Focal Elex impressions/Review

focal
massdrop

#1

FOCAL ELEX

Specs (Copy pasted from Massdrop website)

  • Massdrop x Focal
  • Open-back circumaural design
  • 40mm full-range dynamic driver with aluminum-magnesium “M”-shaped dome
  • 20mm-thick perforated microfiber memory foam ear pads
  • Perforated microfiber headband with length adjustment and cup rotation
  • Aluminum yoke
  • Impedance: 80 ohms
  • Sensitivity: 104 dB SPL / 1 mW at 1 kHz
  • THD: < 0.3% at 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL
  • Frequency response: 5 Hz–23 kHz
  • Cable length: 6 ft (1.8 m)
  • Product weight: 15.9 oz (450 g)
  • Storage box dimensions: 12.8 x 10.2 x 6.5 in (32.6 x 26 x 16.4 cm)
  • Individually serialized on sticker under right ear pad
  • Handmade in France

Included

  • 6 ft (1.8 m) cloth-wrapped single-ended cable with ¼ in (6.35 mm) plug
  • 6 ft (1.8 m) cloth-wrapped balanced cable with 4-pin XLR plug
  • Storage box with magnetic closure
  • Manufacturer’s 2-year warranty

I used @pwjazz post as a basic outline Best implementation of Product Reviews?

Build Quality:

Very nice looking, and they “feel” solid in the hand for me these are an excellent build quality. All metal with minimal plastic.

Finish:

Black on black finish is very clean and has a nice touch feel.

Headband:

I have worn these for hours at a time and I personally have not had any hotspots with them. The upper material is faux leather it feels like and has a nice feel to it ( I worry it could tear easily though) and the lower part (contact with head) is the same velour material as the cups, a very soft supple material.

Yokes:

I actually like the detail that went into the yokes to allow them to pivot. That being said they are sturdy but can creak if moved a lot. I did not notice any creaking while they were on my head though.

Connectors:

They have a nice solid fit into the cups, and I’m not too worried about them breaking or that they are fragile in any way. They are also easy to pull out of the cups without feeling like I’m breaking something (I’m looking at you HD800). The only disappointing aspect is the quality is not premium feeling, they are plastic and I would have liked maybe an aluminum or some other metal, but that is not a detraction from their function more of their form :wink:.

Cable:

I think the cable is a very good-looking cable and has a nice braid and feel to it. That being said I really don’t like the actual cable in practice, it is very “janky” and not very flexible. You can feel the two cables running side by side through the entire cable below the Y. This design does not allow for flexibility and the only way for the cable to sit is “folded” back and forth, I would not coil/loop this cable (not that you could).

Comfort:

These disappear on the head (not quite as good as the HD700) …I have zero complaints on the comfort department.

Clamp:

These have a very light clamp almost non-existent, I would not take these to the gym :wink:. But enough of a clamp to stay on the head comfortably and not slide off easily (for my head that is).

Pads:

The pads are outstanding! Very plush feel and my ears don’t get hot in them over long periods of listening. The velour is very nice against the skin. The pads soft foam also allows me to wear my glasses without any issue.

Weight:

15.9oz(450g) I don’t notice any neck fatigue while wearing these. I don’t mind the weight at all (they are no HD700 though).

Case:

I wouldn’t call it a case more of its packaging but it is nice. It has a magnetic clasp, and the internal foam has a nice studio foam look to it (cool detail but irrelevant).

Sound:

Sound, and the rest of these are so very subjective (I’m new to this, so descriptions might seem off, and I’m not really a critical listener). Ok let’s dive in…I think of these as a more resolving and better sounding HD6XX and would put them in the relaxing and listening to music rather than critical listening swim lane. These have a melodiousness about them that I really enjoy, I’m not overly “wowed” by them but that could be because I’m spoiled by the HD800. I can sit and relax and sip whiskey and just let the music envelop me while listening with these, which is one of my favorite decompress things to do at the end of the day after the kiddo is asleep. Descriptors I would use: Crisp, accurate, warm.

Clarity:

Coherent and accurate. This is where I lack the skills and critical listening to describe headphones so bear with me :wink:. I will probably keep the next few topics short and to the point.

