The French audio maker Focal has achieved it once more. Clear, Focal’s latest reference headphones, are among the best I’ve ever reviewed. It is a superior product for the discerning music lover who calls for the best musical copy attainable.
An over-the-ear (circumaural), open-back design, Clear creates a spacious, enveloping soundscape that should be heard to be believed. Once I first wore them, I famous there was nearly no barrier between me and the surface world. I went backwards and forwards between Clear and Oppo’s PM-2 open-back planar magnetic headphones a number of occasions as some extent of reference. The Focal Clear displayed a superior sensation of openness each time.
Such a design is a two-edged sword to make sure. Listening in environments with exterior noise or a excessive noise flooring might be difficult. And don’t carry these headphones to the library. Anybody subsequent to you at an affordable distance will simply hear what you’re listening to.
The Focal Clear characteristic an M-shaped, inverted-dome, full-range driver measuring 40mm. Composed of an aluminum/magnesium alloy, the driving force is able to reproducing frequencies from 5Hz to 28kHz—effectively past the vary of human listening to. I discovered that Clear delivered an excellent response throughout your complete frequency vary. The one attainable place the place the SPL ranges got here up a bit brief may be in infrasonic frequencies beneath 20Hz—and even then I am nitpicking.
Made in France
A brand new manufacturing line particularly for Clear in Saint-Etienne, France develops the headphone’s light-weight parts. Focal claims that every pair of Clear headphones options an equivalent frequency response curve of +/-Zero.5dB.
Just like the Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature headphones I reviewed final yr, the Clear’s drivers are located towards the entrance—not the aspect. This driver design, additionally widespread to Focal’s Utopia and Elear headphones, creates a strong soundstage in entrance of you, much like conventional loudspeakers. I a lot desire headphones that includes this driver orientation.
Clear’s match is excellent. It’s uncanny how gentle and comparatively pressure-free these headphones really feel given their measurement and 450-gram weight. That pressure-free really feel is by design. The aluminum yoke has distinctive components contributing to their consolation, together with asymmetrical attachment factors. Focal factors out that the scarf’s bend stays fixed no matter an individual’s head measurement. This design spreads out the burden of the headphone evenly, stopping an excessive amount of strain on the ears or head.
The highest of the scarf is wrapped in grey leather-based with a microfiber underside. The reminiscence foam ear pads are lined in the identical mushy microfiber. The microfiber has 1mm perforations. The perforated ear pads, coupled by the open-back design, by no means made my ears scorching or sweaty—even after hours and hours of carrying them.
Focal bundles equally high-end equipment with the Clear, together with an opulent hard-shell carrying case. A molded inside cavity suits the headphones completely. Between the 2 ear cup molds, you’ll discover a beneficiant area able to holding any of the three thickly braided cable choices. Focal has you lined whether or not you wish to use the Clear with a high-end headphone amp or your favourite moveable digital audio participant.
A 1.2-meter unbalanced cable sports activities a three.5mm tip. The 2 different cables are three meters in size and are available a black field with magnetic flaps. One cable has a balanced (XLR Four-pin) connector, and the opposite has an unbalanced (1/Four-inch) finish. Sadly, there isn’t any 2.5mm balanced cable choice. Focal instructed me patrons may look to third-party cable producers for that.
Works with any cell system
On account of their excessive impedance, some high-end headphones sound finest and even require a devoted headphone amplifier. Sennheiser’s excellent HD800S headphones ($1,700), for instance, current an impedance of 300 Ohms. Headphones like this received’t play properly along with your common good system.
That’s not the case with Clear. With an impedance of 55 Ohms and a sensitivity of 104dB, you’ll be able to drive them with nearly any good system or DAP. I had no drawback utilizing the Focal Clear headphones with an iPhone 7, an Astell&Kern AK70, or a Sony NWZ-A17.
The Clear aren’t geared up with Bluetooth or an inline mic, however their low impedance will come in useful if you wish to join them to a high-resolution wi-fi adapter, corresponding to Astell&Kern’s AK XB10.
What does Focal’s Utopia have that its Clear would not?
Clear is not Focal’s top-shelf product. That distinction belongs to the $Four,000 Utopia. However the Clear bear a powerful resemblance to the Utopia. The mechanical design of the 2 headphones is identical, however the supplies and finishes differ: Utopia makes use of a pure Beryllium dome, a special magnet, and a special voice coil.
