The Focal Clear headphones feature specially designed drivers made of premium materials.
Transparent headphone sound from the experts at Focal
Rarely is a product as aptly named as the Focal Clear headphones. These are some of the most pure and pristine-sounding headphones I've ever heard. Focal developed them in the mold of their other two high-end models — the popular Elear headphones and the company's ultimate statement piece, the Utopia headphones.
If you're aware of these earlier models, the Clear's form factor and driver design might look familiar. But Focal did make some major changes — including the silver finish and all-new accessories. And the materials used under the hood help these headphones sculpt a sound signature that is all their own.
They play well with a range of setups
These headphones are also a little more efficient than Focal's other big two, so you could conceivably connect them to a high-res portable player. Still, I found them most enjoyable when powered by a formidable headphone amp. They were such a treat through my normal rig at home — which includes the TEAC NT-503 amp — that I was forced to stop jotting down notes and just listen.
Open-air headphones with focus and precision
Focal, harking back to their loudspeaker roots, describes these headphones as "extremely near-field montors." The drivers are suspended within the large, open-air chambers to create a focused, lifelike soundstage for your music. I find the sound a little more forward than open-back headphones from other high-performance headphone brands, which tend to be more spacious. But there is a great deal of depth and separation within the music.
The large earcups are completely open-back. With no music playing, I could hear everything that was going on around me. While these headphones are realistically too large to use on the go, their soft, oversized mesh ear pads make them very breathable and comfortable.
I found the form-fitting zippered case both attractive and practical.
Specially shaped drivers with pure copper voice coils
Focal employed their patent-pending “M”-shaped diaphragm domes, originally developed for the Elears and Utopias. This special design gives the drivers a more fluid movement, which greatly reduces distortion and phase problems. It is why all of Focal's flagship headphones sound so in control across a wide frequency range.
In the Clears, the domes are made from a sturdy blend of aluminum and magnesium — just like the Elears. These headphones also share the ability to deliver deep, punchy bass. The major step-up here is the all-copper voice coil, a more rigid material that provides better extension and detail in the higher frequencies.
Fashionable and functional accessories
I really love the form-fitting case that Focal includes here. It is a practical size for carrying along, and the included cables pack in neatly. Since the Utopias and Elears are the identical size, you could use it for them, too — if you're lucky enough to have more than one model.
You have a choice of three cables, each sporting a nice patterned cloth cover. One is average length and terminated with a 3.5mm mini plug. The other two are extra-long, so you have some slack to just lean back and listen (one is terminated by a 1/4” unbalanced plug, the other a balanced XLR plug).
How do they compare to the Focal Utopia headphones?
This is the natural question everyone asks: how do they stack up against Focal's $4,000 top-of-the-line headphones? We had to find out for ourselves, so our "Demo Days" crew set up a listening station with the Utopia and Clear headphones side by side. Both were powered by the Marantz ND8006 jack-of-all-trades source component, which has a robust headphone amp built in.
I discussed the comparison with some of my coworkers:
Jim Ralston, Crutchfield web editor: "I listened to a track from the electronica group Boards of Canada to compare the two. The Clears had a subtle sub bass extension that I didn't notice on the Utopias. Both sounded excellent, but I heard a higher level of detail in the Utopias. Still, the Clear headphones had a low-frequency emphasis that some listeners might prefer."
Me: "I agree. We're talking different degrees of great. I could actually see someone who like deeper bass reaching for these headphones and being completely satisfied."
Mike Colley, Crutchfield Creative director: "Both were super-comfortable. I could wear them for hours, I'm sure. At first, the Clear sounded quite a bit smoother than the Utopia to my ears. Then I started listening to some K-pop tracks which had a very wide range of sounds and energy levels for the headphones to deal with. I started to notice that the “less smooth” aspect of the Utopia was perhaps a good thing.
The Utopia was more precise and revealing. I noticed textures in the synths, reverbs/decays, plus separation between instruments and harmony vocal parts."