The French audio brand Focal is best known in the hi-fi circles for their speakers and in pro audio they’re also mostly associated with studio monitors. Around 5 years ago Focal released their first professional audio headphones, the Spirit Pro. Price wise it entered the higher-end of closed back studio headphones, but never made any lasting impact due to questionable choices in headband material and a finicky fit of earpads. With the release of Elear and Utopia headphones Focal has flexed their know-how in making high-performance headphones, so let’s see if the Listen Pro has something to offer to justify the price point that’s double what’s asked for the Beyer DT770.

Pros
  • Well thought out accessory package
  • Good build quality
  • Comfy

Pros list with Sonarworks Reference calibration

  • Tonally accurate
Cons
  • Mid coloration makes these unsuitable for critical work
  • High bass THD for this price range
Use cases Recommended music genres:
Anything without too much sub-bass
Best use case:
Recreational listening, if you like the tuning
Tech specs Type
Closed back, Over-ear
Impedance
32 Ohm
Distortion
0.3% at 100dB at 1kHz
Frequency response
5 Hz to 22 kHz
Connector
3.5mm straight jack
Adapter
Screw-on 6.3mm adapter
Weight
280 g (without cable)
Require headphone amp
No
Headphone amp

The combination of low impedance and high sensitivity means that the Listen Pro is more than suitable even for smartphone headphone outputs. Any decent audio interface will be able to drive them to dangerous SPL’s, so take care with the volume knob. The downside is that high sensitivity will also pick up noise very easily. 32 Ohm load impedance also means that headphone outputs shouldn’t have output impedance that’s higher than 4 Ohms, or an audible change in the tonality will occur. Check the specs of your interface or amp to see whether it will cause problems.

Build quality


I’m happy to say that Focal have very much improved upon the older Spirit Pro here. The headband on the Listen Pro uses a flexible plastic that bends without any lasting damage. To aid the headphone’s longevity both the earpads and cables are replaceable. The only potential failure point would be the ball joint which attaches the earcup to the headband. It’s made out of plastic and might brake if too much force is applied. Overall – good job!

Sound


Oh my… The W-curve strikes again! Mids are the meat and bones of any mix and the Focal Listen Pro has a +8dB boost there, thus losing any “pro” credibility here. We could stop here and be done with it, but let’s dive deeper – for educational purposes. The lows also are boosted which will mess with getting kicks and some lower basslines right. Upper mids are scooped, probably to save the listener from those nasty 3kHz. However that is also where distortion effects happen, so one can forget about getting the right amount of crunch in a mix. Highs are boosted, which gives a false sense of extra detail due to overemphasized overtones. Good luck working on these headphones… because only getting lucky will let you do a right sounding mix.

Channel balance

Not terrible, but not great either. Bass has the most imbalance, which can probably be explained by the single entry cable construction. The cable inlet takes up extra space in the left earcup which makes it less capable in low end. There is a slight imbalance throughout rest of the spectrum, but it’s only bad when you look at the price of the Listen Pro. There’s a good chance that it won’t lead one’s mixing decision astray.

Comfort


Again – Focal has done a commendable job here. The Listen Pro doesn’t clamp too hard to be uncomfortable and earpads are plush with soft memory foam, so no pressure points appear over time. Interestingly enough, the earpads are on the small side for an over-ear headphone, but that seems to aid with positioning – there’s no much wiggle room, so consistency isn’t bad. People with larger than average ears should try these headphones out, before buying, as for them the Listen Pro might be more on- than over-ear.

Value

The fatal flaw of the Focal Listen Pro is its W-shaped frequency response. There are headphones like the Beyer DT770, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and Sennheiser HD25-II which all do a better job sound-wise for a lower price. If Focal can fix the tonal response of their headphones, then they might have a real winner on their hands, because the comfort and overall package is very good.

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


The sub-bass distortion is too high for a 200$ headphone at this day and age. What’s more – the distortion at low frequencies is 3rd order which will be highly audible. Around 3kHz we have two distortion spikes which correlate with irregularities in the frequency response, which means that we’re dealing with resonances here. They are rather narrow bandwidth, but will color the sound nonetheless and can’t be calibrated away.

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

The small earpads make sure that there’s little room for variation in placing the Listen Pro on one’s ears. Consistency isn’t bad by any means.

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

Consistency is also decent, which is to be expected from a headphone at this price range. Nowadays high consistency isn’t something that’s exclusive only to Sennheiser!

Rating

6.3 / 8.4 / 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.

3 / 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.

8.5

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.

7

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.

8 / 10

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

8

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.

4

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

The good news is that Focal has managed to fix one of the major problems with their Spirit Pro headphone – both comfort and build quality is superb. The sound, however, is pretty sub-par and mid frequency coloration makes mixing or mastering with the Listen Pro near impossible. These headphones might do the trick for recreational listening, but only if the coloration is something one happens to enjoy.

Final Rating

8.3
With Sonarworks Reference 4
Calibration Enabled
6.4
Without Sonarworks
Calibration

Remove coloration from your
headphones with Reference 4

Learn more Supported headphones