A revelatory listening expertise
I paired the Focal Clear with Anthem’s AVM 60 pre-pro, Astell&Kern’s AK70 and Sony’s NWZ-A17 DAPs, and an iPhone 7. I listened to a myriad of artists, albums, and songs in quite a lot of high-res and streaming codecs. I centered intently, nonetheless, on high-res FLAC and ALAC materials from B&W’s Society of Sound, Chesky Information, and different sources.
From the primary observe, I used to be completely floored by the Clear’s efficiency. The sound is lush and alluring, with a good looking midrange and a fragile, ethereal high finish. The Clear’s musical copy is so pristine and distortion free that these cans will seduce you into taking part in your music loudly.
I indulged, gladly.
I fired up Lorde’s “Royals”, Holly Cole’s, “I Can See Clearly Now,” Rebecca Pidgeon’s “Spanish Harlem,” Alanis Morissette’s “Girl Down,” Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ “Please Learn the Letter,” and Hans Zimmer’s “Think about the Fireplace,” from the Darkish Knight Rises soundtrack for a begin. Bass traces and transient response have been the most effective resolved I’ve ever heard from a pair of headphones. Subterranean notes began and stopped on a dime. Clear’s intense, blacksmith-like influence with iron-clad management should be heard to be totally appreciated. I couldn’t cease there.
Focal’s Clear was the undisputed maestro of Saint-Saëns Symphony No. three, articulating deep, infrasonic, and wealthy organ notes with ease. The very texture of the bass drum’s membrane from Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Frequent Man” was straightforward to make out with none loss in influence or dynamics. All this elevated my emotional involvement and heightened my consideration to the music.
The Focal Clear delivered essentially the most intense, dynamic, and detailed presentation of Sarah McLachlan’s Bloom remix album that I’ve ever heard in a headphone. To provide you an analogy, it was just like the expertise once you take away haze from a window, or stroll out a display screen door and also you’re now in a position to see and listen to with none barrier.
Clear’s uncanny means to exert its sheer will on any musical monitor or style was finest noticed on McLachlan’s “Ice,” “Vox,” and “Falling In the direction of Ecstasy” remixes. Complicated musical layers snapped into focus. I discerned new particulars and nuances in “Fumbling In the direction of Ecstasy” that I’ve by no means observed within the a whole lot of occasions I’ve performed this tune throughout techniques. Bass was unfettered—utterly unleashed—but fired with precision. Consider the distinction between the sound of your common automotive engine and the sleek purr of a Ferrari or Lamborghini. That is the leap in refinement Clear delivered.
Clear excels at reproducing a recording’s spacial traits. Spacious recordings have a relaxed presentation with a deep,and extensive soundstage that is past what you’d count on from a headphone. Intimate recordings, like Tony Bennett’s and Woman Gaga’s “Lush Life,” from Cheek to Cheek are appropriately ahead and heat, as if you are listening to a closed-back design.
In case you nonetheless have MP3 recordsdata in your musical assortment, get able to trash all of them. The Focal Clear is so revealing that it is brutally unforgiving. It can lay bare any dangerous or compressed recordings you may have in your assortment. I discovered myself turning into impatient if a monitor couldn’t dwell as much as Clear’s penchant for perfection.
I immediately in contrast the 24-bit/192kHZ FLAC and 16-bit/44.1kHz AAC encoded variations of Star Wars: The Pressure Awakens soundtrack from my music server, and was startled at how strikingly pristine and detailed the high-res model got here by way of in comparison with the AAC model through the AVM 60/Focal Clear combo.
A headphone with Clear’s capabilities permits you to hear the tonal character of the electronics behind it. In case you’re the sort who prefers a hotter musical presentation, you must contemplate pairing Clear with a tube-based headphone amp or a DAP like Questyle’s intoxicating QP1R.
Clear delivers sonic bliss
Focal’s Clear open-back headphones are an astounding sonic achievement. Its title says what it does: It empowers you to listen to your music clearly, with none barrier. However be warned! Auditioning Focal’s Clear headphones is like selecting the purple tablet from The Matrix. When you hearken to their openness, dynamics, and transparency, and timbral accuracy, you simply can’t return to different headphones. Clear will change your view of what you thought was attainable with headphone audio.
Sure, $1,499 is some huge cash for a pair of headphones. However the emotional involvement and sonic revelations you’ll uncover listening to your favourite music by way of these headphones might be price it. You may hear your musical assortment like the primary time.
I’ve had the pleasure of auditioning numerous high-end audio gear over time. Focal’s Clear ranks proper up there with essentially the most memorable. These are the best headphones you’ll discover priced lower than $2,000. They’ve earned my highest suggestion.
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