Ryan's Focal Clear Review

Overview

First off I’d like to thank Andrew, Taron, and Torq for building the community preview program, which I was fortunate enough to ascertain these headphones through. If you haven’t yet, take a look at the requirements to becoming a core team member as the benefits are truly amazing. Included is the ability to preview some really great audio gear. Thanks again!

The Focal Clears are a truly amazing set of headphones. Their outstanding qualities include excellent spaciousness and dynamic range. Full specs of these headphones are below.

Type: Circum-aural open-back headphones

Impedance: 55 ohms

Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW A 1kHz

THD: 0.25% @1kHz / 100cB SPL

Frequency Reponse: 5Hz - 28kHz

Loudspeaker: 1.6" (40mm) Aluminum/Magnesium ‘M’-shape dome

Weight: 0.99 lb

TL’DR: Outstanding headphones with top of the line dynamic range, spaciousness, build, and quality. Downsides include intimacy, cable options and $1500 price tag.

Build/ Accessories

The build quality of the Clears exceeded all of my expectations. These are known to be very high quality all around but the material quality in all facets is really stellar. Starting with the accessories, you get a hard shelled carrying case which is thermo-formed to hold the headphones and a few cables/ accessories. The outside of the case is covered in a thin flecked fabric which adds to its aesthetic appeal. The case comes with a handle for carrying or you can throw it in a bag without worrying about damaging your expensive headphones. Inside the case are the first set of 24 AWG oxygen free cables that come with the Clear.

This 1.2 mm cable is terminated in a 3.5mm connector for small portable devices. It also has a threaded quarter inch adapter. The cables are all wrapped in a black and white fabric which makes for a very elegant design. The cables are all fairly stiff and hold very well when wrapped.

The other two cables come in an accessory box within the retail box both are 3 meters long and one is terminated in a quarter inch jack, the other in a balanced XLR. The one problem with each of these cables is their length. The short cable is too short and the longer cables are too long. The goldilocks length of 2 meters is not available. With the 3 meter cable I could easily walk around my room with the headphones plugged in on my desk. The 1.2 meter cable barely made it to my lap when sitting down and did not reach the DAC on my desk while sitting a meter or so away. This might come down to personal preference, but it was a bit of a pain to an otherwise splendid experience.

On to the headphones themselves. The shell of the Clears is made out of aluminum which makes them very strong. The headband is extremely comfortable, made of leather and memory foam. The underside of the headband and ear cups have a layer of microfibre fabric which makes them silky smooth, however easily stained. The light grey color does not help with this as sweat, and other fluids will easily make marks. Overall the headphones are fairly light,weighing in at only 1 pound. They sit very nicely on the head.

Sound

I don’t even know how to begin this section because the Clears sound so far and above the headphones I normally have the capacity to listen to. That should give you an idea of the kind of experience these elicit. To start as a picture of my listening habits, I am mainly a Jazz, Blues, Classical, Classic Rock, and Electronic listener. All of the music I have listened to during these tests falls into these categories. I listen louder than I probably should, and I prefer a warmer sound signature which borders on neutral.

I burned in the clears for three days for about 15 hours before I began listening. The box these came in was still shrink wrapped so I believe these were brand new! After burn in I began by listening to my main testing albums including Fritz Reiners recording of Scheherazade, Paul Simon’s Graceland, The Allman Brothers Live at Filmore East and Renaissance Live at Carnegie Hall. You can find my electronic listening playlist on Spotify here.

I did my main listening from JRiver, with FLAC recordings though the Modi 2 Uber DAC and Cavalli Tube Hybrid Amp with Bugle Boy 6922 tube. I also listened for a bit on a Fiio x5III and newly acquired Acer Chromebook, but neither were truly detailed enough for these headphones.

The first thing that hit me like a brick was how open these headphones sounded. The expansion of soundstage is truly breathtaking. I was able to pinpoint individual instruments, separated by an inky blackness. In larger pieces like in Scheherazade I was able to pick out individual violinists even. Truly amazing stuff. This immediately came at a price as some smaller pieces failed to muster the intimacy of closed back offerings. However this was the only thing I could say negatively about these cans.

