Focal Elear Headphones


Performance
Build Quality
Comfort
Value
PRICE $999

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Hand-crafted in France
Remarkable resolution
Super-easy to drive
Minus
13-foot-long cable is unwieldy

THE VERDICT
The Focal Elear is a world-class design, right up with the best of Audeze, Beyerdynamic, Grado, Hifiman, and Sennheiser’s ’phones.

I’m a lucky guy; I’ve heard almost all of the best headphones currently on the market, but I wasn’t expecting something in that league from Focal. I’ve enjoyed their Spirit headphones for years, but Elear is radically different from what came before. The most remarkable thing about the sound is that it’s not so easy to get a handle on. I will say this, though: Elear is hypertransparent, so you feel like you’re hearing a direct feed from the recording session. Build quality, design, and comfort are fully commensurate with the $999 price. They’re beautifully crafted and a pleasure to use.

The Elear and the top-of-the-line Utopia headphones were designed from the ground up by Focal, with tooling developed by Focal engineers in a process consuming four years. Each Elear and Utopia is handcrafted by a two-person team at the Focal factory in France; one tech makes the driver, the other one makes the rest of the headphone.

The Elear is an open-back, over-the-ear design using a 40mm aluminummagnesium dome driver. I’ve seen the naked driver out of the headphone, and while it looks like a speaker’s tweeter, the internal design is very different. When you stop and think about it, a tweeter only handles high frequencies, but the Elear driver’s bandwidth covers ultra-deep bass up to very high frequencies. Not only that, the headphone driver’s back-and-forth movement (excursion) is far greater than a tweeter’s, so its suspension and magnet structure have to accommodate a much larger range of movement than a dedicated tweeter.

Elear comes with a 13-foot-long Y cable with 3.5mm plugs that connect to the left and right earcups, plus a 6.3mm plug for your amplifier. I found that cable to be rather thick and unwieldy for everyday use. I’m surprised Focal didn’t also include a shorter cable, but aftermarket cables are readily available.

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As mentioned, Elear is an open-back design, but not all open headphones sound as open and image as wide as the Elear. For example, put on a pair of Oppo PM-1 open-back headphones, and you’ll feel a little cut off from your surroundings. On the other hand, the Elear lets you hear a lot more of the sound around you, and the soundstage is more expansive than the PM-1’s. The downside to this, as with all openback headphones, is that they don’t block external sound, and people around you can hear the Elear’s sound.

In a comparison with my Audeze LCD 2 Fazor headphones, the Elear is clearer and more open. You might say the prime difference between the two is that the Elear disappears more. The LCD 2 Fazor is known for its prodigious bass, but the Elear’s was just as deep. The LCD 2 Fazor’s dynamics punch harder than the Elear’s, but the Focal is more comfortable than the LCD 2 Fazor.

Dueling drummers Billy Martin and G. Calvin Weston’s ferocious “Percussion Duets” were so inventive, I didn’t mind that there were no other instruments on their album. Elear did a better job communicating the improvised rhythms; the LCD 2 Fazor sounded less immediate, less exciting.

I also spent some time comparing Elear with Focal’s reference model, the Utopia. That one was even more dynamically alive, transparent, and spacious. Those advantages were apparent with CDs, but even more so with some of the better-sounding 192-kHz/24-bit hi-res files I had on hand, including soul singer Macy Gray’s new Stripped album. Elear is tonally richer and sweeter than the Utopia. The Utopia’s transparency is a big step up, though, and so is their price: $3,999! The two Focal headphones look and feel similar; the difference in the sound is credited to the Utopia’s pure beryllium driver.

The Focal Elears are a top contender for best headphones in their price class, while the Focal Utopias are one of the very best headphones on the planet. Elear delivers 70 percent of the Utopia’s sound—they’re that good.

COMPANY INFO

COMMENTS
jaredjcrandall's picture

I have read that the Utopia is better, but many report that some prefer the sound over the elear to the utopia depending on the songs/genre. Just something to consider when purchasing one or the other is that one should research and find what is most suitable.

thehun's picture

for 30% upgrade. Not exactly sensible but of course this is one man's opinion, but I would say it's rather typical in the audio world and might actually be generous. Yeah the Elear is on my radar and possibly will be last wired headphone........

jaredjcrandall's picture

You would be correct on the elear being one of the last wired headphones if audio fidelity wasn't a concern, because wireless tech won't be able to reproduce the audio quality of the wired headphones, for now at least.

thehun's picture

the day when wireless equals wired in true objective fashion will never come, and they will be as a sad sight like a dog that tied to a post indefinitely .

jaredjcrandall's picture

Indeed

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