.

If music were a kitchen, the DAC is the quality of your ingredients and the amp is your chef. If you start with awesome ingredients, even a modest home cook will make a super tasty meal. Just don’t let your dog do the cooking. Sticking to this analogy, you could have the winner of Top Chef in your kitchen, but if you give them dog food to work with, well, you won’t get much out of that, either. It just so happens that the Stellia isn’t quite as picky about the cook as other headphones, which won’t even sit down to eat unless Jose Garces prepped the meal. The Stellia are cool with your mom (or dad - it’s 2021) at the stove, but ideally with better ingredients :wink:


@PaisleyUnderground I understand that the Stellia will benefit from higher quality gear. But it’s nice to know that I can upgrade progressively while enjoying a good chunk of what the stellia has to offer along the way.

@andris Absolutely love the ingredient cook analogy! I’ll definitely keep it in mind along the way.

Although I have an opportunity for a demo version of a Burson soloist 3XP at almost half of the price new, so I might actually end up getting a decent cook before getting him the ingredients he deserves:)