FOCAL CLEAR HEADPHONE REVIEW

We are witnessing remarkable growth in the headphone market due to global circumstances and people trying to organize their private enviroments. This growth is not only seen in Hi-Fi but also in gaming and Bluetooth headphones, which is why Apple recently released their Bluetooth headphones. The increase in online shopping and the fact that people are spending more time on their computers has certainly contributed.

The main attraction of headphones in the Hi-Fi world is that they can be used when you can't use your stereo. With headphones, you can enjoy your music without disturbing anyone in the house. Many people who have stereo systems start purchasing headphones for this reason. 

MEET THE FOCAL CLEAR

Due to the increasing interest, many companies have recently entered the headphone market. Some well-known stereo companies are also included in this list. One of them is the subject of this review, Focal. The French company made a good first impression in the market and became a respectable competitor in a few years. 

Founded in 1979, Focal's restless acoustic research has since led to both their improvement and the improvement of the audio industry as a whole. The company is proud of its French roots, and even today much of its production is done domestically. 

Our focus today is on Focal Clear. It is their newest product in the mid to high end of the market. 

It is an open-back design. Open-back headphones are generally known for their success in soundstage reproduction and airiness. The downside is that they have sound leakage and trap ambient noise. 

The Clear uses a 40mm diameter dynamic aluminum/magnesium dome driver with an impedance of 55 ohms. Focal advertises that these speakers are easy to drive, and my listening experience coincides with that. It is not as power-hungry as some of the other products on the market, but an amplifier can be an advantage in some situations.

Here is Focal's introduction to the Clear: 

“Clear provide listening worthy of the best speakers. The latest addition to Focal's top-end headphones range, Clear uses the new generation of totally open-backed full-range speakers, precisely revealing the tiniest details for ultra-realistic listening. With their design surpassing Elear in terms of openness, Clear make you simply forget that you are wearing headphones. The widely held impression that headphones reduce listening space disappears, thanks to Clear's open ear cushions. The technologies are chosen and the aluminum/magnesium alloy M-profile dome preserves breadth and dynamics worthy of the best high-fidelity speakers. These headphones will become essential: they come with a hard transport case and three cables providing the best solution for different types of audio equipment.” 

WHAT'S IN THE BOX!?

The headphones come with a stylish clamshell carrying case. The size is well chosen and is suitable for carrying in a backpack as well as in your hand. It's also sturdy enough to protect the Clear from minor damage.

Focal is generous with the connection options; the Clear comes with 3 cables:


1.2m with 3.5mm stereo jack plug 3m with 6.35mm stereo jack plug 3m with XLR 4-pin balanced plug.

While it's good to see so many cables, they are a bit disappointing in terms of build quality. The cables are on the stiff side, and they tend to hold their shape. Fortunately, Focal thought that people might upgrade and changed the jacks on the headphone end of the cable to 3.5mm. This means it won't be hard to find an aftermarket cable to suit your tastes.

Turning to the star of the show, the Clear impresses from the moment you take it out of the box. The build quality, finish, and color choices assure you that this is a premium product. My only complaint would be the headband. It is not replaceable. If it becomes deformed over time, it cannot be easily replaced.

The Clear weighs 450 grams, making it heavier than some of its competitors. When I hold it in my hand, that weight is noticeable. But when I wear it, it's not bothersome even after several hours of listening. The designers definitely managed to distribute the weight well. The ear cups are also quite deep, my rather large ears did not suffer at all.

THE SOUND - THE MUSIC

The keywords are fast, dynamic, and transparent. 

I think it's appropriate to test a French headphone first with a French group, Daft Punk. The duo released their first single The New Wave in 1993 and their first album Homework in 1997. Both received positive reactions. Their latest album is Random Access Memories, released in 2013 under the Columbia Records and Sony Music labels. The album was a big hit and won Grammy awards in several categories. 

When I start listening to Random Access Memories, the first thing I notice is the low frequencies. They are very tight and dynamic and convey the sense of rhythm very well. The resolution is impressive, it makes you concentrate on the sound and forget about enjoying the music. Occasionally I notice that the bass cuts off early when it would go lower, so I make a note to test this situation with other albums. On the track "Get Lucky" clarity is very good and my respect for Pharrell Williams reaches new heights. The midrange and vocals are mesmerizing!

