Focal Stellia review

Focal Stellia

We’re excited to be giving Headfonia readers our impressions on the Focal Stellia – the $3,000 USD flagship closed-back headphone from the famed French audio manufacturer. The Stellia unit featured in this review was kindly loaned to us by Focal’s local Australian distributor, Busisoft AV, and will be heading back to them afterwards – our sincere thanks for the opportunity. 

 

Introduction

Ok, let’s deal with the elephant in the room straight off the bat: $3,000 USD is a lot of money to be spending on a pair of headphones, for anyone. Hell, it’s a lot of money to spend on anything, really. That equates to about four and a half grand’s worth of my Australian dollarydoos, and I’d be happy to get that much if someone eventually decides to buy my 13-year-old Peugeot 207 GTi, which is a lot more French-engineered metal and leather for the same amount of money…right? 

My friends and coworkers nearly had a coronary when they found out how much the (very) conspicuous looking pair of cognac-coloured leather-bound headphones were worth when they ran into me with them over the past few weeks. Admittedly, there are a few among them who didn’t realise that it’s possible to spend more than a few hundred bucks on a pair of headphones (another common reaction is: “why wouldn’t you just get a pair of Airpods?”, sigh). But, many of them wouldn’t flinch if I’d been wearing a couple of grand’s worth of wrist-watch or had dropped that kind of coin on a long weekend away. Personally, I don’t care for watches (my phone has a perfectly good clock), but I can guarantee you that more people will admit to being far more passionate about music than they are about timekeeping. 

So why does investing so much money on a pair of headphones that you’re likely to use for many, many hours, and that will (hopefully) last you several years feel like such an obscene way to depart with your cash? Well, there’s a couple of key reasons. Firstly, as hobbies go, audiophilia is a fairly niche one. Most punters are fairly happy in the belief that Beats by Dre and Bose’s noise-cancelling offerings are the be-all and end-all when it comes to sound quality. Next, as those who actually spend a little time in the hobby and as many Headfonia readers will know – it’s actually possible to get very, very good sound quality for well under $1000. It’s also entirely possible to find excellent performance from a pair of headphones or IEMs with enough change from $500 to take your nearest and dearest out for a nice meal (depending on your taste in food, anyway). 

Focal Stellia.

So then, what exactly can the $3,000 Focal Stellia do that other headphones can’t? Will it play music that others can’t, or give you a back massage while it does it? Can it iron your shirt for you? Spoiler alert: it can’t. But, like the watch aficionado or the person that’s saving for their next overseas getaway will tell you, it’s all about the experience. How something makes you feel from the moment you first lay your eyes on it, and every time you come into contact with it. Like Marie Kondo says, it’s important to discern the things in life that “Spark Joy” – when you know what makes you happy, let superfluous things go, and enjoy every moment of what you love. As the cleanup Queen also says, “Cherish the thing you love. Cherish yourself.” – in other words, some times you just need to treat yo’ self. 

Meet the Stellia

So what were Focal aiming-for when they created the Stellia? Many of you will be familiar with the Utopia, Focal’s open-back flagship and close relative to the Stellia, which also packs a beryllium-driver as well as a similarly eye-watering price-tag of $2,999 (at time of writing, but has been as high as $4K). It managed to greatly impress Lieven, check out his pics and thoughts on the Utopia here. Focal describes the Stellia as “very high-end circum-aural headphones…for home and on-the-go use”. Now, I didn’t dare take this review pair of Stellias onto the bus or a plane, but it seems that Focal intended to create a pair of headphones that are the best possible option for any possible circumstances – the ultimate pair of headphones. Or, as they say on their website, “Acoustic sound purity, everywhere”. But, as you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the Stellia is more just a statement in audio quality – they’re intended to be a statement piece in and of themselves by virtue of their wholly distinctive and luxurious aesthetics. Whilst the Utopia does reek of high-performance and build quality in the looks department, Focal opted for a more low-key black treatment. However, for the Stellia, Focal went all-out. So, it seems that Focal is targeting not only the audiophile market with the Stellia but connoisseurs of luxury equipment more generally – and close-backed headphones certainly have more mass-market appeal than their open-backed brethren.

So let’s take a look at what we have on our hands. On paper, we have ourselves a closed-back, circum-aural (over-ear) headphone with a 40mm beryllium driver, aluminium and stainless steel construction, detachable cables, and finished in a combination of ‘cognac’ and ‘mocha’ full-grain leather. Specifications are as follows: 

  • Type Circum-aural closed-back headphones 
  • Impedance 35 Ohms 
  • Sensitivity 106dB SPL / 1mW @ 1kHz 
  • THD 0.1% @ 1kHz / 100 dB 
  • SPL Frequency response 5Hz–40kHz 
  • Loudspeaker 1.6″ (40mm) pure Beryllium “M” shape dome 
  • Weight 0.96lb (435g)

In non-paper terms: the Stellia has made me hear music, and experience playback in a way that no other pair of headphones has done so before – and I’ve heard pretty much all of them. It’s straight-up decadence and detail (both sonically and build-wise) from start to finish – they’re very, very special. 