Vocals come through clear and crisp. Female vocals have great sound and male vocals are deep and punchy without being too gravely. Dynamics are another thing these headphones do extremely well. Scheherazade is a particularly demanding album with large and expansive sections and booming orchestral melodies, followed by intimate violin arias. Besides losing intimacy due to expansive soundstage, the dynamic changes are fast and agile without taking away from the musicality of the piece. Even in quiet sections there is full and comprehensive sound.

Bass is punchy and controlled. During my foray into electronic music there was a clear separation between all octaves and punchy bass didn’t dilute the highs. Even at high volumes everything was very detailed. Highs aren’t sibilant rather very detailed and beautiful. The sonic qualities of this headphone are quite superb.

Overall these headphones are on my list if I ever find them to have fallen off a truck, or I mysteriously find $1500 in my laundry basket. As for the real world, $1500 is a bit too high of a price to pay for a luxury like these for me. Sure, they are truly the best headphones I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but that is a large chunk of change. As a whole, but personally I don’t believe these are really worth $1500. At a lower price, I may see the value. For now, the headphones with all their spacy goodness sit at a respectful 9/10.

Cheers,

-Ryan

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Nice write-up!

The Macallan there makes a nice impromptu headphone stand!

It’s nice to see people taking advantage of the Community Preview Program, as well as the reviews that are coming out of it. Compared to every other site I’ve participated in/on, I’ve never seen quite such a broad, deep or varied array of gear available for qualified members to audition and review.

Again nice job!

I hope you’ll do more of these … there’s some very cool stuff in the program already.

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Excellent review! Smile-GIF-Image-for-Whatsapp-and-Facebook-10-300x200%20copy
I have had both the Utopias and the Clears and I must say I found the Clears to be much more to my liking. I found the Soundstage wider and deeper. In fact the depth of the Clears provided much more depth. I found them a little bit less dynamic. I was glad I sold the Utopias to get the Clears.
Unfortunately this disease of have of buying and selling like a rabid dog sometimes does not allow me to enjoy a piece of gear for longer than a taste of it.
Lastly I was able to buy the Clears for less than the price you mentioned and personally consider than one of the best headphone gear out their. I miss them enough after 2 months of owning them. I expect they will enjoy a more permanent place in my home soon.

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Great review. I agree with all you have said regarding the Focal Clears. I am loving my pair and they’re getting plenty of head time. The build is indeed sublime. And oh, the sound is stellar. Thanks for a great read.

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Thank you Ryan. Very good review.

Like you said, the cable lengths are an individual preference. Personally, I like the 4 footer for sitting on a swivel rocker, listening to online music, while plugged into an Amazon tablet that rests on my lap. The 4 foot length is perfect for that. The 10 footers are likewise good for me because of the ways I listen to music through headphone amps…and even, once in a while, through a receiver.

But mainly I’d say this of the Clear. I find them essentially as good as my HD800S, but with the added benefit of having both more bass and weight to their sound. As much as I love some other headphones–especially the HD800S–the Clears may be the best “all arounder” I’ve ever heard (most favorable characteristics and least unfavorable). I’ve only been listening to them for several weeks, so haven’t reached a final conclusion. But as a minimum I think the Focal Clear is, by far, one of the best headphones ever made.

One thing more. Of all the places on the internet where the Clears were recently on sale, it was the easiest and least hassle to buy them here at the Headphone Community…which I did.

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I ran out of places to put my headphones and it was actually perfect haha. Makes it harder to get my drink on though! :grinning:

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I have a question. Is it DRAMATICALLY different AND BETTER than Sennheiser HD 600 for mostly classical and jazz.

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I have the Sennheiser HD 6XX and I have to say that it is dramatically better in imaging, dynamics and spaciousness. For the price difference, it might be a personal preference in terms of bang for your buck though.

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I no longer have the HD6XX, but I have most of the Focal line and Elex and Clear are in my opinion much better, but it comes down to what you are willing to pay also. Clear is ever so, better than the Elex, and if you have the means I would recommend it over the Elex.

