Disclaimer: Focal’s PR agency sent us the Focal Elear on loan for this review. The headphone needs to be returned. The pictures in this review or either ours or those of Focal which we borrowed.
My favorite living film director probably is Alfonso Cuaron. He has been so ever since I first saw Y Tu Mama Tambien in college. I checked out his earlier films, a Little Princess and Great Expectations, and enjoyed them both. He then signed on to make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and I was over the moon. I loved the Harry Potter books, and here was my favorite director adapting one of them. Cuaron’s Azkaban ended up being the best of the Harry Potter films by a long short. I loved it so much I felt like I could write a 40 page essay on it (which I did for my college graduation paper). So, a few years go by, and his next film, Children of Men, starts getting some press. Of course I am looking forward to it. I think Cuaron is amazing, and the subject of the film is really fascinating. I can’t forget the terrific cast, either. Then, the trailer is released, and I flip out. “Holy cow that looks amazing” I say to myself. I don’t know how many times I watched that trailer. Of course, by now, part of me is expecting Children of Men to be the greatest film ever made. Literally, the greatest film. You can’t win with those kinds of expectations. Even if it turns out to actually be THAT good, at best, your expectations are only met. So, despite eventually calling Children of Men Cuaron’s best film, and one of the best of that decade, I was really disappointed the first time I saw it. It took a while for my expectations to finally dissolve. I guess the point to this is to remind all of us on how dangerous hype and elevated expectations can be, and the importance of reviewing something for what it is, and not what you heard it is or expected it to be. And now, on a completely unrelated note, let’s talk about the Focal Elear.
The Hype Train
Yeah, it’s hard to escape the hype on this headphone. I asked L if I could review it right before the hype train started puffing full steam. L said he was going to do the review, and then screamed at me to get off his lawn. Ok, not true, L was very polite about it, but since I wouldn’t be doing the review, I saw no harm in reading what others had to say. Well, people seemed to be loving every inch of the Elear. They made it sound pretty awesome. “Damn,” I says to myself, “I wish I were reviewing it.” Flash forward a month or two, and I find myself with the opportunity to get an Elear loaner from Focal, and I ask L, if his own review isn’t done yet, might he be interested in a dual review. “I haven’t been able to get a sample yet” he tells me, “so knock yourself out.” I am beginning the review this way to fully inform you, gentle reader, that I am not reviewing this headphone unspoiled by the prior enthusiasm for this headphone. When I know I am going to review something, I try to avoid reading as much about it as I can, as to not come into the review with a preconceived notion of what I am about to hear. That did not happen here. So, is this headphone the best that there is at $1000? Does the Elear silence all comers? Is this the end game headphone for all except the most insane? There is certainly a good case to be made for that, but one step at a time.
Focal is a French company that started in 1979 in the home audio world making speaker drivers and loudspeakers (originally, the loudspeakers were released under the brand name JM-lab, named after the Focal founder Jacques Mahul). Since then, they have gotten their fingers in a number of different pies including studio monitors and car audio. In fact, in 2016, Focal launched an OEM system for the car manufacturer Peugeot. With an optional upgrade, your car will ship with a complete Focal system. They didn’t come to headphones however, until 2012 with the Spirit One. The Spirit One had some troubles on release, but Focal seemed to learn a lot from it and responded with the well-received Spirit Classic and Spirit Professional. But, it is really with the release of the Elear ($999) and its big brother, the Utopia ($3999) that Focal seems to have proven that they can play with the big boys of the headphone world.
The look of the Elear does a great job of announcing its presence. I have been struggling as to find the right word as to describe the look. It isn’t sleek. It isn’t gaudy. I’m just not sure. Then, as I peruse the internet, looking at pictures of the Elear, I notice in one of the pictures the Elear looks like a bodybuilder flexing his massive arms (it was a thumbnail, and I might have been drunk). That is it. Muscular is the word I am looking. Compared to the HD800, which looks like electronic earmuffs or the veneer on the HE-560 that makes me feel like I am wearing my parents’ old Dodge station wagon, the Elear strikes a bold look that really grabs the eye. But, even after some time has passed, the look never crosses that line into being too much or too loud.
Build & Comfort
As a headphone of $999 should, the Elear feels to be a very well built headphone. Aluminum is the material of the day for the yoke. The ear cup rotator and the length adjustment mechanism, usually part of the yoke, are both contained inside the leather headband. They did this to maintain the “purity of the design”. I can’t speak to the purity of it, but functionally speaking, there are no issues here. You don’t get the same degree of rotation that you find in, say, a Hifiman headphone, but what you get here is more than enough to get you a good seal and a comfortable fit, and that is all that matters. Speaking of comfort, Focal did a terrific job with the headband on the Elear. The top of my head is very sensitive, and can’t stand long headphone listening sessions if the weight isn’t very well distributed. The Elear is not a light headphone. At 450g, it is 50g heavier than the Senn HD630, which does make my head sore when worn too long. So, when I say the Elear can be worn for hours with no discomfort, that is really saying something. The weight, although significant, is distributed well enough to be insignificant. Well done on that front Focal, very well done.
The review continues on Page 2, after the click HERE or the jump below