Timbre:

I think this is where people get the upgrade from HD6XX. These are similar but better in my opinion in color, tone color, tonality, and resonance to the HD6XX. Everything is just more present and less veiled. This is from memory as I sold off my HD6XX after getting these.

Bass:

This is a tough one, they are definitely not bass cannons. Bass has a nice roll off, not overly precise. They have a nice solid thump that doesn’t intrude too much on the midrange.

Midrange:

Also, where I think people see this as an upgrade from the HD6XX, it is similar in quality, but just better, more resolving and present. Vocals shine and have a very nice presentation.

Treble:

I would say for treble these are the easiest to listen to without getting into critical listening levels (not that I’m good at that yet), but it is precise and crisp without being piercing or overly fatiguing. I like hearing fingers snap and snares hit with these cans, it presents them for me with Goldilocks level of treble enjoyment, and I really like my HD800 and HD700 if that means anything to you, dear reader :wink:.

Instrument Separation:

I have a hard time describing this topic and think that simple description is the best here. These have excellent separation and presentation with accuracy and detail.

Soundstage:

Honestly, this is where these are lacking, from what I’m used to anyways (HD800/700) I would describe the soundstage as a more intimate, close, and around my head.

Source Pairings:

JDS Labs the Element/JDS Labs El DAC

Good for Genres:

I listen to an eclectic mix and I found these excellent for all of them, at least for me. I used my playlist I created for this forum Forum.Headphones playlist

Comparisons:

Senn HD700: I have to say I am a fan of the Senn sound signature….and I think these overall for me beat the snot out of the FOCAL Elex on all fronts, they are crisper, more accurate, and much more transportive. I mean the Elex sound amazing, but the HD700 with the wider soundstage just do it for me. The Elex is an intimate set, they are warmer than the HD700, vocals are more intimate with less peaks, and female vocals come into the ear so very warm and intimate. I would say the Elex is veiled and warm in comparison. I was going to compare them to the HD800 also but just not really worth it for me because the HD700 is a mini HD800 so if they can’t compare to it….well =)

Frequency Response (snagged from Head-Fi/Massdrop)



THD(snagged from Head-Fi/Massdrop)



How my ears hear/feel with them:

I actually like these as a relaxing set of headphones, they feel comfortable and are easy to listen to. They have great response and clarity. The problem is I find myself grabbing my HD800 or my Purplehearts every time. They do fit that HD6XX upgrade path at least for me, but I think after writing this that these will have to be shuffled off to get another pair of cans on my want list, maybe the Campfire Cascade. But I will say this without A/B’ng these and I just sit back and listen to them they really are a joy to listen to, they are like sitting in front of a warm open fire, damn it now I want to keep them…this is my struggle with these, when I think where they fit for me I have a hard time placing them, but when I just let go and listen… Mmm, I want to keep them….son of a….

Hopefully you guys enjoyed my impressions/opinion, and I would love to hear what you think. Also any questions you have I’ll be more than happy to do my best to answer them.


#2

I read that as you would take them to the gym. I was gonna say the day I saw someone wearing an Elear / Elex / Clear to the gym is probably the day I go home and re-think how I am spending my money and why that’s not me haha.

That’s interesting because a very common thread with the 6XX is that there is nothing that does the 6XX but better. There are plenty of headphones out there that certainly do certain aspects better. I haven’t actually read up on the Elex that much just because I really didn’t like the Elear and figured the tuning would be similar.

I have a very tough time getting rid of headphones. Usually I will just give them to family members so I can still use them every now and then when I’m feeling it :slight_smile:

Great write up!


#3

I was struck by the sound profile similarities between the Elex and HD600. But the Elex has better range, better dynamics, and less high-end harshness–it causes far, far less fatigue. My Elex resulted in perceptual weirdness for about 20-30 hours of break-in, to include a slightly metallic/brassy voices, hyper separation of any volume differences in a mix, and high-end roughness (not harshness). It’s either broken in now or I’ve grown used it (and rather like it).


#4

I have a very similar problem…I’m always like but what if…I tend to try and get them in the hands of friends who I’m trying to give the audiophile bug( I know I’m evil and no ones wallet deserves that…but think of the ears!).


