Whatever the reason, whatever the sound chain, the Focal Clear has excellent instrument sonic reproduction, imaging, speed and punch capabilities.
But when playing back voices, whether male or female, this has a similar problem as, to my hearing, many planar drivers also have them, they simply sound unnatural, sometimes metallic, sometimes too harsh, or shrill, but almost never normal.
That’s why the HD800s is always my choice 90% of the time, unless the music genre allows for the qualities of the Clear, and vocals or spatiality play a secondary role.
Yes, it was the harsh edge to the vocals that killed the Clear for me. I’m not certain, but playing around with EQ suggested that the elevation from 1-2k was (at least partly) to blame. The Ether 2 is flatter in this region, and the 800S flatter still, and their vocal presentation is much more natural to my ears.
Many thanks for taking the time to respond so comprehensively.
I’m afraid I’m (for now) reasonably convinced that I can’t consciously identify differences in source gear. I’m not saying I don’t at some level experience the differences others are able to identify and articulate; only that I can’t pinpoint them in side-by-side (including blind A/B) comparisons, regardless of which of my headphones I use.
I have no doubt others - yourself included - can hear these differences, and I thought @Torq and @GoldenSound’s scores on the Klippel distortion test were particularly instructive - I can’t reliably hear distortion below -43dB (they both reached -69dB).
So - getting back on topic - I’m definitely curious to hear what more the likes of the Utopia and D8000 have to offer over the HD800S, but I think it’s unlikely I’ll upgrade from my RME-ADI 2 and Jot 2 (at least until I have compelling first-hand evidence that the benefits of doing so wouldn’t be wasted on me).
Well that’s fine too. If you’re happy with what you’re hearing and are satisfied with the gear you have then that’s the MOST important imo. It’s a hobby after all, you find what works and what doesn’t work. You learn from it, and have fun along the way. No need to take it too seriously. And unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all. The best suggestion I can give is to go at your own pace and hear as much as you can.
The biggest problem with those tests is that oftentimes differences aren’t heard in the short-term but in the long-term. You can’t expect to fully grasp differences doing short bursts of comparison. When you get used to a piece of gear for a long period of time, the likelihood of you noticing differences when something new is plugged in is much much higher. I personally think of it this way. Why evaluate gear in the short-term when you listen to music for the long-term? Of course, those tests can be very useful but in the right context. As you hear more stuff, naturally you’ll hear those differences more quickly (assuming time and effort have been put).
Just to add, differences in source gear is also dependent on the product itself. A lot of budget stuff will likely sound very similar, for example. In the case of the RME, I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t hear a difference. Imo the RME, sound-wise, does not fully warrant its asking price (neither as a standalone DAC or as an AIO). I personally wouldn’t recommend it to anyone if sound is the main focus. If you use the other features consistently, then yeah I think it can be a great product.
In general terms, d8kp is the most similar to the 800s imo. Both are relatively forward in detail and energetic in the top-end. D8kp is more of a u-shaped can, while the 800s is more neutral and agile. That being said, d8kp offers much better bass extension, grip, and texture. Stage is also sharper with good width and depth, but not as big as the 800s. Bass is the d8kp’s strength with outstanding organicness, realism, and texture. Utopia is quite different. Exaggerated dynamics and holographicness are what make the utopia standout and unique imo. It’s an analytical can, yet quite smooth at the same time. Treble is also a standout and is very refined, extended, and controlled. Personally, I don’t think the utopia is the most natural but it will surely let you hear what’s within the recording. D8kp is relatively forgiving of source gear, while the utopia is NOT.