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Havent been listening with the Clears for a week now…testing other cans with various amps and its been nice…but today I put on the Clears and it was that instant “WOW” why did I waste a week not listening with these!!!

:>)

Alex

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Took the words right out of my brain :slight_smile:

My initial encounter with Focal’s Long Line occurred when I acquired the Elear, my introductory encounter with a brand that would eventually become a favourite. The “family” of high-end Focals consisted of two members at the time. I couldn’t afford $5,000 CDN then, but I was able to treat myself to the $1,200 Elear.

At first the long, heavy (18awg I believe) cable was a nuisance, what with always paying attention not to roll over it with my chair, having it coiled on my lap felt cumbersome and I can’t count the times I pulled a (or both) connectors out of the cup(s) by way of stepping on said cable while getting up, makes one appreciate the sturdiness of those connectors and the clever bowl-shaped recesses that made it hard to miss the jack while reconnecting without looking, a feat performed not without some degree of irritation on certain other makes not so astutely designed yet similarly defoliating of one’s wallet if not more so…

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Oh yes!!

I have the HD600’s not the drop ones and love them, the Clear and with the right dac/amp classical music is wonderful…tonality OMG nice…

My latest amp is a Hagerman TUBA EL84 and with some EI 6BQ5 tubes its a 10/10…I put on the 600s and say wow this is really nice, then the clears and its WOW there are really more nicer!! :grinning:

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At 4 times the price they should very well be! :wink:

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I got my Clears for $999!

New…

After many cans that cost up in this range and the enjoyment they provide well worth the cost here…except for those $200 pads!

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I got my Clears for $999!

New…

I envy your patience, mine cost me $1399 two years ago. :cry:

Like many a collector bent on getting their hands on something the second they decided they wanted it (and could afford it) I could not find it in me to wait for the price to drop, By then the Elear had dropped to around $800 so it was inevitable that the Clear would follow suit… in time. But the collector in me had no time for time, unlike the audiophile in me. Now that guy, he can wait any number of the requisite number of years for an item to settle to a reasonable level because, after all, he’s got many phones already and is perfectly content with his daily drivers. Wish I saw more of him and less of the restless id… err, collector. You’d think that 56 years down here would have taught him more mature attitude… oh, well. Anyway when I mentioned 4 times the price I was referring to launch price but you already knew that :wink:

Now we can welcome the Clear into the value club considering your grand gets you a lot of can for the money not to mention the bundle, something the Elear deplorably lacked, but at least they come with a top quality cable, be one a tad bit on the longish side of things, which appears to be an inconvenience to some but not to me, after getting used to it. It was good prep for the Clear’s “middle” cable, the one with the standard quarter-inch connector.

I use that one because the short cable is too short and the balanced cable has a very slight hum to it. I know this is something to do with the DAC (Naim DAC-V1), not the headphone. I suspect he doesn’t like the new USB cable I picked up about a month ago but I just can’t be bothered with troubleshooting the issue ATM. Besides that the standard cable produces no hum and the Clear isn’t a daily driver, I’m currently going through a Sundara/DSP’d Elear phase. Not saying those are better or worse than the Clear, to me all three sound like they cost twice their asking price but the Elear/Sundara combo are better suited to the music I tend to play these days (mostly fusion and energetic jazz like Marcus Miller, Snarky Puppy, stuff like that).

The Clear can overload my head in the “too much of a good thing” sense, and that’s where the Sundara really shines: a little less detail is a little less fatigue taking into account that the Clear’s superior performance in instrument spacing can produce pretty dense SQ when more than a half-dozen very distinctive sounding instruments are involved. The Sundara’s lower fidelity and planar serenity tames things a bit and it does so in such a way that it feels seamless. Sure this way you can miss the finer details of a performance but see how you feel 30 minutes into it. But give me rock, blues, symphonic, prog, electronica then give me back my Clears dammit. :heart_eyes:

As for the pads, that’s for the newly created complaints forum apparently :wink:

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I just lucked out…I never really knew how good these Clears were…I was looking to buy HD800s and someone said go audition the Clears…and as luck would have it my local audio store (rare now-a-days) located a few miles from me had them in stock to listen to…

So as soon as I put them on 30 seconds into a Patricia Barber tune I knew these were what I was looking for…and again a luck would have it Focal had this whacky trade in ANY set of cans for the Clears at $999!

