One of trademarks of Focal in hi-fi speakers and studio monitors has been the use of various exotic material tweeters, most notably – beryllium. In mid 2016 the french company released two open-back headphones which would bring their exotic material science to personal audio. The Utopia, a 4000$ hyper-headphone which uses the bespoken pure beryllium diaphragm driver, while the more pedestrian Elear – an aluminium-magnesium alloy one. It’s worth noting that the vast majority of headphone drivers use a plastic polymer single piece diaphragm and surround assembly. Here Focal brings multiple innovations to the table, the aforementioned convex metal disk is glued to a separate surround as is commonly found in loudspeaker drivers.

As you can see the Elear’s driver looks more akin to a regular metal loudspeaker driver. In theory the metal diaphragm should be more rigid than a plastic one and thus move without wobbling, read on to see whether that’s true in practice!

Pros
  • Very good tonal response
  • Superbly low THD
  • Very Comfy
  • Looks SHARP!

Pros list with Sonarworks Reference calibration

  • Extra low end extension
  • Highs get cleaned up
Cons
  • Hardly affordable
  • Highs are slightly coloured
Use cases Recommended music genres:
Just about anything
Best use case:
Mixing
Mastering
Recreational listening
Tech specs Type
Open back, Over-ear
Impedance
80 Ohm
Distortion
<0.3% at 1kHz at 100dB
Frequency response
5 Hz to 23 kHz
Connector
6.3mm straight jack
Adapter
None
Weight
450 g (without cable)
Require headphone amp
No
Headphone amp

The Focal Elear can be driven to a respectable SPL from most headphone jacks, so a dedicated headphone amp isn’t required. At the same time the headphone likely will scale in sound quality with a better amplifier and DAC pairing. The 80 Ohm impedance means that the Elear will do fine on headphone outputs with no more than 10 Ohm output impedance, higher will accentuate the 80Hz region.

Build quality


Focal has knocked it out of the park here! Elear looks and feels like a proper 1000$ headphone. The presentation box is impeccable and so is the build quality of the headphone. The only nit to pick would be the cable, it’s very long and thick. If one is sitting at a desk the 3m cable would prove unwieldy and the thickness would make it hard to roll up neatly. The construction is mostly metal and both earpads and cable are easily replaceable.

Sound


The measurements show a respectable lack of severe peaking, which is a pre-requisite for a good sounding headphone. The overall tuning is rather mid-centric, but not annoyingly so. Engineers should take note that this might lead to a tad thin sounding mids in the resulting mix. Around 3-4kHz there’s a familiar looking dip which again, doesn’t sound offensive, but dulls the edge of many string and synthetic sounds, especially when distortion is applied. The slight peaking in the highs does color them, but not enough to make overtones too accentuated. Bass response is very good for an open back headphone.

Channel balance

Again, very good job here. Worst case is a 1.5dB difference, which only occurs in very narrow frequency bands and shouldn’t affect imaging.

Comfort

First let’s get out of the way the obvious, at 450 grams the Elear isn’t light! Luckily Focal engineers know a thing or two about ergonomics and there are no pressure points to cause discomfort over time. Both the earpads and the headband are microfiber and don’t get hot even after prolonged use.

Value

As is the case with all hi-end headphones, this is a hard question. Over a fan-favorite Sennheiser HD650 the Elear has only got a firm advantage in THD, the tonality is more coloured. Then there’s of course the whole unboxing experience thing and owning an actual upper tier headphone.

Observations on how headphones perform after applying Sonarworks Reference calibration Total Harmonic Distortion


There simply isn’t any to speak of. What little there remains is mainly 2nd harmonic and thus inoffensive or rather in this case – utterly inaudible.

How accurate and consistent is the correction effect among different listeners?

Despite smaller sized earpads, consistency between listeners isn’t too good. Most of the changes occur above 5kHz

How much do they differ pair to pair in terms of frequency response?

Sample to sample consistency is also great. Looks like Focal are good at both innovation and manufacturing.

Rating

7.8 / 8.6 / 9.2

Sound rating is a weighted average of Frequency Response, Adaptiveness, Harmonic Distortion and Channel Balance scores, with Frequency Response and Adaptiveness having the greatest influence.

7.8 / 9 / 10

The flatter the frequency response – the higher the score. When evaluating the frequency response score with the Average calibration profile, the pair to pair consistency of the given model is taken into account – if we have measured a considerable frequency response inconsistency among multiple pairs of the given model, the score drops, as the profile loses accuracy. Individual calibration will grant perfectly flat frequency response.

8

Adaptiveness shows how capable these headphones are at delivering the same perceived frequency response to any listener. Headphones with high score will sound nearly identical to everyone.

9

Harmonic distortion – the lower the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) figure, the higher the score. Headphones with prominent 3rd harmonic distortion above 100 Hz will score lower.

9 / 10

Channel balance – the closer to identical the frequency response of both channels, the higher the score. Individual calibration delivers perfect channel balance.

9

Comfort – shows if headphones can be used for long listening sessions comfortably. Every model is tested by at least a few individuals.

9

Build – evaluates how well the headphones are put together, the materials used and indicates the expected longevity. Easily replaceable (and easily available) parts will boost the score. We don’t do any stress tests and very few models are used for longer than a couple of days, so this is a fairly subjective score.

5

Value – indicates the price-performance ratio of the given headphones and how they stack up against the competition. High score means that you won’t find more neutral sounding alternatives for the price.

Conclusion

As a headphone enthusiast I’m happy that Focal’s gamble with innovation has paid off, it’s not often when I get excited by a full-sized open back headphone. Should studio people get excited? I think so, it’s not often you’re sacrificing so little when moving up from HD650 to get into the upper echelons of headphone listening.

Final Rating

8.5
With Sonarworks Reference 4
Calibration Enabled
7.7
Without Sonarworks
Calibration

Remove coloration from your
headphones with Reference 4

Learn more Supported headphones