Design, build, and comfort
Out of the box, the Radiance feels entirely reminiscent of the Stellia – a headphone I’m extremely familiar with – in terms of form-factor, build-quality, and overall design. Thankfully, I happen to have the Stellia with me for comparison during this review so I was able to compare them closely in this regard. At 435 grams, the Radiance isn’t exactly a featherweight, but it does give you a reassuring sense of substance and that Focal has built it with high-quality materials.
In terms of the overall aesthetic, I think Focal has absolutely knocked it out of the park with the Radiance. While the Stellia has more of a ‘look at me’ kinda vibe, the Radiance has a far more subtle and toned-down look with its mostly black construction, and yet gives a hint of luxury thanks to its sparing flashes of copper and the flawless leather of the large, padded headband.
The Pittards leather used in the Radiance is much finer and softer than the mocha/cognac coloured leather used on the Stellia, which feels more like the leather used on a luxury lounge, by comparison, than that of a pair of luxury gloves.18:57:28 While the Stellia uses leather for the underside of the headband and earpads, the Radiance employs a crisscrossed Alcantara material, perhaps a little ‘nod’ to its automotive origins.
While the headband and yoke assembly are aluminium, a close inspection of the earcups and tells that they are made of plastic, albeit a high- quality one. I guess it can’t be all metal and leather when you’re coming in $1,700 cheaper than the Stellia. Holding the Radiance in your hands and articulating them around gives you a sense of their quality and craftsmanship. The Radiance is devoid of creaks and groans that can befall some high-end headphones, and the click-adjustment of the headphone sliders is both accurate and satisfying to use.
The earcups on the Radiance are spring-loaded, which aids in providing an absolutely snug fit on this reviewer’s head. The clamp-force on the Radiance is absolutely perfect in that it neither squeezes your head nor ever feels like it will slip off, even when tipping your head right back. In addition to their snug fit, the Radiance provides a genuinely impressive level of passive noise isolation from the outside world. Unlike the Stellia, there are no bass ports built into the Focal logos adorning the outside of the earcups (as far as I can tell). If you’re eschewing the open-air benefits (and negatives) of open-backed headphones, then you want them to give you a real sense of intimacy and isolation, and this the Radiance delivers in spades. Without reservation, they’re the most snug and closed-in (in a good way) pair of closed-back headphones that I’ve encountered, and this makes them a very versatile proposition indeed.
The Radiance, along with its carrying case isn’t (overly) huge, and so does make for a genuine on-the-go listening option. Perhaps not while exercising or stuffing into a briefcase, but certainly for packing into a suitcase and enjoying in a hotel while travelling. In fact, I can genuinely see the being used for airline travel (if that ever becomes a thing again, I muse as I write this in January 2021). The Radiance is certainly a brilliant home hifi-listening pair of headphones, and it did a brilliant job of blocking out the noise of the TV from other rooms in my house as well as nearby construction. Its superb isolation combined with a terrific sense of imaging and dynamics (more on this later) makes the Radiance a first-rate choice for gaming, an application that I really enjoyed. The one thing that lets it down in terms of its useability, however, is its cable.
The provided cable with the Radiance is four feet in length, with 3.5mm mono connections at each earcup and a 3.5mm single-ended termination at the other end (along with a provided 6.3mm screw-on adapter). Four feet is simply too short for home hifi listening. It’s too short for desktop listening, for that matter. Unless you’re right next to the source of your music, you’re going to want to find yourself an extension cable or a new cable altogether. This is a curious choice from Focal, who is normally quite generous in terms of their supplied cables. The Stellia, on the other hand, has a rather long four-pin XLR cable supplied along with a shorter single-ended cable, and the Focal Clear has two longer cables (XLR and single-ended) in addition to a shorter ‘mobile’ one. Presumably, Focal thinks that automotive-minded people (and Bentley drivers) are more likely to buy the Radiance than your average audiophile, but this is a little disappointing if you’re looking to use the Radiance with anything other than a phone or digital audio player. On the other hand, Focal has thankfully decided not to coat the Radiance’s cable in the fabric sheathing used on the Stellia and Clear that is seemingly identical to that used on IKEA lamp cords. Instead, the Radiance cable is plastic-coated and while far less microphonic, it does tend to kink and not straighten-out. While I did test the Radiance with its supplied cable for the most part I used an after-market balanced cable while listening to the Radiance for enjoyment.
And enjoy the Radiance, I did.
The review continues over the jump on page 3.