Review: Focal Elegia Headphones
The acoustic virtuosos at Focal Audio are on a roll. In the course of just 24 months, the 35-year old French company has released three pairs of high-resolution, reference headphones that not only trump everything else out there with respect to fit and finish, each could seriously contend for “best in the world” with respect to precision, overall dynamics, bass articulation, and more.
So, why introduce a fourth?
The closed-back breakthrough.
Though Focal’s first three high-resolution headphones – Elear, Clear, and Utopia – are still getting rave reviews, each is still offered as an open-back design only. (More on what that means in a minute.) But now, thanks to a breakthrough years in the making — a way to integrate premium speaker drivers into a closed back design without making any concessions on lower frequencies — Focal closes the circle with the company’s latest. With Elegia, audiophiles, musicians, and engineers who depend on (and prefer) closed-back headphones can have them, sans the frequency loss so often found in closed-back designs. (Identical frequency response curves measure a remarkable +/- 0.5 dB.) And that’s huge. Why? Because most people wear open-back headphones in the privacy of their own home, since the music can be heard by others nearby. But with the closed-back design, you can enjoy the same headphone quality when you’re on-the-go.
The difference between closed-back and open-back headphones.
Closed-back headphones, also called circum-aural headphones, are designed with no holes to the outside world; everything is sealed around your ears. Open-back headphones come with holes and/or perforations to the outside world. Close your eyes, and the former helps you isolate the world around you, virtually putting you “in” your music, movie, or game. The latter lets your music out into the world around you in order to create a more spacious soundstage. It’s like this:
Closed-back headphones: Close your eyes and you’ve got an orchestra playing live, inside your head, while the person next to you hears nothing. (Well, technically, nothing is 100% leak-proof when it comes to audio, but you get the idea.) Bottom line: Under closed-back headphones, you’re in your own world.
Open-back headphones: With drivers exposed to the outside world (as opposed to seated in the earcups), sound gets through and lets air flow in, out, and around your ears. The result: a more spacious sound and perfectly separated 2-channel stereo. And if we stick with our “like listening to an orchestra” analogy, this time you are in the conductor’s seat, on stage among the musicians. The only caveat: everyone around you hears the music you’re listening to, which makes open-back headphones less-than-ideal for trains, planes, and public areas. The best places for open-back headphones: home, on a jog, at the office (next to very understanding co-workers or in your private corner office, of course), and so on.
Key things we love about Elegia from Focal.
• Though Elegia headphones were principally designed for portable high resolution audio players, they also come with a 1/4-inch cable for standard home audio components.
• Elegia is not wireless. Though wireless tech has come a long way, especially so in the last 18 months, even the best-possible wireless connection can’t out-perform a premium, no-compromise, wired connection. Given Focal is about consummate sound reproduction, this makes sense.
• Materials include the finest top grain leathers, microfibers, and solid aluminum. Headbands are made to mold perfectly to heads, while memory foam, microfiber earpads give Elegia a certain weightlessness.
• Elegia includes the same “M” shaped aluminum/magnesium dome used inside Focal’s Elear, Utopia, and Clear headphones. Working in tandem with a frameless, 4mm copper voice coil, even the tiniest details punch through at both low and high frequency ranges.
• Elegia does a decent job of blocking ambient outside noise. Keep in mind: Elegia does not incorporate any noise-canceling technology, so nothing is ever lost in translation.
• Comes with a thermo-formed rigid carrying case for storage and protection. Cables and male/female adapters also included.
• Not that important, but still cool: To make Elegia possible, Focal had to first design and build a new robot that could glue the surround-dome/dome-coil connections inside. We know this because eight of us spent a few days at Focal’s plant in Saint-Etienne, France this past summer. Consensus: these people are dedicated and maniacal on a Steve Jobs-level, and they’ve been at it longer.
Pricey? Yes and no.
Focal’s top-of-the-line, open-back Utopia headphones list for $5300. Focal’s new closed-back Elegia headphones, on the otherhand, currently list in the $900 neighborhood, making them the most affordable of their audiophile lineup — and even more attractive as a spectacular birthday, Father’s Day, or “I deserve these!” special gift to yourself. (Psst... the holidays are right around the corner!)
(From left to right: Focal Utopia, Clear, Elear, and Elegia headphones)
The last pair of headphones you’ll ever buy? We got this.
Maybe someday technology will get so good, we won’t need headphones – we’ll be able to bypass ears and beam music right to our brains. A long way of saying: it’s hard to imagine how headphones get better in the future without breaking physical laws. And no, Focal isn’t the only premium headphone maker in the world, but the company’s latest headphones put them at, or near, the top of a very short, short list.
Last, if we may, a quick pitch: If you’re thinking about treating yourself, or buying Elegia for a special, lucky someone… you simply can not do better than World Wide Stereo. Between our free shipping on all orders, our award-winning support, and everything else that comes with our we-aren’t-happy-til-you're-happy Happiness Guarantee, we quite literally surround you with good stuff.
In the meantime, feel free to call one of our audio experts with any questions, concerns, etc. (Our guys live for talking about great sound. And they tell it like it is.)