But I was just passed the date of the special offering. but some internet sites were still advertising this and they honored the deal without any trade for $999…how could I refuse.

I dont think I would have spent full retail for these…so it worked out.

I did also get a set of HD800s and had them for 2 days and returned then even though i like the HD600’s they were a real let down for me, too thin…just not worth the retail asking price at all for me.

The only other set of affordable cans I might be tempted to buy are the ZMF Aeolus…but with all this stock market tanking this will be awhile for me now!!

I go back and forth with the HD600 and Clears and smile most of the time!!

:>)

Alex

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I just lucked out…I never really knew how good these Clears were…I was looking to buy HD800s and someone said go audition the Clears

Phew! That was a close call. Lucky day indeed!

…and as luck would have it my local audio store (rare now-a-days) located a few miles from me had them in stock to listen to…

Yeah except for big-box outlets audio stores have become a rarity even in a city of 4 million like mine. But as luck would have it for me too my brother-in-law and an associate own a high-end audio store and service center. As far as headphones are concerned he is an authorized Focal retailer, as well as Hifiman, Senn, NAD and B&W that I know of, because he also carries esoteric boutique brands that constantly cycle in and out, many ending up as failed startups sold at discounted rates. Even as a collector those have little interest to me unless there is something really special about them other than being so ridiculously expensive it’s obvious that the manufacturer had no idea what the heck they were doing. BIL doesn’t give me any special rebate when I purchase something from him because we don’t don’t mix business with family (I kinda wish we did though) but he sells to me at online price plus he digs up any little-known special offer/bonus/what-have-you for me, which is nice and sometimes result in substantial savings over regular retail. Unfortunately when it comes to accessories like cables and such he sticks with uber expensive brands because he says that’s what customers ask for. Let’s leave that at that :smiley:

So as soon as I put them on 30 seconds into a Patricia Barber tune I knew these were what I was looking for…and again a luck would have it Focal had this whacky trade in ANY set of cans for the Clears at $999!

Dang you have more as-luck-would-have-its than I do lol

But I was just passed the date of the special offering. but some internet sites were still advertising this and they honored the deal without any trade for $999…how could I refuse.

How could you indeed, Focal audiophile cans are such charmers it’s no surprise they got the segment’s dynamics pretty much all to themselves by now. Only serious competition like Audeze, Hifiman, Mr Speakers etc are all planars. There is the HD800/800s but…

I did also get a set of HD800s and had them for 2 days and returned then even though i like the HD600’s they were a real let down for me, too thin…just not worth the retail asking price at all for me.

…that. I think this time around the French have won over the Germans :smiley:
I don’t like my HD800’s either but kept them as a collectible. They are a good example of the kind of overconfidence-induced mistake that can cost a manufacturer its market segment. Never really been a Senn fan but I do have one pair that I like a lot for bicycling and hiking: the first-generation on-ear Momentum. They may not look the part but they sound a lot better than one would assume. The vise is torturous but you need that firm clamp when riding a bike in the summer heat lest they slide off. Nice deep bass, not boomy at all. It’s no audiophile can but what it was designed for it does very well. A little pricey though.

The only other set of affordable cans I might be tempted to buy are the ZMF Aeolus…but with all this stock market tanking this will be awhile for me now!!

Yeah the situation mandates different priorities now but I strongly believe we’ll recoup from this. Being nearly quarantined (there is nothing to do outside, it’s a sort of self-imposed house arrest) is boring but at least we still have music and the internet. Don’t care for TV all they talk about is that.

Those ZMF have been on my radar for a little while, I hope they sound as good as they look. I believe the wooden cup will be representative of the 20’s as it becomes more prevalent in every category so they make good collectibles regardless but still, I wouldn’t want to pay that much if I don’t like the sound. Been there, done that too often. ZMF is aiming at Focal with these so they better pack some wallop!

I go back and forth with the HD600 and Clears and smile most of the time!!

Thank God for the jolly can :slight_smile:

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