In the light of my recent review of the Focal Utopia headphones, this is a review of the sister headphones, the Focal Elear. The Focal Elear headphones are a bargain compared to the Utopias, retailing near £1,000! I’ll review them independently, although I’m bound to reference the incredible Utopias as I wander through the review. The main difference between the two reviews will be the fact that on this occasion I have a Questyle CMA800R headphone amplifier fed by the T+A DAC8 rather than just the excellent headphone output of the DAC8. I have a separate article with the Questyle featuring the Utopias coming up; suffice to say the combination is as close to audio nirvana (audio utopia?) as I’ll ever get.
First impressions of the Focal Elear headphones
My first impressions are very favourable indeed. Less complicated to set up than the Utopias, with simple jack connectors to each ear, initially they feel very comfortable indeed. The sound from them is wide open and crystal clear, beautiful. Of course the Utopias, with their leather lambskin cups and hefty price tag, feel more comfortable and refined than the Elears however they sound great, uncluttered, sharp and fast.
The Focal Elear headphones come in a similar box to the Utopias. Though without a hint of red hand stitching or leather feel, the Elears are presented in a substantial box with a soft plastic covering and a magnetic fastener. It is all very desirable with the headphones nestled in foam with minimal documentation.
The Focal Elears are, like the Utopias, open back circum-aural headphones (over ear) that are therefore necessarily dedicated to low noise environments. I have no problem with this but if you are to get the full experience, you do need to be in quieter listening spaces (i.e. not in the office!).
The Focal Elear feature a full frequency (no cross overs) ‘M shaped’ dome loudspeaker made of aluminium and magnesium. Focal say that aluminium has great rigidity and magnesium possesses great damping quality and that together, as an alloy, they reduce distortion. This delivers a Focal characteristic fast speaker with dynamic response, short settlement time and excellent damping. The ‘M shaped’ dome technology features in the Utopias and is derived from the research carried out by Focal to reduce distortion, although in the Utopia the dome is made from Beryllium. The differing technology solution in the dome loudspeakers results in a narrower frequency output from the Elear headphones, this does not impact the audible range, however.
The connectors differ with the Elear where they have a more standard 3.5mm jack ‘with self locking system’ to connect each ear fed from a standard 6.5mm,’proper’, headphone jack. I thought I might take the opportunity to substitute in the Atlas Zeno cable to see if the sound can be improved in the Elears with some faster cable. Interestingly (though only if you are me), the 3.5mm jack connect to each ear would not take my Zeno 3.5mm jack, presumably the ‘self lock’ system gets in the way (that is how it looks to me).
As with the Utopias, there is little sign of compromise with these headphones. There is feel good leather headband over an aluminium yoke over the head. The ear cups themselves have a 20mm thick memory foam cushion with a Microfiber fabric cushion over them and they are very comfortable. Surprisingly, the Elears come in lighter than the Utopias at 450g (because the Utopias have a carbon fibre yolk and Beryllium dome loudspeakers) , but the cable supplied is still pretty heavy on the head.
Focal Elear Specification
Circum-aural open back headphones
Impedance 80 Ohms
Sensitivity 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
THD <0.3% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response 5Hz – 23kHz
Loudspeaker 40mm Aluminum-Magnesium “M” shape dome
Weight 0.99lb (450g)
Cable length 9.8ft (3m)
Connectors 1 x 01/4“ (6.35mm) stereo Jack connector 2 x 09⁄64“ (3.5mm) Jack
Carrying case 1326 x 260 x 164mm
As I have mentioned I have the excellent (the more I use it) T+A DAC 8 feeding a Questyle CMA800R with balanced inputs. The DAC8 is connected to a laptop with JRiver software and my hi resolution collection of tracks. It is also fed by a Bluesound Node optically featuring Tidal Masters. I am using Lindy’s excellent power supply conditioner too.
Compared to the Utopias
Inevitably, comparisons are needed since I have both the Focal Elear and Utopia headphones here, connected to the same headphone amplifier in tandem with the same source. Instinctively you would expect the Utopias to be more comfortable and refined, and they are in truth. In respect of comfort the Elears are slightly tighter, and the Utopias feel as if there is a bit more space in the ear. Most of the casual difference between these headphones is in your wallet.
Soundstage, Rhythm and Dynamic range
to be honest they (the Elears) sound absolutely great
I am finding the Focal Elear headphones to have a slightly more forward soundstage compared to the Utopias, though I have no complaint here. The soundstage is still very positive and dominant. Maybe, also, this soundstage is slightly narrower than the Utopias although to be honest they sound absolutely great. I feel that the Elears have an excellent bounce and balance to them with no obvious over aggressive points. I find a good presentation with more complex orchestral pieces and again, I am able to pick out instruments or specific curiosities in ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, or just let the music wash over me; I am so lucky to be listening to my favourite music almost perfectly. I am bound to say, and will say elsewhere, this Questyle headphone amplifier is a really high quality piece of equipment.
As with the Utopias the Focal Elear headphones have a really excellent vocal sound and the midrange is nicely presented around this vocal tone. I would not pick out any particular differences here, pianos remain crisp and beautiful still compared to the Utopias. In terms of bass frequencies, I found the Utopias to be tight and light, no problem for me but the Elears have a fraction more weight in the bass if you prefer that (for example, in the conclusion of ‘Big Picture’, by London Grammar).
There is little more I need in my life, musically, since Ryan Adams and Radiohead have written it all!
The resolution from the Focal Elears is absolutely beautiful, Ryan Adams’ piano pedals can be heard in ‘Live from Carnegie Hall’. I really love listening to this collection of work on these headphones. There is little more I need in my life, musically, since Ryan Adams and Radiohead have written it all!
In design and quality the Focal Elears are exceptional. I’ll mention the Utopias only once here, they are as I mentioned, instinctively and actually more comfortable and refined but they are three and half times the price, so that is all there is to say. The Focal Elears are a little more accessible price wise and probably better value for money, in the round. The Elears have possibly suffered by comparison here but they too are really, really nice headphones and you should give them a listen if you are in the thousand pound region for this kind of hifi experience. I’ll be making enquiries, put it that way.
SCV Distribution is the place to start in looking to buy these beautiful Focal headphones, there is plenty more information there too.