In the lower frequencies, the resolution is there, but Clear cuts the low end earlier than ideal. 

Next up is Eric Clapton's MTV Unplugged record. Eric Clapton began his prolific career with the Yardbirds, since then he has been involved in many groups and solo projects. His contribution to music has mainly been in the rock and blues genres. 

Unplugged was remastered in 2013 and it is one of the albums I enjoy the most. The recording is full of beautiful tracks and with the help of the mastering quality, Clear renders the instruments, drums, and vocals with clarity and a natural sound. What impresses me the most is the emotion in Clapton's voice. This is an experience in itself!

The Reign of Kindo is a band that was formed in 2007. From the beginning, they decided to stay away from record labels and decided to reach their audience through online music services like Spotify or YouTube. Not long ago, they promised to release a new single every month and that makes their loyal fan base happy. Even though they define their style as neo-soul and post-rock, I hear some progressive themes in the "Rhythm, Chord & Melody" album.

Clear also presents itself very well on this album, which focuses on vocals and mids. The sound is natural and there is no unnecessary coloration. Compared to Clapton's Unplugged, Clear can get tight sounding and a bit tiring here. Looking for a remedy, I plug it into my Questyle CMA800R and the result is stunning. Normally Clear doesn't need this extra power, but here the amp certainly helps smooth out the sound and add resolution, greatly improving the issues.

Porcupine Tree started their career in rock and later slipped slightly into metal. After their last album in 2009, they broke up because frontman Steven Wilson decided to pursue a solo career. My reason for choosing their "Fear of a Blank Planet" album is to test the clear in an aggressive and complex environment. 

When I started listening, I noticed it was aggressive and lively. As I shuffled through the songs, I found myself bobbing my head. In the 17 minutes long "Anesthetize", the cymbals are well resolved and detailed. At times the highs got a little harsh, but it's a challenging track and overall Clear gives a respectable performance. Not the best I've heard, but impressive!

I listened to the bass guitar and drums on this track many times. The Clear is quite fast and tight here, so if you're looking for those qualities, you'll be very well served by the Clear. The lower frequencies are cut off early though, so it wouldn't be a great fit for those looking for headphones with a more powerful bass response. 

CONCLUSION

As mentioned earlier, Focal has been paying more attention to the headphone market in recent years. Clear is just one of their many offerings. The company also has Utopia, Stellia, Radiance, and Elear in their lineup. I would love to test these models for Mono & Stereo in the future. 

Clear's ease of driving greatly increases its versatility, allowing it to be used almost anywhere. In an office environment, for example, being able to access Clear's sound quality without needing a high-end system is a huge advantage. Its well-controlled weight and breathable materials allow for long listening sessions without discomfort. Due to the open back design, some sound will escape, but your colleagues wouldn't mind seeing your enjoyment. 

With its $1490 price tag, Clear is in a competitive segment of the market. The lower frequencies are quite tight and dynamic, but it loses some of that when driven from an average music amp. Investing in a decent amplifier is beneficial and I would highly recommend it. Clear doesn't mix well with OTL amps, a warmer solid-state would be a better choice. 

Clear shines in its presentation of midrange frequencies. It manages to keep the tonality and texture of the recording intact and reproduces their harmonics very well.

There is a general expectation of soundstage with open headphones, unfortunately, the Clear does not meet that expectation. Instruments are placed closer to you and high up, rather than spread out in front of you. That said, the instrument separation is good. While it's not the best option for orchestral music, the soundstage doesn't cause any fatigue in any music genre.

The Focal Clear is a special product. A high-end open-back headphone that can be powered by a portable source would fall into its category. 

It is fast, dynamic, and resolving. The timbre of the vocals is very good. 

I would recommend it to anyone looking for good instrument separation and intimate vocal reproduction. 

Engin Çuvaloğlu

THE PRICE

  •  Recommended retail price (including tax): €1,500/$1,500

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATONS

KEY FEATURES

  • High-performance acoustics
  • A listening experience very close to that provided by high-fidelity loudspeakers
  • Comfortable and ergonomic
  • High-quality design and materials
  • Excellent performance when connected to portable high-resolution audio players
  • Supplied with 3 cables to suit all uses
  • Supplied with a hard-shell carrying case

CONTACT

Web: www.focal.com/en/contact