The long wait is not for Focal Elear though; I have been busy in this couple weeks (or months) and it seems that student life really hits me hard. Pretty hard this time. As a senior in chemical engineering, things can get pretty rough, but I love what I am doing; I guess that’s what important. Love the things that you do so that you’re not getting tired doing repetitive job every day. Anyways, let’s get to the main business.
First and foremost, I want to thank Todd for giving me this loaning opportunity. Also, I want to apologize for the late post for the review. I got my hand full of a lot of things in the past couple months but lucky enough I already noted down my impression on the Focal Elear earlier.
In the past, I have considered of getting either Focal Elear or MrSpeaker Ether C Flow but ends up with HD800. I bought the HD800 before getting any chance to audition both Elear and Ether C Flow. After listening to them at CanJam RMAF 2017, I thought that all three of them sounded nice with the right setup. Now that I am settled with setup that revolves around HD800, I never regret my choice. I have many headphones that works miraculously with my current setup. However, if I don’t have a dedicated setup and want to have just one headphone to go with, I might end up with Focal Elear. Why? I’ll explain later.
The package is huge! Or I would say everything about this headphone is huge. Although, all three Focal flagships: Clear, Elear and Utopia have comparable size and weight. When it arrived, I got a call from the apartment office that USPS left the headphone with them because they were not able to put the whole package in the parcel locker. I guess the headphone case justify the huge package. As I opened the case, the first thing that comes to mind is “the build quality is amazing”. The heavy and thick stock cable can be an issue to some but personally, I thought that the cable is well-made. But, I can’t deny that after wearing it for more than 2 hours, it tires my neck and strained at times. Overall, it has a good comfort except the stock cable, but you can always get a lighter aftermarket cable as they are detachable with 3.5mm jack. The inside of the cups is beautifully made and the earpads has enough thick to make sure that the grill does not touching your ear; unless, you decide to change the stock earpad to a thinner earpad. I have read a review that the Elear could benefit from the perforated Focal Clear earpads. They have similar thickness although I am not sure if Focal offer the option to buy the perforated pads separately now.
Specs as provided from Focal website
Type: Circum-aural open back headphones
Impedance: 80 Ohms
Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
THD: <0.3% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency response: 5Hz – 23kHz
Loudspeaker: 137⁄64“ (40mm) Aluminum-Magnesium “M”
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: 1253⁄64“x1015⁄64“x629⁄64“ (326x260x164mm)
Gear used in this review
Dacs: Matrix X-Sabre
Amp: Cavalli Liquid Carbon, Hugo 2
Headphone: Focal Elear, Sennheiser HD6XX (modded), HD800 SDR mod, Beyerdynamic T90 balanced recable
How do they sound?
I am pretty sure that everyone has a slight idea on how they sound since Elear is more price accessible in both new and used market. There are thousands of reviews on the internet, but I still want to give my own insight on them. I am a fan of HD650 (while mine is HD6XX) and I love them more when I mod my pair; airier with more space to breathe, more pronounces treble but never harsh, better and tighter bass with extra soundstage width. Agh, it’s just amazing! Since this is not HD650/6XX post, I will not go further into that at this time. Surprisingly, the Elear is close to my modded HD6XX than any other headphone that I have heard except Clear and Utopia. The Elear has every trait of my HD6XX but better. I’ll use HD6XX as a reference for the sound review thus I will not do extra comparison with HD6XX in the comparison section.
The bass is more accurate than my HD6XX with enormous quantity and extended sub bass. The bass reaches deep and keeps the listener appreciate a good song like Rock on from David Essex. Every bass note hits hard but never overwhelm. Unfortunately, I realized that there is some distortion at 30-40 Hz. This only surface when I elevate the bass to more than 4 db. I emailed Todd about this and it turned out that my loaned pair is a defect pair as reported from the previous reviewer. My previous Canjam visit confirms my uneasiness as when I play the same song, Julia Michael – Issue, the distortion is not there, and the energy is just amazing. The sub bass is good but not on planar level. I found that I still need to equalize for more profound mid bass.
Yes, Mids! The mids are amazing. I never find that the HD650/6XX veil by any means but the Elear takes the mids a step further; but, not by a large margin. You’ll not missing a lot when you have the HD650/6XX. Every word seems to have clearer pronunciation especially word that starts with letter B, W, M and L. Well, I am just being picky in every word that came out from a song because it helps when I try to sing the lyrics out. Like HD650/6XX, the Elear is forgiving with poor recordings. There will be time when you don’t want to be accurate in every song that you listen too. You just want to chill and enjoy the song. Unforgiving headphone like HD800 is not the best choice when you have numerous genre of songs to listen to. The Elear seems to favor the male voice because it has stronger character in the vocal. The energy from the singer is presented greatly.