#5

What is crazy for me is, when I’m listening to them for a long time and they are amazing, I’m in love with them…then I’ll throw on my HD800s or HD700s and just be :astonished::drooling_face: blown away at how good those headphones are comparatively. I felt the same way about the HD6XX and my modded M1060(I know M1060 is not a great set but I really enjoy them).


#6

Very sly


#7

The Focal Elex is currently available on Massdrop again.


#8

I knew it was coming back…they sent a “please review” request a week ago. When they send review requests the product will return soon.


#9

I finally found time to collect my thoughts and write something about these.

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Focal is a French company with a long history of making high quality loudspeakers and studio monitors. In more recent years, they started developing and releasing headphones starting with their Spirit and Listen lines. More recently, they developed a new driver concept that mimics loudspeaker design – a super-near-field monitor driver – and used it on their flagship Utopia, Elear and Clear headphones. These stunning headphones drew instant praise for many reasons I’ll discuss about in my review.

The Elear is the entry-level headphone of this upper-tier series. They retail at $999 but can be found for about $799 now. The Clear, on the other hand, is the mid-tier at $1500. The Utopia is quite a stretch in price past these others at $4000.

Last year, Massdrop announced a collaboration with Focal and started collecting funds for the Focal Elex. This new model to this lineup essentially takes the Elear, removes it’s pads and puts the Clear pads on them, along with a fresh paint job, improved cables from the Clear, and reduces the price tag by a couple hundred dollars to the selling price of $699. Pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

So how are they? Let’s take a look.

Packaging & Build

The Elex comes packaged in a large magnetic snap box, that opens up with a simple presentation. The headphones are surrounded by thick foam to protect it during shipment, with the two cables (balanced and unbalanced) in another slot in the foam. Pretty simple but effective.

The cables are wrapped in a paracord-like sheath and 6 feet long, as opposed to the really lengthy 10 feet ones that come with the Elear. I found the cords a little stiff, despite looking very attractive. I ended up leaving them in the box and using my own paracord-based braided cables with XLR termination.

The Elex, themselves, feature a darker appearance than the Clear and Elear. The logo is dark on dark so everything blends together giving it a clean finish. The build quality is phenomenal. Everything is well built and sturdy. The alcantara wrapped headband gives a plush feel to the crown of the head, while the metal band and cups feel ultra-premium.

One thing to note with these is that they will leak like crazy. The cups are nothing more than a metal mesh. The driver is fully exposed and completely visible and will leak sound out in all directions. This open-air driver design is all part of Focal’s intent of giving the user a Speaker-like experience.

The Focal Elex is a bit on the heavier side though. Weighing at 450 grams, the headphone is now the heaviest in my lineup of headphones, outweighing the Hifiman HE560 and Audeze Mobius. They are not in the ballpark of Audeze LCD series weight though, so that’s a blessing. You won’t get neck cramps quickly, but for some, the Elex and really, all of the headphones in this Focal lineup may give some neckaches. I found them more comfortable to wear than say the LCD-2 and the Monolith M1060 but the additional weight over my daily driver HE560 shows.

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Sound

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The Focal Elex has all the characteristics I love about headphones. It has a neutral sound-signature that leans bright, providing additional detail and air, and retains a good deep bass that chooses quality over quantity. That’s not to say the Elex isn’t fun.

The bass on these can really hit you. It’s a dynamic driver that pushes the limits of a dynamic driver, with an excursion distance unlike any other headphone. The most impressive thing about it is that the decay is fast and this provides a surprisingly planar-like bass that has punch and dynamic detail. I really have nothing bad to say about this region.

The midrange is ever so slightly forward. This makes the Elex have a more intimate feel to it. Vocals typically sound fantastic, but with the upper-mids being on the brighter side of neutral, they can sometimes have a metal sheen to them, as does my comparable HE560.

Speaking of the two, in my measured MiniDSP EARS responses, they look very similar, outside of the region between 1-3KHz. In this area, the HE560 becomes a little recessed, putting vocals slightly back, while the Elex moves them forward. The bass and the treble response are very similar besides that.

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Some music selections:

One of my favorite headphone test albums is listening to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memory. It’s one of those albums that have tracks that have great dynamics, some with absurd amounts of bass, and some that have great imaging and width. It has a little bit of everything to try out a new set of cans on.

