Focal Clear - Review & Impressions Index
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been listening to these quite a bit and a/b’ing them with the Utopias.
These sound really quite good. For example, compared to the AQ Nighthawks, these easily spread the audio out cleanly… the Nighthawks, as good as they are, definitely sound like they’re pulling some of the high-mids further down towards the lows.
This is noticeable in the vocals… I’m listening to Paul Simon, stranger to stranger… on the Clears, his voice is less bassy and very clear, separated from the instruments clearly… very pleasant (also, quite a bit more sibilance… if you start to notice it, it can actually become a lil’ annoying).
Same songs on the Nighthawk, his voice sounds slightly muffled, competes with the action in the lows… it’s this “competing in the lows” that gets me… his voice sounding slightly warmer, no prob, but when there’s some muddle going on, no me gústa.
Comparing these clears to the utopia… clears get you almost all the way there in my opinion at this point.
Maybe simply a better way to put it is the Clears pull things towards the high frequencies (though still with resonant bass for the deepest parts, so it feels like you don’t miss anything)…
… and the NightHawks pull things towards the low frequencies (though the highest parts are still in there and clear, feels like you don’t miss anything)…
Did try the Clear and had it compared with the Utopia (both on Luxman amp), and with the Elear: really great headphones — I think I prefer the Clear instead of the Utopia… Maybe a bad taste!
I’m about to do another good test of the Clear. From what I can remember the Clears were a lot less comfortable than the Utopias. I have a bigger head so the clamping pressure was a little rough.
I’ve read that it’s not a good idea to power these with a tube amplifier,is that true?
I’m asking because the Focal Clear is on my shortlist but I use a Woo Audio WA7 as an amp.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not when doing research online.
“A lot less comfortable”!? Bro, how can be? It’s basically the same rig as the Utopias in terms of headstrap, ear cup size, weight, etc. Right?
This I don’t know… I haven’t delved into the tube world yet. You can tell it provides some worthwhile interest across the board, or is it more of a “yea, it’s definitely there, but i actually don’t like it on some kinds of songs”?
The dimensions are the same, but the materials and flexibility are not. The Clears have a little less give (which made the difference for me) and the lambskin pads on the Utopias feel amazing on the skin (I know that shouldn’t make a huge difference, but it’s the part of the headphone that makes the most contact with your skin)
Anyone with direct experience comparing the Clear to the Elex?
My god, the best I’ve heard for dynamic headphones. If I was gonna keep a headphone, the Clears would have been it. Its plenty comfortable enough for me. For me, it sounds better than the Eutopia as it has less highs. Its hard to put words to sounds sometimes, but yay I did like them. My biggest problem with them was again they can’t be driven to loud enough levels for what I need, so I didn’t keep them. These are another where you’ll hear exactly what is in the music . without extra umphs in any particular frequency. But I think the fact that its Dynamic drivers and not planer, it has a different sound than planers would.
What were you using to power them? My understanding was that these are easy to power, so what was your situation that that you were not able to get the volume level that you wanted.
I’m asking because I’d be interested in these or the 800s but I tend to listen at high levels for short periods of time and thats the issue I had with the Hifiman 400i.
Schiit Lyr2 and Fiio K5.
See, its not that they can’t be powered. Its just that no matter which amp I used when I was getting to the levels I needed that’s when it’d distort.
It would not matter which amp I used, they just can’t handle loud volumes like the Sure and Campfire headphones can.
From another site – yes, Focal products are designed for precision at moderate volumes. See the official response below this post (pasted below):
— Quote —
We have read your Elear review and we are sorry that these headphones don’t give you entire satisfaction.
However, the issue described is actually not a quality issue.
Indeed, we have made a clear design choice on Elear and Utopia. Our headphones have been designed to favor the respect of the dynamic contained within the audio signal versus dynamic compression that would offer a higher SPL capability but less respect of the original audio signal. To cut a long story short, the choice was audio quality oriented rahter than SPL oriented. This allows our products to work with full performances until the mechanical clipping is activated. This means that you jump directly from a very low distortion to a sound which could be heard as rattling / cracking noise. On very special tracks with only very low frequencies at very high level, you can thus hear some noises - as you will do on classic loudspeakers.
If we change your pair of Elear headphones, the new one will be designed similarly and it will also have a kind of cracking sound when you will be listening to music with high volume and a fair amount of bass.
The only solution we can recommend you is therefore to listen to your headphones at a lower volume to avoid the cracking sound.
Thank you for your understanding,
Marine, Community Manager Focal
FocalOfficial, Feb 20, 2017
Yes. And the problem with listening at lower volumes for me, is that I am unable to understand speech or really get much enjoyment out of the music. I do not represent a lot of the people in the world, I’m well aware of this. But for me, it need to go louder without distortion , cracking sounds, etc. Loud such as what the campfire and Sure can deliver.
If it can’t get that loud then as good as it may sound, those headphones are just not something I can use or get a lot out of.
Here are the headphones that work well for me.
Campfire Audio Vega and Atlas, Sure SE-846 (works best out of them all!), Fostex TH600 and Th-900.
I don’t like the sound of the 600 and 900 nearly as much these days, but from a purely loudness level, these headphones have the impedance levels and high sensitivity numbers I need.
But does this apply to the Clears and Utopia?
Per this official statement from Focal, YES they limited volume in favor of clarity for Utopia, Elear, and Elex (no direct mention of Clear):
---- Begin Quote ----
As already mentionned several times on Head-Fi, the issue described is actually not a quality issue.
Indeed, we have made a clear design choice on Elear (and by consequence Elex) and Utopia. Our headphones have been designed to favor the respect of the dynamic contained within the audio signal versus dynamic compression that would offer a higher SPL capability but less respect of the original audio signal. To cut a long story short, the choice was audio quality oriented rather than SPL oriented. This allows our products to work with full performances until the mechanical clipping is activated. This means that you jump directly from a very low distortion to a sound which could be heard as rattling / cracking noise. On very special tracks with only very low frequencies at very high level, you can thus hear some noises - as you will do on classic loudspeakers.
If we change your pair of headphones, the new one will be designed similarly and it will also have a kind of cracking sound when you will be listening to music with high volume and a fair amount of bass.
The only solution we can recommend you is therefore to listen to your headphones at a lower volume.
Thank you for your understanding,
Marine, Community Manager Focal
Thank you for the explanation, saves me from buyers remorse since I do tend to listen at higher volume levels.
You wouldn’t want to run them from a OTL (output transformer-less) tube amplifier as those tend to need high-impedance cans in order to work properly (or at least to sound their best). But any tube amp that has an output transformer (most of them) there’s no issue.
No worries on that front with the WA7.
I have a pair of Elear in my office being driven by a WA5-LE Mk2 and Utopia at home being fed by a WA234 MONO Mk2 and they’re both excellent (though I use True-Fi with the Elear … which renders them essentially the same as the Clear - or I’d have upgraded those).
While I don’t doubt Focal’s claims about their design intent and their mechanical volume limiting design, I’ve never run into it in any of my listening. And I’ve gotten my cans seriously cranked up as an evening of listening, and imbibing, has progressed with no noticeable distortion.
I would have to think that the sort of levels Focal are talking about being problematic would be very bad for one’s hearing in very short order. I get that someone with hearing issues might run into that, but it’s hard to see for those with normal-ish hearing response.
Thank you for taking the time to explain to me all that. My first choice is the Clears, but I’m so tempted by the Utopia, good thing I’m in no rush, I can take in a lot of info from this forum and from someone like you that actually owns Focal.