Extended treble that never harsh. Focal Elear is never fatiguing when you have the cable sorts out. The treble is well extended that allows you to enjoy the cymbals and guitar strings being played on stage. Personally, I never get to enjoy any live song with shrieking highs headphones. The claps and cheers from the crowds might be fatiguing and that’s the last thing you want when listen to music. Focal Elear is doing a pretty good job in ensuring that it is well-balanced yet resolving. It has good separation and sparkles at the right amount. I would say that Focal Elear’s major different from HD650 comes from its amazing treble.
Soundstage and imaging: 3.75/5
Soundstage is similar to HD650/6XX. Yup, not much change or improvement. Better width but depth is similar to HD650/6XX. This what retract me from upgrading to Elear at the least. It also reflects the imaging; I have a hard time in point out the location of instrument and singer on stage. Everything seems a little flat and seemingly, the whole band is lining up on stage. I mean it’s not that bad, but you can look for a better headphone at even lower price range if you seek for a headphone that has good soundstage or imaging. I am not a gamer, but I don’t think that Elear is the end game headphone for gamers.
Vs The FAM
Vs HD800 SDR mod
I found that I favor HD800 in this epic battle. The Elear is more balanced across the spectrum and it is more forgiving. The HD800 reveals every single thing in the recording and it could be for better or worse. Soundstaging and clarity would go for HD800 but the Elear’s bass punches at the right amount when it is needed in the song and the same goes for treble. While HD800 is good but with certain song it could do a little better with SDR mod, the treble is just amazing with extra zing especially when they pair with Cavalli Liquid Carbon. The mids in HD800 sounds more real than Elear while Elear is more lively and energetic. Although, with my current setup, the HD800 sounds fantastic and better than Elear. In the ends, it all comes to pairing because the synergy of the setup and headphone do make a lot of differences. Like I said, HD800 SDR takes the lead in this case.
Vs Beyerdynamic T90
I always felt like T90 is a great contender to HD800 with a third of its price. It has most trait of HD800 except the soundstage. The Elear however, has a different flavor than T90; it is more enjoyable and less critical while T90 is similar to HD800 except it is more forgiving. T90 is vocal centric, thus it does slightly better than Elear on the mids section. The soundstages are similar with both headphones although I feel more headroom on the Elear. Personally,I love to have both because they make a great complement with my setup. But, if I were to choose only one of them, my vote will go to Elear.
Cavalli Liquid Carbon
Most impression on the Elear above was done with Liquid Carbon. To summarize, they pair pretty well with each other. I never find the Elear fatiguing but there are times when you want to enjoy the music for hours and a warm touch adds a different flavor; perhaps for the better. Cavalli Liquid Carbon do a very good job in enlighten listeners when they are pair together. You can hear every note and it is never too overwhelming. Pleasure to listen to. The experience is similar when I used my HD6XX with the same setup. Both of them are amazing in this setup.
Chord Hugo 2
I am always a chord mojo fan even after I decided to sell the mojo and moved to a full desktop setup. Chord Hugo 2 is an amazing piece of Amp/DAC that pair well with efficient headphone like Focal Elear. Elear performs better with Hugo 2 than my dedicated setup and it adds extra microdetail while keeps engaging with the music. It gives more nuance to the music without being overwhelm; a better tonal balance I would say. But, it is even better with Hugo 2 pair with Liquid Carbon as amp. I always thought that I am missing some part in the Elear that everyone is talking about. Yup, the dynamic response. The setup nailed it! It was more dynamic than HD650 and really improves the timbre in the music. So far, this is the best combo that I have heard with the Elear. Well, I don’t spend a lot of time in the previous CanJam with Elear and I am pretty sure that there are better out there with Elear.
Focal Elear do well in most genre and if I want to classify on what genre that works well with this headphone, I would say all of them. The headphone is a Jack-of-all-trade headphone in the audiophile world. It sounds great with most genre but there are better headphone out there that could do better in every genre. All in all, This is a pretty solid headphone but I am not sure if it worth the thousand-dollar remark; maybe $700-800 is a better price for it. I am a big fan of HD6XX/650 and I appreciate the Elear sound for being similar to HD650 with a better treble and bass extension. If I were to choose, I might go with Elear. However, at a third of the Elear’s retail price, you can get a HD650 or even better HD6XX at $200. Thus, I will stick with my modded HD6XX. In comparison with its new brother, the Focal Clear is a better option between those two especially with all the additional accessories that comes with it. They have a different sound signature even with the same magnesium driver. Well, maybe next time I do a review on the Clear. Maybe.