Focal Clear Over Ear Open Headphones

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Headphone manufacturers pay attention: If you want to build a high-end headphone, this is the way to do it.

I've got to wonder how long Focal's strategic timeline was when they first entered the headphone market with the Spirit One in 2012. Focal is a long time high-end speaker manufacturer, so they're no doubt well familiar with the difficulties and time needed to produce world class equipment—and make no mistake, they do produce world class speakers.

From the initial crinkled diaphragm problems with the Spirit One; to the darn good sounding Spirit Professional; to the fairly 'meh' sounding Listen; and then the shockingly good Utopia and Elear—though not without some issues—it seems to me in hindsight that Focal has not only been on a mission to add headphones to their offering, but has also been conscientiously and consciously on a journey to make the world's best headphone.

At every step along the way, despite me being a bit of a hard ass in my criticisms, Focal has responded in humility and professionalism. At every turn I sensed them knuckling down not only to fix problems but to make novel strides forwarding the state of the art in headphone manufacture. And now, having the Focal Clear in hand, I sense they've reached their goal. For the first time I'm not annoyed at the price of a $1000+ headphones. You'll get your money's worth with the Focal Clear.

Focal Clear ($1499)
The Focal Clear is an over-ear, open acoustic, dynamic driver headphone. While I have a penchant for stealth black audio gear, I find the light gray/metallic silver of the Clear an immensely appealing design.

The headband outer cover is medium gray leather; the earpads and headband pad are perforated Alcantara-like microfiber; yokes are a sandblasted aluminum; outer capsule covers are stainless steel mesh; cables are black and white striped cotton covered—the Clear is a harmonious symphony of premium materials at play in the light, teasing you for attention. As I glance over at the black of the Elear and Utopia, I begin to question my preference for the dark side. This is a beautiful headphone!

Like its siblings, the Clear is a wonderfully comfortable headphone. Earpads are perforated micro-fiber over memory foam and have generous 50mm X 60mm openings; due to the angled driver and baffle plate depth is also quite roomy.

Forward and back rotation of the ear cups is effected by an unusual pivot of the yokes within the headband, which is limited, but ample. Up and down tilt rotates around the yoke arms and is spring loaded with just the right tension to ensure the bottom of the earpads seal as well and have the same pressure as the top.

Pads are removable with a sharp tug. Serial number is under the right side pad laser engraved into the baffle plate. Replacement pads are available through your dealer.

One of the biggest differences between the Clear and its siblings is the accessorization...which is absolutely terrific! The Clear comes with a beautiful fabric covered, hard-side clamshell case with zipper closure and leather strap carry handle. Cables must be removed for the Clear to fit in the case, but a molded central compartment is available to store a cable or two. Its gently curving and form fitting shape and finish makes it the nicest headphone case I've ever seen. Stunning.

A full complement of cables is also included. One short cable (1.2 meter) terminated in a 3.5mm plug and two three meter cables, one terminated in a 1/4" TRS plug and the other terminated in a 4-pin XLR for balanced use, are provided in a dandy dense foam cut out storage case. Cables are 24AWG OFC copper and are covered in a woven cotton outer sheath. Both the Elear and Utopia comes with very long and heavy cables; the new Clear cables are a welcome change. I will note they do tend to keep their kinks from being stored and are a bit stiff, but they're a significant improvement over the previous cable sets.

All cables are terminated at the earpieces with a 3.5mm mono-plug that has a mechanical mating recess so as to prevent undue strain on the connections. Focal calls it a locking mechanical connection, but it seems more like a detented mating to me.

Driver and Acoustics

Focal claims two important differences between the the Clear and Elear: the perforated microfiber earpads, and the copper voice coil. The driver uses an aluminum-magnesium alloy M-dome diaphragm with surround similar to the Elear but has a formerless copper voice coil as opposed to the copper-clad aluminum conductor of the Elear. The voice coil impedance is also lower than the 85 Ohms of other two Focals at around 60 Ohms. The very large and narrow 350 Ohm primary driver resonance at 55Hz may cause these cans to take on a marked bass boost on high output impedance amplifiers. Here's some measurements:


Clear raw response with Simaudio Moon NEO 430HA (purple) and Bottlehead Crack (orange) with about 120 Ohm output impedance.

After a little listen I decided this was a pretty poor match, delivering a wooly and indistinct sounding bass. Truth is, all three Focal cans have too low an impedance and large primary driver resonance to be successfully used with high output impedance tube amps...the Clear is particularly troublesome in this way however.

My measurements didn't show a marked increase in openness to the acoustic environment around you (though my measurement system seems to wander around a bit in its isolation measurements lately), but in wearing and comparing the Clear to Elear (and Utopia) I do think I hear it as slightly more open to external sounds.

Dan Clark (of MrSpeakers) and I had a chat about this recently and we both agreed that for some unknown (to us) reason, having less isolation from external sounds does somehow translate to perceived improvements to a headphones perceived openness.

Right, let's get to the serious listening.

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