But, are the Focal Stellia ‘worth’ three grand? Do they represent ‘value’? I can promise you, you really, really, do want a pair, but it’s not easy to decide whether they’re worth investing-in for your particular circumstances and priorities. Let’s take a look

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Matty's a musician, music-fan, and 'gear-phile' from Sydney, Australia. Outside of work in creative advertising for global youth media network VICE, Matty enjoys live music, lawn bowls, craft beer, and spending far too much money collecting vinyl.

    15 Comments

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Hanesu

      Hi Matty!

      I love your writing style – your articles are always a great pleasure to read!!!

      Could you maybe add some sound comparison to other headphones?

      • Reply March 2, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Thanks for reading mate, it’s much appreciated. I left some impressions comparing the Stellia to the ZMF Eikon and Beyerdynamic T1 on page 3 – I think it’s important to compare against headphones you can directly listen-to back-to-back, so I try to always to comparisons with headphones that I have with me at that point in time. Are there any particular headphones you were keen to hear them compared against?

      • Reply March 2, 2020

        Harsha

        Hi,
        Any comparisons with the ZMF Verite Open. I understand open vs closed isn’t fair. Would you rate it on the same level as – LCD 4s/Empyrean/D8000 ?

        • Reply March 2, 2020

          Matty Graham

          I haven’t spent enough time with the Verite or D8000 to give you a proper answer. I LCD-4 is just too dark, and too heavy for me; the Empyrean is tonally very lovely abut just doesn’t have the same aggressive dynamics as the Stellia.

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Miguel Betancourt

      What a joy and pleasure to read your reviews, simply put, just wonderful!

      Gracias!

      M.

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Mike I.

      Very nice review, again; thank you !

      Your comparison with the Beyer T1: gen 1 or gen 2 ?

      A comparison with the ZMF Vérité – closed would be very nice: cheaper, less bling-bling, and also beryllium.

      • Reply March 4, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Thanks Mike – it’s the Gen 1 Beyer T1. I don’t have ready access to a Verite – being handmade, direct-to-customer, and generally pretty expensive! Although, I would love to hear one. If one happens to manifest in the next few days I’ll try and add some thoughts to the article.

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      Thomas Ho

      Well said, I agree with the points that you’ve made about being an audiophile as a hobby. I’ve fallen in love with your review. Well done!

      • Reply March 3, 2020

        Matty Graham

        Great to hear, thanks Thomas!

    • Reply March 2, 2020

      MhtLion

      Thanks for great review! Just a quick question please. When you said “does highlight it’s sometimes unnatural timbre in the upper midrange”, you are referring to Stellia or T1?

      Actually, one more question. Have you heard Elex? Sure, it’s open back, but Elex is such a good value proposition. If one wants Stellia but only can afford Elex, I wonder how much of difference there will be.

      • Reply March 3, 2020

        Matty Graham

        I’ve just tweaked it to make it clearer – I’m referring to the timbre of the Stellia when it come to how it deals with some instruments and vocals texturally.

        I have heard the Elex – I recall it being tonally very awesome, and its dynamics certainly were impressive. It’s not going to hit as hard as the Stellia in the low end, in particular, and the beryllium drivers of the Stellia do give it a noticeable edge in the speed and clarity stakes.

    • Reply March 3, 2020

      MHTLION

      Thank you for the response and clarification!

    • Reply March 4, 2020

      Brian Becker

      Superb review friend! Such and enjoyable read.

      I heard the Stellia while visiting London and was gobsmacked silly.

      Since there was no way I was getting this approved by my CFO (aka wifey, bless her heart), and I just had to have something, I got the Elegia instead.

      Very happy I did. Cheers!

      • Reply March 6, 2020

        Matty Graham

        They do have an uncanny ability of impressing you right from the get-go, so I’m not suprised Brian. You have yourself an awesome set of cans in the Elegia, enjoy mate.

    • Reply March 6, 2020

      teknorob23

      Great review, thanks! It will be interesting to see what you think of the ZMF Verite Closed. I was privileged enough to have the two together for a couple of months. The VCs and Stellia are to my ears, head and shoulders above the closest CB competition as well as being right up there in the overall list of current greats. Having initially been blown away by the sheer scale of the VCs stage and visceral bass kick i was sure they’d be the keepers, but as time wore on i found the stellias on my head more and the VCs less and less. The VCs are slightly W shaped and as such the mids are just that bit too recessed for my tastes, that an i started to find them a portly and plodding compared to the up front, but even handed Stellia, with almost utopia levels of detail and in more liveable with tonal package. I should caveat this by saying i listen mainly to complicated electronica/techno with spattering of 90s alt rock like MBV and pavement. I love hearing up front and detail, but in the most analogue manner possible and nothing takes me into the music like the Stellias. Thanks again :):)

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