What happens when one of the world's leading loudspeaker companies sets out to build headphones that sound insanely close to their floorstanding counterparts? A premium line of headphones that has some of the truest sound reproduction we've heard in headphones to date.
Focal Audio announced the newest addition to their over-ear headphone family: the Clear. Now available for order, we got to try these out in one of our showrooms to bring you our take on the new launch.
What’s Clear? Let’s clarify.
Last year, Focal gave the world two new high-end, reference headphones: Elear and Utopia. Both sets represented a company-wide headphone rethink, and both incorporated full range, open-backed electrodynamic transducers for negating distortion via ports — as well as any resulting dynamic compression – in an open-back design. (Translated: blissful and hard-to-believe sound without any sense you’re wearing headphones. More on that in a moment.)
Now, with Clear, Focal adds to what they’ve learned, essentially stacking the deck by adding both a new and improved full range speaker driver, as well as an improved circum-aural, open-back design. Twenty-millimeter memory foam ear cushions are wrapped in perforated microfiber to add to the open-back experience. Combine that with gray leather built around a solid aluminum yoke that adjusts for a comfortable, ergonomic, totally balanced fit, and Clear feels weightless — even ethereal — and enhances the “I’m not wearing headphones” feeling.
What does circum-aural and open-back even mean?
Clear is built to be worn over-ear as opposed to on-ear or in-ear. But while most over-ear headphones diminish or cancel outside sounds (as in the sounds you hear in the world around you), Clear’s circum-aural, open-back design is made to let those sounds in, and the music out. (Typically through perforations or cut-outs.)
The result: ears don’t feel like they’re trapped in a tiny space, and music retains its natural depth, breadth, and amplitude. Less like Bach or Bruno Mars is performing in your head, more like Bach or Bruno Mars is performing in the room you’re in — especially if you're listening to high-resolution music files. And while that’s awesome and radically preferable to typical headphones, the one downside is obvious: everyone close to you will hear what you hear in your headphones – making Clear not the best choice for planes, trains and waiting rooms.
What makes Clear so clear.
With 35 years of acoustic research and development to draw from, Clear also represents Focal’s reassessment of headphone basics. Focal’s M-shaped dome speaker driver, made from an aluminum/magnesium alloy and equipped with a copper voice coil (and first introduced in Elear and Utopia) is a true breakthrough. It also creates the ideal sound wave for a headphone environment, where ears and source are only an inch apart.
The result is also clear (last one, sorry): incredibly pure dynamics across the entire aural spectrum, bass that holds without breaking down – even at high volume – and crisp highs that cut through cleanly. And though less tangible, but equally amazing: an open-back “I’m-not-wearing-headphones” feeling so strong, you’re almost tempted to start looking for big speakers nearby. (Hey, I hear them… they must be here somewhere.)
Really pricey, yes. But wow.
If you know anything about Focal headphones, you’re probably thinking “must be really expensive.” Yes and no. Given a pair of the company’s top-of-the-line Utopia’s will set you back $4K, you might assume Clear costs even more — but they come in at $1.5K. And yes, all things being relative, that’s still pricey, but if you really really love your music, just consider these headphones the last ones you’ll every need/want/have to buy.
Really? That good?
Focal’s promotional literature and press release says listening to music in a pair of Focal’s Clear headphones is much like standing in a customized, acoustically perfect listening room. Well, we actually have a bunch of customized, acoustically perfect listening rooms in our stores… and I am, in fact, standing in one right now. So to my ears, Clear is not quite up to perfect listening room standards... But for headphones, this just may be the closest humans ever get.
Leather and perforated microfiber adjustable headband with ear cup rotation
20mm memory foam ear cushion encased in perforated microfiber fabric
One size fits all Aluminum Yoke
3.5mm locking jack sockets
Impedance: 55 Ohms
Sensitivity: 104dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz
THD (Total Harmonic Distortion): 0.25% @ 1kHz / 100dB SPL
Frequency Response: 5Hz-28kHz
Loudspeaker: 1.6" (40mm) Aluminum/Magnesium 'M'-shape dome with copper voice coil
Made in France
What's in the box:
Hard-shell carrying case
3m balanced cable (XLR 4-pin)
3m unbalanced cable (1/4" TRS jack)
1.2m unbalanced cable (1/8" TRS jack)