The Elex destroys this album – especially on the last two tracks. Doin’ It Right is a song that has a vocal intro followed by a bass slam that can knock your socks off. When I heard it for the first time on the Elex, I thought I was listening to the full range towers in my living room. The bass slams, but the transient reponse is fast and you get the little textures that you may not hear in a typical dynamic that compensates with a mid-bass hump. This can sometimes muddy up vocals and the lower mid-range. Not a problem on the Elex.

Contact is the final song on the record which sounds like a typical Daft Punk song. It’s got a big build-up before synths and drums go nuts, all with a spacey theme to it. The little faint sounds in the background are clear and distinguishable and you can easily point to in space where they are coming from. Again, the drums slam with enthusiasm but are never out of control.

Changing pace, another track I’ve been listening to a lot lately is Krysta Nick’s Miles Away. This is a folk/bluegrass song with some fiddles, some acoustic guitars, and some heavy bass notes thrown in during the bridge. But really, I’m focusing on her voice. She has a higher pitched voice, and on some headphones, with exaggerated treble, you may hear sibilance in her voice and harshness in each guitar pluck with this song. For me, the Elex handles this fine. There’s some very subtle over-pronunciations of the SSS sound (sibilance) but its very faint and doesn’t distract me like some other headphones may.

As the HE560 and the Elex share similar treble response, I imagine if you can handle one, you can handle both. I am a huge fan of the HE560, so the Elex is following suit.

For EDM, these can be awesome, or they can suck a lot. It’s a genre that likes to heavily emphasize bass and treble. But in many songs, they distort the heck out of both sides. So while the Elex handles bass with ease, songs where treble is already distorted or on the cusp, may sound extremely bright on the Elex. It’s just the nature of the beast really. This is a brighter than neutral headphone, and if you throw really bright tracks at it, it’s going to be harsh. I found this on several songs going through my EDM playlist.

I like shoegaze, and this headphone does this genre well. Again, the fast decay these drivers produce really helps make this genre excel. The fuzzy sounds, the walls of noise, all of that, they sound great – because the texturing of the sound is never lost. But of course, the downsides are that this headphone requires volume, in my opinion to excel.

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Sourcing/Amping:

I found the Elex with potential untapped at lower listening volumes. But this headphone with volume cranked up sounds phenomenal. And because of that, I always find myself listening to this headphone at volumes higher than I normally would on other headphones. This, along with the leakage, could cause problems for others around me.

Luckily, the Elex doesn’t seem to need a big amp to drive them. They are efficient. I did the majority of my listen with this headphone on the Topping DX7 balanced headphone amp/DAC, or the Millet Starving Student Hybrid Tube amp. Both have plenty of power, but I was able to power it to crazy levels using my Onkyo DP-S1 DAP, the Radsone ES100 bluetooth amp, and even my Essential phone with a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter.

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Overall:

The Elex, and really, any of the Focal line, is one of those headphones you really need to listen and experience. It does sound unlike any thing else. The dynamics have bass quality that can give planars a run for their money, and the upper end provides the needed detail and air that make this headphone a good all-arounder.

The biggest flaws I found with this headphone are that it does leak quite a bit, and can be uncomfortable to wear over a lengthy time due to it’s weight. It is distributed as well as I can imagine given it’s design, however a comfort strap may have helped.

It is a brighter headphone so songs that are emphasized in the upper region may sound harsh. This isn’t really an issue for me on most music I listen to, but for those who may enjoy EDM music, the more bass emphasized Elear may be better suited for the task.

In the end, I am pretty happy with my purchase. This is a luxury looking, feeling and sounding item and it really does come at a good price that Massdrop is offering it at.

Credits:

I’d like to thank redditor oxtoacart (pwjazz on Headphone Community) for selling me his set at a discounted price. I originally purchased a set from Blinq but it was faulty and I had to return it. He also happened to buy it from them during the same sale, but decided to keep another headphone instead. He graciously offered to sell it to me for the same discounted price on Blinq instead of me waiting for the next Massdrop drop to come out. Thanks!


Massdrop "x" (Audiophile)
#10

I’m thrilled that the Elex found a good home and that you’re enjoying it!